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Monday, January 24, 2011

EDITORIAL 24.01.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Editorial

Month january 24, edition 000737 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

1.      TRULY A CONGRESS AGENT

2.      HU CALLS THE SHOTS IN US

3.      MOUNTING RAGE ON THE ROADS - JOGINDER SINGH

4.      HOW US GLOSSES OVER THE TRUTH - CLAUDE ARPI

5.      MQM SAVES PPP REGIME FROM COLLAPSE - NADEEM F PARACHA

6.      JUSTIFYING UNJUSTIFIABLE PETROL PRICE HIKE - SHIVAJI SARKAR

 

MAIL TODAY

1.      SC REASONING IN STAINES CASE IS REGRETTABLE

2.      OWNERS AND MANAGERS

3.      POLITICAL FAMILIES HURTING POLITY - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

1.      DON'T PLAY POLITICS

2.      BIRTH OF A NATION

3.      BREAKING DOWN OLD BARRIERS - RORY METCALF

4.      'WE ARE TO BLAME IN MAKING CLASSICAL MUSIC SOUND ANCTIMONIOUS'

5.      LICENCE TO SPELL - GEORGE N NETTO

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      LET'S BANK ON RECOVERING IT

2.      LOST IN TRANSITION

3.      RESHUFFLING THE SAME OLD PACK - PANKAJ VOHRA

4.      ABSENTEE LANDLORD - NAYANJOT LAHIRI

 

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      BSY VS HRB

2.      TWO APART

3.      BE TOUGH, BE BOLD

4.      UNDOING THE DONE - JAITHIRTH RAO

5.      MAKING IT CHEAP - YOGINDER K. ALAGH

6.      EAST OF SUEZ - DER MALHOTRA

7.      A VACUUM ABHORS POLITICS - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

8.      I'M BANNED IN BEIJING

9.      NO ONE KILLED JESSICA, BUT WHAT ABOUT BINA? - GEORGESMAILHOT

 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

1.      REBOOTING WIPRO

2.      YEDDY, STEADY, GO

3.      OUT OF THE FRYING PAN - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

4.      GLOBAL BOOM, LOCAL BUST - MEGHNAD DESAI

 

THE HINDU

1.      WAKE-UP CALL FOR SIBAL

2.      REFORMING MICROFINANCE

3.      WAY FORWARD IN INDIA-PAKISTAN RELATIONS - MANI SHANKAR AIYAR

4.      THE FABRIC OF BELONGING - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

5.      PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS PLAYING A ROLE IN GLOBAL WARS  - MARK MAZZETTI AND ERIC SCHMITT

6.      FEDERAL RESEARCH CENTRE WILL HELP DEVELOP MEDICINES - GARDINER HARRIS

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      BJP SHOULD DROP ITS FLAG PLAN

2.      THE CONVERSION FACTOR

3.      LISTEN TO THE RHYTHM... - AMRIT SADHANA

 

DNA

1.      PAKISTAN'S STAND ON TERROR UNCONVINCING

2.      KARNATAKA GOVERNOR, CM MAKE A CONSTITUTIONAL MESS

3.      HONESTY, WITHOUT COURAGE, IS FLAWED - ABHAY VAIDYA

4.      THE CABINET RESHUFFLE MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL

 

DAILY EXCELSIOR

1.      INCREDIBLY TRUE?

2.      LET'S BE BETTER

3.      SRIKRISHNA COMMITTEE REPORTA CLUE TO SOLVE KASHMIR TANGLE ? - BY B L SARAF

4.      REPATRIATING STASHED MONEY - BY K. N. PANDITA

5.      NEW ECONOMIC CHALLENGES - BY LALIT SETHI

6.      DHOBI GHAT: IS IT END TO ERA OF INTERMISSIONS? - BY DHEERAJ JANDIAL

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      INCREDIBLY TRUE?

2.      LET'S BE BETTER

3.      SRIKRISHNA COMMITTEE REPORTA CLUE TO SOLVE KASHMIR TANGLE ?  - BY B L SARAF

4.      REPATRIATING STASHED MONEY - BY K. N. PANDITA

5.      NEW ECONOMIC CHALLENGES - BY LALIT SETHI

6.      DHOBI GHAT: IS IT END TO ERA OF INTERMISSIONS? - BY DHEERAJ JANDIAL

THE KASHMIR TIMES

1.      REPEALING DRACONIAN LAWS

2.      APATHY TOWARDS FIRE VICTIMS

3.      BJP IS HEADING FOR ISOLATION ON KASHMIR ISSUE - BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ

4.      PURIFIED LIKE SILVER..! - BY ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

BUSINESS STANDARD

1.      MR MALEGAM'S RAP

2.      HEALTH OF A NATION

3.      INDIA'S OTHER NEIGHBOUR - SANJAYA BARU

4.      BEYOND THE INFLEXION POINT - JAMAL MECKLAI

5.      INTEREST RATES & MALTHUS' PREDICTION - A V RAJWADE

6.      HON'BLE FINANCE MINISTER... - VINAYAK CHATTERJEE

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      SANCTITY VS SANCTIMONY

2.      KARNATAKA DESERVES BETTER

3.      IT'S A MAD WORLD

4.      PHONE APPS PROVE THAT

5.      SPECTRUM: FOR CASH OR GROWTH?

6.      LOSING CLOUT IN COLOMBO

7.      CHECK DRIFT AND PROCRASTINATION - K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

BUSINESS LINE

1.      A NEW DOOR FOR FOREIGN BANKS

2.      QUESTIONS ON INDIA'S STABILITY - P.V.INDIRESAN

3.      DIGGING INTO FARM SUBSIDIES  - M.R. SUBRAMANI

4.      THE GROUP DYNAMICS AT DAVOS  - MOHAN MURTI

5.      RECONCILING DIFFERENCES OVER FOOD SECURITY  - B.S. RAGHAVAN

 

DECCAN CHRONICLE

1.      OMERTÀ MAY BE DEAD, THE MAFIA ISN'T - BY SELWYN RAAB

2.      THE CONVERSION FACTOR - BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

3.      BJP SHOULD DROP ITS FLAG PLAN  

4.      LISTEN TO THE RHYTHM... - BY AMRIT SADHANA

5.      BANNED IN BEIJING! - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

6.      DOST, DOGS AND BOO-BOOS

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      CHINA & NALANDA

2.      TURF WAR, RED TAPE

3.      FACE THE FACTS

4.      VIGOUR OF THE VANQUISHED - BK BHATTACHARYYA

 

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      OPENING UP

2.      HIGH ANXIETY

3.      COMMON WILL  - S.L. RAO

4.      THE FORCE OF EXAMPLE  - GWYNNE DYER

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      DODGY STAND

2.      A CLEAN BREAK

3.      A HAWK WHO CAN SING M J AKBAR

4.      IN TUNISIA, ONE SMALL REVOLUTION BY ROBERT D KAPLAN, NYT

5.      IN SEARCH OF JUSTICE BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN

 

OHERALDO

1.      MAKE GARBAGE GO AWAY

2.      TOWARDS RUIN: THE COAST IS CLEAR

 

THE SENTINEL

1.      THE DRAGON'S SHADOW   - DILIP GHOSH

2.      MR PRIME MINISTER, LEAD FROM THE FRONT  

3.      THE HAWK'S AGENDA   - TAVLEEN SINGH

 

THE JERUSALEM POST

1.      NO PARTIAL SOLUTION

2.      THE REGION: WHEN ARAB REGIMES TREMBLE - BY BARRY RUBIN 

3.      THE CONSCIENCE OF A JEWISH CONSERVATIVE - BY RUTH R. WISSE 

4.      THE TURKEL COMMISSION IS FIGHTING YESTERDAY'S WAR  - BY DAPHNA KAUFMAN 

5.      BARAK'S MANEUVER LOOKS LIKE A WIN-WIN SITUATION  - BY TZACHI HANEGBI 

6.      THE DEMOCRATS VS. THE NON-DEMOCRATS - BY ALON LIEL 

 

HAARETZ

1.      THE REPORT IS GOOD, THE SITUATION IS BAD

2.      BARAK FOOLED EVERYBODY  - BY NIVA LANIR

3.      THE DIPLOMATIC ASPECT OF THE GAS  - BY ODED ERAN

4.      OBAMA'S STATE OF THE CONFLICT ADDRESS  - BY AKIVA ELDAR

5.      WHO NEEDS THE TURKEL COMMITTEE?  - BY AMIR OREN

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      A NEW CHANCE FOR MR. OBAMA

2.      AN EVOLVING COURT

3.      REFORM AND THE TEACHERS' UNIONS

4.      TIME BANDITRY

5.      REFORMING THE REFORM - BY ROSS DOUTHAT

6.      THE COMPETITION MYTH - BY PAUL KRUGMAN

7.      BUILD A BIGGER HOUSE - BY DALTON CONLEY AND JACQUELINE STEVENS

 

USA TODAY

1.      MY FELLOW AMERICANS ... ' (IF WE WROTE THE STATE OF THE UNION)

2.      OBAMA: REAGAN SAW THAT 'WE ARE ALL PATRIOTS' - BY BARACK OBAMA

3.      BOEHNER: REAGAN SHAPED OUR TIMES - BY JOHN BOEHNER

4.      MCCAIN: REAGAN HAD 'UNSHAKABLE FAITH' IN AMERICA - BY JOHN MCCAIN

5.      PALIN: 'AMERICA'S LIFEGUARD' - BY SARAH PALIN

6.      ROMNEY: A LEGACY OF OPTIMISM, STRENGTH - BY MITT ROMNEY

7.      DONALDSON: MY RESPECT FOR REAGAN ONLY GREW - BY SAM DONALDSON

 

TIMES FREE PRESS

1.      A 'CHANGE OF HEART' ON DEBT

2.      WOMEN IN COMBAT?

3.      REP. COHEN'S HANDGUN PERMIT

4.      WELCOME REVERSAL AT VANDERBILT

 

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

1.      FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - 'HALIÇ' IS NEITHER GOLDEN NOR A HORN

2.      TALKING TURKEY ON THE CRISIS - EMRE DELİVELİ

3.      FROM THE BARBARIANS TO PAPOULIAS WITH LOVE - C. CEM OĞUZ

4.      UNITED STATES HAS A CHOICE IN TUNISIA - NICOLA NASSER

5.      A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE FOR OBAMA'S RE-ELECTION - MEHMET YEGİN

6.      CRUCIAL SUMMIT - YUSUF KANLI

7.      THE HAITIAN FOLLIES - GWYNNE DYER

 

THE NEWS

1.      PARLIAMENT LODGES

2.      THE VISA SCAM

3.      TARGETING SCHOOLS

4.      PROJECTS WE CANNOT HANDLE - DR A Q KHAN

5.      WITHOUT KNOWING FATA  - AYAZ WAZIR

6.      NO FREE LUNCH  - HUSSAIN H ZAIDI

7.      OCCUPATION HAS NO FUTURE  - DAVID ZLUTNICK

8.      A FRAGILE PARTNERSHIP  - ASIF EZDI

9.      A FEARFUL VOID  - CHRIS CORK

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

1.      SLASHING OF DEVELOPMENT BUDGET

2.      UNBECOMING CONDUCT OF MPS

3.      STICKING THE TAG OF TERRORISM ON PAKISTAN

4.      RISE OF HINDU TERRORISM - AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)

5.      BLASPHEMY ISSUE - ASIF HAROON RAJA

6.      UN CONCERN OVER ABUSES IN IHK - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

7.      OPTING FOR COLLECTIVE WISDOM - MALIK M ASHRAF

8.      THE PRICE OF CLIMATE CHANGE? - MICHAEL RICHARDSON

 

THE AUSTRALIYAN

1.      A MOMENT TO HONOUR ACTS OF EXTREME VALOUR

2.      EARLY EXIT IS NO MAGIC SOLUTION

3.      HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BRISBANE

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      THE AGED-CARE CHALLENGE

2.      COMMONWEALTH NOT QUITE KING

3.      PRODUCTIVITY REPORT ON AGED CARE WELCOME START TO DEBATE

THE GUARDIAN

1.      IN PRAISE OF … ERIC HOBSBAWM

2.      VOTES FOR PRISONERS: BANG TO RIGHTS

3.      THE PALESTINIAN PAPERS: PLEADING FOR A FIG LEAF

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      PAPUA JUSTICE

2.      IS TAX HOLIDAY SEXY ENOUGH TO ATTRACT INVESTMENT?  - LILI YAN ING

3.      MORE THAN JUST RATIFYING CTBT - MUHAMAD NAJIB

4.      IN A BORDERLESS WORLD, BORDERS DO MATTER

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      CUT COLLEGE RED TAPE

2.      GETTING TRAVEL ON TRACK

3.      DEBATE: BUILDING SUBWAYS - BY ZHANG MING & XU YONG  (CHINA DAILY)

4.      NO FEAR OF IRREVERSIBLE INFLATION - BY LIU SHUCHENG (CHINA DAILY)

 

DAILY MIRROR

1.      FOOD CRISIS

2.      TUNISIA EFFECT ECHOED BUT DOMINO UNCERTAIN - BY CHRISTOPHE DE ROQUEFEUIL

3.      2011 – The year of another Global Economic Crisis?  - By Patali Champika Ranawaka

4.      STREAMLINING OF PROCEDURES CONNECTECTED WITH DUTY FREE CAR PERMITS FOR GOVERNMENT SERVANTS

 

GULF DAILY NEWS

1.      REFLECTIONS ON TUNISIA...  - BY DR JAMES J ZOGBY PRESIDENT, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

TRULY A CONGRESS AGENT

BHARDWAJ PRECIPITATING POLITICAL CRISIS


The looming political crisis in Karnataka is entirely the creation of a Governor who is set upon bringing down the Government headed by Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa by hook or by crook. Ever since he was appointed Governor of Karnataka, Mr HR Bhardwaj, desperate to prove his utility to the Congress high command after being shunted out of the Union Cabinet, has been trying every trick in the book to destabilise the BJP Government. He has converted the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore into a conspirators' den where conspiracies have been hatched to effect defections, manufacture propaganda against the Government and tar the Chief Minister's image with the ulterior motive of either putting in place an alternative arrangement in which the Congress is a partner or impose President's Rule after sacking the Government, prepare the ground for a manipulated election and facilitate his party's return to power. He believes that this can fetch him a ticket back to New Delhi and win him a berth in the Union Cabinet. It's either that or he is doing the job of a hatchet man, carrying out the instructions of his party bosses with single-minded devotion. There can be no other explanation for his reckless behaviour. Mr Bhardwaj claims to know the law of the land and the Constitution's provisions. In that case, he should know that a Governor acts as per the advice of the Council of Ministers much as the President does. A Governor has neither discretionary power nor the right to act independently till such time there is a total breakdown of the constitutional mechanism. Nothing like that has happened in Karnataka, yet Mr Bhardwaj has chosen to act in a manner that is abominable. Just because two lawyers approached him with permission to prosecute the Chief Minister on charges of corruption based on sheer allegations and without an iota of evidence, there was no reason for him to have given his sanction. He did this despite a Cabinet resolution asking him not to do so because of the motivated charges and the fact that prima facie there was no case against the Chief Minister. Worse, Mr Bhardwaj took recourse to bazaar language that has only brought further ignominy to the office he holds and of which he is clearly undeserving.


That the man who, as Union Minister for Law and Justice in the UPA1 regime, helped Ottavio Quattrocchi access his ill-gotten gains from the Bofors deal and sought a closure of judicial proceedings in the bribery case should strike a moral posture is laughable. Mr Bhardwaj is a pathetic carricature of a courtier who can stoop to any level to please his master. The consequences of his misdeeds are there for all to see. Political instability and uncertainty have had an adverse impact on governance; the Chief Minister is more busy keeping his majority intact than in framing policies; and, the supremacy of an elected Government is being reduced to a mockery. While Mr Bhardwaj justly deserves the opprobrium that is being heaped upon him by the people of Karnataka, the Congress should not be spared for assaulting democracy in such a crude fashion. Clearly the party wants to divert popular attention away from corruption in the UPA and galloping food prices which have come to symbolise the all-round failure of the Government it heads in New Delhi. It is guilty twice over and must not escape unpunished.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

HU CALLS THE SHOTS IN US

OBAMA GETS VACUOUS PROMISES


After an acrimonious year in bilateral relations, Chinese President Hu Jintao's four- day state visit to the United States last week came as a welcome relief, as it arrested the gradual worsening of US-China relations, at least for the time being. The past year saw both countries being suspicious of the other's intentions: The Americans feared the Chinese were stealing their jobs and vying for the number one position in the global order while the Chinese imagined the Americans as trying to 'contain' their growth as a global power. However, Mr Hu Jintao's visit saw the two leaders engage in greater cooperation over the management of several thorny issues. The meeting was especially successful for Mr Hu Jintao, who had, however, only limited goals — first, he wanted to be bestowed with the full honours that are reserved for leaders of powerful countries; and, second, he wanted to present China as an influential global investor that is more than the world's biggest sweatshop. On both counts, he got what he wanted. Unlike his 2006 visit, when former President George Bush treated him to a business lunch of sorts, this time around President Barack Obama organised a full state dinner, replete with a 21-gun salute, a notable guest list and an impressive line-up of jazz musicians. The symbolism associated with an official state dinner was important for Mr Hu Jintao, who is looking to solidify his foreign policy legacy as he transfers leadership to Vice-President Xi Jinping in 2012. In the latter part of his trip, he visited Chicago, which is home to at least 30 Chinese businesses while some 300 Chicago-area corporations operate in China, in an obvious attempt to revamp his country's image. Interestingly, he also visited an elite public school — Walter Payton College Prep, which hosts the Confucius Institute, a global chain of Chinese cultural centres nurtured by the Chinese Government to spread the influence of a potential global superpower. It seems like Beijing's effort is already bearing fruit as Mr Hu Jintao did not need a translator when he spoke to Walter Payton's students since all of them are attending Mandarin classes.


However, it is still unclear if the US got what it wanted. Compared to Beijing, Washington, DC had a much longer wish-list that included concessions on several contentious issues such as relations with North Korea, a devalued Renminbi and China's poor human rights record. As expected, Mr Hu Jintao made some flaky promises and skirted most issues — for example, while agreeing that China still has a long way to go on human rights he made no commitment on releasing imprisoned Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo. Similarly, he would not condemn North Korea's attack on a South Korean warship but expressed concern over its uranium enrichment plant. Overall, there is no clear indication that the Chinese are re-evaluating their policies.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

MOUNTING RAGE ON THE ROADS

JOGINDER SINGH


Antiquated laws, poorly trained drivers, bad traffic management and authority's indifferent attitude have combined to create a mess.


India may not have a very high incidence of road rage cases as compared with some of the Western countries, but it is fast emerging as a dangerous trend. It is in essence a reflection of aggression caused by stress while driving. But what is cause for concern is that in most cases it is no more restricted to making rude gestures, heaping verbal insults, or smashing windows but ends up in physical assault or even murder. Take the recent incident in New Delhi. A pilot allegedly drove over the manager of a restaurant because the former's car grazed that of the latter.


A look at the number of deaths resulting from road rage in Delhi alone gives a fair idea of the seriousness of the issue. In the past five years, out of the 2,489 murders in the national capital, 382 were committed by people who let their anger explode.


We Indians continue to be reckless on roads. The number of deaths in road accidents has increased from 84,430 in 2003-04 to 1.14 lakh in 2007. According to statistics, in 2007, India witnessed 418,657 road accidents out of which 14,590 were fatal. It is an increase of 8.4 per cent over 105,725 deaths in 2006.


It is important to note that most of these deaths have occurred due to bad road designs and lack of proper traffic management systems. Hence, the important question is what the Government is doing to tackle traffic offences, especially road rage incidents. The Government has decided to start a three-digit helpline 911— just like 100 for police and 101 for fire service. But it remains only on paper.


The law of the land has neither any definition of road rage nor any specific provision for it. It depends on the FIR registering official what IPC Sections he would use to register such a case. It is because the law makes a fine distinction between murder by rash and negligent driving, a planned murder and a murder by a sudden or grave provocation. For instance, the accused in the New Delhi case was promptly granted bail on the ground that it was a bailable offence.


A road rage case may be registered under Section 304 as culpable homicide not amounting to murder or, under 304(A) as death due to rash and negligent driving. In some cases, Section 325 is used to bracket a road rage case with one of hurt or grievous hurt. It can also be registered as murder under Section 302 and attempt to murder under Section 307.


This kind of legal ambiguity can lead not just to corruption but also dilution of cases, especially those involving the high and mighty. An investigating officer has the liberty to turn a minor incident into a serious one and vice versa.

What is worse is that the legal procedure is too long-drawn to punish traffic offenders. If a drive were to be started to check the authenticity of driving licences issued, chances are that more than 25 per cent would turn out to be fakes.


The fault lies with our system. There is no institutionalised arrangement for drivers' training in our country. The so-called driving training schools run by private operators are nothing more than a front for purchasing fake driving licences. Most advanced countries prescribe written as well as practical tests for applicants of driving licences. In our country even if the system exists, it is only on paper.


The Delhi High Court observed in January 2010 that bus operators should not be blamed alone for the increase in accidents, the State Government is equally responsible because it is lax in issuing driving licences. "The problem would not have arisen if you ensured trained drivers were given licences ... The power to give licences is with them (Government). Bus operators cannot produce drivers,"said the court.


According to Transparency India, truckers pay bribes at every stage of their business — starting from getting their vehicles registered with the Road Transport Office and obtaining road-worthiness certificates to obtaining and renewing inter-State and national permits. Besides, they pay cash at police checkpoints set up to curb smuggling and keep vigil on movements of anti-nationals and anti-socials. It estimates that truckers pay around Rs 22,500 crore in bribes annually.


The Global Corruption Barometer 2010, a survey conducted by Transparency International, says 74 per cent Indians feel that corruption has increased over the last three years. People find politicians are most corrupt, followed by the police, civil servants and officials from the fields of education, business, judiciary, NGOs and military. A truck industry operator said, "Harassment at the hands of police and Road Transport Office staff results in rash and negligent driving to make up for the time lost ...The indifferent attitude of the Transport Department is the main reason for approaching middlemen or touts."


The authorities are yet to wake up despite over 314 deaths a day, 13 deaths per hour and a murder on the road every five minutes. Absence of a centralised data of rash and negligent driving and grossly disproportionate punishment for traffic violations surmount the problem.


It is surprising that the serious problem of traffic offence has not even evoked a debate in Parliament. It shows the Union Government does not feel responsible for this sorry state of affairs. It reminds me of what Alexander Pope once said: Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part, there all the honour lies.


The Union Government would do well to remember that the responsibility lies with it to improve the traffic management system in the country by changing the laws and being ruthless in dealing with corruption in the system. Similarly, those who violate traffic rules or are found guilty of causing injury, death and damage on account of rash driving should be severely punished so that others are deterred.


It is a comment on our sad state of affairs that along with fatal accidents on the roads, the incidence of road rage is also increasng with each passing day.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

HOW US GLOSSES OVER THE TRUTH

CLAUDE ARPI


In January 2000 Congressman Frank Pallone introduced a House Resolution seeking to designate Pakistan as state sponsor of terrorism. The Resolution listed specific charges against Pakistan and its promotion of cross-border terrorism. The draft was sent to a sub-committee where it died. The State Department marked its copy 'What a bunch of crap!'


On January 27, 2000, Congressman Frank Pallone introduced Resolution 406 "expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Pakistan should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism" in the US Congress. A few years later when the Department of State released the document, there was a box blackening out the top right of the page.


Perhaps out of curiosity, Ms Barbara Elias, the Director for the Afghanistan, Pakistan, Taliban Documentation Project at the National Security Archive of the George Washington University, filed an appeal with the Department of State's Appeals Review Panel. She asked what American diplomacy had to hide. Two years later, Ms Elias finally won her appeal. To her surprise, she found the words: "What a bunch of crap!"

Ms Elias commented in her blog at the National Security Archives: "I had a hearty chuckle, finding it quite funny that a person employed by the Department of State (I don't know who) would write 'bunch of crap!!' on a copy of a House resolution, and that the Department of State had tried so hard to prevent the public from knowing it had ever happened."


Well, the episode is telling of the US State Department's attitude towards Pakistan and terrorism.

Nineteen months before 9/11, the Resolution tabled by Democrat Pallone and one of his Republican colleagues was quite visionary. It is worth quoting some of their points:

 

  • Whereas reliable reports from Western media sources have cited Pakistan as a base and training ground for terrorist groups, and the Pakistani Government's demonstrated reluctance to halt the use of its soil for terrorist organisations;
  • Whereas media reports have implicated Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directly in terrorist activities, as well as the international drug trade;
  • Whereas a large number of terrorist organisations, such as the Harkat-ul-Ansar (later re-named Harkat-ul-Mujahideen), Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, Hizbul Mujahideen, Hizbe Wahdat, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan, and Al Badr are based and receive support from Pakistan;
  • Whereas Pakistan has hindered US and international efforts to apprehend Osama bin Laden;
  • Whereas in November 1979, according to the US Department of State, the Government of Pakistan allowed for the US Embassy and the American Cultural Center in Pakistan to be destroyed by fire, which led to the death of two Americans;
  • Whereas Pakistan has acknowledged its 'political and moral' support of the separatist movement in Kashmir...


This is what someone in the US State Department called "crap"!


The conclusion of the Pallone Resolution, which was eventually referred to a sub-committee of the House where it was 'politically killed', was that "given the shared threat that the US and other countries face from international terrorist organisations, the State Department is urged to explore ways to keep up US cooperation with those countries in the struggle against terrorism."


For Congressman Pallone, the US should have collaborated with India to fight terror. But of course, terror did not exist before the Twin Towers tragedy!


The blog of the National Security Archives says: "Why was so much time, effort, and money spent to redact this harmless bit of chicken scratch? Merely to prevent Government embarrassment?…Which other Government secrets remain incorrectly hidden under black ink? Are we really safer in the dark?" Certainly not and it is why, though limited in scope, the WikiLeaks disclosures are healthy.


The "bunch of crap" episode raises another serious issue. Why is US diplomacy always siding with Pakistan?

The same National Security Archives recently published a series of US documents on how Pakistan acquired the bomb in the 1970s (most of the documents date back to 1978-1979). They show that though the Carter Administration was deeply upset with Gen Zia-ul-Haq's regime tirelessly working to acquire a bomb, the arrival of the Soviets in Afghanistan at the end of the 1970s made the US officials 'forget' that Pakistan had one. Later, it was too late to stop the nuclear train.


The National Security Archives documents confirm that from the start, Gen Zia's main objective was the consolidation of the nuclear programme initiated by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had bragged "we are ready to eat grass" to possess the coveted weapon.


Thanks to AQ Khan who managed to steal the blueprints for a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility in The Netherlands, the Pakistani dream became a reality right under the eyes of the Americans who "wanted to maintain good relations with that country, a moderate state in an unstable region".


The Carter Administration would have been even more worried, had they known that Khan and his team were spreading nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea with the help of China. But would the State Department have acted differently? We can't be sure.


In the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, improving relations with Islamabad became top priority for Washington, DC. According to CIA documents, Pakistani officials knew that Washington was "reconciled to a Pakistani nuclear weapons capability".


Another briefing of National Security Archives points out: "China's role as a leading provider of sensitive technology to Pakistan has repeatedly strained US-China relations, and has complicated efforts to expand US-China trade." Business may have been more 'complicated' for the Americans, but the fact remains that China has been Pakistan's main support to acquire the bomb.


Another declassified document admits that during the 1980s, "the US was criticised for providing massive levels of aid to Pakistan, its military ally, despite laws barring assistance to any country that imported certain technology related to nuclear weapons. President Ronald Reagan waived the legislation, arguing that cutting off aid would harm US national interests".


On January 8, 2011, The Washington Post reported: "US to offer more support to Pakistan"; the Obama Administration will increase its military and economic aid to Pakistan.


According to a newly updated tabulation from the Congressional Research Service, nearly $20 billion in civilian and military support has been provided to Pakistan between Fiscal Years 2002 and 2010 (please note, this sum does not include covert aid). And it continues. Since June 2010, 17 new F-16 combat aircraft have been delivered to Pakistan along with several armored personnel carriers. These planes are obviously not needed in the fight against terrorism; but they can be used to deter India, believes Islamabad. According to another CRS Fact Sheet, "major US arms sales and grants to Pakistan since 2001, have included items useful for counter-terrorism and counterinsurgency operations, along with a number of 'big ticket' platforms more suited to conventional warfare.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

 

MQM SAVES PPP REGIME FROM COLLAPSE

NADEEM F PARACHA


While the PPP-led coalition deserves to be applauded for braving out the terrible political mess Pakistan has been plunged in, other parties are busy bickering among themselves rather than addressing the issue of increasing fanaticism


The MQM's return to the PPP-led Government's fold is certainly good news, especially for the people of Karachi/Sindh and for those patient and thoughtful enough to realise the grave consequences the fall of a Government can have at this testing time. Whatever the realpolitik behind the manoeuvres of political parties may be, on an ideological level the current coalition Government comprising the PPP, the ANP and the MQM is a natural union.


Today, we stand in a very changed socio-political universe. These are not the 1990s (and certainly not the late 1970s) when secular democratic parties were at constant loggerheads, in the process shrinking their own space and losing much ground to the so-called anti-democratic forces and assorted political-religious parties. Thus, like it or not, there is no denying the fact that the PPP, MQM, ANP and PML(N) remain our best bets if democracy and the concept of pluralism is to last in this troubled republic.


In our current state of pessimism, one does tend to miss out certain bright spots lit by this Government. Whatever has taken place in Pakistan in the last 35 years or so cannot be undone within a span of a single Government term. The process gets even slower when popularly elected Governments need to ignore or withdraw certain policies that might cost heavy economic losses, but at the same time somewhat boost the Government's populist credibility.


One of the most hopeful things that have emerged ever since this Government took office three years ago is the unprecedented manner in which it has, in one way or the other, carried along a coalition of parties that until only 10 years ago were not even willing to share a single table. And this was always the frustration felt by the secular side of democracy in Pakistan; parties spent more time bickering among themselves rather than addressing the issue of the ever-growing role and influence of the Right in politics and society. Though this unprecedented coalition of Pakistan's largest democratic parties has boldly swum through wave after wave of both real and projected crises, it can be suggested that moderate parties have to deliver more compared to their politico-religious counterparts who so far have only the emotional sides of the populace to appeal to.


Whereas the performance of the PPP-led coalition in regards to braving out (in a democratic manner) the terrible mess Pakistan has been in is certainly a noteworthy achievement, one cannot forget the role played in this respect by the Opposition PML(N). Nevertheless, where there is enough grey matter to prove the Sharif brothers' patient and pragmatic role in letting the democratic system regroup itself, there are also some questions to be asked of the PML(N).


The hawks in this party constantly betray the democracy-driven narrative the coalition Government is trying to float. It is true that the electronic media has been this narrative's biggest enemy (for both economic and populist reasons), but it seems the PML(N) hawks contribute further bile to this damaging process by playing to a glued-to-TV gallery that is mostly made up of the urban middle class suspicions of democracy. It is as if the PML(N) by doing this has already submitted to the perception that it is simply a large Punjab-based party with the Province's conservative business and trader classes being its main vote banks.

The PML(N)'s rhetoric about governance, economic self-sufficiency and its rather vague stand on terrorism does not resound as convincingly with the people of Karachi and Sindh (and maybe even Balochistan), as it does with the middle-class of Punjab. This is not to suggest that people in the other Provinces tend to ignore matters such as corruption and the need for good governance. The difference in this respect is of a cultural nature in which the said issues in Karachi and Sindh, for instance, are not seen from the staunchly neo-conservative lenses of the Punjab's business and trader communities.


This is where the PPP succeeds. It speaks a more common language that can be related to by Pakistanis from across the board, even though sometimes its core message does get lost. However, this is also a language that the electronic media is highly suspicious of, because after all, the media too is using the same lenses in judging politics as does the PML(N); and thus the party enjoys a better relationship with the news channels. Just as the current ruling coalition comprises ideologically natural allies, so do the mainstream electronic media and the PML(N). The people can choose whose side they want to be on.


-- The writer is among the most popular Pakistani columnists. He writes for Dawn. Courtesy: Dawn.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

JUSTIFYING UNJUSTIFIABLE PETROL PRICE HIKE

SHIVAJI SARKAR


The public sector oil companies are not in the red as the Government would want us to believe. The Petroleum Ministry is raising a bogey to justify repeated price rise. So, is dismantling of the APM just a ploy to benefit private players?


The public sector petroleum companies are not in the red as the Government would want us to believe. The companies have never stated they are incurring losses. All they said was they were 'under recoveries'. Curiously, while the Government claims that Indian oil companies are making losses, petroleum companies across the world like Shell, Exxon and British Petroleum are making staggering profits.


In fact, the step to dismantle the administrative price mechanism is being taken to not really benefit the nine public sector oil companies. It would rather benefit private players, who find it difficult to compete with the tight-budgeting PSUs. Therefore, it may be seen as a sequel to the agreement between two feuding brothers of one of the largest oil companies, whose retail outlets were in jeopardy as the PSUs maintained just prices.


The Government's move is an effort to project that it is creating a 'level-playing field'. In reality, it would expose the PSUs to unfair and unethical competition. Not only would it have an impact on the economic health of public sector oil companies, the common man would become fodder for not-so-responsible private players.


The last time the APM was dismantled in 1997 by the United Front Government, it had a deleterious effect. It led to spiralling of prices of commodities. So quietly the Government reintroduced the APM mechanism to reduce exploitation of consumers.


It is interesting to note that the Government's statement in Parliament during the Budget session has actually confirmed that private oil companies are not working in the interest of the country. The Government has claimed that the country is "not only self-sufficient in refining capacity but also exports substantially" without divulging details.


Now, sample this. Out of the total domestic refining capacity of 179.9 million metric tons per annum, private sector oil companies refine only 72.5 mmtpa. It is well known that most of the oil refined by private sector companies, even the oil spud offshore Krishna-Godavari, Mahanadi, Cambay and other basins, find their way to markets abroad. Thus, private sector oil companies make huge profits.


The Government has tried to justify its action saying it is a bid to offset `22,306 crore subsidies — 'special securities' in official terminology — "towards under recoveries on account of sale of sensitive products in 2009-10". In reality, the Government notionally paid only `12,000 crore to public sector oil companies. The companies had actual deposits worth `10,306 crore with the Government, which was adjusted against the 'special securities'. Actual subsidies were to the tune of `3,125 crore on account of part subsidy on LPG, PDS kerosene and freight subsidy for supply to North-East and far-flung areas.


Nothing has been paid to public sector oil companies for their claims under APM since 2007-08. The Ministry of Petroleum categorically states that it does not provide any budgetary support to finance annual plan outlay of `69,457 crore. The Ministry says, "The projects are implemented by oil PSUs out of their internal resources". In 2010, only `36 crore has been allocated as plan support for setting up Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.

This also substantiates that public sector oil companies are generating enough revenue to sustain their activities despite the APM and pay hefty taxes to the Government. The Indian Oil alone paid over `58,000 crore as tax. Now, this is a revelation. It means that if public sector oil companies make profits then there is no justification for private sector oil companies to export products instead of selling in the domestic market.

The new exploration policy gives them unfettered freedom. It is time the Government amends NELP for companies registered in the country. This would bolster profits of public sector oil companies.


Despite an increase in petroleum prices in international market, oil companies have made profits after paying tax. This only substantiates the fact that prices of petro products were remunerative even before the increase was announced.


Indian Oil Company earned a profit of `2,228.28 crore after paying tax of `805 crore; ONGC made `13,096 crore; Bharat Petroleum pocketed 834.44 crore, and Oil India and GAIL India earned `2612 crore and `2,229 crore, respectively. Hence, the latest petrol price rise is misplaced.


The companies have paid staggering taxes as the tax component on petroleum products comes to over 50 per cent of the sale price. Indian Oil alone paid `25,196 crore as tax last year to the Union Government and `32,773 crore to State Governments. All other companies paid similar tax, apart from income tax. The tax components of all companies together would surpass `1,00,000 crore.


So even if we accept the Government's argument that companies are suffering "losses", it appears that bureaucrats are not presenting the correct picture to the Minister and creating a bogey to justify the unjustifiable. Statistics are being twisted to present a case that is not there.


Whatever the Government is trying to project as its largesse is actually misplaced. If taxes are rationalised, none of the public sector oil companies would even have the so-called 'under recovery' shown in their books.It is high time the Government rationalises the tax regime and allows PSUs to grow, instead of giving private sector oil companies the right to fleece.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMMENT

SC REASONING IN STAINES CASE IS REGRETTABLE

 

WHILE the Supreme Court is well within its right to state that the case of Dara Singh, convicted of the muder of Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Keonjhar in Orissa in 1999, does not fall under the ' rarest of the rare' category, the reasoning provided by the court is a somewhat problematic.

 

There seems little logic to the apex court's argument that the murder does not deserve capital punishment as Dara Singh's motive was to ' teach Graham Staines a lesson for his religious work namely converting poor tribals to Christianity' — an activity that the court deems to be unjustified.

 

Whether religious conversion is ethically justified or not is beside the point. The involvement of Staines in religious proselytisation does not, in any way, dilute the heinousness of Dara Singh's crime. Staines and his two sons — Philip and Timothy, aged 10 and 8 respectively — were burnt to death by Singh and his accomplices, and there is no doubt that this was an extremely barbaric act.

 

Moreover, the findings of the Wadhwa Commission that was constituted to probe the murders indicate that the extent of conversion activities in Keonjhar had been exaggerated and there was no significant increase in the Christian population.

 

Staines was a missionary who, notwithstanding his motivation to convert people to Christianity, had come to India from a distant country and worked among people who were living lives of extreme poverty. The murder of such a person, and moreover of his two young sons, who were too young to be attributed with any devious motives, in the most gruesome manner did stir the collective conscience of our society and therefore does appear to have fulfilled the criteria for the rarest of the rare cases.

 

OWNERS AND MANAGERS

MANAGEMENT shake- ups are part and parcel of the corporate world, but last week's changes at Google and Wipro — the former arguably the world's most dominant information technology ( IT) company and the latter, India's third largest IT services provider — raise questions over the extent to which promoters actually allow professionals do their job.

 

In Google's case, co- founder Larry Page has taken over as the CEO. In Wipro's case, the sacking of its two joint CEOs after three successive quarters of disappointing results lagging sector leaders Infosys and TCS, marks the end of Wipro's dual- leadership experiment.

 

While naming two men to the top job, Wipro promoter Azim Premji had claimed the move would help the company capitalise on both their strength and bring more flexibility in its operations.

 

Clearly, that has not worked. What is less clear is whether companies like Wipro or Apple, which were nurtured into the big league by charismatic and strong- willed individuals, can ever expect any professional CEO to last the course as long as the promoters themselves maintain an active management presence. There is also a corporate governance issue involved. If the promoter's the boss, what happens to the board?

Spare writers from politics

SHOULD literary figures, especially those from foreign lands, be forced to get involved in a host country's domestic problem? Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and his partner Kiran Desai were reportedly forced to withdraw their participation in the Galle Literature Festival in Sri Lanka next week after activists associated their presence with endorsing a repressive regime that violated human rights in its extermination of the LTTE. Two organisations — Reporters Sans Frontiers and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka — issued a joint statement asking international participants to withdraw from the festival, which had become one of the most important literary events in the embattled country since its inception in 2007.

 

Leading liberal writers such as Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy endorsed the appeal.

 

For a festival that celebrates people of letters, it is indeed unfortunate that politics should take centrestage. To force political ideology down the throats of celebrated writers — no matter how contentious the issue may be — should be discouraged. This weakens not only the event in this case, but hurts the rebuilding process that Sri Lanka is going through after more than three decades of turmoil.

 

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            MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

POLITICAL FAMILIES HURTING POLITY

BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN

 

IT IS appropriate that the week of the cabinet reshuffle should see renewed debate on the fate of politically influential family lineages in the body politic.

 

There was widespread expectation that the infusion of young, fresh faces into the government would help give it a fresh impetus at time it seems tired, mired in scandal and dangerously close to a sense of drift. The reshuffle has sent one clear message across, namely that the Congress, even as it tightens its grip on government, will try to keep a fix on what the media has labeled ' crony capitalism'. The shifting of prominent ministers from civil aviation, surface transport and petroleum is surely a signal that private lobbies and companies must not be allowed to overwhelm the public purpose.

 

Family

 

Similarly, the timing of the fine for the controversial Lavasa project and the transfer of food and civil supplies away from Sharad Pawar are an indicator that the premier party is keeping him and interests aligned with his Nationalist Congress Party on their toes. It is also no secret that major sugar interests historically close to him will also have far less leverage with a Minister of State from Kerala.

Yet, it is not these tactical moves that will be watched as closely as the roll out of the plans for revival of the Congress' fortunes in the country in general and the Hindi belt in particular. Rahul Gandhi, and what he does next will be as crucial as what the government does in its tinkering with policy.

 

It is here that the question of how far and fast the family at the helm of the Congress can revive the party must be placed in its larger context. In his recent and well-researched writings, the author Patrick French has done some serious spadework on the make-up of the present Lok Sabha.

 

Only three figures need concern us here. Of the 545 members, about 156 — a little over one fourth — have a family background. The younger Lok Sabha members are a study in contrast as nearly half are from politically significant families. These trends cut across party lines.

 

At the high end of the spectrum is the Congress itself. All the Congress MPs in the House under the age of 35 are from politically significant families.

 

The party is increasingly prone to pick those who have a parent, an uncle or family member with a political past as an elected representative.

 

French goes so far as to coin the term ' HMP' or hereditary Member of Parliament to describe such phenomena. He is fair in arguing that a second or third generation legislator need not be a moron, an also ran or an under performer. Some — Indira Gandhi or for that matter Farooq Abdullah — have turned out to have a style and stamp all of their own.

 

Yet, it does raise a troubling question in a country of over half a billion people aged between 12 and 32. After all, in making it easier for those from a handful of families to get a party ticket, is the polity not making it all the more difficult for those with no such ladder close at hand? The one politician who did the most to entrench lineage as part of the standard political process, Indira Gandhi, herself was at best an indirect if significant beneficiary of her close ties with her father, India's first Premier. But in bringing her younger son, Sanjay to the fore in 1976 and then in paving the way for the eventual succession of Rajiv in 1984, she gave lineage a legitimacy it had hitherto lacked in politics.

 

Reservations

 

Reservations have made a huge difference in reducing if not breaking the power of older elites. In 1985, Rajputs made up one on two of the sarpanches in Uttar Pradesh, but this would be unthinkable today.

 

This rapid turnover of elites has if anything been facilitated by the enormous funds, patronage and largesse available to panchayat leaders today. Of course, it can cut both ways, as the accumulation of this wealth at a personal level may well pave the way for grooming a family member to nurse a political constituency.

 

Looking back, it is perhaps no coincidence that Sanjay Gandhi's advent into the political arena was contemporaneous with the advent of muscle and money power in politics. The same process has been played over at different levels with only the cadre parties being spared from lineage- based leadership.

 

The question is not so very different from that of how the state system will regulate private capital.

 

Kin and clan, lineage and family are more apt terms than dynasty to connote how blood and marital ties have

come to pervade a large part of the polity.

 

But the electoral test is still a tough one as Sanjay Gandhi found out in Amethi in 1977.

 

Similarly, there is no guarantee a business family scion will pass the market test. How else can one account for the decline of houses like the Shri Rams and the Dalmias since the early Indira era?

 

But this does not take the polity or state system very far.

 

Some families may experience a downward spiral and there may be many rags to riches stories.

 

The fact is election by secret ballot as well as merit based entrance to state service, both being British ideas, are recent historical innovations in India.

 

Universal franchise was a product of the freedom struggle, and the Constitution also allowed for positive discrimination in elected bodies and state service.

 

It is easy to forget how these were meant to check privilege.

 

Parties

 

But family ties, critical in our social body have, through a process of osmosis, come to play a critical even central role in key places in the body politic. Of course, no system is impervious to change.

 

One way it could come about is from below. Parties of the Left, the Hindutva groups and the Dalit elements still owe more to a cadre structure.

 

Recruiting young, ambitious, driven men and women, they do have space for them at the top.

 

This will give them an edge over the Congress if they get their politics right.

 

 

But the other way, change can come is from the very top. The model would actually be Jawaharlal Nehru, whose ability to motivate the generation that came of age in the 1950s was a critical force in shaping the newly independent country.

 

That he was Motilal's son or Gandhi's heir mattered less than his vision.

 

The dilemma is simple. Lineage has deep roots in our past, and is malleable enough to evolve, adapt and change shape and form. Public institutions have to contain and control them. Unless they do so, it will not allow the democratic spirit will not triumph over those that equate mere lineage with quality.

 

The writer teaches history at Delhi University

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

DON'T PLAY POLITICS

 

India's two biggest national parties need serious introspection on their ugly brinkmanship over a series of corruption scandals. Be it their JPC-related rift or the slugfest between Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and his opponents, neither comes out shining. Demanding urgent remedy, corruption poses a problem that's too grave to be politicised. The BJP needed to remember this when framing a response to Governor H R Bhardwaj's nod to Yeddyurappa's prosecution following allegations implicating the latter in a land scam. Instead, by putting Karnataka on the boil, the party seems to think attack is the best form of defence. That can't be the case in any society that upholds rule of law.


The BJP has reason to resent the open hostility displayed on many occasions by the governor, which goes against the objectivity demanded of his constitutional post. There's a persuasive view that Bhardwaj's latest action is politically biased. None of this means Yeddyurappa can skirt the need to respond to charges of corruption and nepotism in the proper institutional forum. Combined with his refusal to quit, any bid to avoid legal scrutiny will fan the impression that the chief minister has something to hide. The BJP rightly demands that the scam-hit UPA come clean at the Centre. It must apply the same standards to itself.


If anything, India needs to turn crisis into opportunity by initiating systemic cleansing. As stated in a letter to UPA bosses from top industrialists and other eminent citizens, discretionary authority fuels corruption. This is often the case with land and housing allotments, resource allocation or issue of clearances, leases and licences. The Centre's recent initiatives in this regard must go beyond tokenism, creating a transparent system where decisions are rule- rather than discretion-based. Rules themselves must be clear and accessible, and official records digitised to allow for easy scrutiny. To start with, let's get cracking on difficult but crucial tasks like dismantling politically backed land mafias and reforming sectors like mining.


Institutions dealing with corruption also need more muscle. The CVC's reach, for instance, doesn't extend to politicians. Nor has much been done to change the impression that India's premier investigative agency, the CBI, is a political tool. As for the promised lokpal, it lacks real powers in the form envisaged in the Lokpal Bill. It can't listen directly to complaints or take action on its own initiative. If corruption is to be effectively tackled, surely its authority needs to be more than recommendatory. Finally, special fast-track courts can be set up to try corruption cases involving politicians and bureaucrats, and exemplary punishment handed out to those found guilty.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BIRTH OF A NATION

 

The votes for South Sudan's referendum on independence have nearly all been counted and the verdict is a foregone conclusion. The long-running civil strife may finally be resolved with South Sudan splitting from Sudan to form the world's newest country. The voting patterns - the target of 60% voter turnout in the south was easily achieved with over 98% of the counted votes so far being for independence - are unsurprising. The power struggle between the Arab Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, predicated on ethnic and economic conflicts, has taken a terrible toll on human lives over two civil wars from 1955 to 1972 and 1983 to 2005. The second of those has seen more than 2.5 million people killed and over five million displaced. Darfur has become a synonym for ethnic cleansing with its bloody tales of the havoc caused by the Janjaweed, Khartoum-backed Arab militia.


In the face of this, no other solution is viable. What is important now is that the referendum results are followed through. Sudan's oil reserves are likely to be a crucial issue with the majority of the oilfields in the south but processing facilities in the north. India, with its own interests in the region for reasons of energy security, could do worse than emulate the Chinese approach of engaging both the north and the south economically. For both pragmatic reasons and in terms of the bigger picture - external powers can serve as a stabilising factor and help in seeing South Sudan's independence secured peacefully - other governments too must engage both the north and the south, unlike the global lack of will in dealing with the atrocities of Darfur.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

BREAKING DOWN OLD BARRIERS

RORY METCALF

 

The recent visit down under by Indian external affairs minister S M Krishna has rekindled a difficult debate in Australia's relations with the rising giant of South Asia.


In talks with Australian counterparts on January 19 and 20, Krishna revived New Delhi's call for Canberra to lift its tired ban on uranium exports, pointing out that nuclear energy could be a climate-friendly way of helping to meet the massive electricity needs of a nation seeking to lift hundreds of millions to a decent quality of life.


His comments confirm that the Australian Labor Party policy of forbidding uranium sales to India is a thorn in what should be one of Australia's crucial 21st century bilateral relationships.


Diplomacy, strategy, economics, climate change and notions of fairness - all these imperatives support a change of policy. It is time the government led by Julia Gillard mustered the political courage to agree to sell uranium to India for civilian use. This need only begin as an in-principle decision, subject to the protocols and safeguards Australia applies to others such as China and Russia. This was the position the conservative government of John Howard reached in 2007. It would then be India's problem whether to accept Australia's reasonable conditions.


The strategic backdrop to this issue is that Australia and India are natural partners, multicultural democracies facing shared hopes and challenges in the Asian century. The new India's rapid economic growth and wealth of human capital complement Australia's combination of resources, development and proximity.

 

We are neighbours in the Indian Ocean. We face common security concerns, from terrorism to the potentially destabilising impact of China's military rise.


To be fair, the Labor governments led first by Kevin Rudd and now by Gillard have made some real efforts to build the relationship; with a greatly expanded diplomatic presence, high-level visits, a 2009 defence declaration, security cooperation around the Commonwealth Games, and preparations for a free trade agreement. They took reasonable steps to control and repair damage to relations after the dreadful attacks on Indian students.


The broader trade relationship has boomed: Australian exports of coal, gold, copper and some services continue to grow. India is finally getting beyond its misperceptions of an Australia tilting China's way, thanks in part to WikiLeaked cables describing Kevin Rudd's realism about Beijing. Privately, many well-informed Indians understand that today's Australia is nothing like the prejudiced, unsophisticated, unimportant, unreliable nation it has been caricatured as in parts of the powerful Indian media.


But, especially after the student crisis, championing Australia in India is hardly a popular move. So it remains an open question whether Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will make a substantial visit to Australia later this year - beyond attending the Commonwealth summit in Perth - without movement on the uranium front.

Sadly, uranium has become a barometer of trust in the relationship. There is a strong view in the Indian elite that we Australians will not sell uranium because we do not trust India, and that New Delhi cannot afford to politically invest in Australia as a strategic partner until that changes.

This is a pity, because a proper strategic partnership could greatly benefit both sides. It could include, for instance, regular defence exercises, frank exchanges of actionable intelligence, and creative new arrangements for cooperation involving third parties, such as working with Indonesia, the United States or Singapore in policing the sea lanes.


So why not sell uranium to India? The argument has long been that nuclear trade with India would undermine the NPT bargain. Under that imperfect pact, most nations gave up the right to acquire nuclear arms in exchange for international cooperation in nuclear energy, plus promises by the few legally-recognised nuclear-weapon states to disarm one day. The worry has been that exempting India from these rules might lead Pakistan, Israel, Iran or North Korea to conclude that they too can have both the bomb and eventual nuclear commerce with the world - as if they did not already have their own reasons for wanting atomic armaments.


Members of the Australian Labor Party - a movement proud of its egalitarian ethos - need to consider the Indian point of view. Indians see the NPT as nuclear apartheid. India has a dangerous neighbourhood, disconcerting nuclear neighbours in China and Pakistan and, unlike Australia, no ally offering a handy nuclear umbrella. For all that, India's nuclear deterrent is small. New Delhi has a doctrine of no first strike, and supports the Obama administration's push for global nuclear disarmament.


In any case, Australia's policy fastidiousness is fast becoming academic. Ever since the US-India nuclear deal, which Australia voted for at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, America and many other nations have commenced legitimate nuclear business with India. Canada has agreed to sell uranium. Even Tokyo, long Canberra's partner in disarmament diplomacy, is looking at allowing sale of civilian reactor components as it forges strategic links with New Delhi. Australia could soon be the world's only substantial nuclear exporter standing aloof.


There are no ideal outcomes in diplomacy, only decisions, and Canberra's full engagement with a rising India cannot be deferred forever.


The writer is senior research fellow in Indian strategic affairs at the University of NSW.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'We are to blame in making classical music sound sanctimonious'

How was the experience at Jodhpur RIFF?


I'd never heard about the Jodhpur festival so i was a bit sceptical coming from the classical background, whether an audience like Jodhpur festival would be receptive to my classical style. Hence my performance was restricted to a shorter khayal, two bhajans and a maand. But i was humbled by the sheer joy with which the audience heard me and liked my performance.


What future do you see for classical music reaching the next generation?


If it's presented and packaged rightly, then there's a great future for classical music reaching the youth. To some extent we artistes are to blame in making classical music sound sanctimonious and meditative. What is this classical music? It's a label that we've given. Music is music. Either it is good music or bad music. Classical music should be presented to the youth just like any other music. Artistes should not make classical music as something very serious and revered and, thus, condition the young mind towards it in a certain way. If one is friendly towards the young audience and if in turn they like the experience, they'll take naturally to classical music. After all it's got a 2,000-year-old history to it. If classical music has survived this long, it's simply because of its inherent strength. And i believe in this strength.


So are you saying that you'd like to make classical music contemporary so that it's less intimidating for youth?

No, as an artiste i feel i should not do anything that will dilute the purity of the music. In fact, it's my duty as an artiste to preserve the sanctity of classical music. But at the same time, one should refrain from making a big hullabaloo about it.


But when you're experimenting on a certain composition, doesn't the threat of diluting the art cross your mind?

I haven't made a lot of experiments unlike other artistes. My method is straightforward, that appeals to people. I once visited a school in Yamuna Nagar in Uttarakhand where children had not experienced classical music. I told them, i'll sing a simple alaap - with no words and accompaniments - and you will paint a picture that comes to your mind after listening to that alaap. One student told me he saw hues of red, yellow and white and the sun rising against them. Another student said that he saw an idol of Natraj in grey while yet another said that he could see his mother cleaning their courtyard in the morning. What was all that? They were motivated enough to come forward, get involved and paint the experience.


Today, people are used to taking from a readymade platter. They don't want to do anything for it. By listening to a cassette of gayatri mantra every day, your punya (redemption/salvation) is not getting done. You have to sit down, concentrate and recite it. Only then will it benefit you. One has to work for all good things in life. If i'm coming to your doorstep, you have to come to your door to receive me. But if your antenna is down, then i can't help it.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

LICENCE TO SPELL

GEORGE N NETTO

 

In our eagerness to flaunt our knowledge of English, we sometimes attach little importance to correct spelling. Indeed, to some, any spelling will do so long as their intended meaning is conveyed, never mind if words are grossly mutilated in the process and amusing neologisms - that is, news words or expressions - are unwittingly coined. One occasionally comes across some truly arresting 'jems' - funnily enough, i found this one in a jewellery mart.


Over the years i've come across signboards offering some rather unpalatable fare by way of food and beverages: to wit, "Rice & Fish Carry", "Bread & Hamlet Sand-witches", "Egg Nooduls", "Silly Chicken", " Pride Rice", "Fresh Muchrooms", "Fresh Garbage & Carat from Ooty", "Ice-scream", "Call Drinks", "Coolrings", "Diary Products", "Mango Suice", et al.


I once chanced upon a "Toady Shop" in rural Kerala - the sign-painter must've been well-primed with the local brew to come up with that eye-catcher - while a liquor outlet's board in Munnar warned: "Alkahole consumption is injurious to health"! On another occasion, a roadside kiosk's signboard proclaiming "Chicken Thai Roast" intrigued me. It had nothing to do with Thai cuisine, i discovered; it was just a misspelling of 'thigh'.

One can spot similar bloomers elsewhere, like the car sticker reading "Prise the Lord", or the classic family planning message on the rear of a truck advocating "We two, ours won". Or the signboard on a highway proclaiming "Petrol Bump Ahead". An electricity board's transformer sported a prominent red alert, "DANCER", while until recently a local shopping centre flaunted a neon signboard that read "Shopping Moll" which did much to maul its reputation. Finally, a chapel near my home once bore the prominently painted sign: "St George's Chappal"!


Of course, we can't really blame our sign-painters for running amok since they're often given a free hand, working largely unguided and unsupervised. This, quite naturally, results in glaring and hilarious misspellings like "Loins Club", a signboard i spotted not so long ago. Then, in the section reserved for women in a local bus, there was this notice: "For Laddies Only". Even better, a mural advertisement for a newly opened marriage hall claimed it had "a cheating capacity" for 200 persons.


At a popular pilgrimage centre, two signboards declared "Ear Poring Done Here" and "Ear Piecing Undertaken". A public convenience was labelled "TOLET". And a barber had designated his small cubicle "BABA SHOP". Equally memorable were the "Atlas Buddy Building Gym" and "Wish You A Marry Christmas" banners that i came across while travelling, not to mention "Photocopying of impotent documents done here".


There was also this banner prominently strung across a national highway reading: "Well Come to Our Hon. Chief Ministir". I'm fairly certain it couldn't have created even a mini-stir in the minister's retinue! And in Kerala where instant English-teaching institutes sprout overnight, i once came across this incredible nugget on a signboard: "Learn English In 60 Hovers" - a truly eloquent example, or rather measure, of our antipathy towards correct spelling.


Personal names too sometimes take a battering in the hands of uncaring spellers. Harold Duthie, a Scottish planter i knew, sometimes received letters from the local village office rechristening him "Herald Dotty" and "Herold Dude", much to his undisguised annoyance. Norman Cole, another Scotsman i worked with, had his name brutalised by the local police station to "Nariman Kaul" and "Conman Cole". "I'll probably end up being branded 'Common Cold!" he quipped. A teacher meanwhile tells me that a student writing an essay about his favourite cricketer chose "Greg Chappal" as his subject while another, asked to name a famous English dramatist, wrote "Sheik Peer"!


My own surname has often been vulgarised to "Nutto", "Notto" and even "Nato" though i've had nothing to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Indeed, i'm now resigned to its being further corrupted to 'Nutts'!

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

LET'S BANK ON RECOVERING IT

India has managed to gain access to Swiss bank secrets through a tax treaty. Now we must show we are sincere about getting back money that has fled Indian taxes. Swiss banks are assured of secrecy as an offshore tax haven by Bern's insistence that tax evasion is not a crime, tax fraud is. This has made Switzerland the largest offshore banker to the world, home to an estimated one-third of the $7 trillion dodging taxes worldwide. Indians are, going by some estimates, understood to have stashed away as much as a fifth of this in vaults around Lake Geneva. The fine distinction the Swiss have maintained between tax evasion, a civil offence for which banks can protect client confidentiality, and tax fraud, a crime for which they cannot, has become untenable.

Earlier, if India wanted to go after this money, it would have to — in every single case — let Swiss courts establish that fraud had been committed. The new tax treaty allows for information to be shared even if no Swiss law has been violated. Switzerland has signed similar treaties with 30-odd nations, including India, since Washington threatened to take UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank, to the cleaners if it did not divulge data on clients thought to be evading around $100 billion in US taxes. The Swiss capitulation was swift: UBS holds more in deposits than Switzerland's GDP.

The pressure that governments can today bring to bear on Swiss banks is, ironically, aided by a desire by the banks themselves to become more transparent. UBS has spearheaded the trend of investing in 'onshore' branch networks across the globe in the belief that, while the days of the numbered account may be numbered, the professional standards set by Swiss banks would find a worldwide clientele. As their onshore business grew, the banks became more susceptible to local jurisdictions.

The Swiss have always been more than willing to aid probe into tax fraud. But unearthing money that is dodging taxes is not an activity for the faint-hearted. Plug one hole and the money flees to another, possibly, deeper one. The Swiss have been far more than forthcoming when criminality has been suspected. The same cannot be said of the other places of refuge for funny money. In an ideal situation, the world should make a concerted attempt to flush it all out at one go.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

LOST IN TRANSITION

The doors of Noah's ark seemingly open the week before January 26 each year judging by the wildlife on the Capital's roads. As you make your way past assorted camels, elephants and horses, you cannot help but wonder if this incongruous display of animals and armoury is what the republic is all about. Does the State, powered by one of the fastest growing economies in the world, need this sort of Stalinist display of strength, once the pride of east Europe and the erstwhile Soviet Union? At last count, we thought the republic belonged to the people. But in these parades, the least consideration is the people who are hemmed in by massive security and can watch the proceedings from a distance.

For days on end, citizens have to endure delays in getting to work or elsewhere thanks to thoroughfares being shut. The sight of little schoolchildren sleepily performing at the show on a cold morning does nothing to warm the cockles of one's heart about the glory of the republic. The State should not take it upon itself to demonstrate how to celebrate the wonder that is India. It should be left to us, the citizens, to do so. The format of the parade does nothing to convey how far India has come from the days when we pleaded with the world to take us seriously. In more innocent days, it was possible for people to get up close and personal with leaders. Now no one can get within shouting distance of any of them.

The State has its work cut out, and self-congratulatory parades are not a priority. If the idea is to elevate the mood of the people, to inspire patriotism, it hardly seems likely in the light of the scams, price rise and the general disillusionment that people feel with the custodians of the republic. So it's time to put the fun back into Republic Day, but let the people decide how best to do it. Wishing you a safe and joyous Republic Day if you want to be part of the great Indian parade even though we don't think we need an organised one.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

 

RESHUFFLING THE SAME OLD PACK

PANKAJ VOHRA,

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced shortly after the Cabinet reshuffle that he would have another one after the budget. The remark itself perhaps indicated that the PM whose prerogative it is to have the council of ministers of his choice was dissatisfied with this outcome. In other words, he could not exercise his prerogative and had to give in to the compulsions of coalition politics as well as party pressures. The net result was that the revamp has failed to send out any message like the AICC plenary session last month. The party and the government have squandered away a golden opportunity for course correction and have, in fact, weakened the institution of the PM.

Singh has emerged as someone who has little say in who should be part of his team. The dynamics within the organisation has ensured that no one was dropped. Instead there have been some additions. The reshuffle does not reflect whether the changes made were to reward a few or punish others. Yes, it is true that the ministers connected with the organisation of the Commonwealth Games — S Jaipal Reddy, Manohar Singh Gill and Kumari Selja — were relieved of urban development, sports and tourism respectively. But they have landed equally good portfolios. No one can explain whether Kamal Nath's shifting from the roads and highways ministry to urban development is a promotion or demotion. Why has Virbhadra Singh, the tallest leader from Himachal Pradesh been given a nondescript portfolio and why was there hesitation in showing a lightweight like Gill the door?

Three ministers were inducted or elevated from Uttar Pradesh but this will have no bearing on the state politics a year ahead of the polls which the Congress badly wants to win. Salman Khursheed should have made it to the Cabinet in the first place but this time has got a promotion in a ministry which will not help his party consolidate its position. Sriprakash Jaiswal has got Cabinet rank only because of his proximity to 10 Janpath and Beni Prasad Verma who got the Kurmi votes for the Congress in the 2009 polls has been humiliated by being given only a minister of state rank when he was a Cabinet minister 14 years ago.

It has been a subject of speculation in political circles that Singh wanted to bring in Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, as the new finance minister. Supporters of Pranab Mukherjee were also keen that he should get the rank of deputy prime minister even if he did not get any portfolio. But that the two moves were put in abeyance shows that the reshuffle has left many people dissatisfied. The fallout of this unhappiness may be reflected in the functioning of the government whose leadership was unable to evaluate some ministers in internal exams. How these failed ministers will perform in the boards after the budget session is anybody's guess.

It has become increasingly clear that the government and the party are in self-destructive mode. It is also difficult to believe that another reshuffle may actually take place in the life of this government given its track record of indecision.  The belief that Cabinet formation is the prerogative of the PM is a myth. Statecraft mandarin Machiavelli has in his book — The Prince — and his discourses stated that power does not lie with the Chair but elsewhere. In the Indian context, it could be broadly interpreted as the Prime Minister's Office and the Congress president's closest advisers. The reshuffle has their stamp. Unless the PM gets a free hand, the government and the party will keep sending out the wrong signals. The latest signals do not portend well for a happy future.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

ABSENTEE LANDLORD

NAYANJOT LAHIRI

Front-line administrators in higher education, CK Gunsalus believes, are almost always selected for qualities other than an ability to run complex organisations. Gunsalus should know. She has authored a widely respected book, aptly titled The College Administrator's Survival Guide (2006).

In that book, Gunsalus helps guide novice administrators through the everyday dilemmas of management in, as she puts it, "not entirely manageable environments" made up of highly and variously talented people. Reading this book three years ago, when Professor Deepak Pental, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University of Delhi, drew me out of pure academics to work with him as an administrator, many of the challenges described there, I experienced in my new role — about administrivia like running meetings and dealing with drop-in visitors, organising funding, investigating sexual harassment cases, and more. At the same time, there were other 'on the scene' lessons that I learnt — of the kind that no administrator's survival guide can help you handle.

For one, as I now know, the endeavour of building high quality departments does not automatically flow out of hiring high quality faculty. In the University of Delhi, there are lots of smart people doing exciting research who, however,  fail to invest in the improvement of teaching programmes.

An example of this is my parent department which has a pool of talented teachers who have not succeeded in revising the history department's Masters programme for 25 years or more. The process of revision started some three years ago, and hopefully, should soon be over. Such problems also plague 'happening' science programmes. Electronic Science was taught in colleges of the university without any change for 20 years until 2010 when it was finally updated.

Neither is the revision of courses a matter of priority for the Delhi University Teachers Association. While the association has successfully generated pressure for a host of changes, from better service conditions to ensuring a decent deal for ad-hoc teachers, I fail to recall a single recent instance when it has raised questions and agitated about outdated courses or absentee teachers. Consequently, unlike the scenario in world class universities that we constantly invoke, at the University of Delhi, it is the administration which frequently pushes and even coerces departments to make their programmes more relevant. This can only be reversed if in academia we decide to be more conscious about fulfilling our professional  responsibilities.

For another, I also wonder whether the governance structures of federally funded universities in the United States, whose administrators Gunsalus writes about, are dependent upon their government in the way that Indian universities are forced to be. Take the case of the expansion in higher education from 2008 onwards, when the quota system came to include 'Other Backward Classes'. This led to a 54% jump in student numbers in the university — from 2008 till 2010.

The biggest staff recruitment drive in the history of the university has since been launched in order to hire hundreds of new teachers. Non-teaching staff is also sorely needed but till December 2010, the University Grants Commission had not informed our university about, for instance, the number of laboratory and library staff that could be recruited for coping with the expanded student numbers.

Even with regard to recruiting teachers, this is easier said than done. This is because in the university, the recruitment system requires a government nominee (called the 'Visitor's Nominee') to sit on all selection committees. And the government has only one 'Visitor's Nominee' for each faculty of the university. If this remains the case, at least 10 years will elapse before all the required appointments can be made. At a time when the human resource development ministry is proposing an architecture of governance for new innovation universities where there will be autonomy in appointments, fee structure, and research funding, surely, the same autonomy for the existing 42 centrally funded universities should be introduced. It is only when the State stops treating the university like the Cornwallis-created absentee zamindars treated the peasants of Bengal can there be a way out of the tunnel. This is necessary so as to ensure that quality does not become the biggest casualty in this time of accelerating expansion.

That government intervention in universities is infinitely more than what appears on the surface. For example, I sat through special convocations that were 'specially' organised to confer degrees on visiting dignitaries because the government had 'arranged' that the university does so. In 2008, an honorary degree was bestowed by the university on Gordon Brown, then Britain's prime minister, because of such proactive prompting. Similarly, on November 4, 2010, Delhi agreed to confer a DLitt on Malawi's president Bingu wa Mutharika who is an alumnus of the Shri Ram College of Commerce and Delhi School of Economics in the 1960s.

The special convocation in which this African head of state was conferred an honorary degree prompted me to try and understand how the african studies department began in the university. It seems that State initiative some 55 years ago, specifically the interest of Jawaharlal Nehru,  was instrumental in the creation of the department. Mohan Ram, a retired professor of botany at Delhi, in a piece that was published for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of the university in 1997, recounted why the event has a special place in university lore.

"People ask me, why study Africa," vice-chancellor GS Mahajani is said to have commented, in a hilarious speech at the inauguration. "My simple answer is the same which Sir Edmund Hilary gave when he was asked why he had climbed Mount Everest: because it is there." Characteristically, as Ram Guha gleefully noted, Mahajani had got his facts wrong — it was George Mallory who said "because it is there" about Everest, not Hillary!

Prime Minister Nehru who was present on that occasion in the audience, though, was not amused. His face apparently turned red in annoyance and in his own speech, he clarified that "we are not studying Africa because it is there. We are deeply concerned about the African nations which should be liberated from colonial rule."

The inauguration marked India's first foray into African studies, and the PM hoped for great things from the discipline. He would be disappointed: it has not taken off and there remain few job opportunities for Africa specialists in India.

While State initiative and strategic interests can create departments and push for honorary degrees, they can never ensure academic excellence.

Nayanjot Lahiri was Dean of Colleges, University of Delhi, from 2007 to 2010 The views expressed by the author are personal.

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BSY VS HRB

 

Governors of states are supposed to eschew all forms of partisanship. That is a principle that is increasingly, unfortunately, only half-adhered to. Yet Karnataka Governor H.R. Bhardwaj is a special case even so; when law minister at the Centre, he impressed only for his absolute devotion to the Congress party's interests. Not all of that attitude vanished when he moved into Raj Bhavan in Bangalore. Given that the BJP, the Congress's main opposition at the Centre, is in power in Karnataka, and that their relations are extremely fraught, Bhardwaj's actions were always going to be closely scrutinised. And so far they do not, sadly, meet the disinterested and apolitical standard that is expected from those that hold his high constitutional office.

It is difficult, therefore, to divorce Bhardwaj's decision to sanction the filing of a corruption complaint against Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa of the BJP from state or national politics. As this newspaper has reported, the two Shimoga lawyers who filed the complaint were supported by others, closely associated with the Congress party's ally, the Janata Dal (United). Meanwhile the governor and the CM have gotten into something of a slanging match with each other: Bhardwaj has said Yeddyurappa is "totally blind" to corruption; Yeddyurappa has called Bhardwaj a "Congress agent." This is not an edifying spectacle.

But if the presence of an old Congress partisan in Raj Bhavan has exacerbated the situation,  that does not alter one basic fact: the responsibility for allowing it to happen lies with the BJP leadership, which instead of dealing with its Karnataka mess, has chosen to equivocate whenever it speaks. Hence party president Nitin Gadkari's statement over the weekend that Yeddyurappa's actions — denotifying land to be used, eventually, by near relations and people close to them — are immoral, but not illegal. This is splitting hairs very, very fine indeed. The national unit of the party has not been able to rein in the Reddy brothers of Bellary; they have not been able to persuade their legislators to let Yeddyurappa go; they have allowed the state BJP to disrupt life in Bangalore with a blatantly provocative bandh. Ducking the questions about Yeddyurappa will get the party nowhere, and deplete further its own political capital as the main opposition party at a dangerously fraught moment in our national politics.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

TWO APART

 

With the Grand Slam schedule of 2011 now well and entertainingly underway, the main act remains the Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer rivalry. Past seasons of occasional fragility for both have merely enhanced our fascination with two men whose faceoffs on the court have given men's tennis a golden age that's more than the sum of two great careers.

Athletes measure their greatness by the manner in which they raise their sport's profile. And the greats do so in many different ways. Sergei Bubka did so by setting his pole vault records as targets that just had to be surpassed — by his future performances. Michael Phelps does so by doing what no one had yet thought possible for a swimmer, along the way igniting debates on human metabolism and physiology. The great cricket Test teams did so by setting new standards — the West Indies from the mid-seventies in flamboyant aggression, and then Australia with an American baseball-type professionalism. (What, it may be opportune to wonder, could Indian Test cricket manage now?) Steffi Graf once did so by winning at a time when an earlier generation of champions was still around, by becoming the first player to take tennis' golden slam in a calendar year, and by that proof of perfection, her forehand.

Federer and Nadal would join that list on the basis of their individual careers. That the careers have overlapped is more than a bonus — two styles perfected, it would seem, to better take on the other, and to allow our analysis inordinate elbow-room, projecting on one an innate perfection and on the other an uncommon capacity to chase down every point. It must also be marked as extraordinary that Federer and Nadal have honoured tennis and each other with a striking record of civility and quietness.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BE TOUGH, BE BOLD

 

The Reserve Bank is to make the next credit policy announcement this week, and it has little option but to tighten monetary policy. Inflation has been high and rising, and the government appears to have finally given up hope that it would somehow come down without a significant intervention. While this phase of inflation has been largely caused by higher food prices, it will be a while before agricultural or organised retail reforms can be implemented and ease supply constraints. Faced with public discontent, the government tried the usual recipes of acting against traders and hoarders — to, as expected, little effect.

In this context, traditional approaches such as fiscal and monetary contraction need to be adopted. These would serve to reduce demand, while supply conditions can be addressed by longer-range steps. Reduction of demand and containment of inflationary expectations through monetary contraction may reduce some borrowing and investment in the short run. However, given India's high growth, this is a good time to take tough measures before other elements of the economy, such as infrastructure, also start facing supply constraints. Lower, stable inflation has no long-term conflict with growth. Indeed, it is conducive to investment. Few companies would be willing to invest long-term if they do not know how much their costs will rise and whether a project will be profitable or not.

The RBI should show clearly, in its credit policy announcement, that it will not tolerate high inflation. It should hike rates by 50 basis points at least, to indicate that it is now comfortable with affecting short-term investment sentiment in favour of pursuing a policy of low inflation. Even without inflation being its only objective, it must indicate that inflation is indeed one of its important objectives. It cannot talk about ensuring financial stability if it cannot deliver low inflation. While the Centre should later chip in through fiscal consolidation, the monetary authority cannot escape its responsibility. All over the world inflation is treated as the responsibility of the central bank. In India too, the RBI needs to take the lead, and do what it can to put inflation control at the top of the policymaker's agenda.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

UNDOING THE DONE

JAITHIRTH RAO

 

The original of this letter is preserved in the National Archives in New Delhi. Despite repeated applications under the Right to Information Act, the exalted Government of India has refused to make it public citing concerns that the publication of this letter would damage the nation's security and would constitute a violation of the Indo-Mauritius Tax Treaty. It is reliably learnt that at a meeting of a special committee of all secretaries of the exalted Government of India (based in exalted New Delhi), it was unanimously agreed that the release of the letter should not be considered. This opinion was endorsed by an exalted committee of the Cabinet of the exalted Government of India and was further endorsed by the entire Cabinet at a special meeting convened to discuss the matter. The exalted Cabinet is reported to have taken serious objection to the irresponsible effort made to poison India's shining image in the world. This writer and this paper are nevertheless taking the risk of publishing this historic document from our National Archives with every hope that any attempt by the Central Bureau of Investigation to prosecute us is bound to fail as the CBI have assured us off the record that they do not want to spoil their track record of repeated and consistent failure.

Here goes the letter:

To

The Rt Hon Marquess of Dalhousie

Governor General of India, Calcutta.

Your Excellency: It is with acute concern for your reputation that I have undertaken the impertinent task of writing this letter. To help me in my task I have made use of the services of a native astrologer who has given me a peep into the future of our Indian empire, including to my consternation the prospects of a time in the future when we may not be the rulers of this land which providence has entrusted to us. It may be that if you listen to the advice of this humble correspondent, by your actions (and inaction, I might add) you will help ensure the continuation of British rule in India.

You propose to introduce railways into India. You have a vision of building one of the largest railway networks in the world. I implore you not to go ahead with this plan. You would like to modernise India. I submit that this is not a good idea at all. It is in our interests to leave India as a backward, unspoiled country. Your advisers tell you that railways will help in troop movements in the event of a Mutiny of our native soldiers. This is a deeply ill-conceived proposition. Our best bet is to make sure that transportation between far-flung districts and provinces remains slow, costly and cumbersome. Let the natives stick to their bullock carts. Railways will help unite a country which is right now split up so admirably. If Indians unite and start having National Congress meetings in different parts of the country (especially if they are led by a loincloth-wearing pseudo-fakir who travels across the land using our railways — a distinct possibility according to my astrologer), they might clamour for freedom and actually wrest it from us. Railways will create an integrated national Indian market for goods and services — now why should we confer this blessing on our subjects? Much of the land that our railway companies will need, will have to be taken away from tribals and other natives. This would be most immoral and inappropriate. We should let them retain their land and use it for the low productivity economic activities that are part of their quaint traditions (quaint to us at least!). Furthermore, while you are considering using the powers of Eminent Domain to acquire these lands for a genuine public purpose, my astrologer tells me that in the future venal politicians may use these same powers to help their buddies acquire land to build factories, commercial buildings and monstrosities which will be known as SEZs for private benefit. This system, I believe, will be known as crony capitalism. Let us not shake the moral foundation of our Indian empire by leaving behind land acquisition laws that cunning natives may misuse in the future.

You support filling up the sea to join the various islands of Bombay (which my astrologer tells me may in the future be known as Mumbai). You support causeways and reclamations. This is a terrible idea. While it may increase the prosperity of the citizens of Bombay, it is bound to cause ecological damage (an expression which I have borrowed from the future, courtesy my astrologer). Instead, I think you should introduce a new law for Coastal Zones forbidding the creation of a handsome metropolis by violating the coastlines and destroying mangrove forests.

It is currently the design of the British to build beautiful hill resorts at Ootacamund, Coonoor, Kodaikanal, Yercaud, Munnar, Mahabaleshwar, Mhow, Mount Abu, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Mussoorie, Nainital, Almora, Ranikhet, Simla and Kasauli. I beg of you — do not let this happen. We should leave the hills as they are. On no account should we cause environmental damage to the hills and the people who live there (not many, as they are sparsely populated) should remain quaintly backward suffering from malaria and other ailments that God has intended for the heathens of this land.

You have a Law Member and a Finance Member in your council. You should urgently appoint a Member for Environmental Affairs who with the best of intentions (protecting the environment and saving tribals and other natives) can stymie the progress of India. You should also give a sympathetic hearing to NGOs (it is difficult to explain what these creatures are — but if we meet, I can try) who want to halt railways, dams, canals, hill stations and so on. You can even encourage the Archbishop of Canterbury to make speeches that mining of bauxite in India would be against the principles of the Church.

I remain your humble, obedient and devoted servant, Benign Luddite Colonial

The writer divides his time between Mumbai, Lonavala and Bangalore

jerry.rao@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MAKING IT CHEAP

YOGINDER K. ALAGH

 

On agricultural prices, instead of running around like monkeys with our heads cut off, and letting the 30-second sound bites set the agenda, we need cool thinking.

First accept, though, that we are in a bit of a jam. With per capita income growing at 7 per cent, agricultural output growing — at best — at around three-and-a-half per cent, and — apart from sugar — most commodities not having grown at all in the last three years, only the foolhardy will trust the quick fix. Yes, this year, according to the government's first advance estimates, output has risen, but these estimates always get revised downwards.

The second, equally important, point is: don't take seriously statements that police raids will solve the problem. Every time I went to Delhi to work, if prices rose, "action against hoarders" was the clarion call. It happened in 1974, 1983 and so on. It is a hangover of World War II. Some of the country's most thoughtful policemen are my friends; and, like me, they know that no policeman ever delivered any onions to any housewife — including their own — at cheaper prices.

Does that mean we can't do anything? Of course not.

Action in the long term should not be postponed, even if it takes time. Investment in markets, communication, commodity exchanges, first-stage processing, particularly bringing in the network, larger villages and smaller towns is terribly important. This is not just a question of "let's get in foreign retail, thank you." Investment in value chains, including — as part of a policy plan, domestic and global retail channels — is needed; but, in the short run, that will probably raise prices. That is after all what they are supposed to do, to ensure supplies. But the long run is not all far off.

We ask NAFED and so on to intervene. Now NAFED hasn't exactly been a star performer in the PSU world. In fact, at one stage, it had lost a lot of its working capital, and I hope somebody has looked at all that. From all accounts, it's a much worse performer than the FCI, which is by no means an angel.

Does this mean nothing can be done to stabilise prices? While prices cannot go down to the level at which urban consumers will be happy, a lot can be done to discourage destabilising speculation and wild movements. We must mandate an agency to do this. It must be professional, managerially competent, at least as much as the existing traders and distribution channel operators, work autonomously to fulfil its mandate, and have sufficient clout to ride roughshod over the "silos" in which government operates it.

Take the clout first. If such an agency is set up, it must be in the Cabinet Secretariat, for otherwise it will never be able to coordinate across commerce, finance and the RBI, not to mention agriculture and consumer affairs.

This new regulator should have the responsibility of stabilising the prices of a limited set of food commodities. It should have an idea of expected demands, at least as much as any business has when it makes money from trade. Meanwhile, the link between trade policy and domestic agricultural policy needs work. We have been using tariff changes as supply management tools, and do it ham-handedly, as their use is not policy- but pressure-induced. The regulator should largely work through futures, both at home and abroad — with very limited physical interventions in the market itself, and only when absolutely necessary.

Were the regulator to put its larger estimates of expected movements in the public domain, that would itself act as a stabilising force. It should also publish inter-centre price differences, so trade can even them out. For its physical interventions, it could use the trade distribution channels as its commission agents, just as the FCI uses arhtias to procure grains.

Perhaps it is prudent for me to stop here. There is, perhaps, a limit to how hard you can push governments to do the right thing.

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

EAST OF SUEZ

INDER MALHOTRA

 

Hardly anyone remembers it today, but in the middle of July 1956 a meeting at Brijuni between the three towering votaries of nonalignment — Jawaharlal Nehru of India, President Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia who was the host, and President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt — had created worldwide sensation. The birth of the Non-aligned Movement or NAM was still seven years away but the idea of staying aloof from the two power blocs was catching on.

It was during the trilateral meeting that Nasser got a shattering message that infuriated him: the United States had abruptly withdrawn the ample financial aid it had promised for the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile, and Britain and France had followed suit. At Brijuni, Nasser kept his counsel but showed the message to Nehru in the plane while the two were flying together to Cairo. All through, Nasser stated that he would abandon the Aswan Dam and devote his country's limited resources to a number of smaller projects that would yield quicker results. The Aswan Dam, he ruminated, would take 10 years to be built. Nehru complimented him on his "wise decision".

Thus it was that Nehru was taken by utter surprise when, on the evening of July 26, Nasser took retaliatory action. His manner of announcing it could not have been more dramatic. Addressing a mass rally at Alexandria, he talked of several issues, but intrigued his admiring audience by mentioning the name of Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps, the founder of the Suez Canal, no fewer than 13 times. He then came to the point. Describing the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company as "an exploiter" and a "state within the state" (because of its extra-territorial rights), he declared that he had nationalised it. The cheers that he received rented the sky.

Nehru may have only been surprised, if somewhat unpleasantly, because Nasser hadn't given him the slightest indication in advance of what he planned to do. But in London and Paris all hell broke loose. The fury of the British Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, and his French opposite number, Guy Mollet, knew no bounds. Nasser's action may have provoked the two European countries but their reaction to the nationalisation of the Suez was no less provocative. In addition, it was insulting to the Egyptian president personally. The British Commonwealth Secretary, Lord Home, spoke of the "impossibility of allowing a gangster to remain in complete control (of the canal)." The French foreign minister, Christian Pineau, told the Egyptian ambassador: "The Egyptian dictator has committed an act of plunder, and France would never accept Egypt's unilateral action." French Prime Minister Guy Mollet, said Nasser was an "imitator of Adolf Hitler."

Nehru fully supported Eygpt's sovereign right to nationalise the Suez Canal, especially in the light of Nasser's repeated assurances of freedom of navigation through the international waterway even though he did not approve of the manner in which Nasser had acted. His bigger worry, however, was that the Suez dispute should not lead to armed conflict. He, therefore, bent all his energies to ensuring that the issue was settled peacefully and by negotiations. Both Britain and France had taken "precautionary measures of military nature" but they were prepared to discuss the matter at a conference in London of the Suez Canal's users. The sticking point, however, was the insistence of Anthony Eden, who had succeeded Winston Churchill only a year earlier, that the canal must remain under international control and Nasser's refusal to countenance any restriction of Egyptian sovereignty.

From early August until well into

October, ceaseless but sterile negotiations went on in London, other world capitals and at the UN where Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold did his best to bring about a settlement. Yet towards the third week of October there was hope that events were slowly taking a positive turn. When Britain sought an adjournment of the "exploratory talks with Egypt" scheduled to begin on October 29 in Geneva everyone thought that the proposed lull was intended to find a meeting ground informally. What happened, however, was precisely the opposite and outrageous.

On that day — under a secret trilateral agreement, as became known almost immediately — Israel attacked Egypt. Britain and France gave it an ultimatum to withdraw or face action. On this pretext these two European (and still colonial) powers mounted an invasion — not of Israel but of Egypt. They bombed Egyptian cities and tried to establish their presence along the Suez Canal. There could have been no clearer example of naked and wanton aggression. Nehru said so, talked of the "collapse of the world conscience", denounced Eden as the main motive force behind the aggression and roused world opinion to end it and get the Anglo-French-Israeli aggressors to withdraw.

In this he had invaluable help from the United States that had disapproved of the invasion of Egypt for two reasons: First, for all their claim of a "special relationship" with America, the British had not informed Washington of what they intended to do. Secondly, as the usually hawkish Secretary of State John Foster Dulles surprisingly put it, Britain had set a "bad example" that would encourage others, especially the "Communist Bloc", to move in where they could.

When Eden remained reluctant to accept the US advice, the Americans did what they have since done often. They used the weaponry of the International Monetary Fund. A quiet word was sent to London that its request for an IMF loan would be rejected. At an emergency meeting of the British cabinet, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan, told his Prime Minister to end the Suez misadventure or the "pound will crash within 24 hours."

Armistice immediately followed and talks began for the Anglo-French-Israeli withdrawals and a Suez settlement. It was a moment Nehru could legitimately be proud of. His efforts had contributed to the welcome denouement. But before there could be ceasefire in West Asia, something terrible had happened in Central Europe. The Soviet troops had moved into Hungary ruthlessly to crush a popular revolt. Nehru's reluctance to equate Hungary with the Suez exposed him to severe criticism abroad and at home for following "double standards". More on this complex and painful subject next time.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A VACUUM ABHORS POLITICS

YUBARAJ GHIMIRE

With the United Nations

Mission in Nepal finally winding up its four-year-long operation in Nepal on January 15, a high-level special committee under the joint command of three major political parties — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M), Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) — swiftly came into birth.

It has at least for now erased the fear that in the absence of a more credible and effective instrument, the mission's departure could derail the limited efforts towards rehabilitation and integration of 19,000 Maoist combatants. Now their command and control will be formally handed over to the special committee.

The UCPN-M appears on the verge of a split as differences between its chief, Prachanda, and his one-time key aide, Baburam Bhattarai, appear to be increasingly unmanageable. Most combatants are likely to follow Prachanda for now. But whether the loyalty of combatants, based on their red ideology and a shared experience of having raised weapons against the state, will shift to the all-party committee is the big question. UCPN-M leaders — Prachanda and Bhattarai included — have all along given the impression, through their actions and speeches, especially in the midst of combatants, that joining the peace process is only tactical and that they have not budged an inch from their ultimate goal to establish a "people's republic", in essence a communist dictatorship.

Therefore, to say that the shift of the combatants' command and control will automatically make the UCPN-M a civilian party would be a premature conclusion. But Prachanda will certainly use this as his newly acquired qualification — that the UCPN-M like any other party is without arms and army — to maximise his political leverage: that he, as the leader of the largest party in the House, should be supported as the new prime minister. The revolt by Bhattarai could not have come at a more inopportune time. He has not given up as yet though.

While Prachanda is trying to patch up with Bhattarai, he made an effort to convince India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao of his commitment to promoting and harnessing friendship with India, also citing as his democratic credentials his party's last-minute support to dispatching UNMIN, an agency India did not want to operate in Nepal, and now handing over command and control.

But Nepal's politics, and credibility of the UCPN-M, like almost all the big political parties, has taken such a nose-dive that Prachanda's words may not be taken at face value alone.

The country is already in the grip of a political and constitutional crisis, not only because the chances of the country getting a new constitution by May 28 is very remote, but because the legitimacy of the caretaker prime minister is precarious. The bureaucracy, at least some government secretaries, has shown a reluctance to accept ministerial orders.

The interim constitution, largely based on the Westminster model and Nepal's own precedents, does not allow a caretaker prime minister to continue in power for more than six months. Thus, where does the executive authority lie now? There is an argument that it inherently lies with the head of the state in the event

of such a void.

Factors such as a hung parliament not being able to elect a prime minister in the absence of an understanding among the political parties for the past seven months, their failure to agree to a common minimum agenda, and the lack of clarity on their part to take the peace and constitution-making process towards a logical end, a mantra chanted by all of them so many times, have only increased political uncertainty.

President Ram Baran Yadav has devoted himself to setting deadlines for electing a prime minister — by consensus or by majority — but has not yet initiated the process of ascertaining the legitimacy or absence of it of the caretaker government beyond December 30, although in the last few days he has been directly summoning some government secretaries and "taking briefs and issuing instructions to them".

Of course, Madhav Nepal cannot be held guilty for political parties' failure to elect his successor after he resigned as the prime minister on June 30, but can he take policy decisions? Can he rule without accountability and could his ministers continue to freely exploit the situation?

A formal transfer of executive power, even as a stopgap arrangement pending formal election of a prime minister, may drastically change the course of Nepal's politics in transition. That will, however, guarantee neither peace nor the political stability of the country, so long cherished and yet so far away.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

I'M BANNED IN BEIJING

 

Psst. Don't tell the Chinese government, but I started a Chinese-language blog here in China, with counterrevolutionary praise of dissidents. Now let's count — 1, 2, 3... — and see how long my blog stays up. My hunch is that State Security will "harmonise" it quickly. In Chinese, websites are mockingly referred to as "harmonised" when the government vaporises them so as to nurture a "harmonious society."

China now has about 450 million Internet users, far more than any other country, and perhaps 100 million bloggers. The imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has said, "The Internet is God's gift to the Chinese people." I tend to agree, but it's also true that Chinese cyberspace remains a dictatorship. In November, the government sent a young woman, Cheng Jianping, to labour camp for a year for posting a single mocking sentence.

I decided to conduct my latest experiment in Chinese Internet freedom. I started with blogging and microblogging, the Chinese version of Twitter. But, in an ominous sign, I discovered that the Chinese authorities had tightened the rules since my last experiments. These days, anyone starting an online account must supply an ID card number and cellphone number. That means that the authorities can quickly track down nettlesome commentators.

Once I got started, though, the censors were less aggressive than I had expected, apparently relying more on intimidation than actual censorship. Even my microblog posts about Liu, the imprisoned dissident, went up. A similar post mentioning the banned Falun Gong movement triggered an automatic review, but then a moderator approved it. (A Chinese moderator once explained that grunt-level censors are mostly young computer geeks who believe in Internet freedom and try to sabotage their responsibilities without getting fired.) Still, there are limits. I posted a reference to the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen massacre. It went up automatically, and then was removed by a moderator 20 minutes later.

The challenge for the authorities is that there is just too much to police by moderators, and automatic filters don't work terribly well. Chinese routinely use well-known code phrases for terms that will be censored (June 4 might become June 2+2, or May 35). Likewise, Chinese can usually get around the "great firewall of China" by using widely available software, like Freegate, or by tunneling through a virtual

private network.

Most Chinese aren't overtly political — seeking out banned pornography is typically regarded as more rewarding than chasing down tracts about multiparty democracy. Still, Internet controls are widely resented. My bet is more young Chinese are vexed by their government's censorship than by its rejection of multiparty democracy. Michael Anti, a prominent Chinese blogger, says the government may increasingly allow Chinese netizens to criticise abuses by local governments, even as it blocks disparagement of the central leadership. Since the worst human rights abuses are often by local authorities, that would be a modest step forward.

Frankly, my experiments had mixed results. My microblog quickly attracted notice, partly because a Chinese friend with more than one million followers directed readers to it. An hour later, it had been harmonised. Meanwhile, I published my separate Chinese blog. It was just as edgy and included a slightly veiled birthday greeting to Liu in prison. But I didn't promote it, so the authorities didn't care, or didn't notice. It has remained up for several weeks — but now that I've mentioned it in this column, it's doomed.

To me, the lesson of my experiments is that the Chinese Internet is too vast for the government to monitor fully. It can toss individuals in prison. But it can't block the information revolution itself.Nicholas D. Kristof

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NO ONE KILLED JESSICA, BUT WHAT ABOUT BINA?

GEORGESMAILHOT

 

I recently went to see the film No One Killed Jessica. I paid my own way in, no invitations. How often does one get the chance to see oneself featured in a film, however unflatteringly? As a witness to the actual drama and much of what came in the decade after, I was most interested.

It was a case in which there was much tampering with witnesses. The case also illustrated the defenceless plight of any witnesses who might dare to stick to the truth. It is also a case with a just ending. Jessica eventually got justice. It is in this regard that I found the film to be quite disappointing, almost a schizophrenic experience. At one extreme, Jessica, Sabrina Lal and Manu Sharma get to keep their names and the film faithfully reproduces some events in minute detail — Manu's parents visiting the Lal's and laying flowers before Jessica's photograph is one example. The Tehelka sting of the Manu Sharma camp is another (though in the film all credit goes to Sabrina, Rani and NDTV, giving Tehelka only a passing few lines of tribute at the very end). At the other extreme, some parts are a total fabrication — Rani Mukherjee's personage is an invention. So is the prosecutor who constantly shouts "objection, objection"; it is a word rarely uttered in actual trials.

So far so good. It is in the treatment of Bina, Malini and I, in the middle ground, where the film goes off the rails, treading the line between fact and malicious fiction.

These three characters are given fictitious names and we soon see why. Bina becomes Mallika, I am Peter. Yet there can be no question in the viewer's mind as to who they are in this story. Bina's characterisation provides one of the few comic elements in the movie. Anyone who has met Bina must laugh at the simpering, hand-wringing, indecisive, weepy-aunty persona she is given in the film. This is not the Bina we know and love. The film's director Rajkumar Gupta would do well to meet her some day.

The film does faithfully show Bina confronting and grappling with the killer, in the opening scenes. It does show me, "Peter", chasing off after the killer, in the night. All that actually happened. It could have shown that it was in fact Bina who rushed a dying Jessica to a waiting hospital, though others have claimed credit for that.

But the film slides quickly thereafter. There seems no need for the film-maker to write an insipid script for Bina's court appearance where she is purported to virtually sink the case through her indecision and whining. No need because the court transcript is available; Bina, Malini and I all stuck to our original police statements during grueling court testimony. All three of us separately identified Manu. All three of us went over and touched him so that there could be no question of who we were identifying. For good measure, Bina also identified Vikas Yadav .. an intimidating experience, for a woman. No, I did not rush over to strangle Manu as shown in the film (I suppose they needed a borderline psychopath for further comic relief. I was relieved that I was shown choking the right guy). In fact, I merely walked over to the lineup, looked Manu in the eyes and placed my right hand on his left shoulder to identify him. At what point does a "fiction" become a lie and a slander?

The film conveniently ends with the appeal to the Delhi high court in 2006. They thus avoid Bina's pivotal role in that case. The true triumph of this story is not the admission of the appeal to the high court, as shown in the film. The triumph is the reversal by the honourable high court of the trial court's acquittal (later ratified by the Supreme Court) ... and the sentencing of Manu to life imprisonment. The honourable high court remarked that Bina Ramani had shown courage, had shown "guts" and heroism in confronting the killer. She was not only a key witness, she was "the star witness" in the case, they said. The fact is, had Bina dithered or lied as depicted in the movie, Manu Sharma would be a free man today, and not serving a life sentence.

Malini and I received honourable mention by the court; It was repeatedly pointed out that all three of us had always "stood up" and supported the prosecution case. They further said to the police team which had been set up to re-investigate the case: "You have been harassing your own star witness." Stop it! And it stopped.

Today, in an historic judicial event, some 32 witnesses are being called to account by the court for perjuring themselves. We are not among those. In the decade following the murder, we have truly learnt what it is to be an honest witness in India and have grown to

understand why so very few stand their ground. Far from protecting us, for a decade the authorities sought to destroy us with all the might and fury which those with power can unleash.

Ultimately those powers were not totally successful in their trumped-up machinations: deportation; cancelling of licences; physical threats; a tax raid; attempt at demolition; sealing of premises; harassment and eviction of our tenants; unrelenting media vilification; currency violation; international lookout list; physical destruction of my passport (using rats); total audits; breaking into our house without a search warrant; seizure of files and computers; retention by police of key personal documents; accusations of destruction of evidence; a life of lawyers and accountants; the prospect of vengeance; Bina's arrest by a discredited police team for forgery and cheating. And now comes this film, which has obviously set out to do us further harm under the flimsy guise of being

"fiction". Too many viewers are taking this rendition to be the truth, not having read or having forgotten the fine print. One can only wonder what the film's motive is in fomenting this slander against us, beyond the obvious malice and greed.

We have never asked for recognition. Compensation for damages is not part of our thinking. We never asked for witness protection, nor do we ask for it now. But we would ask not to be insulted publicly and not to be slandered. I believe we've taken more than our share as the price for a clear conscience.

One unsettling postscript to all this is that Bina is now receiving hate mail, no doubt generated by her unfair portrayal in this film. Some of it is so grotesque and unsettling as to inspire grave concern. Obviously some demented males are being stirred to obscenity and violent words. Should matters become truly unhinged, in this unhinged world, perhaps it will provide the film-maker with a theme for a future "fiction".

The writer is a Delhi- and Canada-based painter

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REBOOTING WIPRO

 

Wipro chairman Azim Premji loves control. Just ask the company's former CEO Vivek Paul. Or the joint CEOs, who are now packing their bags. The man with a personal fortune of around $17 bn was always the captain of the ship. The CEO was always incidental. Paul, the former GE top executive with a mind of his own, disappeared into near oblivion after he exited the company. Premji looked quite happy to bring in a joint CEO model, saying it would work well during the downturn. Industry observers were sceptical, and suggested it was just to ensure no one individual got all executive powers.

 

It didn't work. In the last three quarters, Wipro's top line grew the slowest of the top 5 IT majors, at 13% as compared to 25% for TCS, 20% for Infosys, 26% for HCL and 25% for Cognizant (for 2 quarters)—Cognizant gets half of its revenue from the crucial BFSI segment, while Wipro gets a mere 27%. On Friday, Premji showed Suresh Vaswani and Girish Paranjpe the door, and brought in his trusted TK Kurien as the new CEO. It's not for nothing that Premji holds the majority stake at Wipro. He still takes all the calls, and not just the big ones.

 

It would be harsh to say that Paranjpe and Vaswani did not match up to expectations. Both are industry veterans and while Vaswani built up business in India and the Middle East for Wipro, Paranjpe was always the trouble shooter who could find solutions to some of the most convoluted issues. But agility wasn't their biggest strength. That's where Kurien's hard-driving, burn-the-tarmac style presented a solution. His track record at Wipro BPO, Wipro's burgeoning consulting practice and its ambitious EcoEnergy division was hard to ignore. His aggressive, go-getting style may not suit everyone, but Premji has taken the plunge. Rishad Premji is rising through the ranks and is about to take charge as chief strategy officer. Premji Sr is said to be of the view that his son is likely to learn more from Kurien at this stage. And missing an opportunity has never been one of Kurien's preoccupations. Now to give the CEO the space he needs.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

YEDDY, STEADY, GO

 

Though the scams are hugely disparate in size, there is a stunning similarity between the 2G one and the BS Yeddyurappa one. The 2G one is reckoned to be Rs 1,76,000 crore if you go by the recommendations of Trai last year, and around Rs 60,000-70,000 crore if you go by the value two of the favoured firms got when they diluted their equity within months of getting the licences from A Raja. Yeddyurappa's allocation of land to his relatives would, at best, add up to a few hundreds of crores of rupees, pocket change in comparison. But what is ironical is how both the BJP and the Congress are using much the same excuses to defend themselves.

 

Yeddyurappa says he didn't do any wrong since he allotted the land from the discretionary quota a chief minister has, something his predecessors had done as well. Kapil Sibal, A Raja's successor, has much the same argument as Yeddyurappa—Raja's predecessors had allotted licences in much the same way as Raja, at the 2001 prices instead of auctioning them, so where's the problem? You could argue that there wasn't any rush to get licences at the time Arun Shourie and Dayanidhi Maran handed out the licences at the 2001 price, but there's little doubt Sibal is right that they too violated the law—after all, in 2003 itself, the Cabinet had agreed to the regulator's recommendations that all future licences would be auctioned. The BJP is taking umbrage at the governor HR Bharadwaj's decision to sanction Yeddyurappa's prosecution based on a complaint by a group of lawyers, and is arguing that there is an investigation going on into all land allotments since 1994 anyway, and the Lokayukta is also examining the issue—so what was the hurry in sanctioning prosecution? That's precisely Sibal's argument—the matter is being investigated by the CBI which is being monitored by the Supreme Court, there's a one-man investigation into all telecom decisions since 2000 (why not 1994?!), and there's the PAC as well. So why disrupt Parliament? The BJP hasn't formally said the Lokayukta can't examine 'policy decisions' in the manner the UPA has told the CAG and even the Supreme Court (the Court rejected the argument when the matter came up in the STel case), but it's early days yet.

 

HR Bharadwaj is certainly guilty of playing politics, but in doing so, he's brought out the similarities in the hypocrisy of both parties in dealing with their scams. He has to be thanked for that.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN

SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

 

In concluding that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should be the sole regulator for NBFC-MFIs, the Malegam Committee has given the microfinance sector a fresh lease of life. We've already seen the kind of damage that a state government can do—MFI lending is virtually at a standstill in Andhra Pradesh while collections have dropped sharply. As the committee points out: "The problems get multiplied several-fold when we consider that the example of the Andhra Pradesh Government could be followed by other State Governments." The lack of effective regulation has dogged the sector and should RBI take over, it would instil confidence in lenders, mainly banks, and help MFIs attract risk capital. The AP government should now be convinced that the Andhra Pradesh Micro Finance Institutions (Regulation of Money Lending) Act is not really needed because its main concerns of usurious loan rates, multiple lending and so on have been addressed.

 

While MFIs must be relieved that they will not be at the mercy of the whims of state governments, should the recommendations become law, many of the committee's suggestions would have left one wondering how good a business proposition lending to the poor is going to be. For instance, the prescribed cap on lending rates for MFIs at 24%, CRISIL estimates, could result in a fall in gross interest spreads, for the top five MFIs, of around 5-8%. It's well known that MFIs have been lending at much higher rates; the average loan rate for the industry today is somewhere around 29-30%, and moreover, new entrants charge far higher rates until they scale up to a point where they have a critical mass of about 5,00,000 members. While a ceiling may not be really out of place since we're dealing with a vulnerable and politically sensitive segment of the population, there should be some way to ensure that MFIs are not out of the money when interest rates in the system move up sharply. It's clear though that only serious lenders, looking for nothing more than reasonable returns, will hang in there.

 

Where the committee has overdone things is in saying there should be a cap, on MFIs margins, of 10%—the average net interest margin currently is believed to be around 14%. While the committee's calculation of the cost of funds assumes a debt-equity ratio of 85:15, in reality, very few MFIs operate with such a low capital base. Indeed, start-ups rarely have access to any other kind of money than capital and for such MFIs the cost of funds would be much higher. On an average, for the industry, the debt-equity ratio would be closer to 70:30. A ceiling on margins isn't really called for because the cap of 24%, on the loan rate, should more than take care of any concerns relating to overpricing.

 

From a borrower's point of view, the suggestion that will hurt the most is the one that says MFIs can only lend to households with an annual income of Rs 50,000 or roughly Rs 4,200 a month. What this effectively means is that someone earning more than Rs 4,200 per month can neither access banks nor MFIs and so will ultimately land up at the moneylender's doorstep. Only if her income drops below the Rs 4,200 level—which could well happen because of the kind of rates that the moneylender will charge her—can MFIs lend to her. Also, a fair share of the 56% of the poor, who are in urban India, would be left out of the universe that MFIs can lend to. Again, the cap of Rs 25,000 per borrower will force those looking for money beyond this amount to seek out moneylenders. While the average loan ticket size today is close to Rs 14,000, and the Rs 25,000 limit has probably been set to ensure that households don't become over-indebted, the measure ends up hurting genuine borrowers.

 

As for saying that 75% of the loan amount should be earmarked for income generation, tracking and proving this is easier said than done. The fact that borrowers aren't being allowed to over-leverage should address the concern that most of the money would be mis-spent on consumption. All in all, MFIs will now hopefully spend less time in the courts; they will need the time to work on their spreadsheets.

shobhana.subramanian@expressindia.com

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GLOBAL BOOM, LOCAL BUST

MEGHNAD DESAI

 

Hu Jintao's visit to the US is a watershed event. This is the definite signal that China has now levelled with the US. It is still the case that China's per capita income is a fraction of the US's, but a billion-plus people are an asset. China has arrived at a status where the American bullying about the RMB has no effect any longer. If Timothy Geithner still postures about it, it is for domestic consumption. The Congressional leaders may still believe that they are Masters of the Universe, but Hu Jintao will not yield on human rights any more than he will on the trade deficit issue. He has aggressively told the US that China created 14 million jobs worldwide and will import $1.5 trillion worth of goods.

 

But anxieties about China have surfaced not about its external ambitions but about its domestic policy. China's inflation has hit 5% and the world is worried about overheating. Economists around the world expect China to do better. China's growth has not just internal repercussions but global ones. And China may be exporting inflation along with all those jobs. The way raw material commodity prices have gone in the last three months, raises the prospect of a global inflation shock. Oil price is unreasonably high and keeps rising, as do metal prices. Agricultural prices are high but that may be due to seasonal effects and would need to be watched carefully.

 

(I am leaving India out of this for a while as India's inflationary problems are sui generis.)

 

This inflationary shock has created a problem for the developed countries. In the US, as in the UK and the rest of EU, the thrust of economic policy is on reviving the economy to bring unemployment down and not on inflation. Quantitative Easing has been used massively in the US and the UK to revive the economy, as fiscal policy has less room for manoeuvre, given the debt situation. But now the inflation hawks are on the march again. For old-fashioned monetarists, such large injections of helicopter money is bound to have inflationary consequences. Inflation in western countries is still nearer to 3% than 5%, yet the hawks are demanding a stiffening of interest rates.

 

The problem is that while the world has globalised, it is not yet a single economy. "Combined and uneven development", as the Marxists used to call it, is now a fact of life.

 

China has tried again and again to stiffen monetary policy by raising reserve requirements seven times in the past year and raised interest rates twice in the fourth quarter of 2010, and yet the inflation persists.

 

The problem is shortage of capacity despite high levels of investment while there is still excess capacity in the West. The problem is that China's development strategy is excessively materials-intensive and wasteful of capital. So the investment, large as it is, gives less "bang per buck" than would be the case elsewhere. In the West, all the money poured into the economy is being hoarded or sent abroad to emerging markets but not being actively spent at home. The inflation in the US and the UK is imported, thanks to China and not domestically generated.

 

The answer in a perfectly unified global economy would be for China to import more by using the excess capacity in the West. It should take advantage of more efficient and raw materials-saving technologies and learn to use capital more efficiently. (All those cities built in advance of population movements but where, as of now, no one lives must have cost a lot of resources.) In the developed West, they need to find ways of reviving confidence so that the idle funds would be actively invested in new projects. But there is no agreement as to how to revive confidence. Keynesians want more spending, especially fiscal stimulus, if possible, while others warn of the debt burden and the possible adverse effect it may be having on expectations.

 

In the UK and the rest of EU, the policy is of retrenchment in the hope that this will revive confidence. In the US, Obama was able to work out a reflationary package with the outgoing Congress which kept the Bush tax cuts intact and added several billion dollars to national debt. Obama is banking on the seigniorage advantage that the dollar enjoys since that will keep the cost of borrowing globally low. China, among other surplus countries, is happy to keep its reserves in dollar securities. That requires treating Hu Jintao with respect and that is just what Obama is doing.

 

India is the odd one out here. It has a domestically generated inflation on top of some imported one. But one cannot help feeling that Indian economic policy has been adrift since Obama left Delhi last year. Everyone is distracted by scams and no one has time to take charge. India would be lucky to avoid a stagflationary 2011.

 

—The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

WAKE-UP CALL FOR SIBAL

 

Defending the indefensible may be part of the lawyer's trade but this doesn't extend to a flagrant distortion of easily verifiable facts. Union Communications Minister Kapil Sibal, who shocked everyone with his claim of zero-loss to the exchequer in 2G spectrum allocation, was rapped on the knuckles by the Supreme Court — which asked him to "behave with some sense of responsibility." Mr. Sibal, in an egregious overflow of enthusiasm to defend his predecessor, A. Raja, and the United Progressive Alliance government, sought to debunk the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the spectrum controversy. Just as the Central Bureau of Investigation seemed to be getting serious about its investigation into the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, and a one-man committee was starting to look into the procedures and policies of the Department of Telecommunications in granting 2G licences since 2001, Mr. Sibal presented himself as an omniscient authority on the subject and prejudged the case. The Supreme Court registered its concern over the impact the Minister's statement might have on the CBI's investigation. Mr. Sibal, a distinguished lawyer, will hopefully realise the full import of the Supreme Court's observations against him. The court's larger concern of course is to ensure independent investigation, without fear or favour, by the premier criminal investigation agency.

 

With the highest court in the land now monitoring the investigation into the 2G spectrum scandal, the CBI should have the nerve to get on with the investigation without allowing any intervention or improper inputs from its political masters. But this is easier said than done. Clearly, there is no systemic protection for India's investigating agencies. In several criminal cases that have the potential to hurt those in power at the centre, the CBI has handled the investigation in a way that achieves the end-result of aborted or failed prosecution. The Bofors case, which is synonymous with political corruption, is a notorious case of investigators acting in the service of their political bosses. If the UPA government has any intention of getting to the truth in the telecom scam, Mr. Sibal should publicly retract his irresponsible, over-the-top comments made at a sensitive juncture. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh owes it to the nation to dissociate his government from his Minister's act of egregious folly, and to provide credible assurances that there will be no further political obstruction of efforts to get to the truth. If he fails to do this, the perception is bound to grow that yet another cover-up of big league corruption is afoot.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

REFORMING MICROFINANCE

 

The T.H. Malegam committee on microfinance institutions has made valuable suggestions that are contextually significant. Barely four months ago, the MFI sector seemed to be riding a crest. Though comparatively new to organised finance, it was growing rapidly, particularly in the southern States, with Andhra Pradesh in the lead. With an estimated Rs.22,500 crore lent to nearly 2.7 crore borrowers, it seemed to have become a mainstream financial activity. Yet in a matter of months, the fortunes of the industry changed drastically. In Andhra Pradesh especially, there were complaints of usurious lending, coercive recovery procedures, and exploitation of the poor. It did not help the whole body of MFIs that a few of them suffered a serious image problem. Having converted themselves into "for profit" organisations, these institutions adopted a corporate model, declared huge dividends, and paid handsome salaries to their promoters and employees. The State government, through an ordinance, required all the MFIs to register with the district authorities and avoid coercive and multiple lending practices.

 

In one of its key recommendations, the Committee calls for the creation of a separate category of non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) covering the microfinance sector, to be designated NBFC-MFI. The MFIs, which will be accorded "priority lending status," should provide financial services predominantly to low income borrowers, making available small loans for short-terms and on an unsecured basis, mainly for income generating activities. The repayment schedules will be more frequent than those offered by banks. Obviously, regulation of what has been largely an unregulated financial activity will succeed only if it is accompanied by clear guidelines that are easy to comply with. It is here that some critics find fault with the Committee report. For instance, the recommendation for a cap on interest rates for individual loans at 24 per cent, they say, is impractical and fails to take account of the ground realities of the business. Besides, a large part of the MFI loans have been for consumption purposes and therefore to ask these institutions to henceforth lend primarily for productive purposes might be unrealistic. The suggestion for imputing greater transparency in the regime of lending charges is unexceptionable. Overall, there is no doubt that a vast majority of the MFIs would acquire greater credibility and benefit from the new regulations, very much like the deposit-taking NBFCs, which came under the purview of the RBI more than a decade ago.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

WAY FORWARD IN INDIA-PAKISTAN RELATIONS

SEVEN STEPS TOWARDS ACHIEVING AN 'UNINTERRUPTED AND UNINTERRUPTIBLE' DIALOGUE.

MANI SHANKAR AIYAR

 

Fifteen years ago, in a book called "Pakistan Papers," largely comprising a long despatch I wrote in my last days as Consul-General of India in Karachi, which I was surprisingly permitted by the government to publish as representing my "personal views", I had first suggested a process of "uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue" as the only way forward for our two countries. My suggestion had no takers then. It has no takers now. Yet, I see no alternative to structuring such a dialogue if we really are to effect a systemic transformation of the relationship.

 

I know that most in the Establishment of both countries would seriously disagree. They would argue that differences are so fundamental and intentions so hostile that to be tricked into talking without knowing where such talk would lead would amount to compromising vital security concerns, that it would jeopardise national interests and render diplomatic initiative hostage to a meandering dialogue from which there would be no escape. Better to keep the guard up, look reality squarely in the face, and leave romanticism to soft-hearted poets – and out-of-work Consuls General.

 

There is also the other argument, growing stronger in India by the day, and possibly among the younger generation in Pakistan, that we have lived in simmering hostility for the last six decades and can do so indefinitely, best to let matters simmer while we get on with other things instead of engaging in fruitless exchange.

 

I belong to that minority that thinks there are three compelling reasons why India should pro-actively engage with Pakistan. First, for the domestic reason that a tension-free relationship with Pakistan would help us consolidate our nationhood, the bonding adhesive of which is secularism. Second, for the regional reason that regional terrorism can be effectively tackled only in cooperation with Pakistan and not in confrontation with it. Third, for the international reason that India will not be able to play its due role in international affairs so long as it is dragged down by its quarrels with Pakistan.

 

Equally, I believe it is in Pakistan's interest to seek accommodation with India for three counterpart reasons. First, the Indian bogey has harmed rather than helped consolidate the nationhood of Pakistan. Second, Pakistan is unable to become a full-fledged democracy and a sustained fast-growing economy owing to the disproportionate role assigned to alleged Indian hostility in the national affairs of the country. And, third, on the international stage, Pakistan is one of the biggest countries in the world and instead of being the front-line in someone else's war perhaps deserves to come into its own as the frontline state in the pursuit of its own interests.

 

As for just turning our backs on each other, Siamese twins have no option but to move together even when they are attempting to pull away from each other.

 

So, what is the way forward from today's impasse? I do not think the impact on the Indian mind of 26/11 is fully comprehended in Pakistan, even as I do not think Indians are sufficiently aware of the extent to which Pakistanis are concerned about terrorism generated from their soil, whoever the target might be, India, the West or Pakistan itself. I suspect that the least positive movement in the direction of determinedly going after the perpetrators of 26/11 will generate a disproportionately positive reaction in India, enabling the stalled peace process to resume its forward movement.

 

Should the Pakistan government assist the Indian government in this manner to return to the negotiating table, then the first task would be to consolidate the gains of the 13-year old Composite Dialogue. Irrespective of whether progress on the back-channel is acknowledged or not, the official position of the two governments has grown so much closer to each other's than ever before that even by returning to the front table and taking up each component of the Composite Dialogue, including, above all, issues related to Jammu & Kashmir, we could dramatically alter the atmosphere in which to pursue the outstanding matters.

 

In such a changed atmosphere, it would be essential to immediately move to the next phase of what I hope and pray will be an "uninterrupted and uninterruptible" dialogue. Let me place before you, in outline, what I envisage as the essential elements to be structured into an "uninterrupted and uninterruptible" dialogue:

 

One, the venue must be such that neither India nor Pakistan can forestall the dialogue from taking place. Following the example of the supervision of the armistice in Korea at Panmunjom for more than half a century, such a venue might best be the Wagah-Attari border, where the table is laid across the border, so that the Pakistan delegation does not have to leave Pakistan to attend the dialogue and the Indians do not have to leave India to attend.

 

Two, as in the case of the talks at the Hotel Majestic in Paris which brought the U.S.-Vietnam war to an end, there must be a fixed periodicity at which the two sides shall necessarily meet. In the Hotel Majestic case, the two sides met every Thursday, whether or not they had anything to say to each other. Indeed, even through the worst of what were called the "Christmas bombings" — when more bombs were rained on Vietnam than by both sides in the Second World War — the Thursday meetings were not disrupted. In a similar manner, we need to inure the India-Pakistan dialogue from disruption of any kind in this manner.

 

Third, the dialogue must not be fractionated, as the Composite Dialogue has been, between different sets of interlocutors. As in the case of Hotel Majestic, where the U.S. side was led by Kissinger and the Vietnamese by Le Duc Tho (both won the Nobel prize), Ministerial-level statesmen should lead the two sides with their advisers perhaps changing, depending on the subject under discussion, but the two principal interlocutors remaining the same so that cross-segmental agreements can be reached enabling each side to gain on the swings what it feels it might have lost on the roundabouts. Thus, the holistic and integral nature of the dialogue will be preserved.

 

Fourth, instead of an agenda agreed in advance, which only leads to endless bickering over procedure, each side should be free to bring any two subjects of its choice on the table by giving due notice at the previous meeting and, perhaps, one mutually agreed subject could thereafter be addressed by both sides.

 

Fifth, half an hour should be set aside for each side to bring its topical concerns to the attention of the side. This will persuade the general public in both countries that the dialogue is not an exercise in appeasement.

 

Sixth, there should be no timeline for the conclusion of the Dialogue. This will enable both sides to come to considered, and therefore, durable conclusions without either feeling they have been rushed to a conclusion against their better judgment.

 

Seventh, and finally, as diplomacy requires confidentiality, there will, of course, have to be some opaqueness in the talks; at the same time, we cannot afford to swing the other way and bring in total transparency; so, what I would suggest is a translucent process where spokespersons of the two sides regularly brief the media but without getting into public spats with each other. Dignity and good will must be preserved to bridge the trust deficit.

 

I commend this seven-point programme for your consideration. I cannot guarantee that such a dialogue will lead to success, but I do guarantee that not talking will lead us nowhere.

 

( Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Member of Parliament. This is an edited excerpt from his Wilhelm von Pochhammer Memorial Lecture delivered in New Delhi, which was similar to an address given by him to the Karachi Council of Foreign Relations. The full text is available at www.thehindu.com)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

THE FABRIC OF BELONGING

HAD THE NATIONAL FLAG WHICH THE BJP WANTS TO UNFURL IN SRINAGAR ALSO BEEN DIPPED BY THEM TO HONOUR THE MEMORY OF THE HUNDRED YOUNG INDIANS WHO WERE SHOT DEAD IN THE VALLEY LAST YEAR, KASHMIR WOULD BE A VERY DIFFERENT PLACE.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

 

Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India but the people of Kashmir can be forgiven for believing their country has forsaken them.

 

Throughout the summer of their most recent discontent, when a hundred young men and women lost their lives in police firing, leaders from the ruling and opposition parties acted as if nothing untoward had happened. Six months earlier, the mere threat of violence in Hyderabad led the Union Home Minister to declare the government had agreed to the formation of a separate state for Telangana. In Rajasthan, the blockade of national highways by agitating Gujjars produced an instant offer of dialogue and negotiation. But in Kashmir, the corpses kept piling up while the government, the Opposition (with some honourable exceptions) and civil society in the rest of India reacted with the kind of detachment reserved for death and destruction in faraway lands like Darfur and Iraq.

 

The interlocuters

 

The fact that the public mood in the valley began to soften slightly only after an all-party delegation visited Srinagar and condoled with some of the victims' families underlined something quite unpleasant about ourselves. That the indifference of mainland India to the suffering of the ordinary Kashmiri is as much a factor in the alienation of the State as the politics of separatism and the violence of extremist groups operating with the tacit and sometimes overt backing of the Pakistani military. With characteristic indecisiveness, however, the Manmohan Singh government failed swiftly to capitalise on that initiative. When a group of interlocutors was finally appointed with a fairly open-ended mandate to listen, talk and report back, the mood in Kashmir had once again begun to harden. The fact that Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M. Ansari have still managed to make some headway in their interactions is more a result of their own personal commitment to changing the terms of New Delhi's engagement with the valley than with the attitude of the Centre and of Political India, which continue to send mixed signals.

 

One day, the Union Home Secretary tells reporters the government is prepared to pare down the presence of the security forces in Kashmir, the next day this statement is bluntly contradicted by the Defence Minister. The Prime Minister and Union Home Minister speak of amending the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act while the Army Chief announces publicly that he will never accept this. In the Machchil fake encounter case, the same general declares that his soldiers — who are accused of kidnapping and killing three young Kashmiri men — can never get justice in Kashmir, as if the State is not a part of India. Only the Army, he said, will be allowed to investigate the matter. Of course, in the Pathribal fake encounter of 2000 — where the Army has taken the Central Bureau of Investigation all the way to the Supreme Court to prevent its officers from standing trial for murder — the Army has not seen fit to even proceed against them under its own authority. Surely such a cavalier attitude to justice ought not to be tolerated in an integral part of India?

 

The Government of India rightly protested when Beijing began treating Kashmir-born or Kashmir-domiciled Indians differently from the rest while issuing visas for travel to China. But the same government does not mind treating Kashmiri Indians differently when it comes to issuing passports for them to travel. A Srinagar-born colleague of mine whose family left Kashmir to live in Delhi as part of the forced migration of Pandits from the valley in the 1990s was recently told by the Passport Office that she had to provide additional documentation that other Indians are not required to do in order to obtain a passport. As for Kashmiris applying for Indian passports in Srinagar, a recent documentary film by Ashvin Kumar, Inshallah Football, documents the heartbreaking experience they have to endure before the country which so emotionally claims them as its own will allow them to travel abroad.

 

Hoisting the flag

 

As the Centre's three interlocutors plough a lonely furrow through the infertile and even hostile soil of distrust and alienation, patiently listening to and cataloguing popular grievances, the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to rekindle a sense of estrangement by staging a provocative and high profile yatra to Srinagar in order to hoist the Indian flag at Lal Chowk in the heart of the city's commercial centre on January 26.

 

There is nothing patriotic or noble about the BJP's plans and intentions. Instead of a reassuring voyage of solidarity and empathy aimed at reassuring the people of the State that the party will fight for the sacred values of truth, justice and inclusiveness which the flag embodies, the party is planning an expedition based on the flawed belief that meaningless symbolism is all that is required to win hearts and minds and cement Kashmir's status as a part of India.

 

If a sense of national belonging can be instilled and solidified by the mere hoisting of a flag, 60 years of official ceremonies in Srinagar ought to have ended the sense of alienation that is writ large over the valley. Even if the BJP goes ahead with their mindless yatra, it will not alter the realities on the ground one bit and would actually make the situation worse. Whatever we may say or do or wish, surely Kashmir will be an integral part of India in a meaningful sense only when the residents of Srinagar themselves throng to Lal Chowk and hoist the tri-colour themselves. The challenge for the Indian polity is to create the conditions for that to happen one day, however difficult that may seem today. But the BJP's proposed flaghoisting is not just an exercise in naivette or cynicism. It is the product of a mindset that considers Kashmir to be terra nullius, an empty landscape to be coveted and possessed rather than a land with a people and soul who acceded to India in 1947 on the basis of a covenant which must be respected in full measure and who have as much right to a life with dignity as those elsewhere in the country do.

 

A politician can drape himself in the national flag but it is the texture of his politics which will determine whether he truly cares for the nation and its peoples or not. Today, the Congress politician and businessman Naveen Jindal is known not for fighting a landmark case over the right of ordinary citizens to fly the flag but for his endorsement of the obscurantist tradition of khap panchayats. Ministers and officials will preside over flag hoisting ceremonies on Republic Day throughout India even as their policies and actions in the preceding year have bled the hallowed earth on which they stand dry. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel and the people of India know this only too well. If the BJP really wants to do something for the country, let them take their yatra to Karnataka. There is a large plot of land in that State which the party's chief minister signed over to his relatives. Let the process of safeguarding this country from those who are undermining its foundations begin by planting the national flag there.

 

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THE HINDU

PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS PLAYING A ROLE IN GLOBAL WARS

THE FOUNDER OF AN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY GIANT IS SAID TO BE BACKING MERCENARIES.

MARK MAZZETTI AND ERIC SCHMITT

 

Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia's bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials.

 

The disclosure comes as Mr. Prince sells off his interest in the company he built into a behemoth with billions of dollars in American government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, work that mired him in lawsuits and investigations amid reports of reckless behaviour by his operatives, including causing the deaths of civilians in Iraq. His efforts to wade into the chaos of Somalia appear to be Mr. Prince's latest endeavour to remain at the centre of a campaign against Islamic radicalism in some of the world's most war-ravaged corners. Mr. Prince moved to the United Arab Emirates late last year.

 

In Somalia

 

With its barely functional government and a fierce hostility to foreign armies since the hasty American withdrawal from Mogadishu in the early 1990s, Somalia is a country where Western militaries have long feared to tread. The Somali government has been cornered in a small patch of Mogadishu by the Shabab, a Somali militant group with ties to Al Qaeda.

 

This, along with the growing menace of piracy off Somalia's shores, has created an opportunity for private security companies like the South African firm Saracen International to fill the security vacuum created by years of civil war. It is another illustration of how private security firms are playing a bigger role in wars around the world, with some governments seeing them as a way to supplement overtaxed armies, while others complain that they are unaccountable.

 

Mr. Prince's precise role remains unclear. Some Western officials said that it was possible Mr. Prince was using his international contacts to help broker a deal between Saracen executives and officials from the United Arab Emirates, which have been financing Saracen in Somalia because Emirates business operations have been threatened by Somali pirates.

 

According to a report by the African Union, an organisation of African states, Mr. Prince provided initial financing for a project by Saracen to win contracts with Somalia's embattled government.

 

A spokesman for Mr. Prince challenged this report, saying that Mr. Prince had "no financial role of any kind in this matter," and that he was primarily involved in humanitarian efforts and fighting pirates in Somalia.

 

"It is well known that he has long been interested in helping Somalia overcome the scourge of piracy," said the spokesman, Mark Corallo. "To that end, he has at times provided advice to many different anti-piracy efforts."

 

Saracen International is based in South Africa, with corporate offshoots in Uganda and other countries. The company, which declined to comment, was formed with the remnants of Executive Outcomes, a private mercenary firm composed largely of former South African special operations troops who worked throughout Africa in the 1990s.

 

The company makes little public about its operations and personnel, but it appears to be run by Lafras Luitingh, a former officer in South Africa's Civil Cooperation Bureau, an apartheid-era internal security force notorious for killing opponents of the government.

 

UAE's role?

 

Saracen has yet to formally announce its plans in Somalia, and there appear to be bitter disagreements within Somalia's fractious government about whether to hire the South African firm. Somali officials have said that Saracen's operations — which would also include training an antipiracy army in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland — are being financed by an anonymous Middle Eastern country.

 

Several people with knowledge of Saracen's operations confirmed that that was the United Arab Emirates.

 

A spokesman for the Emirates's Embassy in Washington declined to comment on Saracen or on Mr. Prince's involvement in the company.

 

One person involved in the project, speaking on condition of anonymity because Saracen's plans were not yet public, said that new ideas for combating piracy and battling the Shabab are needed because "to date, other missions have not been successful."

 

At least one of Saracen's past forays into training militias drew an international rebuke. Saracen's Uganda subsidiary was implicated in a 2002 United Nations Security Council report for training rebel paramilitary forces in Congo. That report identified one of Saracen Uganda's owners as Lt. Gen. Salim Saleh, the retired half-brother of Uganda's president, Yoweri Museveni. The report also accused General Saleh and other Ugandan officers of using their ties to paramilitaries to plunder Congolese diamonds, gold and timber.

 

According to a January 12 confidential report by the African Union, Mr. Prince "is at the top of the management chain of Saracen and provided seed money for the Saracen contract."

 

A Western official working in Somalia said he believed that it was Mr. Prince who first raised the idea of the Saracen contract with members of the Emirates's ruling families, with whom he has a close relationship.

 

Two former American officials are helping broker the delicate negotiations between the Somali government, Saracen and the Emirates.

 

Both are apparently being paid by the United Arab Emirates.

 

Saracen is now training a 1,000-member antipiracy militia in Puntland, in northern Somalia, and plans a separate militia in Mogadishu. The company has trained a first group of 150 militia members and is drilling a second group of equal size, an official familiar with the company's operations said.

 

In December, Somalia's Ministry of Information issued a news release saying that Saracen was contracted to train security personnel and to carry out humanitarian work. That statement said the contract "is a limited engagement that is clearly defined and geared towards filling a need that is not met by other sources at this time."

 

On Erik Prince

 

For years, Mr. Prince, a multimillionaire former Navy SEAL, has tried to spot new business opportunities in the security world. In 2008, he sought to capitalise on the growing rash of piracy off the Horn of Africa to win Blackwater contracts from companies that frequent the shipping lanes there. He even reconfigured a 183-foot oceanographic research vessel into a pirate-hunting ship for hire, complete with drone aircraft and .50-caliber machine guns.

 

In the spring of 2005, he met with Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) officials about his proposal for a "quick reaction force" — a special cadre of Blackwater personnel who could handle paramilitary assignments for the agency anywhere in the world.

 

Mr. Prince began his pitch at C.I.A. headquarters by stating "from the early days of the American republic, the nation has relied on mercenaries for its defence," according to a former government official who attended the meeting.

 

The pitch was not particularly well received, said the former official, because Mr. Prince was, in essence, proposing to replace the spy agency's own in-house paramilitary force, the Special Activities Division.

 

Despite all of Blackwater's legal troubles, Mr. Prince has never been charged with any criminal activity.

 

In an interview in the November issue of Men's Journal, Mr. Prince expressed frustration with the wave of lawsuits filed against Blackwater, which is now known as Xe Services.

 

Mr. Prince, said moving to Abu Dhabi would "make it harder for the jackals to get my money," said he intended to find opportunities in "the energy field." ( Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Mogadishu., Somalia.)

 

    © New York Times News Service

     

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THE HINDU

FEDERAL RESEARCH CENTRE WILL HELP DEVELOP MEDICINES

THE SLOWING PACE OF NEW DRUGS COMING OUT OF THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY IS THE MAIN REASON.

GARDINER HARRIS

 

The Obama administration has become so concerned about the slowing pace of new drugs coming out of the pharmaceutical industry that officials have decided to start a billion-dollar government drug development centre to help create medicines.

 

The new effort comes as many large drug makers, unable to find enough new drugs, are paring back research. Promising discoveries in illnesses like depression and Parkinson's that once would have led to clinical trials are instead going unexplored because companies have neither the will nor the resources to undertake the effort.

 

On the decline

 

The initial financing of the government's new drug centre is relatively small compared with the $45.8 billion that the industry estimates it invested in research in 2009. The cost of bringing a single drug to market can exceed $1 billion, according to some estimates, and drug companies have typically spent twice as much on marketing as on research, a business model that is increasingly suspect.

 

The National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.) has traditionally focused on basic research, such as describing the structure of proteins, leaving industry to create drugs using those compounds. But the drug industry's research productivity has been declining for 15 years, "and it certainly doesn't show any signs of turning upward," said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the institutes.

 

To open by October

 

The job of the new centre, to be called the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, is akin to that of a home seller who spruces up properties to attract buyers in a down market. In this case the centre will do as much research as it needs to do so that it can attract drug company investment.

 

That means that in some cases, the centre will use one of the institutes' four new robotic screeners to find chemicals that affect enzymes and might lead to the development of a drug or a cure. In other cases, the centre may need to not only discover the right chemicals but also perform animal tests to ensure that they are safe and even start human trials to see if they work. All of that has traditionally been done by drug companies, not the government.

 

"None of this is intended to be competitive with the private sector," Dr. Collins said. "The hope would be that any project that reaches the point of commercial appeal would be moved out of the academic support line and into the private sector."

 

Whether the government can succeed where private industry has failed is uncertain, officials acknowledge, but they say doing nothing is not an option. The Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, sent a letter to Congress on January 14 outlining the plan to open the new drug centre by October — an unusually rapid turnaround for an idea first released with little fanfare in December.

 

Creating the centre is a signature effort of Dr. Collins, who once directed the agency's Human Genome Project. Dr. Collins has been predicting for years that gene sequencing will lead to a vast array of new treatments, but years of effort and tens of billions of dollars in financing by drug makers in gene-related research has largely been a bust.

 

As a result, industry has become far less willing to follow the latest genetic advances with expensive clinical trials. Rather than wait longer, Dr. Collins has decided that the government can start the work itself.

 

"I am a little frustrated to see how many of the discoveries that do look as though they have therapeutic implications are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to follow through with them," he said.

 

Dr. Collins's ability to conceive and create such a centre in a few short months would have been impossible for most of his predecessors, who had nice offices but little power. But Congress in recent years has invested real budgetary and administrative authority in the director's office, and Dr. Collins is the first to fully use these new powers.

 

The plan

 

Under the plan, more than $700 million in research projects already under way at various institutes and centres would be brought together at the new centre. But officials hope that the prospect of finding new drugs will lure Congress into increasing the centre's financing well beyond $1 billion.

 

Hopes of new money may be optimistic. Republicans in the House have promised to cut the kind of discretionary domestic spending that supports the health institutes, and officials are already bracing for significant cuts this year. But Dr. Collins has hinted that he is willing to cannibalise other parts of the health institutes to bring more resources to the new centre.

 

"There are some people that would say this is not the time to do something bold and ambitious because the budget is so tight," he said. "But we would be irresponsible not to take advantage of scientific opportunity, even if it means tightening in other places."

 

For the plan to go into effect by October, the administration must by law get rid of one of the 27 centres and institutes already in existence at the N.I.H. — something that has never been done before. So the administration plans to downgrade the National Center for Research Resources, in part by giving some of its functions to the new drug centre.

 

Researchers and staff members connected to the research resources centre have inundated a complaint blog about the coming change. Mark O. Lively, a professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest University and a member of an advisory council to the research resources centre, said that he could not understand why the administration was moving so quickly with its plans.

 

"And the N.I.H. is not likely to be very good at drug discovery, so why are they doing this?" Dr. Lively asked.

 

But Dr. Garret A. FitzGerald, a professor of medicine and pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania, said the new centre could inspire universities to train a new generation of investigators who could straddle the divide between academia and industry.

 

"It could be a really good idea," he said.

 

Only two major discoveries

Both the need for and the risks of this strategy are clear in mental health. There have been only two major drug discoveries in the field in the past century; lithium for the treatment of bipolar disorder in 1949 and Thorazine for the treatment of psychosis in 1950.

 

Both discoveries were utter strokes of luck, and almost every major psychiatric drug introduced since has resulted from small changes to Thorazine. Scientists still do not know why any of these drugs actually work, and hundreds of genes have been shown to play roles in mental illness — far too many for focused efforts. So many drug makers have dropped out of the field.

 

For Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the drug industry's departure from this vital research area shows that the government must do something, although he acknowledges the risk.

 

"Would we be foolish — we being an agency that has never developed drugs and actually doesn't know how to do therapeutics that well — to get into this space?" Dr. Insel asked.

 

But Dr. William Potter, who was once a top researcher at the mental health institute and retired last year as the vice president of translational neuroscience at the giant drug maker Merck, said that far more basic research needed to be done on the causes of mental illness before anyone — industry or government — could successfully create breakthrough drugs.

 

"We still don't even understand how lithium works," Dr. Potter said. "So how do people think we can find drugs systematically for mental illness?"

 © New York Times News Service     

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

BJP SHOULD DROP ITS FLAG PLAN

The BJP's plan to raise the national flag at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on Republic Day is quixotic, not to put too fine a point on it. The party might as well go fly the flag in Lucknow, Patna, or even Bengaluru (where it is in power) if it wants to keep its show distinct from that of a state government in an effort to remind us that it is a "nationalist" entity. (The ridiculous implication of this is that other parties are not nationalist.) In all those state capitals, any significant party or organisation intent on unfurling the national flag on a commemorative occasion only yards away from the venue where the chief minister is doing the ceremonials is apt to be invited by the state to be a part of the official celebration. Presumably, it is in this spirit that chief minister Omar Abdullah has urged the BJP to join the official function at Srinagar's Bakshi Stadium. To everyone's surprise the party has turned down the offer and foregone the opportunity of extricating itself from acute embarrassment.
Kashmir is a tricky place and Srinagar is not the same as Patna, Lucknow or Bengaluru, considering the security threat posed to it on a continual basis by terrorists who draw inspiration and nourishment from across the Line of Control. It is precisely for this reason that the BJP should have accepted Mr Abdullah's suggestion in the spirit in which it was intended. The fact that the chief minister will be performing the traditional ceremony of raising the national standard on that special day underlines the reality that it is the upholders of India's Constitution who are in control in J&K, not agents of a foreign power. This should have cautioned the BJP against any adventurist action in the name of seeking to burnish its "nationalist" credentials, and obviated the need for the party to go in for a boy-scout show of patriotic fervour. Going ahead with its wrong-headed plan gives the impression that the BJP does not think the ruling National Conference of J&K reposes its faith in the Constitution of India.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE CONVERSION FACTOR

The Supreme Court on January 21 upheld the verdict of the Orissa high court and gave a life sentence to Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, who burnt alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, aged 10 and six respectively, on the night of January 22, 1999, as they slept in their jeep. The then President of India, K.R. Narayanan, had described the murder as "one belonging to the inventory of black deeds of history" and a "monumental aberration from the tradition of tolerance and humanity for which India is known".

The Church, very much in line with the stand of Graham Staines' wife, Gladys Staines who stunned the world by forgiving the murderers of her husband and two sons, is satisfied with the sentence. The Church and Gladys Staines are happy that the Supreme Court turned down the demand of the Central Bureau of Investigation that Dara Singh and his 12 accomplices be sentenced to death. The Church has consistently stood for life, and not death. It believes that a person should be given enough opportunities to change his life and a prison is as good a place as any for someone to reflect and change one's ways. This happened in the case of Samunder Singh who murdered Rani Maria near Indore in 1995. Through the kind gesture of tying a Rakhi on his wrist, Rani's sister, a nun, changed his heart. The late John Paul II went to the prison to offer forgiveness to Agca who had attempted to assassinate him in Vatican Square.

What, however, is a shock to all those who believe in India's secular spirit and Constitution, is the reference by the bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan that states: "In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity… 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. It strikes at the very root of the orderly society, which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of".
Is the Supreme Court suggesting that members of the Bajrang Dal can take it upon themselves "to teach a lesson" to a person serving lepers and outcastes of society, whom the likes of Dara Singh would never even dream of touching, and go to the extent of burning him and his two young sons alive? Before making this observation, did the Supreme Court take into consideration the report of the Wadhwa Commission that was set up to probe Graham Staines' murder? The commission had observed: "There has been no extraordinary increase in the Christian population in Keonjhar district between 1991 and 1998. The population had increased by 595 during this period and could have been caused by natural growth". Did the honourable judges care to look at the findings of a civil society group headed by Swami Agnivesh, which after visiting Manoharpur reported that they did not come across a single person whom Graham had converted? Did the judges recall India's official census that shows a decline in the Christian population, from 2.6 per cent in 1971 to 2.33 per cent in 2001? Did the judges find out if there was ever a complaint or an FIR filed by anyone about forceful conversions or allurement or any other fraudulent means? Were the allegations made by Dara Singh and Right-wing Hindu fundamentalists more credible than these facts?

Before steering away from the main subject related to Graham Staines' murder, it is important to note the Catholic Church's stand: "In spreading religious faith, everyone ought, at all times, to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonourable or unworthy, especially when dealing with the poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one's own right and a violation of the rights of others" (Declaration on Religious Freedom: No. 4. Vatican: 1965).

Several Hindu organisations, including the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, routinely hold sessions in Europe and America to convert Christians. Practically every big town in the US and Europe has ashrams set up by Hindu sadhus. Who is burning them alive to teach them a lesson?
The Supreme Court's judgment is music to the ears of Sadhvi Pragya Singh, Swami Aseemanand and their ilk involved in bomb blasts at various mosques and the Samjhauta Express. After all, their intention was only to "teach a lesson" to the so-called Muslim terrorists.

It is not a coincidence that the murder of Graham Staines took place less than a month after Swami Aseemanand organised a huge rally in Gujarat's Dangs district on Christmas Day in 1998 adjacent to the place where Christians were gathering to celebrate. The attacks on Christians that followed lasted 12 days. Probe Swami Assemanand a little more and I am sure he will divulge all the plans of the Sangh Parivar to terrorise the Christian community.

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Karnataka, the Christian community has been under attack. The Ram Sene and the Bajrang Dal have gone on rampages and beaten up nuns inside their convents. According to Justice Michael Saldhana, former judge of the Karnataka high court who led the People's Tribunal Enquiry into the attacks on Christians in Karnataka on behalf of the People's Union for Civil Liberties: "The state is under an unprecedented wave of Christian persecution, having faced more than 1,000 attacks in 500 days… On January 26 (2010) — the day we celebrated India's Republic Day — Karnataka's 1,000th attack took place in Mysore city".

The Supreme Court's observation on conversion is going to embolden the attackers further. And many fear that the ruling may send the wrong signal to courts trying cases of religious violence in Kandhamal and other places. Though the damage may have been done, the Supreme Court must seriously consider expunging these remarks.

Father Dominic Emmanuel, director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church, was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

LISTEN TO THE RHYTHM...

AMRIT SADHANA

Visualise your last trip to a natural habitat. The echo of birdcalls creating a constantly shimmering rainbow of sound from the forest canopy above. A lively spirited brook bubbling around moss-covered rocks as the wind rustles through the leaves.

The weariness of urban life melts away like a dewdrop in the morning sun. There are no mechanical sounds to destroy the musical soundscape of nature. In these sounds there is pitch and tempo, melodies and choruses, which are all being created by a multitude of animate and inanimate players.

Immediately we feel more relaxed and open, at home and at peace. But have we ever thought that listening to these nature sounds is very important for our wellness — and even for our very being in this world?
Recently, Spanish scientists have found that sound affects us not only because of its vibrations, but that it is an integral part of our genes — the musical relation between sounds is actually reflected in the form of our DNA.

Somehow we've always felt this deep connection, and now it has been shown scientifically.

But there is more: today everything in our lives seems to overstress us, even doing things that are supposed to be "good" for us — diets, exercise, taking time for nature walks, and so on. We feel that there is no free personal space any more; everything is too planned. Living with nature is an antidote to all this calculated lifestyle. Going into the wild woods where there are no charted paths, where surprise awaits us at every turn is itself an unburdening experience.

Just imagine remaining there for a little while. Letting everything come spontaneously, in the moment, drinking in the melodies of sounds and becoming aware of the feeling of peace inside that they bring about. We can even watch our eyes close by themselves, allowing the relaxation to penetrate every pore of our body. It invites a kind of tranquil trance with a lining of inner wakefulness that we wouldn't want to miss.

The word enjoyment takes on a new, softer and more personal meaning. We sense that the natural sounds we are listening to are actually inside us, part of us in a very intimate way. They create a lightness within, a spontaneous relaxation that we can never totally forget, that we can undergo at every step of the way here if we just pause for a few moments and allow ourselves to resonate with them.

And the great thing is that this experience is there for us whether we are old or young, fat or thin, fast or lazy. Moreover, once we know how it feels, we can recall this feeling of relaxation and exquisite wakefulness anywhere in the world, first in nature and then even on a crowded street in the city. It is called meditation.
This way of enjoying the natural music around us can help us to find true wellness, which has to do with what we feel inside, not with how others say we should feel. Discovering ourself like this can be full of fun, peace and joy.

A small tip from Osho is very helpful: "Anything that can help from the outside will have some music in it, only then can it help. The sound of running water in the hills can help, because it has its own music. The roaring waves of the ocean can help, because they have their own music. The singing of the birds in the morning can help, or the sound of insects in the silent night, or the rain falling on the rooftop — anything that creates music can also create meditation".

— Amrit Sadhana is in the management team of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.

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DNA

PAKISTAN'S STAND ON TERROR UNCONVINCING

 

Pakistan, reeling as it is under civil unrest and terrorist attacks, has come up with a novel way to stop being associated with terror: it will no longer call itself the "frontline state in the war against terror". Apparently by admitting as much, Pakistan is being seen as the epicentre of terrorism across the world. While it is true that image is very important in today's world, this move is little more that window-dressing and an unconvincing mask at that. Yet, Pakistan apparently believes that this phrase and the discussion about the sacrifices that Pakistan has made in the fight against terror have both demanded a heavy price — $50 billion and thousands of civilian lives is a government estimate.

 

There is a simple reason why Pakistan is perceived as the epicentre of terrorism by most of the world and little of that has to do with whether it declares itself as being at the "frontline" of terrorism or not. It has to do with the world's realisation that Pakistan is a hub or provides support for the world's most dangerous people.

 

However, it is easy to see where this "change" of label is coming from. As civil unrest has grown in Pakistan, it is evident that people are unhappy with the American influence over the state.

 

This then can be seen as a PR exercise aimed at the people of Pakistan in an attempt to assure them that the government is looking out for them and their image. An attempt to explain this shift in description points to the "shrinking economy, massive internal security expenses and loss of investment… are just some of the manifestations of the debilitating effects this phrase and the country's alliance with the West has caused".

 

This "alliance" with the West definitely does not go down well with the more conservative elements in Pakistani society. At the same time, Pakistan is also suffering because of its own policies and the insistence by some of its institutions that any means are justified in the battle against India. Under the circumstances, the West, and the US especially, has been very generous with Pakistan.

 

What that country currently is going through is terminal. Changing a label is, at best, applying a bandage when what is needed is some very drastic medicine. If anything, this is a sign of desperation from an administration, which is trapped by circumstances of history and of years of skewed thinking.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

KARNATAKA GOVERNOR, CM MAKE A CONSTITUTIONAL MESS

 

Karnataka governor HR Bharadwaj granting permission on Friday for prosecution of chief minister BS Yeddyurappa over corruption charges is not a controversy in the classical sense. It is not a clash between governor and chief minister, the Constitutional and executive heads of the state, though it appears to be so at first glance. Bharadwaj brazenly displays his Congress biases and tries unsuccessfully to hide behind the rule book. Yeddyurappa is a man who gets into trouble through his own indiscretions, with no help from the others, not even a ready-to-oblige Bharadwaj. A good governor would have allowed Yeddyurappa to tie himself up in knots. Bharadwaj, through his tactless manner , has almost shifted the focus away from the bungling chief minister.

 

An embarrassed and indignant Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cannot blame it all on Bharadwaj and Congress. BJP's leaders in New Delhi will have to realise that they cannot nail the Congress at the Centre on the many scandals and scams involving the UPA government without solving the Yeddyurappa problem. There are, of course, compulsions not to disturb Yeddyurappa but if the party wants to build its credibility among the people — and this is real political capital — then it will have to take the legal route of challenging the governor's partisan decision. The cases of corruption against the chief minister should have been filed in the courts directly with the lok ayukta and without involving the governor. The courts would have decided on the issue and that would have been a more effective rebuff to Yeddyurappa. The governor's decision is only a political ploy to unseat the chief minister. The BJP is reacting on predictable lines, taking to the streets and imposing unpopular strikes on ordinary people who are fed up with such antics.

 

The Bharadwaj-Yeddyurappa issue brings to the fore once again the fuzziness surrounding the governmental system. Bharadwaj has shown that it is difficult for governors to be impartial in dealing with their constitutional obligations, and that, tragically, most Congress politicians who became governors rarely showed respect for the post. It is actions such as those by Bharadwaj that give the impression that the governor's post serves no other purpose but that of allowing the party in power at the Centre to play partisan politics. And there must be a simpler way of arraigning a corrupt politician, even when he or she happens to be a chief minister.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

HONESTY, WITHOUT COURAGE, IS FLAWED

ABHAY VAIDYA

 

How far can honesty as a virtue take you if you are also perceived as ineffective and spineless? Does that honesty then have any value? Does it serve any purpose?

 

This is the tragedy of prime minister Manmohan Singh's clean image post-Radiagate, which forced the UPA government to eject the tainted telecom minister A Raja. Though upright and honest, Singh's image has eroded considerably because of evidence that he did not act decisively in the 2G scam when it was brought to his notice as early as 2008.

 

Singh was perhaps constrained by the compulsions of coalition politics and the collective wisdom at the highest level in the Congress. But his compromise has come at a price.

 

Unless you belong to the Gandhi family, the party always stands supreme. That is also what prevented then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee from demanding the resignation of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 Godhra carnage. As documented, Vajpayee wanted Modi to quit but had to remain silent because many seniors in the party, including LK Advani, differed with him.

 

The party also asserted itself to reprimand Advani and Jaswant Singh for praising the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

 

To their credit, these two leaders stood their ground courageously and paid the price rather than buckle under pressure.

 

Honesty in public life works up to a point and not beyond if it is not accompanied with courage. Indira Gandhi is admired for her courage in spite of her excesses such as the Emergency. Her decisive role in the creation of Bangladesh is the most striking example.

 

Whistleblowers belong to the class of people who may be honest like the silent majority but stand apart by showing extraordinary courage in helping expose a fraud in the public domain. Many newspaper and TV exposè are a result of such people in the system; although, most leaks originate from corporate rivalry, political and bureaucratic jealousies.

 

To be sure, today's generation is benefiting from the fruits of economic liberalisation. But what's needed is a greater willingness to take risks; to do and dare — not just for personal prosperity but also for the larger good.

 

Such is the reality that parents are gripped with fear at the time of nursery school admission, during board exams and admission to professional colleges. As an IIT veteran said, many IIT graduates see themselves as failures if their starting salary offer is as "low" as Rs10 lakhs per annum. "Why are we surrounded by insecurity? Where is the passion," he asks, "to do something in life, to do something for the country?"

 

Whether it is Manmohan Singh or the man on the street, we need to fix our fears one way or the other. We need to be unreasonable, because, as George Bernard Shaw explained, "all progress depends on the unreasonable man".

 

This year marks the beginning of the 150th birth centenary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda, one of the greatest sons of India. Citing his own example of near-death experiences, one of Vivekananda's most powerful messages to his followers was to get rid of their fears and insecurities. As he put it: "Fear is death, fear is sin, fear is hell, fear is unrighteousness, fear is wrong life. All the negative thoughts and ideas that are in the world have proceeded from this evil spirit of fear."

 

It's time to ponder and revisit Vivekananda.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

THE CABINET RESHUFFLE MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL

 

Dr Manmohan Singh's cabinet reshuffle has drawn so much flack that you wonder why the PM went through the exercise of shuffling his pack. Ask anyone and they will give one answer: the UPA government's image has taken a huge battering in the last few months and it was in urgent need of refurbishing. If you liken the government to a car, the vehicle had such huge dents all over it, that you actually needed a new car. But since political and other considerations made that impossible, it needed extensive body work. All the PM did was to get a paint job: the dents remain; now they just have a nice colour. Is it possible that while undertaking cabinet changes, the PM actually forgot why he was making the changes?

 

Dr Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are guilty of underestimating the depth of disillusionment in the country. Raja, Kalmadi, Radia et al rankle bitterly in peoples' minds. Dr Singh and the Gandhis, as this column pointed out earlier, seem to be under the impression that their own motives and integrity are enough to reassure the nation. They aren't. The continuing series of scams and the cynicism of the Radia tapes have brought about such a complete lack of faith in the UPA government, that the only corrective was to take strong and immediate action.

 

That hasn't come through this cabinet reshuffle. But why are we surprised? Throughout his terms as prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh has shown that he is many things, but a man of action, he most definitely isn't. Even at the height of the 2G scandal, his first reaction was to defend Raja; the sacking, when it did come, was most reluctant. Then, in a public relations gaffe, the PM was seen benignly patting Raja on the back. Dr Manmohan Singh may be a kindly man, but surely by now he must realise that sometimes a leader has to submerge his true feelings and appear strong and even ruthless. It may not be his style, but this is the moment when the country looks to the PM to be assertive. He need not shout "I am in charge" but every action of his must underline that unsaid sentence.

 

Instead of that we get this: several ministers, we are told, are non-performers. Some of them may be performers, but they dance to the tune of vested interests. Some of them make 15% (courtesy Radia tapes). So what happens to all of them? They get shifted to another portfolio, some of them even getting elevated in the process! The nation, hit by scam after scam, wants accountability. Does accountability only mean you switch jobs?

 

The PM's response is "It is a minor reshuffle". That only makes it worse: what he will end up doing is redistribute portfolios in another 3 months, when the current incumbents will be just settling into their jobs. It doesn't make any sense at all. What also does not make sense is the excuse that the PM's hands were tied because of regional considerations. This is absurd: will the man in UP vote for Congress just because the cabinet has a couple of extra UP ministers?

 

If there are any silver linings to any of these very dark clouds, they are in this: The PM has clipped the wings of his coalition partners, at last showing that the Congress Party is the boss. The other silver lining is in the changes the PM did not make. He didn't disturb the Big Four (finance, home, defence and external affairs), because at least 3 of them are doing a competent job. Only external affairs needs strengthening.

 

Most significant is that Kapil Sibal has been retained to clean up telecom. Even better is that Human Resources has been still kept in his charge, where the reforms he has initiated in education need to be completed. Similarly, Jairam Ramesh, in spite of rubbing industrialists and fellow ministers the wrong way, has been retained in his tricky ministry, a clear signal that he has the prime minister's support in the difficult job of protecting the environment.

 

Last, but not least, there one other little public misconception: Salman Khursheed's move to Water Resources (in addition to Minority Affairs) is seen to be light-weight. Is it? The ministry may be unglamorous, unlike say Aviation, but the scarcity and redistribution of water may become one of the prickliest problems facing the country. Similarly MS Gill's shift from sports to programme implementation is seen as a punishment, but in reality the new posting should really be one of the most important positions in the government, while sports should be one of the least important. Vilas Rao Deshmukh's move from Heavy Industry to rural development and Panchayati Raj is again seen as a demotion, but surely Heavy Industry doesn't need a minister, while rural development desperately needs a good one.

 

Yes, public perception is a strange creature. But you ignore it at your peril. For an intellectual, it's a lesson Dr Manmohan Singh has taken too long to learn.

— The writer is commentator on social affairs

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

INCREDIBLY TRUE?

 

Even by our State's abysmal image of corruption the latest disclosure is mind-boggling. An officer, who happens to be a doctor, manages to get whopping government money of Rs 40 crore transferred to his account in blatant violation of the rules. The sum was sanctioned by the Union Government for strengthening medical infrastructure in the State. It should have gone to the state treasury under the relevant head. Instead, the person concerned working as an officer on special duty (OSD) in the Health and Medical Education Ministry opened an account in the name of the nodal officer to the same ministry in the Moving Branch of Jammu and Kashmir Bank Limited at the Civil Secretariat. Nobody detected the fraud until, according to a report in this newspaper, Principal Secretary, Health and Medical Education, went to the national capital to discuss official matters. While being there, he learnt about the amount having already been approved and sent to the State. Back home he initiated the inquiry. It was discovered that the officer had acted in a "completely unauthorised and illegal" manner to divert the funds to another name. What has been the intention of the alleged fraudster is not clear. For, it appears that there have been no withdrawals so for. Was he waiting for the right moment to carry out the follow-up strike? There are several other questions also that arise. Who or which department was the first recipient of the money? How was it that none else came across the details of transaction or the papers related to it before just one individual could make an effort to allegedly grab it? It is generally believed that the official apparatus is a complex and enormous affair. At the same time, it can't be denied that there is a system of checks and balances at every stage. Why did it go unnoticed all through?


For the State which sends SOSs to the Centre even for small development projects it is necessary to remain vigilant in these matters. Very rightly the Central Government is seeking utilisation certificates from states for the financial assistance given by it. The officer concerned in this instance has been suspended and reverted and attached to his parent department. A thorough probe has been ordered into the entire case. These administrative steps should be taken to the logical conclusion. Prima facie one can't be faulted for smelling a rat. There may well be more to it than meets the eye. It is often said that an individual can make a difference --- for the worse as well. He can eat into the vitals of the whole government machinery. One of the widely prevalent definitions of corruptions is "perversion or destruction of integrity in the discharge of public duties by bribery or favour." It has quite a few facets: it can be individual corruption, syndicated corruption in which too many persons are involved at various levels, non-syndicated corruption and systematic corruption in which one and all is not merely perceived to be but is actually dishonest.

 

We are among the most corrupt states in the country. To live down that dubious reputation we have to perform a clinical surgery. Our approach towards tackling the malady has been half-hearted. We must get our act together to eradicate it once and for all.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

LET'S BE BETTER

 

It is utterly shameful that a foreign tourist has been duped in as religious and emotional a matter as mata ki bhente (hymns in praise of the glory of Mata Vaishno Devi). He has been sold a copy of sacred chants at an exorbitant rate of Rs 19000 against the actual cost of Rs 250 in Katra town. This is totally unacceptable. The police has done extremely well to timely intervene and arrest a tout --- a taxi driver --- who laid the trap for a commission of 40 per cent --- as well as the actual shopkeeper. Indeed, the uniformed force has saved our image by ensuring the return of entire money to the sightseer: he had travelled all the way from Auckland in New Zealand to the base camp of the pilgrimage. It is anybody's guess what would have happened had he gone back with the bitter experience. It is not for nothing that the Union Tourism Ministry has a social awareness campaign "Atithi Devo Bhavah" (our visitor is God). It is meant to sensitise key stakeholders towards tourists through a process of training and orientation. The underlying idea is to boost tourism as a catalyst for the country's economy. Besides hygiene and cleanliness as well as safety and security two other key components of the project are: (a) conduct and behaviour (the person concerned, for example, the taxi driver/hotel employee shall behave in a courteous and polite manner towards tourists); and (b) integrity and honesty (the person providing service to the foreign tourists should display honesty and integrity). Both have become a casualty in the above incident. To say that the majority of our pilgrim and tourist spots suffer from identical problems can't be a cause of comfort for us. This does not help us in any way. It is our responsibility to make sure that we are not only correct but also seen to be so. If the others don't improve it is their headache. So far as we are concerned our hospitality standards should be impeccable.


'On the whole, we in this State do see a lot of change for the better in our own conduct. We have understood the significance of tourism industry after its near collapse in the highly picturesque Kashmir region in the wake of militancy. Our financial resources have been seriously hit. In sharp contrast --- this may sound ironical --- we are again wiser in this regard because of the difference that can be made by enhancement in basic amenities. The number of pilgrims has skyrocketed ever since the trek to the holy cave on the Trikuta Hills has been equipped with a silken track, plenty of food and considerable decent accommodation. It is a pity, however, that there are certain black sheep among us. We should isolate them for our greater good. We should instil a sense of discipline in the operators of means of transport. Why should the arbitrary billing be there? The meters can and must be installed wherever it is not possible to enforce the "fixed rate" regime. Our State should become an example worth emulating. Together we can achieve this laudable goal. We can turn the tide against the militancy as well to fully retrieve the best part of our tourist haven.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SRIKRISHNA COMMITTEE REPORTA CLUE TO SOLVE KASHMIR TANGLE ?

BY B L SARAF

 

Given the complexities of the Kashmir problem , with external and internal dimensions , it will be an overstatement to say that the Srikrishna Committee report on Telangana will be a panacea for all its ills. Nonetheless , if considered dispassionately and with sincerity of purpose this report could provide a clue to find an answer to the vexed Kashmir problem . Once we start on the premise that J&K's relationship with India cannot be disturbed and that the federalism is the moving spirit of the Indian Constitution, couple of options discussed by the Committee will assume relevance to our cause . Options 1 & 6 should interest us ,particularly.
Regarding Option 1st the Panel says , " it would not be practical approach to simply maintain status -quo in respect of the situation .Some intervention is definitely required and though maintaining the existing status -quo is an option it is favored the least ." Very apt to the Kashmir case . Status - quo may not survive for long; the aspirations of the Kashmiris and genuine demands of the Jammuites and Ladakhis need to be addressed .These facts stand well acknowledged by the political leadership of the country, across the board, and efforts were indeed made , time to time, to meet them . For Narasimha Rao sky was the limit and Atal Behari Vajpayee wanted to resolve them 'Insaaniyat Kay Daiarae Mein .' In the wake of last year's summer discontent in the Valley Prime Minister Manmohan Singh empathized with 'the anger and frustration of youth of Kashmir' and Sonia Gandhi asked ' their legitimate aspirations' be respected. That explains the appointment of the interlocutors and their mission in the state to find a way out of the imbroglio .


It will not be possible to redraw the international boundaries. The world opinion is against it and Constitutions of India and the State won't permit that to happen. For the center state relationship Delhi Agreement of 1952 executed by Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah could be the basis . We do find elements of self rule in it. Besides , this agreement stands endorsed by the Indian Parliament . We are told ,Shyama Prasad Mukerji was supportive of this Agreement . For any deviations that may have crept in it and keeping in view the existing contingencies, Sheikh Abdullah-Indira Gandhi accord of 1975 can be looked into, supplemental to it .There is sufficient room in it to address the regional grievances, also. In the prevailing mood of the country "autonomy" should not sound a taboo word anymore. We see trends developing in the country which allow States to behave as Mini Republics to enter into financial, environmental and other developmental relations , directly , with other nations of the globe. M.OUs are being signed by the State C.Ms with the foreign entities , previously being done by the Union Government Now , Govt. of India only acts as a facilitator. That is the indication of federalism being at work--which means that the States are free to decide on what concerns them, leaving only few matters to the domain of the Union Government . Constitution of the country recognizes the position. Part X1, from Articles 245 -293, divides legislative, financial and administrative powers between the Union and the States . In our case Article 370 strengthens the position " Constitution of India establishes a dual polity in the country , consisting of Union Government and the State Governments .The States are regionally administrative units into which the country has been divided and thus India has been characterized as ' Union of States .'-

 

Article 1(1) of the Constitution : M.P .Jain "Indian Constitutional Law" Nagpur: pp 553- 54 . In S.R Bommai case ( A.I.R1994 S.C 1918 ) the Supreme Court observed , " Within the sphere allotted to them , the States are supreme . The centre cannot tamper with their powers ……. Let it be said that the federalism in the Indian Constitution is not a matter of administrative convenience , but one of the principle -- the outcome of our own historical process and a recognition of the ground realities… ." That is the spirit which should permeate centre state relations . Looking to the external dimension of the problem is of the utmost importance .Let the two parts of Kashmir come closer . For this , people to people contact should be more frequent and made hassle free .The bottlenecks that choke the cross L.O.C trade must be removed .

Option 6th was discussed by the Srikrishna panel with a view. "to keep the state of Andhra Pradesh united by simultaneously providing certain definite Constitutional / Statutory measures for socio-economic development and Political empowerment of Telangana region -creation of statutorily Empowered Telangana Regional Council .The committee considers that unity is in the best interest of all the three regions of the state as internal partitions would not be conducive to providing sustainable solutions to the issues at hand, In this option, it is proposed to keep the state united and provide constitutional/ statutory measures to address the core socio- economic concerns about development of Telangana region. This can be done through the establishment of a statutory and empowered Telangana Regional Council with adequate transfer of funds ,functions and functionaries in keeping with the spirit of Gentlemen's Agreement of 1956".


In certain matters the situation in A.P and J &K is comparable , in so for emphasis on protection of interests of the local residents and regional aspirations are concerned . In our case, the State Subject Rules protect the rights of the local residents in the matters of public employment and acquisition of the property rights .We know enough about it .Let us see what is the position in Andhra Pradesh in this regard. They have Mulki Rules to protect the rights of locals -particularly of the Telangana area . These rules were promulgated by the Nizam in 1919 , which defined a Mulki as one who was born in erstwhile Hyderabad or had resided there for 15 years . Mulkis, only , were eligible for appointment to the government service in the State . A 10 point Gentlemen's Agreement was reached in 1956 among the parties concerned at the time of reorganization of the States in 1955 -when regions of Andhra and Telangana came together to form Andhra Pradesh. The notable provision of the Agreement was creation of Telangana Regional Council, whose recommendations would normally be accepted by the legislature and the Government Besides, it provided assurances in terms of domicile rules and reserved posts in sub-ordinate services of the government in Telangana region to the Mulkis . The Supreme Court upheld the Mulki Rules in 1972 . There seems to be a great similarity in the grievances of Telangana region in AP and Jammu province of the J&K state. As in the case of Telangana, Jammu Region too suffers the injustices in budget allocation, revenue sharing out of the water resources-which are primarily located in the region, share of educational and infrastructural funding. Above all the Jammuites rightly feel deprived of their share in legislature and the political executive of the state. Their political aspirations have been systematically ignored . So is the case of Ladakhis. The sense of deprivation runs strongly among other sections of our society , as well ; e.g Kashmiri Hindus , Christians . Sikhs etc . Their rights as State Minorities must be statutorily recognized and then protected on the lines of the National Minorities .


Bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, though feasible administratively, would not be politically and psychologically a wise move. Given the sharp demographic diversities and regional geographic contours, the division of the state would mean a religion wise separation and redefining of boundaries purely on ethnic considerations. In this way the scars of partition would be reopened. Probably, this diversity explains the state's unity . Even those states which will come into the existence on the basis of bifurcation will not be demographically and geographically homogeneous units. Sooner than later, the intra-regional aspirations will rear the head. Similarly, carving out Ladakh and declaring it as a Union territory will not be, politically, a wise thing to do: because in that region, too, there are predominant religious and psychological diversities in the populace. Shias of Kargil may prefer to live with their co-religionists in Baltistan than be part of the Buddhist Leh. Apart from that, the division of the state will be a step towards implementation of the notorious Dixon plan. Unity of the State is in the best interests of all . There is a need to evolve and examine the suitability of the measures analogous to the Option 6 of the Srikrishna Report .


(The author is former Principal District & Session Judge)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

REPATRIATING STASHED MONEY

BY K. N. PANDITA

 

We are fortunate in having an upright judiciary in our country that protects the rights of people and ensures the sovereignty of the state. In times when civil society drifts into aberrations that are obnoxious to the health of the state, the judicial structure, when approached, does the rescue exercise and ensures that the country keeps on right track. This is one of the great boons of democratic dispensation.


There are many memorable and historic pronouncements made by the Supreme Court from time to time that have reset the direction of the course of events. History will record these corrective initiatives in laudable terms.
Recently, the Supreme Court made one such pronouncement that will have far reaching impact on the economic and moral health of the country. In fact the matter of recurring corruptions was under discussion at the apex court when it said that there should be no reason for the government not to disclose the identity of persons and organizations that have stashed big monies in foreign banks.

 

For many years, we have been hearing that huge Indian money is being deposited in foreign banks to evade taxes and to misuse it even for political and anti-national purposes. The matter came up prominently after the Bofors episode was revealed. But despite public demand with support from the parliamentarians, the governments of the day were reluctant to open the subject for discussion for reasons of their own. Thus meaningful comments of those episodes were evaded skillfully. This gave rise to doubts that the governments were under pressure from political heavyweights and for political reasons it just adopted an evasive and lackadaisical attitude.

 

In particular, various Swiss banks were mentioned in whose vaults enormous monies coming from Indian individual or company depositors were deposited. Under Swiss law the banks of Switzerland are not bound to disclose the names of depositors or details about their identity or the quantum of their deposits. Taking shelter behind this provision, many Indians, individuals as well as companies, are reported to have transferred huge amounts running into billions of dollars to these banks.


This has been done to evade many irritating questions which the law of the land would raise, like the source of the huge income, the amount of tax paid, or not paid or the details of the funds expended. After all, whether the stashed money was earned legally or illegally, the fact is that it is the country's money and part of national wealth, which has to be utilized or transacted within the country so that the people of the country receive its benefit in one way or the other.


Switzerland has been considered the safest place where undisclosed money can be deposited after taking it out of the country. For quite some time, even western countries and the US have not been feeling comfortable with the banks secrecy law of Switzerland. For example, the US and Germany have been able to repatriate big chunks of their monies stashed in Swiss banks. As these countries were faced with economic recession in recent past, the governments concerned had to take some steps to regain country's economic health. This forced the Swiss government to revise its long kept rule of not disclosing the assets of foreign depositors in various Swiss banks. Swiss government's presumption that the money from different countries stashed in their banks could not be brought under review cannot stand the test of time. It has also to be stated that the Swiss government itself has been finding that the law of non-disclosure of foreign deposits makes its position somewhat embarrassing. A few years ago, a case came up in a Swiss court in which a person claiming to be the legal heir to the deposits of a deceased German Jewish couple's money in a Swiss bank. The case was thoroughly debated in the Swiss media, and under public pressure and relevant international covenants, the Swiss government was forced to revise its banking rules in part. This broke the jinx and thereafter no Swiss bank could guarantee the promised secrecy to a depositor.


Nearer home, before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had created a task force, and Vaidyanathan who was a member, gave examples of how much money was stashed in foreign banks. Global Financial Integrity, an international group published a small booklet and estimated the Indian money abroad at Rs. 20.85 lakh crore, There was a time when NDA raised the issue, but the Congress reacted by saying no country would change laws for us It asked how would they give us back the money. But it is the money of our country and our countrymen. Why should a countryman or a national organization take money out of country when we have one of the world's finest banking systems? Why should not this huge money be spent on national development plans and programmes and help our people improve their living standards?


Those who have taken out enormous money and deposited it in foreign banks have committed not one but two crimes. Firstly they have betrayed the nation by not trusting its financial and commercial institutions, and secondly they have proved anti-national by depriving the nation of the benefit of economic and social development. They got the money in the country, legally or illegally is not the question, and as such, it is national wealth which cannot be squandered at their sweet will. The sources of raising huge credits have to be investigated into because that is in national interests and the country would not want to be handicapped for want of resources.


This all makes a good case for investigation and proper action by the government. The question of whether the names of persons who have stashed away the money should be made public or not is not as important as is being projected by the media. Once the government decides to repatriate the money, all details will follow and become public, and the government cannot hide it. The fundamental question is that the government or the parliament should take a decision about how to deal with this sort of situation. Maybe new financial rules will have to be framed and implemented or existing rules might need to be modified. This is a national issue and one fails to understand why political parties should make it an issue between them. The finance minister has to come out with a policy statement and convince the nation that its assets are safe and well preserved. It may also be said that the United Nations has passed a Convention on corruption and now laws are being drafted for the repatriation of money.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

NEW ECONOMIC CHALLENGES

BY LALIT SETHI

 

Will India and the world ride the tide of dangerous new economic signals? Will the sinking Euro and sliding dollar create new threats or will a new economic order emerge? Will the rising oil prices on world markets fuel the ever present threats of recession? Or will the oil producers rein in their greed or will they bother about their own' well-being, as they did a few years ago when crude prices touched $140 per barrel? At that time, they gradually brought the petroleum prices much below half that level. Do they bother anymore? Or they couldn't care less? They have like China a huge pile of reserves in different currencies and they feel that the world is at their mercy and they could afford to call the shots. The petroleum prices have just crossed the $90 per barrel mark as they did last month, but fell below that level, but for several days the trend has been for energy prices being bullish. New energy devices are slow in coming and will take ages to slowly reduce the use of conventional sources.


Is the world slumbering after the end of the year festivities or waking up bleary-eyed to the new harsh realities staring them in the face? Is it still the eat-drink-and make merry scenario? Who cares? Do the leaders of the world care? Do they have a responsibility to stop at the brink? Is the crisis on the horizon sinking in? Or is there a feeling that it could not get worse than it is?


In India, the conventional wisdom or the new wisdom that India is one of the few nations, which is trying to buck the trend. The services exports may not be as healthy as before, but the internal demand is rising, with disposable incomes and new reasonably well paid jobs adding up quite comfortably. But is that the true picture. India's imports are ever growing without identical increase in exports even as pharmaceutical companies are being lapped up by foreign firms who hope to produce cheaper goods in India and sell them at high prices within India and to the rest of the world at good quality levels. India may appear to be a good place to make cost effective motor vehicles, especially small cars and even trucks and then sell them in many places. But will the fuel prices, already on the upswing, make sense in the market place?


India's overall debt is going up all the time and now quite close to the foreign exchange reserves, both quite close to $300 billion? Is there a cushion left or will the debt overtake the reserves in the not very distant future? Policy makers would be worrying about the trend, but they could not afford to talk about it because they would amount to pressing the panic signals. India, like most of Asia and Africa as well as Latin America, has the youth dividend with skilled work force ever on the increase, an advantage that Europe and Russia do not have, but Russia can afford to boast of its enormous oil wealth and now ever so profitable. Its population may be only 109 million and declining, but its leaders may be entitled to think that they have fewer mouths to feed even if they need more hands at work.

 

Yet India is a healthy destination for foreign investment, especially in the Indian stock market where the returns are claimed to be as high as 14.5 per cent against India's fixed deposit rates having gone up to 8 per cent, well below the level of inflation. Will India stock markets remain attractive as they may appear to be today? Will pension funds and life insurance companies be able to help the stock markets remain in the pink of health? Is that the new economic speak?


Or are the other stock markets around the world being propped up by yesterday's scam makers to hide their own sins of hedge funds and loot of the banks, now being kept afloat by stimulus operations from the near empty treasuries of several nations?

 

It is this scenario at the beginning of the new decade and the new realities that push the political debates of the day, of the many scams being aired over television screens of news channels and in the print media into the background. The political parties are engaged in what could well be described as one-up-man-ship, with little care for their own failings. One commentator, known for acid remarks, has, for a change asked a pertinent question: why insist on a joint parliamentary committee to look into the sale of 2G or second generation spectrum rather than discuss the question in Parliament itself, on the floor of both Houses of Parliament where there could be instant discussion rather than never ending inquisition running into years in a joint parliamentary committee? Because the aim is to stall parliamentary proceedings or not allow them is politically profitable, but serious debate is not. Or is that fingers will be pointed at something that was done 10 years ago by the then government, quite identical to what has been done in the past two years and a precedent was set for near free sale of spectrum. (NPA)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DHOBI GHAT: IS IT END TO ERA OF INTERMISSIONS?

BY DHEERAJ JANDIAL

 

The Indian cinema has always been an organic stuff adapting itself to the tastes, passions and imagination of the both the creators and viewers. Perhaps, here lies the beauty of the cinema, which is beyond doubt not only a fascinating medium to give vent to the expression but also to make viewers sensitise to the present day realities. Cinema has raised questions, which the contemporary society many a time shied away from owing to the perceptions and jingoism of the society.


It is in this context that Dhobi Ghat come as yet another addendum to the glorious history of the Indian Cinema. It may not turn out to be masterpiece but surely the canvass on which this particular movie has acquainted itself with the viewers is an interesting twist to ponder over. The Cinema goers can roughly be arranged in a classified table of three groups, precisely the youth, the working class (comprising the poor who relish the utopian thematic) and then again the serious viewers looking for 'something different'. Dhobi Ghat is not churlish going by the narrative that has appeared, yet a 90 minute movie in itself is a trend setter and path breaking ordeal.
For well known reasons, serious cinema has remained at the receiving end in terms of the collections at the box-office. But this has not deterred the growth and potential of some very excellent minds in going for conceptualizing something that is not in vogue. How Dhobi Ghat has been able to create sync with audience at a much larger scale, which many earlier movies could not again, highlights the motivational power of the imaginative advertising industry. Called as 'promotional strategy', this advertising technique certainly comes to be reflected in case of Dhobi Ghat.


Aamir Khan, who shares a rating-level at par with Shah Rukh Khan on the TRP scale by a recent survey in terms of the preferential audience 'likes' and 'choice' of their 'Star in Bollywood', has undoubtedly a catalyzing effect in hogging the limelight for this 90 minute creative piece, yet the fact remains that it was all together a difficult and dangerous choice to work upon.


To elaborate it further, this could prove to be trough in the rising graph of the actor if the movie fails to move the audience. Yet the crafty promotional strategy of the Aamir-Kiran Rao, in highlighting how they made a movie in the tight, filthy streets of the Old Mumbai and adding a spicy glamour to it in asserting that the duo shared a single bed for full one month, is in itself something which commoners or the lower class has come to associate itself with. What is most remarkable is the originality of the thought, with which the duo has expressed itself in the media, although Kiran is much more versatile in this game. Why and how?. Aamir being already a big name, his words may sound magic for many but for a new entrant like Kiran Rao people do a lot of questioning, if not analysis while framing into their minds a space for her.


All said and done, Dhobi Ghat has a strong underlying message to convey to those associated with the so called Art Cinema. The message is loud and clear, Art Cinema or serious cinema could turn out to be a pied-piper of the audience but it needs to scale down on the time schedule to retain its engrossing content. With technology at your hand today and expectations ever-rising, one has to catapult and strike hard the imaginative faculties of the viewers in retaining their interest in what they are watching.


Few may remember that a very good 90 minute make titled Aamir, casting Rajiv Khandelwal and Directed by Raj Kumar Gupta (the Director of No one killed Jessica) with a strong story content was adjudged critically also evaluated as Very Good in its ratings, yet could not bag a 'super-hit' tag for itself.


Dhobi Ghat, therefore, creates a space towards a steady convergence towards the Hollywood style of film making, where the 90 minute schedule provides one to focus there methodology in creating something that does not provide even a second to the viewers to yawn or think other-wise. How the 90 minute schedule adjusts itself to the Indian Cinema audience, which has developed the habit of having light refreshment during Intermission is interesting to watch for!.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GOVERNOR IN A HURRY

EXERCISE THE POWER OF SANCTION JUDICIOUSLY

 

Karnataka Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj's peremptory sanction for the prosecution of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and his Home Minister R. Ashok following charges of their involvement in land scams has expectedly triggered a volley of protests from the ruling BJP in the state. The BJP has decided to fight it out legally and politically. Saturday's wholly unwarranted statewide bandh, which turned violent at some places, was one of them. Clearly, the Governor's power of sanction cannot be questioned under the Constitution. Under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, he is the sole authority to accord sanction to prosecute a Chief Minister. Not surprisingly, Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde has said that even if he were to arrive at a decision that there was prima facie evidence against the Chief Minister, he will have to request the Governor to accord sanction to prosecute him. From the legal viewpoint, Mr Bharadwaj was not bound by the state cabinet's advice against granting sanction.

 

What is, however, questionable is the speed with which the Governor has acted on the petitions filed by two lawyers. Clearly, his statements and actions in the past few months smack of blatant partisanship. One may recall his recommendation for President's Rule in the state on October 11, 2010 after the government's first vote of confidence was marred by unruly scenes. Earlier, he created a flutter by directing Speaker K.G. Bopaiah to allow all the BJP MLAs to vote in the trust vote (including those against whom petitions of disqualification were pending with the Speaker for adjudication). Then, he advised the government to seek a second trust vote. Mr Yeddyurappa survived both the floor tests.

 

This is not to defend the role of the Chief Minister and his Home Minister. As the charges against them are serious, they should have promptly resigned on moral grounds. Moreover, though the Lokayukta had admitted petitions against Mr Yeddyurappa, the state government appointed the Justice Padmaraj Commission of Inquiry to look into land scams during successive Chief Ministers in the state. The Karnataka High Court will soon decide whether both inquiries can go on simultaneously. But it is feared that Mr Bharadwaj's action on January 21 may embolden partisan Governors (and there is no dearth of them today) to fix inconvenient Chief Ministers on receiving petitions from any citizen without proper scrutiny and investigation. Needless to say, Governors should exercise their power of sanction judiciously and with utmost circumspection.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE CANCER IS SPREADING

LT-GEN RATH PAYS FOR HIS IMPROPRIETY

 

The Indian Army deserves to be complimented for acting speedily and effectively against a serving Lt-General for an act of impropriety. A specially constituted general court martial comprising seven Lt-Generals has found Lt-General P.K. Rath guilty of intending to defraud the force by issuing a no-objection certificate 'improperly and without authority'; of signing a memorandum with a private realtor to reserve seats in educational institutions for wards of army officers; and of not informing the higher authorities about the land transfer. For these misdemeanours, the court martial has ordered two-year seniority loss, 15 years of loss of service for pension and has handed out a severe reprimand.

 

The incident pertains to the time when Lt-Gen Rath, who now holds the dubious distinction of becoming the highest ranking officer in the Army's post-Independence history to be indicted by a court martial, was commanding the Siliguri-based 33 Corps in West Bengal and was designated to take over as one of the two deputy chiefs of army staff before his chief of staff at the corps headquarters, a major general, blew the whistle on him leading to the court martial. It, however, also brings to the fore a number of issues which reflect poorly on the Army's internal health. First, Lt-Gen Rath almost got away as the previous Chief of Army Staff had displayed considerable reluctance to take action. The court martial was eventually ordered at the behest of Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Next, the incident serves as a grim reminder to the growing incidence of corruption involving senior army officers that has regularly been making news in the past decade. Action is now expected to be taken against another Lt-General, who incidentally held the critical post of military secretary, and was entrusted with postings and transfers of the army's officer corps.

 

On the positive side, the court martial reflects that the justice system within the Army is much swifter compared to the practice prevalent in the civilian domain. It also reflects positively on the professional and apolitical character of the Indian military and the fact that the armed forces remain steadfastly subservient to civilian control. 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

A SHODDY REPORT

KHUSHPREET CASE HANDLING IS A SAD CHAPTER

 

The magisterial inquiry into the recent gruesome killing of young Khushpreet in Chandigarh has revealed what any informed member of the public already knew — that the innocent five-year-old became a victim of police ineptitude. But beyond that the report only competes with the police in terms of shoddiness with which it handled the case. Indeed, the findings of the report are as non-specific as the terms of reference were vague. The one-line mandate for the Punjab Civil Service officer who is otherwise entrusted with running the Union Territory's inefficient bus service was to inquire into "the incident of kidnapping and subsequent death of Khushpreet".

 

The circumstances and haste in which the inquiry was ordered followed by its mandate and tabling of the final report serve as a microcosm of the UT Administration's overall inefficiency along with indifference to the sensibilities of the understandably outraged and grieving parents. The inquiry was ordered by the UT home secretary to placate Khushpreet's parents who refused to give their consent to a post mortem of their son's body unless the police took severe action against the erring policemen. Earlier, a seemingly indifferent police played the oldest, most predictable and meaningless card in the pack — it transferred the station house officer and a police post incharge to the police lines and that too two weeks after Khushpreet was kidnapped. Rather than holding its own inquiry as both a professional and self-respecting organisation, the top police brass allowed its civilian counterparts in the Administration to order an inquiry following which it felt compelled to suspend two inspectors and a sub inspector and transfer to the police headquarters a deputy superintendent of police who had been entrusted with the critical task of leading a team to catch the kidnappers.

 

The UT Administrator woke up to finally ask the police to pull up its socks 12 days after the five-year-old's body was found only to subsequently spurn a memorandum handed over by the murdered boy's father. The attitude of the UT Administration, the police and the findings of the magisterial inquiry are all examples of inept governance of a union territory that prides itself in minimal political interference and for being a centre of education and learning.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

CHINA FACTOR IN EAST ASIA

INDIA BEING SOUGHT AS A BALANCER

BY HARSH V. PANT

 

In a sign of new significance that India is attaching to its ties with Southeast Asia, it will be hosting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyona at its Republic Day celebrations. It was 60 years back that then Indonesian President Sukarno was the chief guest at India's first Republic Day function in 1950. This visit is intended to give a boost to India's "Look East" policy, underscoring the need for greater integration and deeper engagement between India and East Asia in trade and other strategic sectors. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, who had travelled to Japan and Malaysia for bilateral visits and to Vietnam for the 8th ASEAN-India Summit last November, has made it clear that his government's foreign policy priority will be East and Southeast Asia, which are poised for sustained growth in the 21st century.

 

This is a time of great turmoil in the Asian strategic landscape and India is trying to make itself relevant to the countries in the region. A two-week standoff between Japan and China over a boat collision shows the communist state is adopting a more aggressive stance against rivals and US allies in Asia, and there may be more tension to come. With its political and economic rise, Beijing has started dictating the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to its neighbours, thereby laying bare the costs of great power politics. The US and its allies have already started re-assessing their regional strategies and a loose anti-China balancing coalition has started emerging.

 

Both Tokyo and New Delhi have made an effort in recent years to put Indo-Japanese ties in high gear. The rise of China in the Asia-Pacific and beyond has fundamentally altered the strategic calculus of India and Japan, forcing them to rethink their attitudes towards each other. India's booming economy is making it an attractive trading and business partner for Japan as the latter tries to get itself out of its long years of economic stagnation. Japan is also re-assessing its role as a security provider in the region and beyond, and of all its neighbours, India seems most willing to acknowledge Japan's centrality in shaping the evolving Asia-Pacific security architecture. Moreover, a new generation of political leaders in India and Japan are viewing each other differently, breaking from past policies, thereby changing the trajectory of India-Japan relations.

 

New Delhi's relations with Tokyo have come a long way since May 1998 when a chill had set in after India's nuclear tests with Japan imposing sanctions and suspending its Overseas Development Assistance. Since then, however, the changing strategic milieu in the Asia-Pacific has brought the two countries together so much so that the last visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Japan resulted in the unfolding of a roadmap to transform a low-key relationship into a major strategic partnership. The rise of China is a major factor in the evolution of Indo-Japanese ties as is the US attempt to build India into a major balancer in the region. Both India and Japan are well aware of China's not-so-subtle attempts at preventing their rise. An India-Japan civil nuclear pact would be critical in signalling that they would like to build a partnership to bring stability to the region at a time when China is going all out to reward Pakistan with civilian nuclear reactors, putting the entire non-proliferation regime in jeopardy.

 

The talks on the civilian nuclear pact, however, seem to be going nowhere at the moment with the two sides merely agreeing to speed up talks. Japan continues to insist that India must sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) whereas India has no intention of doing so given its long-standing concerns regarding the discriminatory nature of these treaties. Meanwhile, the new liability law in India could make greater civilian nuclear cooperation between Japan and India more difficult to accomplish.

 

Trade was also the focus of the Prime Minister's visit to Malaysia. Making a strong pitch for greater Malaysian investment in India, Dr Manmohan Singh and his Malaysian counterpart signed an array of agreements aimed at galvanising bilateral economic cooperation and liberalising their respective investment regimes to facilitate greater foreign direct investment into each other's territory. Security partnership between the two is also being strengthened with the decision to explore the possibilities of collaborative projects in the defence sector and enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism through information sharing and the establishment of a Joint Working Group.

 

In Hanoi, India made a strong case for its growing relevance in the East Asian regional security and economic architecture at the 8th ASEAN-India Summit where the focus was on enhancing the integration of the East Asian region with India. India's Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN signed last year committed New Delhi to bringing down import tariffs on 80 per cent of the commodities it traded with ASEAN. This allows India to challenge China's growing penetration of East Asia and prevent India's growing marginalisation in the world's most economically dynamic region.

 

After signing a free trade pact in goods, India and ASEAN are now engaged in talks to widen the agreement to include services and investments. India hopes to increase its $44-billion trade with ASEAN to $50 billion by next year. Indonesia remains a key factor in India's Look-East policy and it has played a major role in enhancing India's ties with ASEAN. By giving the Indonesian President the honour of being the chief guest at the Republic Day function, India is underlining the need for greater India-Indonesia cooperation in the years to come.

 

India is pursuing an ambitious policy in East Asia aimed at increasing its regional profile more significantly than before. China's presence is already changing the regional landscape and smaller states in the region are now looking to India to act as a balancer in view of China's growing prowess and America's likely retrenchment from the region in the near future. It remains to be seen if India can indeed live up to the full potential of its own possibilities in the region.n

 

The writer teaches at King's College, London.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

WHY AM I HAPPY?

BY SHRINIWAS JOSHI

 

The statistics show that about 50,000 Himachalis are ready this year to enter into the 70th year of their lives. They have reasons to be happy because a recent survey in Britain has found that older people are happier than those half their age and a Gallup phone survey on Americans concluded that older, male and Republicans are happier people.

 

The Americans, like most of the Indians, have tagged happiness to a political party and gender. I do not believe it. I dare to give mantras of happiness to the 50,000 of my brethren about to step into my 'decadal age'. I am happy because I am apolitical. I am happy with the BJP when it shouts against the price rise and happy with Congress when it says the price rise is because India has progressed and people can afford to buy costly onions. I am happy because I know that my brain cells are stagnant with no further growth; so no brainy job.

 

I discuss pension plan but not the five-year plan. I am happy that my secrets that I had told to my friends were safe with them as they, like me, were also undergoing the process of memory loss. An example of my memory loss is that I can locate my infant grandson and my mobile when they make a sound. I am least bothered about the meteorological warnings because my joints cast the shadows before the coming events. I feel happily equal to those in my age-bracket when someone tells me that such and such has been operated upon for stones or appendix because I am also a minus bladder, minus appendix man.

 

I am happy that whole of Shimla knows me because I generally forget my glasses at home and misplace whosoever passes by my side on the Mall as somebody whom I knew when my eyesight was six by six and greet him or her. He or she, honouring my grey hair, reciprocates.

 

I am happy that I am in seventies but my teeth are at sixes and sevens. I am happy that I will not die of road accident because now I am so cautious that even when I have to cross a footpath, I look both ways and get assured that no vehicle was coming. Not bothered about my lower stamina and depleting recalling sense, I am happy for my longer experience and higher forehead with hair missing from the front scalp and that the barber spends less time on me.

 

I have long forgotten that lights are turned out for romantic reasons too and when my young neighbours switch off the lights early, I feel happy for their economic wisdom. I felt sad when our children left us one by one but now I feel happy when they come to visit us four by four. My brethren, I know many more mantras but I have forgotten those. Please pardon me.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED


TACKLING POVERTY: NEED FOR SYNERGY

THE NATIONAL RURAL LIVELIHOOD MISSION (NRLM), LAUNCHED IN OCTOBER, 2010, IS AN AMBITIOUS SCHEME OF THE CENTRE TO ERADICATE RURAL POVERTY. IT HAS BEEN DESIGNED BY RESTRUCTURING THE 10-YEAR-OLD VILLAGE SELF-EMPLOYMENT SCHEME, THE SWARNAJAYANTHI GRAM SWAROJGAR YOJNA OF THE UNION RURAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTRY ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF VARIOUS EXPERT COMMITTEES TO RECTIFY SHORTCOMINGS.

RANBIR SINGH

 

The Government of India had been giving priority to rural development for the overall growth of India since Independence on account of the predominantly rural character of our polity. The launching of the community development programmes in selected areas on October 2, 1952 for awakening the dormant forces of progress in rural society for bringing about a silent revolution in it and its supplementation by the National Extension Service Scheme in the remaining areas on October 2, 1953 has to be seen in this perspective.

 

However, subsequently, the focus on rural development was shifted to Intensive Agriculture District Programme for overcoming the problem of food shortage by bringing about a green revolution. Since the benefits of green revolution did not percolate to the small and marginal farmers and the landless agricultural labourers of rural society, the Government of India set up the Small Farmers Development Agency and the Marginal Farmers and the Landless Agriculture Labourers' Development Agency in 1970s.

 

Even these failed to tackle the problems of rural poverty. Therefore, the Government of India set up the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) in 1980 for implementing various poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes. These have now become the flagship programmes of the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.

 

Among the various poverty alleviation and employment generation programmes, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is a wage employment scheme. It was introduced in 2006 through the enactment of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (2006). The scheme has now been rechristened as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). It aims at ensuring the right to work through the demand-driven guarantee of 100 days unskilled work to all the rural households.

 

The Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojna (SGSY) is a self-employment scheme. Introduced in 1999, it sought to provide work through self-employment by forming the Self Help Group (SHGs) of the rural poor in general and the Scheduled Caste women in particular. This Centrally-sponsored scheme had been designed mainly to promote self-employment oriented income generation activities for the Below Poverty Line (BPL) households in the rural areas.

 

The primary objective of this scheme was to help them cross the threshold of poverty by helping the BPL rural households to break the financial, technological and market constraints through capacity building. The major features of the SGSY were as follows: formation of the SHGs; their training in management; their capacity building for skill upgradation to help them take up micro-enterprises; promoting thrift and providing them credit through revolving fund support; building their credit linkages with the banks; giving them subsidy for taking up micro-enterprises; extending them support for marketing; building infrastructure to strengthen forward and backward linkage for them; and giving technological inputs for micro-enterprises to them.

 

However, the SGSY failed to achieve the desired results. The evaluation studies of the scheme conducted by various agencies found that the formation of the SHG could not gather momentum in the northern and eastern states. The banking system did not suit them. Their capacity building remained inadequate due to the weaknesses in the training mechanism. The process of the formation of SHG federation remained tardy.

 

The swarozgaries kept on slipping back into poverty due to inadequate risk mitigation. The implementing agencies (DRDAs) lacked dedication. No efforts were made for the convergence of the SGSY with other rural development schemes. The grievance redressal mechanism was conspicuous by its absence. Besides, there persisted lack of transparency and accountability in its implementation.

 

Therefore, the Government of India converted the SGSY into National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in 2010 for poverty alleviation and employment generation in selected areas. By the end of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, it will be extended to the rural sector as a whole.

 

The objective of the NRLM is to reduce poverty by providing gainful self-employment and skilled wage employment opportunities to the poor rural households. It aims at improvement in their livelihood on a sustainable basis by building strong grassroots institutions of the poor.

 

The Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, has prepared a framework for the implementation of NRLM so that all the states are able to put in place a mechanism keeping in view their specifics. This has laid down the guiding principles of NRLM and spelt out its values as well as its key aspects which include universal social mobilisation, promotion of the institution of the poor, training, capacity building and skill building, revolving fund and capital subsidy, universal financial inclusion, provision of interest subsidy, livelihood, infrastructure, creation of marketing support, skill and placement projects, rural self-employment training institute and other innovations.

 

The NRLM places special emphasis on the convergence of the rural development programmes of the Centre and the states, partnership with other NGOs and CSOs and linkages with PRIs. It has also suggested the creation of sensitive and dedicated support structures at the national, state, district and sub-district levels. These include NRLM Advisory Coordination and Empowerment Committee and national management units at the national level, State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) as autonomous bodies and State Mission Management units at state level, District Mission and Management units at the district level and the sub-district units at the block and cluster levels.

 

The framework has stipulated that the institutions of poor, the SHG federations would also provide support to them. These will also have suitable linkages with the governments, DRDAs and PRIs. The governance of DRDAs shall also be made effective by including the representatives of SHG federations and by professionalising them so that they could respond in a better way to meet the needs of the poor.

 

According to the framework, the expenditure on the Centrally-sponsored scheme will have to be shared by the Centre and the states in the ratio of 75:25 (90:10 in the case of North-Eastern states). Its allocations would be made on the basis of the relative incidence of poverty in the states. It shall be implemented in a phased manner to reach all the districts and blocks by the end of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan.

 

It was in this context that a national workshop was organised by the Union Ministry of Rural Development at Kochi, Kerala, from December 16 to 18, 2010. The objective behind the exercise was to familiarise the representatives of various states with the Kerala initiative so that the NRLM could be emulated by them with state-specific modifications.

 

Kerala has set up the Kudambashree (State Poverty Eradication Mission) which has made special intervention and started many innovative programmes such as feeding programmes for the children of BPL families in the 0-03 age group, IT consortium, solid waste management programmes and a health care programme. It also set up training groups and started education, knowledge and skill aptitude training for the entrepreneurs.

 

It has set up an accounts and audit service society and formed event management groups. Besides, it has provided financial support, training, marketing and convergence assistance to the entrepreneurs. It has also set up a community marketing network.

 

However, far more important than the creation of this framework is the creation of a mechanism for convergence between the community-based organisations (CBOs) and the Panchayati Raj Institutions. It is equally important to have synergy in all the rural development programmes of the Government of India and the state governments. Besides, the rural poor will have to be mobilised through a sustained campaign in a mission mode.

 

The mindset of the stakeholders in the implementation process of the NRLM, the officials as well as the non-officials, will also have to change radically. They will have to be sensitised to work for the poor with a missionary zeal. Otherwise, the lofty objectives of this grand design for the removal of rural poverty will prove to be another exercise in futility which will, in turn, breed unrest.

 

The writer, a former Dean (Academics), Kurukshetra University, is currently Consultant, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri (Karnal)

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

REPEALING DRACONIAN LAWS

THIS IS VITAL TO PUT AN END TO HR ABUSES


It is doubtful that the observations made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur' on the situation of the human rights defenders in Jammu and Kashmir and some other parts of India, pointing to the appalling human rights record of the Indian state , following her brief visit to the troubled state, will carry any weight with the powers that be in New Delhi to take any concrete steps for putting an end to grave human rights abuses which have gone unabated for the past two decades . Margaret Sekaggya , who visited Srinagar on January 19 where she met a number of human rights activists and victims of human rights abuses, on Friday advised India to keep politics with Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir situation aside and instead take up issues about the people and begin the healing process " as they have been suffering for many years". While expressing her concern over the unabated human rights abuses in Kashmir and some other parts of India, particularly in North East, pointedly suggested that the draconian laws including the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Public Safety Act (PSA) , which were arbitrarily applied should be repealed forthwith . She also pointed out that even the application of other laws which adversely affect the work and safety of human rights defenders should be reviewed. New Delhi has stubbornly refused so far to take any measures for minmising , if not totally stopping, the human rights abuses in Jammu and Kashmir despite reports by various human rights groups both at the national and international levels. The reports about the appalling human rights situation made in the past by the credible human rights organizations like the People's Union for Civil Liberties at the national level, and the Amnesty International and the HumanWatch at the international level have been ignored by New Delhi . Instead of positively responding to these reports New Delhi placed unjustified curbs on the visits of these HR groups to the troubled state . Even for years the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC ) was denied visit to the State to monitor the condition of prisoners lodged in various jails in Jammu and Kashmir . Eventually when such permission was granted a couple of years ago the concerned authorities refused to cooperate with them. The report of the ICRC teams , as revealed recently, had talked about the cases of torturing the prisoners during their detentions.


The human rights record of the Indian security forces has been characterized by arbitrary arrests, torture, rapes, extra-judicial killings, fake encounters and other similar atrocities . The grave human rights abuses cannot be stopped if extra-ordinary powers remain conferred on the security forces and they enjoy a culture of immunity. The security forces in the troubled areas are empowered with a regime of draconian laws inciuding the AFSPA, Public Safety Act (1978), Enemy Agents Ordinance (1948) , Prevention of Unlawful Activities Act (1963 ), Prevention of Suppression and Sabotage Act (1965) and above all section 144 in force since 1990 which prohibits the gathering of more than five persons . The recent killings of people in the firing by the security forces and police on the peaceful processions and demonstrations and the incidents of fake encounters show how the grave human rights abuses are continuing in the State .Not in a single case of such abuses the culprits have been brought to book . Even the court orders have been ignored by the armed forces and other security forces . Instead of following the court directives the army chief has even pointed accusing fingers at the judiciary in the State . As for as the draconian laws are concerned , New Delhi has even ignored the recommendations made by the working group on ensuring human rights in Kashmir, set up by none other than the Prime Minister himself and headed by Hamid Ansari, at present the Vice President of India , for the repeal of draconian laws . The State chief minister, who had earlier supported the demand for the repeal of AFSPA later retracted under New Delhi's directions while the army generals have been publically opposing any move even to amend the draconian laws . With these draconian laws in force in the State there can be no hope for any reduction in the level of human rights abuses . The State's Public Safety Act has been grossly misused to arbitrarily detain the political opponents of the ruling establishment and the State government is not willing even to scrap this draconian law . While the National Human Rights Commission has no jurisdiction over Jammu and Kashmir, the State Human Rights Commission remains a toothless organization.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

APATHY TOWARDS FIRE VICTIMS

NOBODY IN GOVERNMENT APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN MOVED BY PLIGHT OF BLAZE AFFECTED FAMILIES


The recent fire incident in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir particularly in the cold belt, where hundreds of families have been rendered homeless in this harsh winter season, do not appear to have moved anybody in the government. The fire victims have been crying for help from the concerned authorities for relief and rehabilitation measures but as such no effort has been made to compensate them. The idea of their rehabilitation on temporary basis except for ritualistic visits of the politicians has not gone into the head of those ruling the roost in the corridors of power. Despite the fact that such incidents of fire do occur in the winters when people rely on traditional fire pots, ovens and electric gadgets for keeping themselves warm, precautionary measures need to be taken to prevent the blaze accidents. The fire services with all the paraphernalia at their disposal have responded half-heartedly in rushing to the scenes of such incidents and carry out rescue operations. By the time the fire tenders and its personnel reached the spot, everything was razed to the ground in most cases and people rendered shelterless. The local residents have responded quickly and helped the victims. Unfortunately, in Poonch and some parts of valley, precious lives were also lost for no fault of theirs. Except for customary announcements, the administration has not taken any concrete measures for providing immediate relief to the victims. Keeping in view the past experiences, relief takes months and years to come and provide much needed succour to the affected families. The victims of last few years have also been waiting endlessly for the relief to come and have been left to fend for themselves for raising the shelters. Instead of waiting for the reports to come, the government needs to come forward in providing immediate relief to the victims so that they can reconstruct their houses and purchase essentials for basic survival. Apart from this, the government also needs to respond on urgent basis to the needs of several fire victims in various parts of the state. The cases of Kishtwar fire victims where people in one village were completely rendered homeless and lost everything they had are a reminder how the government responds to the plight of poor masses. They have been waiting for years to get relief. The assistance has been trickling in for them during the past few years. Such cases only expose the inefficiency and apathy of the government towards its people.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

BJP IS HEADING FOR ISOLATION ON KASHMIR ISSUE

BY BRIJ BHARDWAJ

 

The Bhartiya Janata Party has a peculiar habit of undoing their gains and shooting themselves in the foot every time they come close to becoming a part of the national mainstream and gain the confidence of other political parties in their bid to become an alternative to Congress led coalition and provide an alternative to UPA ruling at present. The current move to launch a Yatra by the youth wing of the party which is to culminate in Srinagar on Jan 26 and will attempt to hoist the national flag in historic Lal Chowk is a good example of it.


The move to say the least is unnecessary and foolish as an official function to celebrate Republic day will be held in Srinagar in Bakshi stadium, which has been the venue for such functions in the past also. One would like to ask what the BJP is hoping to achieve by their move except that it may provide unnecessary provocation and create fresh trouble in the valley which is in the process of becoming normal after a prolonged spell of agitation in summer months in which over one hundred persons, mostly youth, lost their lives.


The BJP announcement has provoked hardliners in the Valley to give a call for counter demonstrations. Mr Yasin Malik of JKLF has announced a counter march by his partymen which will also target Lal Chowk. Hardliner Sayeed Ali Shah Gillani has asked people to observe the Republic Day as a black day. As such the danger is that the BJP move may lead to a further setback to current efforts by the State Government and others to revive the peace process and bring normalcy to the State.


One would like to ask, what are the motives of the BJP in undertaking a Yatra which can only create more trouble in the state that has just emerged out of difficult times. One would also like to know why BJP never thought of undertaking such a Yatra when it was in power in Delhi for nearly a decade. Is it a part of its strategy to go back to hard core Hindu agenda which it had abandoned for an alliance with JD(U) for Bihar poll which resulted in a grand victory. During Bihar elections leaders like Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi were kept out of the campaign so that they could win over minority Muslim vote.


BJP also had made a common cause with left parties and regional parties like Samajwadi party and AIDMK to target Congress on issue of corruption while highlighting 2G allocation scam by Telecom Minister A Raja, Commonwealth Games organisation and Adarsh Society scam in Mumbai. On Kashmir issue the common platform is likely to collapse as most of these parties are opposed to BJP move and would not like them to create trouble in Kashmir where enough problems have been created by Pak backed militants.
Janata Dal (U) leader Sharad Yadav has voiced serious apprehensions on this score and advised BJP leadership to abandon their move, but he has not evoked any response so far. The danger is that in case BJP persists they may lose an important ally as many others have parted company with them because of their inability to carry on with their moderate image in the absence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who was generally accepted as a mainstream politician and had the ability to pick up allies.


Under the circumstances Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has done the right thing by announcing that he would not permit the rally by BJP youth wing. He deserves full support as the situation in Kashmir remains fragile even though the hard liners grip has been loosened up a little and many are questioning the logic of going for endless calls for bandhs, hartals and agitations which not only caused huge loss to state economy but also lot of hardship to common men who could not earn his daily bread.


The loss to students who lost a year as education institutions could not function, job creation could not be done and youth who had looked forward to finding gainful appointment were disappointed. The search for employment is real as indicated when thousands turned up in downtown Srinagar areas where stone pelting was maximum during the agitation when State agencies were recruiting candidates for State police. It is long believed that the leadership of secessionists in valley can be challenged only by improving governance, respect for human rights and creation of jobs.


The current BJP move may not even find many takers in Jammu where it has some support. In this context it needs to be pointed out that the polarisation between two regions of the State during the row on allotment of land to facilitate Yatra to the holy cave of Amarnath in Kashmir did not help BJP in the elections that took place shortly after it had rocked the State. As such BJP move to say the least is a part of its mad desire to shoot itself in the foot which will only isolate them and bring no returns either in Jammu and Kashmir or in rest of the country. One hopes they will realise the stupidity of the move and call it off in time.

(NPA)

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

PURIFIED LIKE SILVER..!

BY ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

The story is told of a group of women who met each week, hoping to learn more about the nature and character of God and how He works in our life. The women were puzzled and even a little troubled by the description of God they found in the Holy Scriptures, in Malachi 3:3, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." One of the women offered to do a little research on the subject and report back to the group at their next meeting.
The woman found a local silversmith and made an appointment to observe him at work, explaining that she was particularly interested in the process of refining silver. She watched as the craftsman carefully selected a piece of silver for his demonstration. She thought the piece of silver was already beautiful but evidently the silversmith saw something that she could not see. As he held the silver over the furnace, the craftsman explained that in refining silver, the silver had to be placed in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so all of the impurities would be burned away.


The woman was silent for a moment as her thoughts drifted to the fiery trials she was facing in her own life.

 

Honestly, she did not get it. Why would a loving God allow His children to suffer when He could so easily deliver them? In fact, why does God even allow bad things to happen to people who are seeking Him and really trying to live for Him?


The woman asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. "Oh, yes!" he replied. "I cannot take my eyes off the silver. If it is left in the furnace even a moment too long, it will be destroyed." The woman suddenly understood the beauty and comfort of Malachi 3:3, "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."


Yes, there are times when it seems as if we will be swallowed whole by the fires of Hell itself.


The pain seems too hard to bear. The fear is paralyzing. The doubt is overwhelming and questions flood our heart and mind.


Is God really who He says He is?


Will He really do what He says He will do?


Will He really keep His promises?


Our trials are not random persecutions. We may be knocked down and kicked around by life, but if we have a personal relationship with God, we will not be destroyed.


Our lives are filled with excess baggage and waste - a cherished sin we refuse to relinquish or an addiction to which we are enslaved. What about the emotional garbage that weighs us down or our unforgiving spirit that holds us prisoner? Fiery trials come to burn away the guilt of sin and then purify our heart.


From those ashes of freedom, the Father then creates a work of beauty.


"How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" the woman asked. The silversmith smiled and answered, "Oh, that's easy. The refining process is complete when I can see my image reflected in the silver!"
So if God's image isn't reflected in your life yet, then the refining is still going on..!


bobsbanter@gmail.com

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

COLUMN

MR MALEGAM'S RAP

CENTRAL BANK REMINDED OF NEED TO REGULATE MICRO-FINANCE

Micro-finance institutions (MFIs) registered as non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) and self-help groups (SHGs) linked to banks, both answerable to the banking regulator Reserve Bank of India (RBI), between themselves account for 92 per cent of the micro-finance space. So, when the Yezdi Malegam Committee, set up by RBI, recommends that a separate category of NBFC-MFIs (they make up 58 per cent of the sector) be created and RBI regulate them, it is clearly upbraiding RBI for not ensuring better and more comprehensive regulation earlier. If that had been done, the whole crisis of the past several months could possibly have been avoided. Now that a comprehensive set of recommendations is available, there is a need to act on them speedily so that further crisis is avoided and growth is smooth and healthy.

Foremost, the committee makes two related recommendations — 24 per cent interest rate cap on loans and 10-12 per cent markup on cost of funds, depending on the size of the MFI. Other than insurance costs, they should levy only two charges — interest and processing charges. As the committee's own calculations show that MFIs are earning an average effective interest rate of 36 per cent on their loans, there is a tough task ahead of the sector. Also, the effective rate of interest charged should be declared upfront, in a loan card given to the borrower which should contain all relevant details and the MFI should stop charging a security deposit on which no interest is paid as that is simply a way of charging a higher rate of interest than what is declared. To curb a key source of trouble, multiple lending, that has been perpetrated by hard-selling for-profit MFIs, which have been targeting self-help group members (this is what got the Andhra government on their backs), the committee has recommended that a borrower should not become member of more than one joint liability or self-help and not more than two MFIs should lend to one borrower. However, the committee has also recommended that an MFI only lend to a member of a joint liability group. The idea of joint liability should be given up (Grameen Bank has done so) as pressure to repay is the toughest when it comes from group members who are neighbours, and can have been a root cause of suicides.

 

 finance Bill proposed by the central government. Only 8 per cent or less of the sector that falls outside of the purview of RBI can be covered by this Act. The committee is careful not to say so but the question arises, what good will the act do? The second involves the recently passed micro-finance regulation Act of Andhra Pradesh. The committee's logic is that the need for the Act will go away if the other regulations recommended are adopted. Besides, if there are multiple regulations enforced by different entities, there will be mayhem and MFIs will be tempted to go regulation shopping. As Andhra Pradesh cannot be expected to scrap its Act, if at all, before RBI gets its act together, quick implementation of the detailed regulations recommended becomes all important.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

HEALTH OF A NATION

INDIGENOUS SOLUTIONS AND DECENTRALISED SYSTEMS NEEDED

 

Just as education and food have been the focus of public policy concern in recent months, thanks to the Manmohan Singh government's agenda of "inclusive growth", public health too must come into the focus of national policy sooner rather than later. Education, food and health are all State subjects in India's federal system. Yet, the central government can play, and has done so from time to time, a leadership role in guiding policy. It is a pity that some of these concerns come to the fore in India only when foreign funding agencies and foreign journals choose to focus on them. There is a wealth of research and experience available in different parts of the country on which public policy can draw without having to look for either funding or approval from western donors and institutions. Ironically, at a time when private for-profit health care is booming, the neglect of public health continues. To the extent there is some focus on public health, it is largely based on western models and ideas that have little relevance for India. Given the enormous public health challenge India faces, the time has come for more locally rooted solutions.

The importance of affordable health care is underscored once again by evidence that shows that an increasingly important contributor to poverty is the burden of health care. The rising cost of health care and the increasing willingness of families to spend on higher cost health care are pushing marginal households into poverty. Around 30 per cent of rural people do not go for any treatment for financial reasons. Worse still, some 39 million people are shoved into poverty bracket annually because of poor health. While only 11 to 12 per cent of the population is believed to have any form of health insurance cover, insurance too is not an answer. The fact remains that millions of Indians still do not have access to safe drinking water and proper toilets.

 

 While the UPA government has launched a National Rural Health Mission, few state governments are doing enough to improve the functioning of government hospitals and primary health centres. Against the estimated requirement of around 75,000 community health centres per million people, the actual number is not even half of it. Besides, most of the existing health centres are ill-equipped and under-staffed. It is largely because of the deficiencies of the public health system and poor penetration of the so-called universal immunisation programme that nearly 1.8 million children under the age of five years die annually. Worse, the disease profile is undergoing a rapid change. Some of the diseases that had, more or less, been eradicated, such as tuberculosis and malaria, have staged a comeback and several new infectious and chronic degenerative ailments have assumed threatening proportions. These include dengue, chikungunya, viral hepatitis and AIDS, among others. Regrettably, when it comes to resource allocation, the health-care sector seldom gets the priority it deserves. Total public spending on health in India is a meagre 0.94 per cent of the gross domestic product which is amongst the lowest in the world. Apart from allocating more funds to health, India needs improved governance and a more decentralised approach to health-care provisioning.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

INDIA'S OTHER NEIGHBOUR

INDONESIA'S RISE AS A SECULAR DEMOCRACY AND A MODERN NATION IS IN ASIA'S INTEREST

SANJAYA BARU

 

In the heart of Indonesia's capital city of Jakarta stands a magnificent larger-than-life statue of Lord Krishna with Arjuna on a chariot led by eight powerful horses. No other world capital has such a great tribute to Hinduism as this capital of a nation that has the largest number of Muslims. Indonesia is among the few Muslim majority nations that remain truly secular. Indonesia is India's "other" neighbour.

 

 At a seminar held in 1997 at the Neemrana Fort Palace, organised by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (London) on the theme "Rethinking India's Role in the World", Indonesian scholar S Djiwandono quoted the late President Sukarno saying: "In the veins of everyone of my people flows the blood of Indian ancestors and the culture we possess is steeped through and through with Indian influences. Two thousand years ago, people from your country came to Jawadvipa and Suvarnadvipa in the spirit of brotherly love. They gave the initiative to found powerful kingdoms such as those of Sri Vijaya, Mataram and Majapahit. We then learned to worship the very Gods that you now worship still and we fashioned a culture that even today is largely identical with your own. Later, we turned to Islam; but our religion too was brought to us by people coming from both the sides of the Indus."

It is not, however, this shared past, howsoever grand, that brings India and Indonesia together again. When Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono arrives this week as chief guest at New Delhi's Republic Day Parade, both he and his hosts will have the future rather than the past on their minds. President Yudhoyono comes to India in the first month of what has been called an "exciting year" for Indonesia by one of its foremost strategic policy analysts, Rizal Sukma, executive director of Indonesia's Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Writing an year-end column in the Jakarta Post, Dr Sukma identified six foreign policy priorities for Indonesia in 2011. First, to provide leadership in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), a grouping it chairs this year and one that Indonesia wants to become less constrained by; second, management of bilateral and regional disputes, including territorial disputes with Asean neighbours and differences with China over South China Sea; third, to make use of global opportunities and regional challenges posed by Indonesia's membership of the G20; fourth, to evolve a strategy on issues like "climate change, human rights and democracy" and be able to "work closely with our partners such as Norway, Japan, Australia, South Korea and Canada"; fifth, "consolidate its strategic relationship" with "other major powers" like the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, China and the European Union; and finally, be able to provide leadership and impart "substance" to the East Asia Summit that Indonesia will host and chair in October 2011.

Clearly, Indonesia views 2011 as the "coming out" year. Indonesia's journey from crisis, in 1998-99, to confidence is not very different from India's own journey up from the depths of 1991-92. Unlike in India's case, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) treated Indonesia badly during the crisis years and even today the IMF remains a no-no in Indonesian politics. Indonesia has had its own share of Islamic extremism and jehadi terrorism from which it has slowly come out.

President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia, after his visit to New Delhi, last November cemented closer relations between the two, making Indonesia one of the few Muslim majority nations where the US is easily welcomed. All of this has imparted great confidence to Indonesian political, intellectual and business leadership.

During my own visits to Jakarta, and interactions with Indonesian strategic policy gurus like the late Hadi Soesastro, the elder statesman Jusuf Wanandi and the rising star Rizal Sukma, I have found a fundamental change in Indonesian attitudes towards the world and towards India. Much of this change in attitude has happened in the more recent past and President Yudhoyono's visit to New Delhi in 2005 seems to have been an important marker.

As a result, Indian business presence in Indonesia has started rising again after many years of stagnation. Several Indian companies have been present in Indonesia for a long time but in the 1990s, India's economic relations with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand improved faster than with Indonesia. That seems to be changing with Indonesia once again attracting Indian business. In 2005, when bilateral trade was a mere $5 billion, the two set a target of $10 billion for the year 2010 but surpassed it with total trade being $12 billion. Now a new target of $15 billion has been set for the year 2015.

India's spontaneous maritime outreach in December 2004, when the two Indian Ocean nations were hit by the tsunami, opened a new chapter in bilateral maritime and disaster management cooperation. The emerging defence cooperation and growing cooperation in the field of energy security, including nuclear energy, have also contributed to the strategic dimension of an old friendship.

While trade, business and defence are three important legs of a growing re-engagement between ancient civilisational neighbours, the domestic politics of Indonesia has added a new fourth leg that has dramatically stabilised the partnership. This is the growing commitment within Indonesian civil society to human rights, democracy, pluralism and secularism. A wave of middle class pride in democracy has been sweeping through Indonesia. It is this sentiment that the United States has tapped into in re-building bridges with a new Indonesia.

India has an even urgent and greater need to strengthen this aspect of the bilateral relationship. A plural, democratic, secular Indonesia in which a Muslim majority lives in peace with Hindu, Christian and Buddhist minorities is a source of inspiration for all of Asia. The growth of secular Muslim majority nations can reverse the tide of religious extremism and stabilise Asia as it prepares to regain its place in the world.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BEYOND THE INFLEXION POINT

JAMAL MECKLAI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

INTEREST RATES & MALTHUS' PREDICTION

A TIGHTER MONETARY POLICY MAY REDUCE DEMAND AND THEREFORE EMPLOYMENT GENERATION, MEANWHILE A WORLD FOOD CRISIS LOOMS

A V RAJWADE

 

The third quarter monetary policy review will be eagerly awaited by bankers and other market participants, thanks to the latest inflation number (8.43 per cent in December). The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council has recently increased its inflation forecast for March to 7 per cent. Even this does not seem to factor in the required rise in diesel prices, even as crude oil nears the $100 per barrel mark.

 

 The problem is whether the monetary policy can do much to curb inflation given that the two major drivers are:

(a) Global commodity prices. These may keep rising with economic recovery in developed countries and fast growth in many emerging markets.

(b) Food prices. It is unlikely that people will eat less after yet another turn of the monetary policy screw. The problem is on the supply side, not the demand side, and monetary policy cannot cure it. Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi believes the price rise is because of coalition government compulsions.

A tighter monetary policy can, of course, reduce demand, and hence growth and employment generation, in the non-food sector. As it is, there are enough signs that the deflationary exchange rate, coupled with tightness in the money market, is slowing growth. Industrial growth dropped to just 2.7 per cent in November, an 18-month low. Many other indicators reflect the same trend: the bearish sentiment in the stock market; the fact that corporate profitability in the first half showed no growth compared to a year ago. (To be sure, "real" interest rates in India are the lowest in Asia, and the International Monetary Fund continues to advise higher rates.)

Some economists look at the so-called "misery index", only half in jest. It is the aggregate of the unemployment and inflation rates. The misery created by, say, 8 per cent inflation and 5.5 per cent unemployment is perhaps much less than 3 per cent inflation and 10 per cent unemployment, although the index level is identical.

This apart, tightness in the money market is likely to persist since the forward margin on the dollar reduces the economic advantage of leading export receipts and lagging import payments in foreign exchange, shifting export and import financing from the dollar to the rupee.

Food prices

A couple of weeks ago, the government announced an eight-point programme to ease food prices. It includes sale of onions, cooking oil and dal by state agencies and setting up mobile markets for farm produce to eliminate middlemen. Though one sees the political need to be "seen to be doing something", there are doubts about the efficacy of the measures:

One, the state agencies' record in too many segments including the implementation of various schemes is far from promising;

Two, as far as eliminating the middlemen to significantly narrow the gap between what the producer gets and what the consumer pays is concerned, encouraging organised retail, including foreign direct investment, may be a far better way, particularly if the managerial and financial resources of the investor can be used to build rural infrastructure (roads, cold storages and so on), and reduce wastage. But we continue to drag our feet on this.

But this apart, sharply rising food prices do seem to be a global phenomenon. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) index has gone up 100 per cent in five years. The FAO has also warned of a repetition of the 2008 crisis as prices keep rising. There have been riots in Tunisia, Algeria and other African countries. Arab countries like Libya, Jordan and Morocco have taken measures to control food prices. The food shortages and hence price rises are, at least partly, the result of natural disasters in Russia, Pakistan, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia — these are all major foodgrain producers. The US has recently cut forecasts of the stocks of key products like corn and soybean sending prices soaring. And, in the European Union, which, for a long time paid farmers for not producing (to keep prices high and stop stocks from rising), there are calls to protect Europeans from high food bills, even as Europe remains opposed to genetically modified food. (A parallel at home: our environment minister has banned the introduction of Bt-Brinjal.)

Surely, the ghost of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) must be having a quiet laugh. He predicted that as agricultural output increases in an arithmetical progression, even as population grows geometrically, the world will face a major problem in feeding everybody. For a long time, increases in output owing to larger land under cultivation, better seeds technology, farming methods, use of fertilisers and pesticides and the Green Revolution have managed to avoid that spectre. Can this continue forever? In our case, the rise in food prices has a positive corollary too — it transfers income from the non-agriculture sector to the agricultural sector, helping narrow the per capita income gap between the two.

Coming back to inflation control through monetary policy, now that he is no longer the finance minister, P Chidambaram could afford to concede (The Times of India, January 6), "I am not sure whether we understand all the factors that contribute to price rise nor am I sure whether we have at our hand all the tools to control inflation."

avrajwade@gmail.com  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HON'BLE FINANCE MINISTER...

SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR THE INFRASTRUCTURE SECTOR IN THE BUDGET

VINAYAK CHATTERJEE

 

Sir, last year I had the opportunity to present suggestions to you prior to Budget 2010 through this column. This year again, I have the privilege to reach out to you on behalf of the infrastructure sector through this column.

 The last year's wish list included: Extending Section 80IA that provided for a 10-year income tax holiday.  

 

  • Abolishing the minimum alternative tax in the period of availment of income tax holiday. 
  • Full pass-through of the dividend distribution tax for infrastructure special purpose vehicles (SPVs). 
  • Treating long-term capital gains tax on sale of equity holding in unlisted SPVs in line with their listed counterparts. 
  • Reviving Section 10 Clause 23G for commercial financiers of infrastructure. 
  • Allowing non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) and commercial banks to raise infrastructure bonds. 
  • Broadening the mandate of the India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd. 
  • Re-examining the service-tax regime as applicable to infrastructure operations and maintenance (O&M) activities.

The infrastructure sector has taken your message on board that we should try and desist from asking for tax breaks and tax reliefs. The Budget, by itself, has a limited ability to finance the country's infrastructure needs. However, its ability to create an enabling environment for raising capital and project development is increasing. We have tried, this year, Sir, to restrict our demands for tax breaks but focus on some crucial "enabling" aspects.

In line with these perspectives, here are seven suggestions for your consideration.

A long-term debt market for infrastructure

Three seminal contributions – the Deepak Parekh Committee Report, the Percy Mistry Report and the Raghuram Rajan Report – await action on their extremely well thought through suggestions in this area. We now also have a public announcement on the Rs 50,000 crore infrastructure debt fund, which was reiterated during US President Barack Obama's visit as a $11 billion dollar debt fund. We look forward to it becoming operational.

Mobilising retail savings for infrastructure

You are aware that the recent offerings of infrastructure bonds by a clutch of infrastructure NBFCs did not garner the response expected. We are aware that a high-level committee headed by Dr Rakesh Mohan has been asked to submit its recommendations to enable a more market-friendly package. We are looking forward to specific instruments with appropriate tax incentives.

Annuity for rural infrastructure

At the PPP Conclave on December 22, 2010 organised by the finance ministry, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, you said, "PPP projects should also be directed to people who cannot pay for infrastructure services." You rightly observed that apprehensions on "availability-based" schemes and "annuity and annuity variants" can be addressed relatively easily by self-discipline. "Annuity" schemes are an excellent method to bring in the private sector into projects that cannot support a market-linked build, operate and transfer (BOT) format.

To start with, we suggest that a Rural Infrastructure Annuity Fund be set up to focus on rural roads, rural electrification, irrigation, drinking water, cold-chains and mandis. Almost Rs 1,00,000 crore worth of expenditure on different rural development schemes like the Bharat Nirman to the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana to the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana is provided for in Budget. Instead of disbursing this through the public-expenditure route, with all its known pitfalls, why can't all of this be earmarked and put into a Rural Annuity Fund? Annual top-ups through Budget will enable the Fund to reach levels of Rs 30,000 crore in a three-year period. An Annuity Fund of this size would create a huge PPP market. Clearly, the size of the fund, and its ring-fenced nature, would define the extent of annuity commitments that can be made without fear of any Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) or contingent-liability risks. At one stroke, we also would have by-passed the traditional models of delivery, and created a fresh pipeline of bankable projects.

Defining infrastructure

Currently, infrastructure is defined in 14 different ways by various government bodies. This cannot be allowed to persist for the following reasons:

  • it is an umbrella word that is being loosely used; \
  • financial interventions with public policy overtones are being crafted regularly; 
  • taxation issues and tax breaks are designed to encourage activities; 
  • the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2009 provides for the sovereign acquiring 100 per cent land under "eminent domain" to develop infrastructure; 
  • the nation measures its performance in terms of the gross capital formation in infrastructure. We must know what it is that we are measuring; 
  • various bodies from the apex prime minister's committee on infrastructure to state-level infrastructure boards must know their playing field; 
  • creating "independent" regulatory authorities for infrastructure supposes that we know what we desire to regulate; 
  • cutting through well-known intellectual debates on the "correct" way to define infrastructure, we simply suggest that India needs to have not one overarching definition of infrastructure, but it should be defined under five clusters — these are core, social, urban, rural and land-intensive. We urge you to take this policy initiative head-on in the forthcoming Budget.

Land bank corporations

Land and environment are two of the biggest concerns for infrastructure developers right now. While the issue of "objectivity" in environment matters is still being sorted out, let's focus on land matters.

It is necessary for the nation to find a long-term, sustainable, equitable and transparent solution to make land available for economic development. Such a solution has to encompass scientific methods of identifying appropriate land banks, master-planning of activity zones and provisioning essential transportation, energy, water and other links. This is an essential role of the "sovereign" and has to be undertaken in close cooperation with the Centre and states. It is, therefore, proposed that you consider setting up a National Land Bank Corporation (NLBC) with an initial capitalisation of Rs 50,000 crore, under a Parliament Act. As part of the scheme, states are to be encouraged and facilitated to set up their own State Land Bank Corporations in a symbiotic relationship with the NLBC.

National Development Council for Infrastructure

In your interaction with chambers of commerce on July 7, 2009, you mentioned you were in favour (and had apparently discussed with the prime minister) of a National Development Council for Infrastructure. This new body was to have the prime minister in the Chair with all the chief ministers participating, to address infrastructure logjams on a war footing. This is a very powerful idea. We would be delighted to see you take it forward.

Independent regulators

Recent public controversies about lack of transparency and good governance have once again reiterated the long-standing demand for fresh legislation to create truly independent regulatory authorities for various infrastructure sectors. Draft legislation, adroitly prepared by the Planning Commission, has for long been awaiting political will so that it can be enacted. "The open letter to our leaders", by 14 eminent citizens on January 17 , 2011, points out, "... creation of genuinely independent and constitutionally constituted regulatory bodies, manned by persons who are judicially trained in the field concerned would be one of the first and important steps to restore public confidence."

We eagerly look forward to your 2011 Budget Speech. Warm regards.

The author is the chairman of Feedback Ventures

The views expressed are personal

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SANCTITY VS SANCTIMONY

DO NOT REIFY DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS


THE chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Supreme Court have chastised telecom minister Kapil Sibal for his remarks on the so-called 2G telecom scam. The minister has chosen to be chastised. We beg to differ with all three. The essential point at stake is the notion that the minister has violated the sanctity of democratic institutions by making public his views on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. This would be valid only if the democratic discourse that seeks clarity on public matters to advance the collective good is viewed to be less important than the institutions designed to facilitate that discourse. The PAC, the CAG and the Supreme Court of India all derive their authority as, and only as, institutions that subserve and uphold democracy. The issues raised in the CAG's report on 2G licences and spectrum allocation and an informed debate on these issues are of vital importance. The CAG itself has not sought to pronounce the final word on the subject, concluding, as it does, "the amount of loss could be debated," after having presented four estimates of presumptive loss to the exchequer ranging from . 57,666 crore to . 1,76,645 crore. Should the minister have reserved his comments on the CAG report for the PAC and Parliament? Considering that Parliament has not been allowed to function and the Opposition has been going hammer and tongs at the government on the subject, to say that ministers should keep mum hurts the people's right to know all sides of the question.

 

As for the Supreme Court's observation on the minister's alleged lack of responsibility, two things stand out. One, the minister is in full agreement with the CAG that there has been irregularity in the allotment of licences, which is what the CBI is inquiring into. And if anyone shows insufficient respect for the sanctity of a CBI investigation under the Supreme Court, it is not the government, but the Opposition, which has been stalling Parliament demanding a Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the very same issues being scrutinised by the CBI under Supreme Court supervision.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

KARNATAKA DESERVES BETTER

SO DOES THE BJP


WITH Karnataka governor H R Bhardwaj according sanction to prosecute chief minister B S Yeddyurappa over alleged acts of corruption, and the BJP responding with allegations of bias and calling for the governor's recall, another act in the sordid drama in the state is being played out. The main issue now is whether the greater good of the public and the polity can be held hostage to hairsplitting on institutional and Constitutional impropriety. Propriety on the latter front, indeed, exists in spirit to safeguard and preserve the former. But the problem in Karnataka is that politics has become so mired in opportunism and corruption as to precipitate one constitutional crisis after another. First the Reddy brothers, with their blatant use of money power, held the government to hostage. After rebel BJP and some independent MLAs threw the Yeddyurappa regime into a fresh crisis — with their unabashed demand for a bigger share of the pie — the same mining barons propped up the regime. Then there was the spectacle of the government surviving a vote of confidence by a voice vote amidst scenes of utter bedlam in the Assembly. Amidst the emerging spat between the governor and the BJP, it was also amply clear that Karnataka was witnessing the breakdown of basic democratic principles, with money and muscle power holding state politics to ransom.

 

The sorry situation can't be rectified by legalistic debates on who overstepped where. Rather, the process of restoring those norms to health in Karnataka must begin with a cleansing of the political system. On that front, it is amply clear that the BJP, while seeking to make corruption a main plank at the national level, has been hypocritical on the issue in Karnataka. The nadir came when BJP chief Nitin Gadkari used some doublespeak, saying the issue of the CM handing out plots of land to family members was "immoral, not illegal". Even the fact of the CM's kin relinquishing the plots in question is hardly an act of restitution. The process of the required cleaning of the system would need the BJP to own up to its culpability, and end its double standards.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S A MAD WORLD

PHONE APPS PROVE THAT

 

THE world, it seems, may now with adequate reason be divided into two groups. Those with gadgets — not necessarily geeks, but just people who are up-to-date with new toys — and those without them. And the most manifest marker of difference in everyday life may the mobile phone. Or rather, what sort of mobile phone one has, and just what it can do. There are those amongst us who still think that all such a device should do is to make a phone call, or enable sending a text, or, at the very furthest let us click a few pictures or listen to the FM. Such is the speed of technological development that this lot may well be called modern-day Neanderthals by others. For, now we have devices that can virtually be everything from our newspaper, library, SatNav guide, mini-PC and much else. But one of the more curiouser aspects of the latter genre of mobiles happens to be the various applications (apps) that can now be used on phones. Take the case of the Aussie gentleman who, faced with massive parking fines, invented an app that lets users warn each other when parking attendants are in the vicinity. That'd surely save some heartburn, and money.

 

Some apps, though, are just zany. Take the one which allows for the listening pleasure of various sounds imitating, well, states of flatulence. There's also an app which lets you morph your photo to resemble a mugshot taken at a police station, presumably pandering to latent criminal instincts. Or if you have trouble swearing in a foreign land, you can use the 'Dirty Mouth' app, which informs you how to curse in different languages. Some apps seem even more weird. Like the one called 'Hello Cow!' All it does is allow for different kinds of 'moos' to emanate from your device on touching the screen. Or 'Hold on', which is all about how long you can hold down an on-screen button, nothing else! At which point the notso-gadget-friendly lot might just feel vindicated.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SPECTRUM: FOR CASH OR GROWTH?

AUCTIONING OFF SPECTRUM MIGHT YIELD IMMEDIATE REVENUE, BUT RUNS THE RISK OF SACRIFICING ENORMOUS GROWTH POTENTIAL FOR THE ECONOMY AS A WHOLE, SAYS ARVIND SUBRAMANIAN


WHAT is common to Canary Wharf, Metro PCS and Global Crossing? All three were established with ambitious plans at the cusp of an asset bubble — London real estate, metropolitan wireless spectrum in the US, and global fiber optic cable systems, respectively. At the time their potential for growth seemed almost limitless. But they quickly went into bankruptcy or reorganisation when the bubble burst. What distinguishes these examples, however, is that bankruptcy was not the end of the road for them. They emerged with leaner operations and lower debt than competitors who chose not to follow that path — a significant cost advantage that allowed their new owners to reap rich rewards over time. Will telecom assets in India relive this dubious history?

 

There's been much debate about the efficacy of auctions as a method to discover the true market value of wireless spectrum that appears to be in short supply. When compared with the alternative of an administered price, auctions do seem more transparent and less prone to manipulation.

 

But two observations ring a cautionary note. First, how should the government seek to balance the shortterm gains from auction proceeds with the longer-term socio-economic benefits? A study jointly carried out late last year by The Boston Consulting Group and the GSM Association on the benefits of re-farming the 700 MHz band for mobile broadband estimates $68 billion of incremental GDP in India till 2020 from, among other things, the creation of over 3,00,000 new jobs, 1,38,000 new businesses and 14 million additional rural internet households. But these benefits only accrue when the deployment of network and services is broad-based.
    The higher-than-anticipated bid values for 3G and BWA spectrum are a welcome relief to this year's fiscal deficit. But the fractured outcomes — the mounting bid values meant we have no pan-India 3G winner, and only one pan-India BWA winner — and the resultant lower residual investment capacity of the successful bidders is leading to more measured rollouts in the first instance that could stymie these broader benefits. Have we inadvertently ended up trading off longerterm GDP growth for short-term fiscal stimulus? Second, in the absence of a forward-looking picture on future spectrum availability, participants in theauctionhadtocontendwithimperfect information. More importantly, as is common in India, we run the risk that winners in this round could lobby to delay future spectrum allocations to safeguard their recent investments.

 

That a few new licencees from 2008 have chosen not to roll out networks is being viewed with distrust, painting all of them with one broad brush stroke as mere speculators wanting to corner a prized and scarce asset for extraordinary gain. This might indeed be the case for a few, and the ongoing investigations will hopefully uncover this.

 

FOR others, a more charitable view is in order. With the recent price declines, there is no longer a viable business case to roll out a greenfield mobile telecom network in the country with just the startup spectrum of 4.4 MHz. The best strategy to enter the market at this stage would be to buy out one of the existing operators once the lock-in period expires in February 2011. An acquisitive strategy will afford the new owners the opportunity to review and restate the value of the assets of the target company, and with that potentially approach the market with a lower operating cost position and pricing that could spur faster adoption and usage. The rules and costs governing M&A in the sector are still to be clarified, prompting a wait-and-watch stance. Should M&A not be encouraged rather than viewed with suspicion?

 

A more radical approach could be to pool the unused spectrum and allot it dynamically to mobile operators based on independently verified traffic on their network. In such a scenario, operators would be able to draw down or borrow spectrum from the central pool as their networks get more congested, and in turn would need to give this spectrum up when their traffic falls below a pre-defined threshold for a period of time. This would convert spectrum charges into a partly variable operating cost rather than a large fixed asset to be amortised and ensure the nation and the consumer benefits from the optimal use of scarce spectrum. Overcoming the implementation challenges for such a scheme will, of course, need strong political will and regulatory independence.

 

The growing dichotomy between rapid mobile subscription growth and sluggish revenue accretion is prompting shareholders and lenders to pull back future investments. Against this backdrop of weakening economics, the sizeable upcoming investment cycle in 3G and BWA networks and services might appear foolhardy. But, as history has shown us, while companies might disappear or get restructured, telecom networks never go away. Their new owners might still have the last laugh.

 

    (The author is partner & director,     The Boston Consulting Group.     Views are personal.)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GU EST COLU M N

LOSING CLOUT IN COLOMBO

GEN ASHOK K MEHTA

 

DEFENCE Secretary Pradeep Kumar was in Colombo late last month to salvage India's declining influence after the demise of the LTTE by seeking to expand defence ties. These were constricted by New Delhi's contradictory objectives of assisting Sri Lanka in eliminating the LTTE while withholding supply of offensive military equipment, thereby opening the doors to its arch foes, Pakistan and China. Janata Party President Subramaniam Swamy has rightly sought a probe into India's refusal to provide heavy weapons which enabled Islamabad and Beijing to dig in deeper in Sri Lanka, ironically, after New Delhi's strategic assistance in defeating the Tigers.

 

Every time President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been in Delhi, a high-level Chinese dignitary is in Colombo. Incidentally, no Indian Prime Minister has visited Colombo on a bilateral visit since late PM Rajiv Gandhi was assaulted during a guard of honour by a Sri Lankan naval sailor in 1987.

 

Foreign Minister S M Krishna's visit to Sri Lanka in November last year, coinciding with the late LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran's birthday on November 26, was to correct the perception that India has been fast asleep while China has anchored itself in the south of the country, building Hambantota Port and taking up refurbishment of the Colombo Harbour. New Delhi's fading clout was reflected by President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to Colombo even as Krishna was on a high visibility assignment to reassert India's abiding ties with its southern neighbour. In the past, New Delhi never allowed any visitor from China or Pakistan to clash with the programme of any Indian political or military dignitary.

 

India is now putting a positive spin on a relationship that has degraded considerably after the elimination of the LTTE and the further marginalisation of the Sri Lankan Tamils who feel let down by India in helping wiping out the Tamil Tigers to avenge the assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi without any settlement of the ethnic issue. For them, there is no peace dividend as thousands are still languishing in camps preparatory to resettlement.

 

From the time he assumed office in 2005, Rajapaksa has kept reassuring India that he would deliver on the 13th Amendment on devolution in full but once the war was won, his tune changed. The 13th Amendment now is as good as dead. Rajapaksa used to say, while India is a relative, others are friends. His latest rendition is that "India should treat Lanka as a little sister and not in a big brother sort of way". Foreign minister G L Peiris, on the other hand, is still patronising when he says 'India is the pivot of our foreign policy and has helped us in our darkest hour'. He is referring to the crucial help provided by India in crafting the military victory, credit for which some Sri Lankans give to China.

 

Post-LTTE, India-Sri Lanka relations have shifted significantly to Colombo's advantage. It now enjoys a measure of strategic autonomy which it did not any time earlier. Before the defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lanka feared New Delhi and was careful in hedging with Pakistan and China, both allies, but India's natural adversaries. From being 'irreversible', relations have diluted as Colombo is no longer prepared to be pushed around by New Delhi on the outstanding political question of power-sharing, the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, which is in limbo, or even its ever-deepening ties with Beijing. Yet, a Sri Lankan diplomat says India cannot be ignored.

 

India-Sri Lanka relations have to be reinvented and moved beyond the Tamil homeland in the North-East. New Delhi should set itself two tasks: cajoling and coercing Colombo in concert with the international community into yielding on meaningful devolution for Sri Lankan Tamils; and integrating Sri Lanka with the Indian economic success story. The other area for cooperation is the strategic security sector. At one time, for nearly a decade Colombo was hankering after a defence cooperation treaty. Now it is India chasing Colombo for a defence and security dialogue and operationalising the concept of mutual and shared security. Indicators are that Colombo will take its time in committing itself to any formal strategic partnership other than the existing arrangements that include augmenting Sri Lanka's maritime capacity. Like in Burma, India in its national interest will have to wink at the regime's hardline policies in order to contain China.

 

Pradeep Kumar has secured an annual defence dialogue starting this year and initiated staff-level talks between the armed services of the two countries. India will continue to provide the highest number of defence training vacancies at around 1,400 annually. India has steadily lost its clout in Sri Lanka by default and as elsewhere getting lost in a tunnel. Its boast of exercising direct influence without direct involvement in Sri Lanka must be made good.

 

(The author was General Officer Commanding of Indian Peace Keeping Forces in Sri Lanka)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

CHECK DRIFT AND PROCRASTINATION

K VIJAYARAGHAVAN

 

TRUTHS that are only too obvious to common sense are not often given their due attention because this 'common sense' is not always that common! Simple issues stand out, as if calling for attention — attainment of good physical health and fitness too; being aware of conflicts within and thus commencing one's journey to harmony; learning to be consistent and focused; pre-empting the fallouts of past bad karmathrough the power of present good karma; obtaining the habit of right speech and also divining when to be silent; realising that 'minutae' are vital and also that small things 'add up' to contribute finally to highly significant end results.

 

The above are the overall principles on which guidelines abound to guide one on, by application depending on each person's individuality, even if the process be only gradual and in stages (shanaihi, shanaihi).

 

Nevertheless, true completion to one's quest is obtained only when certain other specific and vital issues are also attended to. One such is that involving drift and procrastination.

 

Adi Shankara in his Bhaja Govindam laments such a state of drift into aimlessness. He points out how childhood is spent in play and youth in sensual longings. Middle age is spent in making a living and for accumulation. Old age, thus, has to be spent only in repentance!

 

Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra (1,30) lists pramada (procrastination) as one of the 10 obstacles to yoga. Modern management concepts too warn of this 'thief of time' (to use the phrase of Edward Young). Living in the dynamic present is the way to ensure that one takes lessons from the immortal lines of John Dryden in his poem, Aurangzeb, where he notes how the hope that "tomorrow will repay" finally proves to be illusory as this 'tomorrow' is often "falser than the former day"!

 

Supreme pieces of wisdom evolved through observation, analysis, inference and application are available for all those who are eager and open minded. These serve finally to reveal the state within, through awareness of the infirmities within and realisation of the inadequacy of the approach adopted thus far.

 

Acquiring this seeking and abiding self-honesty itself is more than half the battle won. True change management naturally follows and the obstacles, including drift and procrastination, cannot only be minimised but also reversed!

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

A NEW DOOR FOR FOREIGN BANKS

THE CENTRAL BANK FINDS THAT NOW IS A GOOD TIME TO OPEN THE DOOR WIDER TO FOREIGN BANKS, AND ROOTS FOR THE 'WHOLLY-OWNED SUBSIDIARY' ROUTE.

 

At a time when banks around the world are coping with a wide spectrum of effects of the financial meltdown, from slack economic activity to fresh debt crises, India presents a refreshing contrast, pushing ahead with the expansion of its own financial system. The Reserve Bank of India has just released a discussion paper on the enhancement of foreign banks in the country, thus picking up the threads of the 'roadmap' laid out six years ago.

 

The discussion paper is evidence the central bank finds the present a good time to resume the calibrated entry of foreign banks. The present context is, of course, vastly changed; globally, banks are still to find their feet after bailouts by governments, particularly across the western world. Whether they will see the RBI paper as a reference point in their own roadmaps towards better health is to be seen. Should they read the fine-print, they will find pathways altered by the global financial crisis that shattered certain long-held assumptions about the infallibility of banks "too big to fail" or "too connected to fail". The paper considers two vehicles for foreign bank expansion — branches and 'wholly-owned subsidiaries' (WOS) — and, guided by experience, roots for the latter. Wholly-owned subsidiaries, unlike branches, can be treated as separate legal entities; locally incorporated, they have their own capital base and their own local board of directors. In the case of branches, parent banks are, in principle, responsible for their liabilities but assets can easily be transferred to head offices and, should the branch fail, it would be difficult to determine the assets available to satisfy the claims of local creditors. Managements of the subsidiaries, in short, have fiduciary responsibility to their local clients, branches do not. Of course, subsidiaries in trouble can be abandoned by their parents, as some were in the Argentine crisis, or in good times dominate the domestic system, but with sufficient "prudential measures" the RBI feels confident of maintaining a level field. But a problem arises: since the RBI would like to "mandate" new entrants as wholly-owned subsidiaries what happens to existing bank branches? Here, ambiguity steps in for the paper leaves it to the existing foreign banks voluntarily to convert their branches into subsidiaries even as regulation would mandate local incorporation for new entrants.

 

This could queer the field with mutants of foreign banks; but since they account for less than 10 per cent of the total assets of scheduled commercial banks, having both branches and wholly-owned subsidiaries may not pose any systemic risk for a while. All in all, the paper marks an important strategic landmark in the financial reform process.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

QUESTIONS ON INDIA'S STABILITY

P.V.INDIRESAN

 

Representative democracy, rule of law, social plurality and separation of church and state are the pillars of a stable nation. These fundamentals can no longer be taken for granted in India.

 

Tunisia is an ancient country with a history that dates back to a thousand years before Jesus Christ.  It is a "constitutional republic" with a President, a Prime Minister as head of government and a bicameral legislature.  In 2009, it re-elected President Ali, who has been president since 1987, with nearly 90 per cent majority. 

His government of 24 years was suddenly thrown out a week ago by a mob of protestors.  There was a lot of resentment against the President and the fact that the economy was controlled and virtually owned by his family and its collaborators.  Yet, Tunisia was considered to be safe; its fall was quite unexpected.

Can the same happen in India?  People will laugh. India is accepted to be one of the most stable countries of the world, a model, in fact, for the entire Third World.  People point out how India has in abundance the four factors which, Samuel Huntington had said, ensure stability – social plurality, separation of church and state, representative democracy and above all, the rule of law.  That is accepted without reserve, or is it?

EROSION OF DEMOCRACY

India has a Constitution which, in the name of social justice, accords the powerful, and even multi-millionaires, from backward caste families special privileges in access to education, employment and even membership of legislatures and local bodies.  Children of poor upper caste families not only have no privileges but actually suffer discrimination in all those respects.  That is the social plurality we have.

India is accepted to be a truly secular state with separation of church and state.  Is that correct? Hindu temples in many states of India are managed by the state. On the other hand, the institutions of a minority are subsidised by the state. A senior IAS official was bemoaning the fact that he had to transfer money every month to institutions of a minority community, drawn from the revenues earned by institutions of the majority community.  That is the kind of separation of church and state — which orthodox leaders of the minority community do not support — that we have.

LEGISLATIVE IMMUNITY

Truly, India is a democratic state with democratic representation!  Or, is it?  The media has repeatedly pointed out that large numbers of legislators have serious criminal charges, including rape and murder, against them.  Politics in India is big business.  Politicians are known to control hundreds and even thousands of crores of rupees stashed mostly abroad.  Such persons rule the country because most political parties in India are the private property of some family or the other; they have no internal democracy at all.

Leaders of the ruling party have explained how democratic their leader is:  She listens to everyone and only then gives her judgement.  It never occurs to them to enquire why the decision could not have been taken by a vote among the same members — who, incidentally, are all nominated.

There are some qualms about the extent to which the rule of law prevails in India. The essence of the rule of law is equality before law; the same law should apply to the poor as to the rich, to the weak as to the powerful.  It is a fact that virtually no politician has ever been convicted of any offence, serious or minor. Apparently, the rich and the powerful enjoy special privileges. As the Jessica Lal case shows, their family members enjoy immunity, even when they commit murder in the presence of hundreds of persons.

INSTITUTIONAL AUTONOMY

Recent events are alarming enough to deserve serious comment.  India has prospered so far because, whatever their differences, there was some mutual respect among the political parties.  That respect seems to have vanished and been replaced by contempt.  Political parties are brazenly opting for the immoral, as long as it can be given the fig leaf of legality.  In fact, they look for the letter and not the spirit of the law.  So, the powerful do whatever they desire.

Some weeks ago the government did take cognisance of the Adarsh scandal in Mumbai.  Apparently, that was an aberration.  It has flouted the spirit of the law and overruled the Leader of the Opposition in the matter of the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), going to the extent of defending him in the Supreme Court. 

The conduct of the Commonwealth games was another scandal.  The Government has dragged its feet and has not even filed a chargesheet, with the result that senior officials who were involved are out on bail.  In the case of the 2G scam, it has actually launched an attack on the authority of the Comptroller and Auditor General who, as a Constitutional authority, is supposed to point out wrongdoings of the government.

It will not be a surprise if the government were to use the CVC precedent to subvert the judiciary and even the Chief Election Commission. 

CHECK ON IMPROPRIETY

Unfortunately, the main Opposition too is besmirched in allowing the Karnataka Chief Minister to continue even after serious accusations of personal corruption — on the ground that it did not want to destabilise the only government it had in the South. Every game needs umpires.  For the political game the judiciary are the umpires; and the CAG and the CVC are the linesmen.  Even the police are the assistants to the referee.  Players may appeal but should not question the decision of the referees. 

The fundamental question is whether democracy in India can survive.  It can, if the country is united.  Unfortunately, recent trends indicate that India's politicians are not; they are disunited.  Let us not forget, a thousand years ago, India was overrun by much smaller forces than ours because our rulers were disunited.  Let us pray that at least our present-day rulers are wiser.

(The author is a former Director, IIT Madras. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in and indiresan@gmail.com)

This is 295th in the Vision 2020 series. The last column was published on January 10.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

DIGGING INTO FARM SUBSIDIES

M.R. SUBRAMANI

 

Studies show that in the US too, like in India, it is the big farmer who benefits most from subsidies.

"Some good news for the economy. President Bush went on a month-long vacation," said James Douglas Muir "Jay" Leno on NBC a few years ago. Of the many problems that Mr Bush created for the US economy, farm subsidies were a major one.

Time magazine wrote a few years ago: "If you eat, drink or pay taxes — or care about the economy, the environment or our global reputation — US agricultural policy is a big deal. It's also a horrible deal… It hurts Third World farmers, violates international trade deals and paralyses our efforts to open foreign markets to the non-agricultural goods and services that make up the remaining 99 per cent of our economy."

Subsidy distribution

An NBER working paper 'The buck stops where? The distribution of agricultural subsidies' ( http://www.nber.org/papers/w16693) acknowledges the fact that support for US "farmers" is often directed to individuals and corporations that seem to be at some distance from the farm.

The study, however, is more concerned with the distribution of farm subsidies. Results of the study conclude that subsidies have a significant impact on farmland values and that land owners are the real benefactors of the farm programmes. It also challenges the view that farmers need government support to remain in business.

More interesting, however, is its conclusion that US farm programmes provide a valuable insurance benefit. The paper reports evidence that owners benefit not only from capital gains but also from lease rates that incorporate a significant portion of agricultural payments even if the farm legislation mandates that benefits must be allocated to producers.

Financial support

The paper, by Barry K. Goodwin, Ashok K. Mishra, François Ortalo-Magné, deals with the 2008 Farm Bill that will provide $284 billion in financial support to US agriculture until next year. The study has to be viewed in the background of what has happened with US farm subsidies before 2008 and how the current President, Mr Barack Obama, will save $2.3 billion in 10 years on subsidies.

In 1996, the US came up with the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996. It revised and simplified direct payments for crop. Unfortunately, commodities prices crashed during the period and Washington had to return to its traditional approach in 2002 that also drew criticism. The change led to some amusing situations wherein someone like former US basketball star Scottie Pippen was among the famous recipients of farm programme subsidies.

This led to some corrections in the 2008 Bill that stipulated that there would be no subsidy for those whose non-farm adjusted gross income was higher than $500,000 and no direct payment for anyone with gross adjusted income of over $750,000.

Dwelling on subsidy distribution aspects, the study found that expanding farmers were paying for the expected policy benefits in the farm assets they acquired and the current value of futures benefits were captured by sellers. Not just that, the owners extracted a large proportion of farm benefits from tenants through lease rates, while new owners benefited from a surprise increase in public transfers. This is similar to the plight of tenant farmers in India who are unable to secure loans from banks and derive various other benefits dished out by the Union and State Governments.

The study drew analysis from data on over 10,000 farms between 1998 and 2005. It found that price support payments have the strong effects. The study makes an interesting finding on the effects of government payments on land values to the effect of market returns.

The results of the study found that government payments exerted a significant effect on land values and the benefits typically raised land values by $13-30 an acre depending on the type of policies. Interestingly, landlords engaged in cash rental arrangements with tenant farmers claimed $0.32 in benefits for every $1 of aggregated payments made by the government.

Land owners gain

Challenging the view that impoverished farmers need governmental support to remain in business, the paper says that it has found that land owners capture substantial benefits from agricultural policy. This is problematic given that these owners are distinct from farmers whose plight should be of real concern. Therefore, the paper suggests updating factors that determine the level of some of the payments they receive lest such events be revisited.

Brian Riedel, an analyst of US budget, a few years ago said the same thing in a different tone: "If subsidies were eliminated markets would adjust," he said, adding: "Nobody would starve and farmers would stay in business. Obviously, people aren't going to stop buying food."

What is good for the US should hold good for India too, though there are no such payments for Indian farmers. For the growers here, the assurances are minimum support price, fertiliser subsidy, loans at lower interest rate and in the case of farmers in some States, free power supply.

The situation in India is that there are far too many small growers whose holdings are less than an acre and it is the big farmers who walk away with most of the benefits. Still, these payments are nowhere compared with what the US doles out.

In the Indian situation, the study is relevant insofar as fertiliser subsidy and the price support mechanism that provide insurance against the uncertainty in the commodities market. On the other hand, it is also true that rich farmers tend to gain more than medium or small farmers. Maybe, Goodwin, Mishra, Ortalo-Magné could spare some time to study the Indian scenario.

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

THE GROUP DYNAMICS AT DAVOS

MOHAN MURTI

 

If you ever wanted to see psychologist Bruce Wayne Tuckman's theory on group dynamics in action, go to Davos.

If you ever wanted to see psychologist Bruce Wayne Tuckman's theory on group dynamics in action, go to Davos. In January of each year, over 2000 people gather to address questions and find solutions to the most challenging issues on the global agenda. And, the so-called "Tuckman's Stages" of ideal group decision-making, namely, "forming, storming, norming, performing", go into action.

The theme of the 41st World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland from January 26 to 30, is "Shared Norms for the New Reality". Over the five-day Meeting, over 2,500 leaders from over 100 countries will convene in Davos-Klosters, representing business, government, civil society, academia and culture.

Delegates will attend some 220 sessions in the official programme and over 200 private events. The discussions will focus around key issues of global concern and possible solutions.

The Russian president has been granted the honour of opening the five-day World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos with a speech. But all eyes will be on other visitors from emerging markets, including the 125-strong political and business-elite Indian delegation.

Critical to Wacky Topics

The five-day event will discuss a wide variety of sombre subjects from geopolitics to corruption, from governance to water supply. Some of the more unusual and wacky sessions include: "Five Senses Experience", "Understanding the Universe", "Pursuit of Happiness", "Dividends of Longevity" and "Social Network Addiction".

Originality, innovation and modernism have always been the characteristic trait and hallmark of Prof. Klaus Schwab. Each year, the WEF comes up with new ways of bringing the world together. Prof Schwab believes that global challenges can never be met alone. Their complexity and interdependence must be addressed by integrated and interdisciplinary action — from business, government and civil society. And, this is precisely what he has achieved through the WEF founded by him, an organisation that transcends the traditional barriers of politics and economics and, brings different organisations and individuals together to form true partnerships.

Numerous heads of state and former leaders, including Mr Bill Clinton and Mr Tony Blair, regularly attend. Queen Rania of Jordan is on the 22-member 'stellar' WEF Foundation Board along with Mr Mukesh Ambani — the only Indian with that honour.

Record Accomplishments

Over the course of its history, the WEF has achieved a proud record of accomplishments — too many, to name all — in advancing progress on key issues of global concern.

From the signing of the 'Davos Declaration' by Greece and Turkey that saw the two nations avoid war, to bringing then German chancellor Helmut Kohl to discuss German reunification and the knocking down of the Berlin Wall.

I wonder why Prof. Klaus Schwab has not already been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.

Visionary Indians

Mr Tarun Das, former Chief Mentor of Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), had the vision to see that the catalyst that Davos could be, and it was his effort that brought India into Davos prominently and the recognition and result are for everyone to see. He deserves no small praise and recognition for this and many other good things. Until early 1980s, it was Mr Rahul Bajaj (Bajaj Auto) and Dr N.A Kalyani (Bharat Forge) who were the only two people attending Davos. For the first time, Mr Tarun Das was invited to attend in 1983-84 and when he returned, I recall he held a one-hour debriefing meeting for his senior team, which I attended.

Thereafter, from 1985 through the past 25 years it was the mutual respect, admiration and formidable friendship between Mr Tarun Das and Prof Klaus Schwab that turned into active engagement and collaboration in India, between the WEF and CII. And as one who has been attending Davos for the past 15 years, I can see the change in perception with regards to India that has gained ground among the global leaders at Davos.

Polite but Firm

In my observation, Prof Schwab doesn't shy away from interrupting government leaders if they run over their due speaking time. His tone is always modest, but he isn't averse to speaking his mind, and politicians and executives tend to listen to what he says. I have never seen him hold back from speaking his mind. Recently, Prof. Schwab quipped that while India provides much-needed hope with its robust economic fundamentals, it must bridge the 'say-do' gap. Despite the upbeat mood, it is a fact that India will have to answer some un-savory questions about corruption and "governance deficit" in India, in Davos.

Visiting Davos where Thomas Mann wrote Magic Mountain is itself a special treat for me, and doing so at a meeting dedicated to making the world a better place is my kind of idea of time, well spent. So with those unpretentious aspirations, I am marvelling the thought of partaking in the 41st annual meeting of the WEF in Davos, flanked by so many brilliant thinkers and leaders.  

Openness, serendipity and friendliness with everyone you meet are the code-words. You never know who you will end up sitting next to you at a lunch or dinner session, or while having a night-cap.  It could be anyone from Hannibal Gaddafi, son of the Libyan President, or heavyweight boxer Mohammed Ali or Hollywood actor Robert De Niro. Otherwise, while waiting in the coat line, you may be standing ahead of composer A.R. Rahman or opera singer José Carreras. For, Davos is all about striking deals in the alpine air — starting in providence meetings that end in productive partnerships.

(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

RECONCILING DIFFERENCES OVER FOOD SECURITY

B.S. RAGHAVAN

The long-awaited legislation for guaranteed food security to India's teeming millions is in danger of falling between two stools. Strangely, two bodies — the National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by the UPA Chairperson, Ms Sonia Gandhi, and the Experts Committee (EC) headed by Dr C. Rangarajan, who is also the chairperson of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council — both set up by the UPA Government at the Centre, and both consisting of members of high professional standing, have been unable to see eye to eye on the nature and scope of the legal framework that would be in line with their respective approaches to food security.

To the NAC's credit it must be said that it has worked out the minimum essential legal entitlements in great detail, down to the percentage of households and quantities of different types of foodgrains. It wants at least 75 per cent of the country's population — 90 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas — to be covered, of which 46 per cent in rural areas and 28 per cent in urban areas are to be designated as priority households (as per yet-to-be formulated criteria).

In its computation, general households will form 44 per cent in urban areas and 22 per cent in rural areas, the rural coverage being adjusted State-wise, based on the Planning Commission's 2004-05 poverty estimates. The NAC has no objection to this being done in a phased manner, but has urged the Government to cover 85 per cent of the rural population and 40 per cent of the urban population in the first phase (2011-12).

Its further recommendation is that each household under the priority category should have a monthly entitlement of 35 kg (equivalent to 7 kg per person) at a subsidised price of Re 1 per kg for millets, Rs 2 for wheat and Rs 3 for rice, while the monthly entitlement of the general household has been laid down as 20 kg (equivalent to 4 kg per person) at a price not exceeding 50 per cent of the current Minimum Support Price for millets, wheat and rice.

The NAC has also stipulated that the minimum coverage and entitlements as well as prices should remain unchanged, at least until the end of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2012-2017). The Experts Committee sees no problem in providing for the delivery of wheat and rice to priority households at the prices recommended by the NAC, but has reservations about extending the coverage to the general households, in view of its doubts about both the availability of foodgrains and the subsidy implications.

Sensational reports

Inexplicably, there is no agreement between the NAC and the EC on the total requirement of foodgrains; the NAC puts it at 55.59 million tonnes, while the EC estimates it at not less than 63.98 million tonnes, rising to 73.98 million tonnes at the end of the Twelfth Plan period, against the likely procurement of only 57.61million tonnes in 2013-2014.

The NAC has projected the subsidy resulting from its proposal to be Rs 79,930 crore, but the EC fears that it would be as high as Rs 92,060 crore in the final phase, taking into account the increased expenditure on higher procurement and construction of warehousing facilities. The EC also feels a larger procurement carries the risk of distorting the food prices in the open markets.

Honest differences of opinion are bound to arise when a new and complex scheme to ensure food for all is being given a binding legislative sanction. They should not be sensationalised as a serious rift between the UPA Chairperson and the Prime Minister. Such an impression could have been obviated had the task of reconciling the differing perceptions of the financial and operational implications been quietly entrusted to a small joint-study group, instead of the differences being made public by each body releasing its own version to the media.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

OMERTÀ MAY BE DEAD, THE MAFIA ISN'T

BY SELWYN RAAB

Quite a coincidence: In January 1961, Robert F. Kennedy, newly-appointed as attorney general of the United States, orchestrated the first concentrated attack on the American Mafia. Almost to the day 50 years later, the government swept up more than 120 people in a smorgasbord of racketeering indictments, mainly in the New York area.

It was described as the largest single-day assemblage of Mafiosi defendants in America. The arrests, however, underline a sobering message: despite half a century of law enforcement campaigns, New York's Cosa Nostra ("Our Thing") continues to prosper. This is often because some change — usually either shifting priorities for law enforcement or improved strategy on the part of the new criminal bosses — gives the mob breathing space to rebuild.

Since the birth of the American Mafia in 1931, New York has been its crown jewel. While other major cities and regions were limited to one family, or borgata, New York was afflicted with five powerful ones, now known as the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese groups.

In the decades after the passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations laws of 1970, the FBI and the justice department eliminated or severely weakened all 20-odd families in other cities and regions. By the end of the last century, prosecutors and FBI officials all too frequently proclaimed that even the mob's sacred stronghold in New York was crushed.

As they did to so many aspects of American life, however, the 9/11 attacks radically transformed things. Until 9/11, the FBI had two top priorities: counterespionage and the mob. But in the early 2000s the justice department dropped Cosa Nostra investigations as a priority, reassigning hundreds of agents to antiterrorist units.

In New York, the number of agents and police investigators assigned to battling the five families declined to about 100 from 450. Last week's indictments demonstrated how effectively the borgatas had regrouped.

Federal officials, as recently as five years ago, boasted that the New York Mafia had been expelled from its main bastions: private garbage carting, the garment centre, the construction industry, waterfront cargo and control of key unions. But the current indictments tell a different tale — most allege that the mob was behind corrupt construction deals and waterfront shakedowns through infiltration of unions.

The sweeping arrests also reflect a major change in Mafia strategy. There were no celebrity names reminiscent of former kingpins like John J. Gotti or Vincent Gigante, known as "Chin". The alleged bosses are virtually unknown outside of law enforcement circles. Like the dons of the 1930s and 1940s, they maintained low profiles and, unlike the flamboyant Mr Gotti, were presumably aware they were running secret organisations.

This is not to say the arrests don't indicate progress. It's encouraging that law enforcement is still able to overcome the Mafia's code of silence, or omertà. The racketeering statutes' threat of severe prison sentences, including life behind bars, is reported to have spurred many low- and middle-ranked mobsters to turn informant.

Nonetheless, even if we drive the criminals out of their traditional corruption rackets, it's unlikely to be an obituary for the mob. Sports bookmaking and loan-sharking, the Mafia's symbiotic bread-and-butter staples, will continue to flourish and provide seed money for other criminal endeavours.

There are several reasons for this. High-end gamblers prefer wagering with the mob rather than with state-authorised gambling operations like Off-Track Betting, where you have to pay taxes on your winnings. Moreover, the mob is adept at running bookmaking mills and, even when arrests occur, sentences are rarely harsh.

The timing of the government crackdown, which included some raids on gambling networks, might put a crimp into an exceptionally profitable venture for the mob — the Super Bowl next month (more than $1 billion was wagered on the Super Bowl with mob-linked bookies in the New York area).

But the mob's ability to survive is a legacy from Charles (Lucky) Luciano. He was a brilliant criminal executive who created the framework, culture and ground rules for the American Mafia 80 years ago. Luciano realised that other ethnic gangs were loosely organised, usually involved in just one type of crime and easily obliterated when their leaders were imprisoned. Hence his cardinal principle: the organisation — the family — was supreme and not reliant on a single individual or one racket. Whenever a boss or a capo was removed, a replacement would be waiting in the wings to keep the loot flowing.

The Mafia is wounded, but not fatally.

- Selwyn Raab is the author of Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE CONVERSION FACTOR

BY DOMINIC EMMANUEL

The Supreme Court on January 21 upheld the verdict of the Orissa High Court and gave a life sentence to Bajrang Dal activist Dara Singh, who burnt alive Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, aged 10 and six respectively, on the night of January 22, 1999, as they slept in their jeep. The then President of India, K.R. Narayanan, had described the murder as "one belonging to the inventory of black deeds of history" and a "monumental aberration from the tradition of tolerance and humanity for which India is known".

The Church, very much in line with the stand of Graham Staines' wife, Gladys Staines, who stunned the world by forgiving the murderers of her husband and two sons, is satisfied with the sentence. The Church and Gladys Staines are happy that the Supreme Court turned down the demand of the Central Bureau of Investigation that Dara Singh and his 12 accomplices be sentenced to death. The Church has consistently stood for life, and not death. It believes that a person should be given enough opportunities to change his life and a prison is as good a place as any for someone to reflect and change one's ways. This happened in the case of Samunder Singh who murdered Rani Maria near Indore in 1995. Through the kind gesture of tying a Rakhi on his wrist, Rani's sister, a nun, changed his heart. The late John Paul II went to the prison to offer forgiveness to Agca who had attempted to assassinate him in Vatican Square.

What, however, is a shock to all those who believe in India's secular spirit and Constitution, is the reference by the bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan that states: "In the case on hand, though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity… 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. It strikes at the very root of the orderly society, which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of".

Is the Supreme Court suggesting that members of the Bajrang Dal can take it upon themselves "to teach a lesson" to a person serving lepers and outcastes of society, whom the likes of Dara Singh would never even dream of touching, and go to the extent of burning him and his two young sons alive? Before making this observation, did the Supreme Court take into consideration the report of the Wadhwa Commission that was set up to probe the Staines' murder? The commission had observed: "There has been no extraordinary increase in the Christian population in Keonjhar district between 1991 and 1998. The population had increased by 595 during this period and could have been caused by natural growth". Did the honourable judges care to look at the findings of a civil society group headed by Swami Agnivesh, which after visiting Manoharpur reported that they did not come across a single person whom Staines had converted? Did the judges recall India's official census that shows a decline in the Christian population, from 2.6 per cent in 1971 to 2.33 per cent in 2001? Did the judges find out if there was ever a complaint or an FIR filed by anyone about forceful conversions or allurement or any other fraudulent means? Were the allegations made by Dara Singh and right-wing Hindu fundamentalists more credible than these facts?

Before steering away from the main subject related to Graham Staines' murder, it is important to note the Catholic Church's stand: "In spreading religious faith, everyone ought, at all times, to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonourable or unworthy, especially when dealing with the poor or uneducated people. Such a manner of action would have to be considered an abuse of one's own right and a violation of the rights of others" (Declaration on Religious Freedom: No. 4. Vatican: 1965).

Several Hindu organisations, including the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, routinely hold sessions in Europe and America to convert Christians. Practically every big town in the US and Europe has ashrams set up by Hindu sadhus. Who is burning them alive to teach them a lesson?

The Supreme Court's judgement is music to the ears of Sadhvi Pragya Singh, Swami Aseemanand and their ilk involved in bomb blasts at various mosques and the Samjhauta Express. After all, their intention was only to "teach a lesson" to the so-called Muslim terrorists.

It is not a coincidence that the murder of Graham Staines took place less than a month after Swami Aseemanand organised a huge rally in Gujarat's Dangs district on Christmas Day in 1998 adjacent to the place where Christians were gathering to celebrate. The attacks on Christians that followed lasted 12 days. Probe Swami Assemanand a little more and I am sure he will divulge all the plans of the Sangh Parivar to terrorise the Christian community.

Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in Karnataka, the Christian community has been under attack. The Ram Sene and the Bajrang Dal have gone on rampages and beaten up nuns inside their convents. According to Justice Michael Saldhana, former judge of the Karnataka high court who led the People's Tribunal Enquiry into the attacks on Christians in Karnataka on behalf of the People's Union for Civil Liberties: "The state is under an unprecedented wave of Christian persecution, having faced more than 1,000 attacks in 500 days… On January 26 (2010) — the day we celebrated India's Republic Day — Karnataka's 1,000th attack took place in Mysore city".

The Supreme Court's observation on conversion is going to embolden the attackers further. And many fear that the ruling may send the wrong signal to courts trying cases of religious violence in Kandhamal and other places. Though the damage may have been done, the Supreme Court must seriously consider expunging these remarks.

- Father Dominic Emmanuel, director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church, was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BJP SHOULD DROP ITS FLAG PLAN

The BJP's plan to raise the national flag at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on Republic Day is quixotic, not to put too fine a point on it. The party might as well go fly the flag in Lucknow, Patna, or even Bengaluru (where it is in power) if it wants to keep its show distinct from that of a state government in an effort to remind us that it is a "nationalist" entity. (The ridiculous implication of this is that other parties are not nationalist.) In all those state capitals, any significant party or organisation intent on unfurling the national flag on a commemorative occasion only yards away from the venue where the chief minister is doing the ceremonials is apt to be invited by the state to be a part of the official celebration. Presumably, it is in this spirit that the Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah, has urged the BJP to join the official function at Srinagar's Bakshi Stadium. To everyone's surprise the party has turned down the offer and foregone the opportunity of extricating itself from acute embarrassment. Kashmir is a tricky place and Srinagar is not the same as Patna, Lucknow or Bengaluru, considering the security threat posed to it on a continual basis by terrorists who draw inspiration and nourishment from across the Line of Control. It is precisely for this reason that the BJP should have accepted Mr Abdullah's suggestion in the spirit in which it was intended. The fact that the Chief Minister will be performing the traditional ceremony of raising the national standard on that special day underlines the reality that it is the upholders of India's Constitution who are in control in J&K, not agents of a foreign power. This should have cautioned the BJP against any adventurist action in the name of seeking to burnish its "nationalist" credentials, and obviated the need for the party to go in for a boy-scout show of patriotic fervour. Going ahead with its wrong-headed plan gives the impression that the BJP does not think the ruling National Conference of J&K reposes its faith in the Constitution of India. This is so much the surprise, for the NC was a partner in the NDA government at the Centre led by Atal Behari Vajpayee. It is no less surprising that the former Union home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, should be backing the flag-hoisting shenanigans of his younger colleagues. He should know that this could immediately become a security threat on Republic Day as there could be many undesirable Srinagar-based outfits that would want to play counterfoil to the BJP's youth front, out of bravado if nothing else, and that this would magnify the problems any state government faces in Kashmir. The BJP should have had the good sense to be sensitive to the fact that for a protracted period in the latter part of last year all of Kashmir Valley was in flames. This renders it unwise in the extreme to do anything which is either provocative or foolish.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LISTEN TO THE RHYTHM...

BY AMRIT SADHANA

Visualise your last trip to a natural habitat. The echo of birdcalls creating a constantly shimmering rainbow of sound from the forest canopy above. A lively spirited brook bubbling around moss-covered rocks as the wind rustles through the leaves.

The weariness of urban life melts away like a dewdrop in the morning sun. There are no mechanical sounds to destroy the musical soundscape of nature. In these sounds there is pitch and tempo, melodies and choruses, which are all being created by a multitude of animate and inanimate players.

Immediately we feel more relaxed and open, at home and at peace. But have we ever thought that listening to these nature sounds is very important for our wellness — and even for our very being in this world?

Recently, Spanish scientists have found that sound affects us not only because of its vibrations, but that it is an integral part of our genes — the musical relation between sounds is actually reflected in the form of our DNA. Somehow we've always felt this deep connection, and now it has been shown scientifically.

But there is more: today everything in our lives seems to overstress us, even doing things that are supposed to be "good" for us — diets, exercise, taking time for nature walks, and so on. We feel that there is no free personal space any more; everything is too planned. Living with nature is an antidote to all this calculated lifestyle. Going into the wild woods where there are no charted paths, where surprise awaits us at every turn is itself an unburdening experience.

Just imagine remaining there for a little while. Letting everything come spontaneously, in the moment, drinking in the melodies of sounds and becoming aware of the feeling of peace inside that they bring about. We can even watch our eyes close by themselves, allowing the relaxation to penetrate every pore of our body. It invites a kind of tranquil trance with a lining of inner wakefulness that we wouldn't want to miss.

The word enjoyment takes on a new, softer and more personal meaning. We sense that the natural sounds we are listening to are actually inside us, part of us in a very intimate way. They create a lightness within, a spontaneous relaxation that we can never totally forget, that we can undergo at every step of the way here if we just pause for a few moments and allow ourselves to resonate with them.

And the great thing is that this experience is there for us whether we are old or young, fat or thin, fast or lazy. Moreover, once we know how it feels, we can recall this feeling of relaxation and exquisite wakefulness anywhere in the world, first in nature and then even on a crowded street in the city. It is called meditation.

This way of enjoying the natural music around us can help us to find true wellness, which has to do with what we feel inside, not with how others say we should feel. Discovering ourself like this can be full of fun, peace and joy.

A small tip from Osho is very helpful: "Anything that can help from the outside will have some music in it, only then can it help. The sound of running water in the hills can help, because it has its own music. The roaring waves of the ocean can help, because they have their own music. The singing of the birds in the morning can help, or the sound of insects in the silent night, or the rain falling on the rooftop — anything that creates music can also create meditation".

— Amrit Sadhana is in the managementteam of Osho International Meditation Resort, Pune. She facilitates meditation workshops around the country and abroad.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

BANNED IN BEIJING!

BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Beijing, china

Psst. Don't tell the Chinese government, but I started a Chinese-language blog here in China, and it contains counter-revolutionary praise of dissidents. It's at http://blog.sina.com.cn/jisidao [1].

Now let's count — 1, 2, 3... — and see how long my blog stays up. My hunch is that State Security will "harmonise" it quickly. In Chinese, websites are mockingly referred to as "harmonised" when the government vaporises them so as to nurture a "harmonious society". China now has about 450 million Internet users, far more than any other country, and perhaps 100 million bloggers. The imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has said, "The Internet is God's gift to the Chinese people". I tend to agree, but it's also true that Chinese cyberspace remains a proletarian dictatorship. In November, the government sent a young woman, Cheng Jianping, to labour camp for a year for posting a single mocking sentence.

My teenage kids accompanied me on this trip, and they're used to being dragged around to witness one injustice or another. But my daughter has rarely been more indignant than when she discovered that Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked in China.

So I decided to conduct my latest experiment in Chinese Internet freedom. I began this series of experiments in 2003 by seeing what I could get away with in Chinese Internet chat rooms. On this visit, I started with blogging and with microblogging, the Chinese version of Twitter. But, in an ominous sign, I discovered that the Chinese authorities had tightened the rules since my last experiments. These days, anyone starting an online account must supply an identity card number and cellphone number. That means that the authorities can quickly track down nettlesome commentators.

Once I got started, though, the censors were less aggressive than I had expected, apparently relying more on intimidation than on actual censorship. Even my microblog posts about Mr Liu, the imprisoned dissident, went up. A similar post mentioning the banned Falun Gong movement triggered an automatic review, but then a moderator approved it. (A Chinese moderator once explained to me that grunt-level censors are mostly young computer geeks who believe in Internet freedom and try to sabotage their responsibilities without getting fired.)

Still, there are limits. I posted a reference to the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen massacre. It went up automatically, and then was removed by a moderator 20 minutes later. The challenge for the authorities is that there is just too much to police by moderators, and automatic filters don't work terribly well. Chinese routinely use well-known code phrases for terms that will be censored (June 4 might become June 2+2, or May 35). Likewise, Chinese can usually get around the "great firewall of China" by using widely available software, like Freegate, or by tunnelling through a virtual private network.

Most Chinese aren't overtly political — seeking out banned pornography is typically regarded as more rewarding than chasing down tracts about multiparty democracy. Still, Internet controls are widely resented. My bet is that more young Chinese are vexed by their government's censorship than by its rejection of multiparty democracy.

Michael Anti, a prominent Chinese blogger, says that the Central government may increasingly allow Chinese netizens to criticise abuses by local governments, even as it blocks disparagement of the central leadership. Since the worst human rights abuses are often by local authorities, that would be a modest step forward.

A recent book by Evgeny Morozov, The Net Delusion, argues that Westerners get carried away by the potential of the Internet to democratise societies, failing to appreciate that dictators can also use the Web to buttress their regimes. A fair point. But like Mr Liu, I see the Internet as a powerful force to help remould China.

Frankly, my own experiments had mixed results. My microblog quickly attracted notice, partly because a Chinese friend with more than one million followers directed readers to it. An hour later, it had been harmonised.

Meanwhile, I published my separate Chinese blog (at the web address mentioned above). It was just as edgy and included a slightly veiled birthday greeting to Mr Liu in prison. But I didn't promote it, so the authorities didn't care, or didn't notice. It has remained up for several weeks — but now that I've mentioned it in this column, it's presumably doomed.

To me, the lesson of my experiments is that the Chinese Internet is too vast for the government to monitor fully. It can toss individuals in prison. But it can't block the information revolution itself. Mr Liu may be in prison, but my hunch is that his judgment will be vindicated: the Internet will one day be remembered as helping to transform China, byte by byte. Let a billion blogs bloom.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

DOST, DOGS AND BOO-BOOS

Mummies and the DGP

It is no mean task to effect a reshuffle or transfers in the police department even if the personnel involved are four-legged.

Chhattisgarh director general of police Vishwaranjan learnt this the hard way after his department ordered the transfer of two police dogs.

The two female dogs — Liza and Seema — were transferred from Raipur to Bhilai and Kanker after their trainer was suspended on charges of dereliction of duty.

The canines were separated from their puppies (both have two each) and sent to their new posting.

Animal lovers raised a hue and cry over the "injustice" being done to the mummies and their pups, with some describing it as "inhuman act".

The offices of state home minister Nankiram Kanwar and the DGP were flooded with letters — some requesting them to cancel the transfer orders, while others pouring "poetic" derision.

One letter said, "Dog is man's best friend. Unfortunately the reverse is not always true", while another dubbed the police department as a "breaker of dog homes".

The DGP, we suspect, is contemplating transfering the pups as well, along with the letter-writing activists.

The perils of dosti

Friendships sometimes put one through severe tests, but Bahujan Samaj Party's (BSP) budding leader Disha Chamber realised this a tad too late.

The feisty young politician, who left the Congress to join the BSP last year and was made vice-chairperson of the Uttar Pradesh Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation, continued to be pally with her former colleagues from the Congress.

In fact, last week Ms Chamber got her staff to book rooms in state guest houses for some of her old friends who were arriving in Lucknow to attend the Congress coordination committee meeting.

As soon as news reached the sharp ears of Chief Minister Mayawati, she lost no time in sacking the young leader from her post as well as the party.

While Ms Chamber is now looking for a new perch in politics, it is her father, a senior IAS officer in the state, who is bracing to bear the brunt of his daughter's political adventures.

The last time Ms Chamber led an agitation against Ms Mayawati under the Congress banner, her father had been dumped to an inconsequential post in Delhi. He could return to Uttar Pradesh only when his daughter quit the Congress to join the BSP.

It may be time to go back to his old Delhi post.

A Muslim pat for Modi

Seems like nothing is above politics in this country. The Darul Uloom's new vice-chancellor, Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, is under fire from his community and clerics after he endorsed Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

MaulanaVastanavi is the first Gujarati to be elected vice chancellor of the prestigious Islamic seminary and he had to lobby real hard for the post. An MBA, Vastanvi had urged Muslims to go beyond 2002 Gujarat riots and claimed that all communities would prosper in Gujarat.

The Darul Uloom election was a keenly contested one and according to the grapevine a BJP MP from south Gujarat didn't just help the young cleric plan his strategies, but also went all out to help Vastanvi. So as payback, after he was appointed the new vice-chancellor, Vastanvi endorsed Mr Modi's Gujarat and spelled out the (excellent) prospects for Muslims there.

Of course, following the shock many expressed at his statement, he has said that he was misquoted. But Mr Modi is smiling from ear to ear.

Some mouths crave a foot

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi's habit of making bizarre remarks to counter Opposition charges has landed him in trouble again.

During a press conference recently, Mr Gogoi boasted that his performance as Chief Minister was far better and more transparent than that of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, but admitted rather candidly that he and his ministers had not been equally honest in declaring their "assets and liabilities".

This was a cue for the local media which downloaded the declaration of assets by Mr Kumar and his ministers, all displayed in proper format on a website, and compared it in their news pages the next morning with the vague declarations by Assam ministers. This forced an embarrassed Mr Gogoi to announce that his Cabinet colleagues would declare their assets soon, and then added, "There is no one in this country who declares their genuine assets".
One mouth, one foot.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

CHINA & NALANDA

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BIHAR AND BENGAL


BETWEEN Bengal and Bihar, China has plainly preferred the latter as an investment destination not merely in terms of infrastructure but no less crucially in the academic segment as well. Nitish Kumar has thus scored over Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who had wanted to emulate the China model ~ jettison socialism and seek foreign investment regardless of the "colour of the money" ~ when he embarked on the industrialisation that wasn't. Last Thursday's announcement by Beijing ~ through its Ambassador in India ~ that it will advance $100 million for Nalanda University will rank as a spectacular tranche for the revival of an ancient seat of learning, a task in which Nobel Laureates, pre-eminently Amartya Sen, are involved. More than the pump-priming of the equivalent of Rs 450 crore is that Bihar will showcase the bonding between two major world powers, as indeed Asia's Buddhist bloc, in the pursuit of knowledge. No less crucially, that pursuit shall not be confined to the updating of Buddhist studies.

 

The contours of the roadmap suggest that the revamped Nalanda University will also offer courses in contemporary disciplines. It promises to be a historic campus transformation through what can well be described as an Asian venture, an "excellent platform for cooperation", as Ambassador Zhang Yan has described it. The exercise will be more critical than the overtures to obscure foreign universities to set up shop. China's cultural and educational bonding with India dates back centuries, one that must transcend such contemporary irritants as stapled visas, involvement in PoK's infrastructure and the status of Arunachal Pradesh. The works of the Chinese scholar, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Nalanda in the 7th century, are still a primary source of information on ancient Indian history. Nalanda International University will make the knowledge bank all the richer.

 

Aside from academics, the Chinese envoy has echoed the compliments from the World Bank president, Robert B Zoellick, to the Bihar chief minister for the fast-paced development. Hence the sanction of Rs 990 crore for reconstruction of the areas ravaged by the Kosi floods in 2008 and the pledge to assist Bihar in agro-based industry. The lesson to be drawn is that a state's international standing is enhanced through tangible development and not the pursuit of a spectacle of fantasy, duly matched with violence and resistance by the Opposition. And that precisely spells the difference between Bihar and Bengal.


TURF WAR, RED TAPE

Let poaching take wing

SENSATIONAL was the revelation that two major private airlines were being used for the smuggling of "poacher's loot", but no less worrisome was the point made at the same interaction that agents of the Wild Life Control Bureau were being prevented from doing their job at airports. In a typical sarkari turf war, officials of the Bureau for Civil Aviation Security were denying them access and passes to undertake checks at airports. While the environment minister has dashed off a letter to his civil aviation counterpart, there is need to establish whether there was more to the red tape: were the airlines' staff and BCAS personnel actively colluding with those who make a killing off poaching? No doubts can now linger over the huge profits to be made from the sale of skins and body parts of big cats in particular, wildlife in general: air freight is not cheap, yet it is in favour. For the new civil aviation minister, Vayalar Ravi, acting on Jairam Ramesh's "complaint" is an additional, immediate challenge ~ as if clearing up the mess left behind by Praful Patel were not enough of a headache. Yet given the importance that the Prime Minister attaches to Ramesh's endeavours ~ all those who had "resisted" him got the shunt in the reshuffle ~ Ravi had better crack the whip.


Conservationists would be appreciative of the meeting Ramesh had called of officials of no fewer than 10 "policing" agencies to sensitise them to the activities of poachers and smugglers who are operating in tandem. While clandestine trade across the northern and eastern land borders has long been an open secret, the "airlift" was a bit of a shocker. That must serve to redouble the effort and commitment of all the agencies to coordinate their functioning, share information and curb cross-border trafficking. The involvement of the local police must also be ensured, they are the best "eyes and ears". Success on the anti-poaching front would raise Ramesh's stock, particularly because the management of game parks, translocation initiatives and so on have had mixed results. Presently he is seen as an "obstructionist"; concentrating on one half of his responsibilities. It would do him no harm if he could convince everyone that poaching/smuggling also fall in his category of "no go".


FACE THE FACTS

Ulfa must decide on Barua's presence

IN what seems an authentic statement to the media sent by e-mail, self-styled Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Barua has iterated that he will stick to his demand for sovereignty and, this being his birthright, he will "either achieve it or be a martyr". Coming as this does at a time when, after their release on bail, most Ulfa leaders are preparing modalities for talks with the Centre, Barua's statement seems to set aside any prospect of his participation. So far, Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has refrained from commenting on whether Barua will be attending the talks or not. Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, however,  has been saying that even if Barua does not attend, the talks will be held. But he cannot possibly dismiss Barua's fresh threat of  "striking any time and making a strong comeback" as of relatively little importance. As if to silence critics who say that Ulfa is "finished", Barua has also posted a group photograph of armed cadres to show that most of them have thrown in their lot with him and that the outfit has lost none of its potency. Even after declaring a unilateral cease-fire in 1991 following the Army's Operation Rhino, 50 per cent of Ulfa's striking force refused to surrender. Besides, the quantity of weapons seized from militant camps in the Bhutan crackdown in December 2003 was not that satisfying, suggesting that it is still a force to reckon with.


It is time for Rajkhowa and his team to decide who actually calls the shots in the organisation and get going. If talks are delayed ~ which is the probable likelihood, because Rajkhowa also wants the presence of his general secretary, Anup Chetia, now in Dhaka's "protective custody" ~ there could be more complications. In Nagaland, indecision has caused a split in the NSCN(IM) and now some tribes in the north are demanding the creation of "Frontier Nagaland" for their economic well-being.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

VIGOUR OF THE VANQUISHED

HOW A DEFEATED INA SHOOK THE RAJ

BK BHATTACHARYYA

 

PEOPLE in India were not, by and large, aware of the activities of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army (INA) till September 1945. They came to know about it only in October of that year when officers and soldiers of the INA from East Asia were brought to India as Prisoners of War. Not that the British government was unaware. Lord Wavell, who was then the Viceroy, in a letter on 20 August 1945  to Lord Pethwick Lawrence, the then Secretary for the State of India, wrote: "This is the first occasion on which an anti-British politician has acquired a hold over a substantial number of men in the Indian Army, and the consequences are quite incalculable" (p 452, The Forgotten Army by Peter Ward Fay, New Delhi 1994).
The return of the INA PoWs from East Asia in October 1945 and their tales of heroic action against the British government unfolded the hitherto unknown saga of Subhas Bose and his INA. This in turn galvanised the nation and INA became a household name throughout the country. Three INA officers ~ Major- General Shah Nawaz Khan, Lt-Col Prem Kumar Sehgal and Lt-Col Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon ~ were court martialled at the Red Fort in Delhi between 5 November and 31 December 1945 for waging war against the King. This led to widespread violence in several parts of the country. The trial of these officers had its effect on the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) and the Royal Indian Navy (RIN). The RIAF stationed in Calcutta openly opposed the proceedings  and even "sent their subscription for the defence of the brave and patriotic sons of Indian forming the INA" (p 229, Indian National Army by Dr KK Ghosh, Meerut 1969). The strike by the RIAF and the RIN in January and February 1946 respectively was an expression of protest against the INA trial.


Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Tuker, who was then GOC, Eastern Command, has written in his memoirs, While Memory Serves (London 1950): "The INA affair was threatening to tumble down the whole edifice of the Indian Army... Of the pre-war Indian officers, the Sandhurst graduates were in favour of the court martial of INA officers, the Dehra Dun graduates were against it and the war-time officers were also against it".
When the trial of three INA officers was in progress at the Red Fort, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the then Commander-in-Chief, in his letter dated 26 November 1945 to Viceroy Wavell wrote: "There is a growing feeling of sympathy for the INA, and an increasing tendency to disregard the brutalities committed by some of its members, as well as the forswearing by all of them of their original allegiance" (p 514, The Forgotten Army).


The court martial found Shah Nawaz, Sehgal and Dhillon guilty. They were sentenced to transportation for life and cashiering and forfeiture of their pay and allowances. The case was then referred to Field Marshal Auchinleck for confirmation of the sentences. He commuted the sentences and recorded the reasons: "Having considered all the evidence and appreciated to the best of my ability the general trend of Indan public opinion and of the feeling in the Indian Army, I have no doubt at all that to have confirmed the sentence of imprisonment solely on the charge of "waging war against the King" would have had disastrous results, in that it would have probably precipitated a violent outbreak throughout the country, and have created active and widespread disaffection in the Army, especially amongst the Indian officers and the more highly educated rank and file. To have taken this risk would have been seriously to jeopardise our object". (p 209, Advent of Independence by AK Majumdar, Bombay 1963).


In his personal and confidential letter to all senior British officers on 13 February 1946,   Auchinleck again justified the remission of the sentences on the three INA officers. "Practically all are sure that any attempt to enforce the sentence would have led to chaos in the country at large, and probably to mutiny and dissension in the Army, culminating in its dissolution (p 517, The Forgotten Army).

As regards the INA's influence in the country, Philip Mason, joint secretary, War Department, Government of India, wrote: "It shook the Indian Army; it disturbed the villages to which INA men went back, it played a part in the naval mutinies of February 1946" (Foreword to Subhas Chandra Bose: The Springing Tiger by Hugh Toye, Bombay 1970).


The formation of the INA and its war against the Raj was the biggest event after the Revolt of 1857. The INA was physically defeated, but it shook the very foundation of  the British Raj in India and hastened its eclipse in August 1947. Michael Edwardes, therefore, has rightly written: "It slowly dawned upon the Government of India that the backbone of British rule, the Indian Army, might now no longer be trustworthy. The ghost of Subhas Bose, like Hamlet's father walked the battlements of the Red Fort, and his suddenly amplified figure over-awed the conferences that were to lead to independence" (p 105, The Last Years of British India, London 1967). We are in the midst of the 63rd year of our independence. Nevertheless the role of Subhas Chandra Bose and his INA has neither been evaluated properly nor assessed and nor for that matter appreciated adequately.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPENING UP

The Reserve Bank of India goes some way to apologize for the lateness of its discussion paper on foreign banks: it should have been issued two years ago, but then the global financial crisis made foreign banks look more dangerous and less worth letting in. However, its significance becomes clearer if it is read together with another paper the RBI issued last August on entry of new private banks. It is seriously thinking of giving new licences. It has done so only rarely; it licensed 10 banks after the 1991 reforms, and another two a decade later. After that it has been resolutely inactive for a decade.

Why the sudden end of somnolence? It points to the poor outreach of banking in India; despite the fact that the RBI forced banks to work for the common man at least since the bank nationalization of 1969, a large proportion of the population has no access to banks. This has led a series of official committees, notably the Percy Mistry Committee and the Raghuram Rajan Committee, to admonish the RBI to allow more competition. It was pretty cold to the committees while they sat; even now it cannot bring itself to mention Percy Mistry. But the finance minister himself promised more competition in banking in his last budget speech. In case the RBI still continued to resist, he created the Financial Stability and Development Council, an overlord which would override even the RBI. Overcoming all obstacles, he actually created the council last month; its membership left no doubt that the finance ministry was going to be in charge. So the RBI could no longer put off acting on new bank licences; and if it allowed new banks, it could hardly ignore foreign banks queueing to set up business in India. Opening up of the financial sector is the one demand India has consistently faced in its international negotiations going back to the Uruguay round of two decades ago; every time it persistently stonewalled. All that it conceded in the Uruguay round was that it would allow a dozen new branches of foreign banks to be opened every year, in a country with close to 80,000 branches.

But times have changed. India has become a superpower, albeit a junior one. The prime minister sups with the mightiest leaders of the world, and as leader of the country immune to a meltdown, advises them on how to run their countries. If they ask him to let their banks come to India and learn lessons from a stern schoolmaster called the RBI, he can hardly refuse. But the RBI has put its foot down: foreign banks must bring equity, set up subsidiaries, and not expect to raise capital in India. This may be a rearguard fighting a losing battle, but it will take as long as it can to lose.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HIGH ANXIETY

The week-old Tunisian revolution is grappling with two questions it may not be able to answer at all. One, whether it will live up to its name and achieve the complete 'break with the past' it is aspiring for. Two, whether it will set off a similar trail of events in other states of the Arab world, where a similar social and economic situation is being handled by equally autocratic regimes. The second question has suddenly assumed more importance than the first because of the wave of unrest the events in Tunisia has triggered in neighbouring Egypt and Algeria, both of which have faced popular agitations in the past few years over the same issues that toppled the regime in Tunisia. To prevent matters from deteriorating, governments in the Arab states have quickly resorted to their time-tested strategy of increasing subsidies to lower the cost of living while assuring an edgy population that they are sincere about dealing with the problems of unemployment and economic inequality. For most of them, this would do for the time being. The measures would not, of course, lessen their anxiety, but these could stop agitations from acquiring a dangerous critical mass.

Other factors would help as well. Unlike Tunisia, none of the other Arab states has seen a coalescing of interests — of the intelligentsia, of the trade unions, and of the students and unemployed youth — in any of the agitations so far. Given the advantage of hindsight, a more proactive police and lower levels of literacy, the other Arab states could, if they tried hard enough, avoid the fate that befell Tunisia. However, it is another question if they can altogether avoid a transformation that the pressing issues of economy and politics brought about in Tunisia. The increasing population, and the youth bulge, in most of the Arab states would make it impossible for governments to continue their policy of handouts for long and keep the people, who are excluded from the political order and denied basic freedoms, perpetually happy.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

COMMON WILL

FOR COALITIONS TO WORK, THERE HAS TO BE A COALITION DHARMA COMMENTARAO - S.L. RAO

Coalition governments, formed by multiple parties that get together while retaining their separate identities, have existed in many countries. For much of its independent history, India has had coalition governments in the states and, in more recent years, at the Centre as well. The rise of national parties other than the Congress, based on economic or religious ideologies, with local and regional issues taking precedence over national ones, was the cause. The Janata wave after the lifting of the Emergency was a solitary instance of national interests overriding others.

India had non-Congress governments in some states even in 1951, with the first communist government under E.M.S. Namboodiripad in Kerala and a coalition in the Patiala and Eastern Punjab States Union (later merged with Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh). Single-party governments have coherent programmes, policies and discipline. Policies are debated and agreed on within the party and there is no public dissent. The Namboodiripad government was dismissed in 1959 by the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, on the advice of the then Congress president, Indira Gandhi, during an agitation against the communist government's education policy.

Other state coalition governments included (during 1953-67) those in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Orissa. State-level coalitions were of local parties and many were motivated by the greed for power and pelf. These coalition governments were relatively dysfunctional, with little coherence in policies and discipline. Indira Gandhi, who succeeded Lal Bahadur Shastri as prime minister, called for elections in 1967 and led a divided Congress — a party that was practically a coalition since there were public divisions within it. She split the Congress in 1969 and called for general elections. She won handsomely.

The Congress, until the formation of the first and second United Progressive Alliance governments, ruled as a single party, even when it was a minority government under P.V. Narasimha Rao. The single-party governments under Indira Gandhi had ideological coherence, aiming for a "socialistic pattern of society", State direction and control of resources, and an anti-American stance in foreign policies. There was little internal or external opposition. Rajiv Gandhi, who followed, aimed to release entrepreneurial energy in the economy, updating technology, especially in information and communications, while improving closeness with the developed economies. One-party governments could develop their policies and implement them, so long as they stayed united behind the leadership. V.P. Singh and Chandra Shekhar, who followed Rajiv Gandhi, had little or no political base and the latter depended on outside support from the Congress. Narasimha Rao, despite running a minority government, liberalized and opened up the economy by buying support.

The first non-Congress government at the Centre was formed by the Janata Party in 1977. It was one party into which different founding parties (Jana Sangh, Congress[O], Lok Dal, Socialist Party, and some others) had merged, and strictly speaking, the Janata government was not a coalition government since it had one programme and manifesto, one flag, and one leader. But the constituents had quietly retained their identities and functioned as groups. The Janata government was in effect a coalition. It lasted, under two prime ministers (Morarji Desai and Charan Singh), for less than three years. Its demise was caused by internal bickering, struggles for position, lack of ideological homogeneity, some programmatic disagreements, utter lack of discipline among some in the cabinet, and quarrels over pelf. It achieved little in policies or governance and presaged the functioning of many coalition governments that followed.

The first coalition government at the Centre, composed of different parties and a common programme, was the United Front from 1996 to 1998. These minority governments, with H.D. Deve Gowda and then I.K. Gujral as prime ministers, were supported from outside by the Congress. 'Outside support' by the Congress was a euphemism for marking time till the Congress could pull down the ragtag coalition and come to power itself after a fresh election. Outside support does not enable cohesive governance and constantly reminds the government of its vulnerability. Whether Charan Singh or Chandra Shekhar, or later the UPA-I, they were made ineffective on many policies either by the Congress or communists who gave outside support.

The first effective coalition government at the Centre was led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The National Democratic Alliance was a coalition of 13 or more parties, of which the biggest was the Bharatiya Janata Party. The alliance had an agreed programme, seat arrangements for the elections, and a coordination mechanism led by one of the smaller parties. It met regularly and all differences were negotiated and settled. Among the members, two regional parties were blatant in their blackmail of the government. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (neither stayed long) and the Telugu Desam Party had nothing in common with the BJP except the desire to extract maximum advantage for their respective states and for some individuals.

The TDP stayed the full term and extracted plentiful financial support for its government in Andhra Pradesh. The money was largely misspent. In the state elections, the TDP lost because it had done little for the majority of the people in the state despite the undeserved largesse from the Centre.

Vajpayee's coalition government made remarkable strides in governance — the Pokhran nuclear tests, which ultimately resulted in India's admission to the nuclear club; the leadership in winning the Kargil war with Pakistan; the employment and growth generated by the national highway development project and construction of rural roads such as in the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana; and innovative social programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. The government had its share of scandals — the Barak missile scandal, the lack of any action by the Centre after the 2002 Gujarat violence, and the recently exposed role of the NDA in the telecom licence issue which lost the country a lot of money but led to the rapid expansion of telecom penetration.

Vajpayee's coalition government was a classic coalition management of disparate political parties and leaders, one which achieved many milestones. A successful coalition requires a leader like Vajpayee who has charisma and popular goodwill, has a clear vision of what he wants to achieve and a good judgement of his partners. He must command the respect of his ministers and they must observe discipline.

In the present UPA coalition, many ministers behave as if they have no cabinet responsibility or ministerial accountability. The agriculture and civil supplies minister is suspected by many to be profiting from his decisions. The former civil aviation minister is mentioned as being obliged to a major private airline operator and to have sacrificed the interests of the national airlines. The previous telecommunications minister was charged of making profits from his ministry. The sports ministry has benignly overseen large-scale theft of public funds by the Commonwealth Games organizers. There are other such instances.

Coalitions have functioned effectively elsewhere; now in the United Kingdom, for some years in Canada and European countries. In India, regional parties that join a coalition are more interested in benefiting their states and themselves than working for the national interest. Strong leadership, effective mechanisms for ensuring ministerial accountability and discipline, mechanisms for coordination between ministries, and intolerance for misuse and abuse of power are essential for effective coalition governments.

There has to be a coalition dharma. Members of a coalition government may retain their party identities but they must, in public, represent their governments. They have one leader in the government, that is the prime minister, and they must be obedient to him in public. Their corruption should not be blatant and in-your-face. Indian politicians have to quickly learn this dharma. The age of coalitions is not transitory and will last for long.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

THE FORCE OF EXAMPLE

FIFTH COLUMN - GWYNNE DYER

The analogy might be with the chain of non- violent revolutions that drove the sclerotic communist regimes of Eastern Europe from power in 1989. Or then again, it might not. Many people in the Arab world hope that the popular revolt in Tunisia will become a genuine democratic revolution that inspires people in other Arab countries to do the same. Other states, notably most of the existing regimes in the Arab world and their foreign allies, hope fervently that it will not. But the current situation is certainly fraught with possibilities.

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

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

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

Many of those who served Ben Ali's dictatorship will not want to start killing their own people on a large scale. No ideology underpinned the Tunisian regime. Those loyal to it were so out of self-interest, and their perception of where their interests lie could change quite fast. So the question arises: if the Tunisian revolt turns into a real democratic revolution, could its example spread?

Many flavours

The neighbours certainly think so. The social and economic conditions that made Tunisia such a tinderbox also prevail in many other Arab countries: widespread poverty, huge unemployment, and great popular anger (usually carefully hidden) at the brutal authoritarianism and endemic corruption of the regimes.

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

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

There are as many flavours of Islamic politics as there are of ice cream. Some are retrograde and hostile to all opinions other than their own; others are as open as the 'Christian Democratic' parties of Europe. In future, we may well have the opportunity to observe all of those varieties in action. Assuming that all or much of this comes to pass, the most important thing that non-Arabs can do, especially in the West, is not to panic. Knee-jerk assumptions that such regimes would be implacably hostile to non-Muslims would operate as self-fulfilling prophecies, but it ain't necessarily so.

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

EDITORIAL

DODGY STAND

''BLACK MONEY CANNOT BE JUST AN ISSUE OF TAX EVASION.''


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's statement that the information provided by a German bank on illegal Indian accounts will be only used for the purpose of tax collection can only be considered a continuation of the policy of shielding the corrupt and the criminal elements in the society. The huge amount of black money held by Indians in foreign banks has been a matter of concern and discussion. The government has, in the past, said many times that it would try to recover the money and punish those who have stashed away these billions. The issue has figured in the supreme court which has repeatedly admonished the government in the matter. The latest comments of the court on the matter are very harsh and it has called the stashing away of funds are pure and simple theft and a mind-boggling crime.


The government has not been able to convince the court that the recovery of the money is just a matter of taxation. The people also will not accept the argument. According to the government, the names of the 26 account-holders in the German bank cannot be disclosed because it would go against the country's treaty obligations. This will mean that the names of violators of the country's laws will remain a secret and no action will be taken about them. The recovery of the taxes due from them and imposition of even a penalty should not be the end of the course of action against them. Even this cannot be verified as long as the government's action remains a secret.


Black money cannot be just an issue of tax evasion. The taxes paid by the citizens or Indian trusts or companies are in the public domain and the entire nation has a right to know the details. The money in foreign banks is not only money on which tax has not been paid. It could have been amassed through corruption or other invidious ways. The source of these funds should be made known to the people and those who committed illegalities to amass them and take them out of the country should be punished. The entire horde should be repatriated also. This will not be possible if the details are kept secret. The refusal of the government to disclose the information will only confirm the popular perception that the government is shy of action because important people are involved in the crime.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

A CLEAN BREAK

''ALL DICTATORS WERE SWEPT ASIDE BY PEOPLE'S POWER.''


The amazing display of people's power in Tunisia has brought to an end the 23-year-old dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Ben Ali who presided over a brutal police state has been forced to flee the country. A new interim government has recognised all banned political parties and granted a general amnesty to political prisoners. It was a self-immolation by an unemployed youth a month ago which triggered mass protests. The government sought to quell the unrest through use of force, which claimed the lives of at least a hundred people. But Tunisians were not intimidated. They pressed on and have booted out a dictator. Ben Ali's rule provided Tunisia with political stability and high economic growth. But life in a police state also meant that people did not have forums to air grievances. Dissent resulted in detention without trial, torture and 'disappearances'.
Practice of religion was not allowed. Corruption among the ruling elite was rampant but the masses could do little about it, until a self-immolation jerked them out of their inertia and brought them out on the streets in defiance of the state.


The Tunisian revolution has other Arab despots quaking in their shoes. After all, it only takes a spark to get the fire of revolution going. And there is no dearth of sparks which could set off an uprising in these countries. Arab leaders like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the Saudi royals enjoy western support. But such support could not save Ben Ali, just as it could not save the regimes of the Shah of Iran, the Philippines' President Marcos or Indonesia's President Suharto. All these dictators were swept aside by the tidal wave of people's power. It was widely believed hitherto that people's power would not emerge in the Arab context. Tunisia has proved that wrong.

The Arab masses have watched the dramatic events unfolding in Tunisia with excitement and exhilaration. Will the Tunisian revolution inspire them to rise from their slumber? Is Tunisia the first of several despotic dominoes to fall in the Arab world? Several analysts say that Tunisia is different from other Arab countries. Its population is literate and social awareness is high. The internet reportedly played a huge role in galvanising the masses. And yet, the Tunisian revolution could prove to be a turning point. It could prompt Arab regimes to reform or perish. A historic opportunity beckons in the Arab world.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

A HAWK WHO CAN SING M J AKBAR

"THERE IS POPULAR SUPPORT FOR THE KIND OF ISLAMISM PROPAGATED BY THE JAMAAT-E-ISLAMI IN PAKISTAN."


Salman Bashir, Pakistan's foreign secretary, became fleetingly famous in Delhi when, after the last round of talks with his counterpart Nirupama Rao, he curled a lip and dismissed India's carefully prepared case against the Lashkar-e-Toiba, mentor of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, as 'mere literature'. Press reports indicate that he will be the next Pak high commissioner in India. Is that good news or bad?


Normally, hawks are not the best occupants of an embassy designed to either sow or cultivate that elusive and sometimes hallucinatory crop called peace. But since abnormality is the normal state of relations between India and Pakistan it makes sense to take a less obvious look at this appointment.


There are some indications that there could soon be a mild thaw on the Indo-Pak iceberg as both nations realise the futility of behaving like schoolchildren who have lost their marbles. At the moment of writing former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri is on an aggressive rapprochement  mission in Delhi, in the fertile company of his friend and peace-activist Mani Shankar Aiyar. Kasuri has been repeating his claim that if the lawyers movement had not derailed Pervez Musharraf in March 2007, he would have invited Manmohan Singh over to Islamabad for a long chat and a grand finale marked by a settlement on Kashmir, with an option for a review of the treaty after 15 years.


Foreign ministers tend to be far more optimistic after they leave office, but we should not discount such a confident assertion. A little buzz has risen that the next round of talks at Thimpu might produce the opening for larger initiatives. India's home secretary G K Pillai told an audience in Delhi last week that paramilitary forces should be reduced by 25 per cent in the Kashmir valley. It is true that within 24 hours he was hopping on his other leg, claiming that Pakistan had not done anything to bring the perpetrators of terrorism to justice, and was in fact indulging Hafiz Saeed and his like. But this sort of dance is familiar in the subcontinent's rhetoric: one leg moves deliberately to a different beat from the other.


One reason for Khurshid Kasuri's confidence is the fact that he was foreign minister of an army regime. It is axiomatic that the army will be guardian of hawks, so if the Musharraf-Kasuri Kashmir plan had the approval of general headquarters, then there is a chance that, at least in theory, it might walk. Alas, time is the enemy of theory. Pakistan has changed since the high noon of Kasuri's political career. Its extremists have shifted the discourse, most notably and recently through the assassination of Salman Taseer.


Liberals retreat

It is unnecessary to name names, but Pakistan's liberals are in obvious retreat, because the state's security structure can no longer be guaranteed to protect. This is not all.

 

There is widespread popular support for crucial, if not all, aspects of the kind of Islamism propagated by the Jamaat-e-Islami. Some sane commentators are articulating the thought that the fringe has morphed into the majority. There may be some exaggeration in this assessment, but the base of the fringe has visibly broadened. This is evident not only in the hero-worship of a murderer, but on television talk shows where the middle class sits in the audience.


Will the merchants of peace be able to persuade this decisively influential segment of Pakistan's political class that the 'jihad' in Kashmir should be abandoned before that 'final victory' when their fantasy of a Pakistani flag over Srinagar comes true? India-Pakistan relations cannot be structured through a blindfold, and even a marginal glimpse will reveal the interventionist power of this lobby. Governments cannot negotiate peace if their political class is not ready for it.


Any Indian or Pakistani envoy posted in Delhi or Islamabad must have the qualities of Janus, the Greek god whose two faces could look in different directions. He must have the capacity to calm tensions with his host, and the credibility to convince his own nation that he is not selling his people short. There is always the possibility of a slip betwixt cup and lip in such appointments, but if Salman Bashir does reach Delhi, he would be perfectly suited to do the more important of his  two responsibilities: reassure his audience back home that Pakistan's interests are in capable hands. If there is going to be talk of peace, then Bashir needs a stronger shield protecting his back than the one protecting his front. This is an era in the India-Pak dialogue when we need that unusual bird, a hawk who can sing.


We know that Basheer can be a hawk when he wants to fly up. We will find out in Delhi whether he can sing as well.

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

IN TUNISIA, ONE SMALL REVOLUTION BY ROBERT D KAPLAN, NYT

RATHER THAN ENVISION GRANDIOSE BUILDING PROJECTS, BOURGUIBA FOCUSED ON WELFARE PROGRAMMES.


The West stands captivated by Tunisia, where a month of peaceful protests by secular Arabs has toppled a dictator, raising hopes that this North African country of 10 million will set off democracy movements throughout a region of calcified dictatorships. But, it is worth cataloguing the pivotal ways in which Tunisia is unique.

Start with a map of classical antiquity juxtaposed with the relative emptiness that characterises modern-day Algeria and Libya. Jutting out into the Mediterranean close to Sicily, Tunisia has been the hub of North Africa not only under the Carthaginians and Romans, but under the Vandals, Byzantines, medieval Arabs and Turks. Whereas Algeria and Libya were but vague geographical expressions until the coming of European colonial map makers, Tunisia is an age-old cluster of civilisation.


Even today, many of the roads in the country were originally Roman ones. For 2,000 years, the closer to Carthage (roughly the site of Tunis, the capital, today), the greater the level of development. Because urbanisation in Tunisia started two millenniums ago.


Fossa regia

After the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal in 202 BC outside modern-day Tunis, he dug a demarcation ditch, or fossa regia, that marked the extent of civilised territory.


Tunisia is less part of the connective tissue of Arab North Africa than a demographic and cultural island bordered by sea and desert, with upwardly mobile European aspirations.


Tunisia has a relatively large middle class because of something so obvious it goes unremarked upon: it is a real state, with historical and geographical legitimacy, where political arguments are about budgets and food subsidies, not the extremist ideologies that have plagued its neighbours, Algeria and Libya. It is a state not only because of the legacy of Rome and other empires, but because of human agency, in the person of Habib Bourguiba, one of the lesser-known great men of the 20th century.


Bourguiba was the Arab Ataturk, who ruled Tunisia in a fiercely secular style for its first three decades after independence from France in the mid-1950s. Rather than envision grandiose building projects or a mighty army, Bourguiba devoted generous financing to birth control programmes, rural women's literacy and primary-school education. He cracked down on the wearing of the veil, actually tried to do away with Ramzan, and advocated normalising relations with Israel more than a decade before Anwar Sadat of Egypt went to Jerusalem.

In 1987, while faced by an Islamic rising, Bourguiba became too infirm to rule, and was replaced by his former interior minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, essentially a security boss with little vision, much like the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Ben Ali's strategy was to keep order, which largely meant killing and torturing Islamists and other dissidents.


But before we dismiss Ben Ali entirely, we should keep in mind that for many years he presided over a growing economy and middle class, with progress penetrating to the areas beyond the fossa regia. Because Bourguiba insisted that the army remain small and apolitical, it is now the most trusted institution in the country.

Treacherous path

Nevertheless, despite all these advantages of history, prosperity and stability, Tunisia's path forward is treacherous.

Egypt has been effectively governed by military emergency law since 1952, with Islamic militants waiting in the wings for any kind of opportunity, even as the country is rent by tensions between its majority Muslims and Coptic Christian minority. Algeria and Libya have neither the effective institutions nor the venerable tradition of statehood that Tunisia has. Libya, should Muammar el-Qaddafi fall, would likely be much more of a mess than Tunisia post-Ben Ali.


Then there is Lebanon, with its vicious communalisms, and Syria, which has the potential to break up the way Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, given its regionally defined sectarian divisions.

 

As for Iraq, once the dictator was removed, tens of thousands died in sectarian and ethnic violence.


The Iranian Revolution of 1979 began as a revolt against the tyranny of the Shah, but ended with a theocratic regime that was even worse.


As the situation evolves in Tunis, and as we watch other Arab capitals expectantly, we would do well to focus less on what unites these places than on what divides them. Just as Tunisia's circumstances are unique, so are those in all the other countries. The more we focus on the particularities of each place, the less surprised we will be by political developments.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

IN SEARCH OF JUSTICE BY NAVARATNA LAXMAN

I AM ENRAGED OVER AND OVER, SEEING THE PERPETRATORS OF HEINOUS CRIMES LET OFF FREE.


An 'aam admi' like me is perplexed, confused, disappointed and disillusioned by the manner in which the criminal cases in our country are being dealt with. I am no legal luminary (not even basically qualified in that field to venture an opinion), but I have enough awareness to make out that things are not going the way they should be and I, like all others of my ilk, am enraged over and over again seeing the perpetrators of heinous crimes let off free or, at the most, with a perfunctory pittance of penalty.


Teenager Aarushi was gruesomely murdered, but the most powerful premier investigating agency of our land does not find the murderer! The easiest course open for this august agency is to close the case and let it be buried in the mire of myriad such occurrences. Think of the mega scams involving unimaginable sums of public money capable of punching a hole into the country's GDP — with not even a single culprit being brought to book, let alone recovering the money that is lost to the exchequer. The list is endless.

It is beyond the comprehension of common man even to think of the cases of criminals who continue to enjoy the most expensive security and hospitality of our country despite their waging a war against our nation itself, which have sadly pushed the stature of our legal system to its nadir.


This brings to my mind a singular incident that took place when my father served as a young Amildar during early 1900s, which finds a mention in his widely-read memoirs 'Kelavu nenapugalu':


A scamp in a certain village regularly prowled upon young women who frequented the nearby river to bathe and fetch water, teasing and molesting them at his will. Though it was reported to the taluk police, nothing could be done since the offender was from a politically-connected family in the neighbouring village. My father, who was initiating action in the case as the jurisdictional magistrate, was surprised to find that this menace had suddenly ended and no further complaints came in. Getting suspicious, he made confidential enquiries which revealed that the culprit had been caught by the villagers themselves in his odious act and after a fair and secret trial by the village court (to thwart influential interference and to protect the honour of the female victims), he was awarded capital punishment which was duly executed and the body was disposed off in the flooded river rendering it untraceable!


In the prevailing situation in our country, is there any wonder if the morally-defeated citizen today is driven to become cynical enough to be convinced that the above incident sounds less barbarous than allowing criminals to roam free?

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

MAKE GARBAGE GO AWAY


Goa's garbage problem needs an urgent solution; otherwise this state will soon begin to stink. That is why it is important for all of us to back initiatives to sort out this imbroglio. One of them is 'Chaka Chak Goa', a public-private partnership campaign that is trying to put solutions in place. The first part of this initiative, to take off on Republic Day, is when 2,500 NSS students from schools and colleges across Goa launch a one-time clean-up drive at six selected spots. Hopefully, it will not end on the day concerned, and the local coordinators appointed for the campaign will get cooperation from the public to contact to carry out similar drives in other areas.
The big solution to Goa's garbage problems – given the fact that we do not have large amounts of land far enough away from habitation for large-scale dumps – is segregation of garbage. If, as Panjim city has done, the rest of Goa too implements garbage segregation, disposal of the trash generated will become 10 times simpler. But for this, a Panjim kind of campaign will have to be implemented not only in Goa's other cities, but also in the 'urban' villages surrounding them.


For the time being, it is enough if we can all come forward to lend a hand to the 'Chaka Chak Goa' campaign. It is a people's campaign, organised by the same people who came together for the 'Plastic Free Goa' campaign 10 years ago. The campaign is to run throughout 2011 and 2012, when garbage from across the state will be segregated in a phased manner. While wet garbage will be composted, all recyclable waste will be given to a government-appointed contractor. Only non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste will be dumped in proper landfills. NGOs will work along with panchayats and the concerned government departments to put these systems in place.


Quite apart from the garbage segegation issue is the need to once more strictly enforce the regulations against plastic, which are now observed more in the breach. It seems both our shopkeepers and their customers have forgotten that plastic carry-bags below 40 microns in thickness are banned. A very large number of shopkeepers have once more taken to giving thin, non-recyclable carry-bags to their customers. A quick education campaign followed by levying of stiff fines on those who break the law should bring results, just as it has in the past.
This campaign will not stop until Goa has a permanent system of household garbage segregation and door-to-door garbage collection, with composting units everywhere to manage organic waste generated by households. For hotels and restaurants to implement garbage segregation is actually much easier, as they have employees who can be trained. The important thing is not just to provide training and create incentives for good garbage management, but also prescribe and implement stiff penalties for those who do not do their bit to manage garbage correctly. The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa has already come on board. Efforts are on to rope in commercial and industrial establishments, healthcare institutions, beach shacks, airport and railway authorities, defence installations, education institutions and corporate houses. All that remains is for panchayats in tourist areas to take responsibility in a real sense for the garbage generated in their villages.
Now, if you see someone throwing garbage, or even dried flowers stuffed into a plastic bag, into a river or quietly dumping it behind a building, stop them. Don't look away thinking that it's none of your business; it is now everyone's business. For, lethargy on our part will only worsen the already alarming garbage problem in Goa. We have to make those heaps of garbage dumped and burnt everywhere go away.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

TOWARDS RUIN: THE COAST IS CLEAR


Regularisation rather than regulation has become the norm in our coastal policy, says CLAUDE ALVARES
In November 1981, Indira Gandhi issued a stern letter to all chief ministers of India's coastal states stipulating that no construction should be allowed within 500 metres of the high tide line (HTL) in order to maintain the ecological integrity of the nation's beaches.


As long as she was alive, no one dared to challenge the directive. It was finally replaced in February 1991 by a special notification under the Environment Protection Act, which defined the stretch of 500 metres from the HTL as the 'Coastal Regulation Zone' and introduced restrictions on new developments.
Within a year, then Union Environment Minister Kamal Nath was ready to bring it down. A committee was appointed headed by B B Vohra. Kamal Nath abused even this committee's report to notify drastic changes, allowing construction of resorts within 200 metres of the HTL. Several of us moved the Supreme Court and got the amendments struck down.


But the Environment Ministry was relentless. By the time Jairam Ramesh arrived, the notification had been amended 25 times in less than 20 years, each amendment diluting it further. (If you want something to compare this with, the Constitution of India was amended 90 times in 60 years.)


Almost everything that Mrs Gandhi frowned upon was allowed, including SEZs and IT parks, like in the fable about the Arab and his camel. After seeking the Arab's approval for bringing its feet into the tent, then its head, then its hump, the camel finally edges out the Arab from the tent altogether!


It was the BJP-led NDA regime that decided to do away with the CRZ law altogether (it was Mrs Gandhi's initiative, after all). So, one more committee was formed under M S Swaminathan. The Swaminathan report actually castigated the Environment Ministry for the 25 amendments, saying they were unwarranted dilutions. But mysteriously, it recommended scrapping the notification altogether and substituting it with something called the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) notification.


We found out later through RTI applications that the final chapter proposing the CZM notification had been inserted by a separate sub-committee, after the last meeting of the Swaminathan committee!
The new UPA regime in 2004 made no difference to the move to dismantle the CRZ, even though the two leading lights of the UPA were, as we all know, the daughter-in-law and grandchild of Mrs Gandhi.


The CZM notification was notified in 2008, and the revolt against it was huge. More than 8,000 letters of objection were received, including from chief ministers of almost all coastal states. Several consultations were held in various cities by the Environment Ministry through the Centre for Environment Education (CEE). The CEE filed a detailed report saying that the public opinion expressed in all the consultations – especially from the fishing community – was unanimously against the new draft.


The Environment Ministry brought in Swaminathan again to undo the damage. He headed a new committee, which recommended scrapping of the CZM notification. When I met him in July 2009, just after he had taken charge, Jairam Ramesh expressed astonishment that the eminent scientist could put forward two diametrically opposite recommendations within a year. But the government allowed the CZM to lapse.
A 'pre-draft CRZ notification', a sort of trial balloon that I call a 'daft' CRZ notification, was circulated in April 2010, which allowed construction even within 200 metres of the HTL!

In response to the charges of the fisherfolk that their views were not considered, Ramesh announced fresh consultations. It got a fresh banging from not just the fisherfolk, but from environmentalists and state governments as well. A 'final' CRZ draft was notified on 15 September 2010.


This time the fisherfolk were furious, because the entire consultation process had been ignored. In November, the fisherfolk showed they meant business when they ordered a total halt to any fish sale in the entire country. Earlier, they had shown they could protest effectively with their boats blocking all the country's ports.


So where have we finally reached?

Whereas Mrs Gandhi's letter expressly forbade any development, the new draft allows almost everybody to be in the CRZ – SEZs, nuclear reactors, mass housing projects, airports, ports, roads and bridges. It even permits development between the low and high tide lines (a zone submerged by sea water twice a day) – including roads on stilts, community centres, dispensaries, community toilets, desalination plants and bridges!


As a sop to environmentalists, the new notification 'extends' the CRZ across the 12 nautical mile territorial waters where, except for fishing, nothing else happens. The government grandly declared that is doing all this to protect the fishing community and safeguard the coastal ecology, in view of sea level rise from climate change. But in fact, fisherfolk get a massive kick in the teeth, while all the people Mrs Gandhi wanted to keep out are welcomed with garlands. They now have a right to be there!


I wonder at lawmaking in this country. The CRZ notification was designed to restrict and limit activities in the CRZ. Today, it legitimises atomic reactors and stilt bridges in even ecologically sensitive areas (CRZ-I). Since the careless environmental impact assessment (EIA) process – which the minister is unable to mend – allows everyone with 4,000 sq metres of land in CRZ-III areas the right to put up a hotel, the notification ends up allowing more and more hotels, a situation it was actually intended to prevent. In Goa, some stretches have three to four five-star resorts per kilometre! All these new entrants will claim their pound of the coast's ecological assets, from sand dunes to mangroves.


In the two decades that the 1991 CRZ notification ruled, the Environment Ministry displayed minimal commitment to its implementation. Almost all enforcement was done by NGOs through the High Courts and Supreme Court. In Goa, the High Court has banned all residential construction in the CRZ now for 12 years, and all hotels for the last four years.


Even today, implementation of environment statutes is almost non-existent. So allowing a lot of new actors with rights into the coast is a sure recipe for ruin.


Botanists have shown that in many areas, trees are migrating to higher zones as a species to adapt to new temperatures associated with climate change. Trees are supposed to be rooted, unable to move or migrate. Despite this, they are taking steps for their own survival.


Just when the entire world's scientific opinion says get out of the coast, in India we have a notification that says, 'Welcome all ye here!' What a great way to start the New Year. Amen!

(The writer is the director of Goa Foundation. This article first appeared in 'Outlook')

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

THE DRAGON'S SHADOW  

DILIP GHOSH


Since China considers India as its only challenger in Asia towards realizing its dream of becoming a global power, such conduct of Pakistan is in its interest. In Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, it already has sizeable presence. Now it is spreading its tentacles around Nepal also so as to restrict India to operate within its geographical limits.


Today, China is not only making massive investments in infrastructural projects in Nepal and supplying arms to Kathmandu, it is also providing direct aid to Nepalese educational and cultural organizations matching Indian grants. One may recall that during the pro-democracy movement in Nepal when all countries stopped arms supply to the beleaguered monarch, China alone continued its arms supply to him and the monarch used those arms against the Maoists who looked forward to it for help.


While China has been engaged in strengthening ties with India's other neighbours for a long time, Sino-Nepali ties began to consolidate much later. This is because Nepal has a special relation with India which extends beyond the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship of 1950, and secondly, Nepal is not easily accessible from any place in China.


The exercise of image building by China in the Nepali mind through execution of different projects is of great concern to India. China's latest move is to match India in providing direct help for building schools and study centres in Nepal. According to a recent report, soon after India provided development assistance of Rs 100 million for the remote Nepali hill village of Mustang, China responded with grant worth Rs 10 million for construction of a school building with computers in Chhosur village adjoining Jhongwsen district of Tibet in the same region.


Another great concern for India is the shift in Chinese policy of non-interference to interference in Nepal's domestic politics. It reportedly attempted to buy 50 Nepali legislators to influence the prime ministerial voting in favour of UCPN-Maoist candidate Prachanda.


The Nepal media which criticized India for sending Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special envoy Shyam Saran to Kathmandu on the eve of the sixth round of Nepalese prime ministerial election alleging interference in Nepal's domestic politics, was taken by surprise by the Chinese move. One wonders if China can interfere in the domestic affairs of Nepal, what prevents it from poking its nose into the domestic affairs of India!  It is already harbouring Paresh Baruah of ULFA and other northeastern militant leaders. There is no reason why it will not try to arm the Maoists in India who constitute the biggest internal security threat to the country, given the porous nature of Indo-Nepal and India-Myanmar border.


(ADNI)

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

MR PRIME MINISTER, LEAD FROM THE FRONT  

'THE TOPMOST RESPONSIBILITY OF THOSE AT THE HELM OF THE NATION'S AFFAIRS MUST BE TO URGENTLY RESTORE THE SELF-CONFIDENCE AND SELF-BELIEF OF INDIANS IN THEMSELVES AND IN THE STATE, AS WELL AS IN INDIAN BUSINESS AND PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS WHICH TOUCH THE LIVES OF EVERY INDIAN'

ON THE SPOT

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

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

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

When people started asking why the government was being so adamant, the general view in Delhi was that this was because they did not want the Prime Minister to be questioned. Then a revised view began to do the rounds that said that it was really to protect Sonia Gandhi that the government had been so adamant about not allowing a JPC. The current view in Delhi's wintry corridors of power is that there is nobody in charge of the government or if there is then nobody knows who this person is.

In the UPA's first four years in power, the arrangement between Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh worked well. It was clear that he was in charge of administrative matters and she was in charge of political things. The Prime Minister was so strong that he could make the brave stand he made on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

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

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

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

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

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

TAVLEEN SINGH

(FOLLOW TAVLEEN SINGH ON TWITTER@TAVLEEN_SINGH)

THE HAWK'S AGENDA  

In the wake of the camouflage visuals that ULFA 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Baruah & Co introduced the media to last Friday, and the accompanying 'revolutionary' passion writ across those Bihu jig and 'freedom' calls, it is clear that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is a divided house. But the chief of the ULFA hawks, Baruah, would not agree. He would say the outfit stands united. Then the question crops up as to what the team of the outfit's leaders recently released from jail on bail, led by chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, are doing. They have evinced interest for a peace parley with the government. A central executive meet of the outfit has already been held. The whole exercise is for an unconditional dialogue with the government. After his release, Rajkhowa was on record saying he and his team were abjuring violence to give ''relief'' to the people of Assam and would go by what the people would decide. Where does Baruah stand then? Obviously not in the same camp? He has stuck to his 'sovereignty' agenda. His group's e-mail of Friday says that ''independence is our birthright and we will continue with our armed struggle until and unless we achieve our goal''. So is the outfit still undivided?

Having said that, one should be able to see through the whole game. We have long held out that until and unless the so-called military chief of the outfit is arrested and kept in jail for trial for the many crimes he has presided over in the last three decades, or brought to the negotiating table, the terror machine in the State will keep operating. What Baruah is heading today is not, and cannot be, a people's revolutionary front, given the many dastardly crimes committed on innocent men, women and children — all people he had set out to 'liberate' from India's 'colonialism'! What he is leading today is a huge, flourishing industry of terrorism; he is the CEO of that enterprise. This venture also provides employment to a whole gamut of unemployed youth in the State, whose number is only increasing by the day. For these youth, terrorism (mind it, not insurgency, which is based on some ideology) is a career option. How many of them even know what is sovereignty? And does Baruah himself still believe that his sovereignty is all that the people of Assam in the year 2011 are still awaiting? No one will believe that he is yet to see the writing on Assam-2011 wall. So what is he up to? The answer could come in the form of another question: Why should he leave the luxury of that industry? There is also a great possibility of today's terrorism evolving into super-terrorism — a bigger terrorism bazaar. Surely Baruah cannot be unaware of it all? The romanticist 'sovereignty' slogans we heard in that video are an assertion of the vow to further the industry of terrorism. Can it be acceptable to the peace-starved people of Assam? And if that terror machine keeps operating in one form or the other, how real will be the peace people these days are talking about — after Rajkhowa's release?

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

    

NO PARTIAL SOLUTION

A BREAKTHROUGH ON THE TERRITORIAL ISSUE MIGHT INDEED ENCOURAGE PROGRESS ON THE OTHER CORE DISPUTES.

The two-state solution remains viable. That is the message sent out this weekend by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Nodding to Palestinian demands to use the pre-1967 lines as a basis while at the same time ensuring that a strong majority of the 327,000 Jewish settlers presently living in Judea and Samaria would stay put, David Makovsky, a former Jerusalem Post editor and senior fellow at the institute, presented options for resolving the territorial aspects of a two-state scenario, complete with maps and statistical data. It is based on a land swap that would grant the new Palestinian state Israeli lands adjacent to the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and parts of the West Bank, in return for leaving up to 80% of the settlers in place.

The plan comes at a time when prospects for a negotiated two-state solution are deadlocked. To the familiar "core" obstacles of the disputed status of Jerusalem, the gulf on the issue of Palestinian refugees, and disputes over border demarcations and security arrangements, are added the complication of a split Palestinian leadership: Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Unable to make peace among themselves, one wonders how the Palestinian people can possibly resolve its differences with the Jewish state.


Hateful incitement against Israel, officially sanctioned by the Palestinian Authority, and an integral part of a Hamas's very being, further exacerbates the situation, and underlines the widespread Israeli concern that the Palestinians have yet to internalize fundamental Jewish sovereign rights in this region. In addition, the Palestinian leadership has taken the Obama administration's lead in insisting on a complete Israeli building freeze over the Green Line, including in blocs in the West Bank that would remain under Israeli control in any future deal and in consensus neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, as a precondition for a return to the negotiating table.

While President Mahmoud Abbas claims he has ruled out, at least for the time being, the option of a unilateral declaration of statehood, the Palestinian Authority he leads continues to seek and garner recognition from countries around the world for precisely such "a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders."

On top of all this, a fateful date is looming. A one-year goal to reach a comprehensive peace agreement was set before the start of the short-lived direct talks in September of last year. The objective at the time was to calm Palestinian worries that the negotiations would continue ad infinitum. But if no significant headway is made by the September 2011 deadline, there are concerns about the possibility of a third intifada. In fact, this seems to be one of the few points of agreement between the sides.

Last year Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned against setting a deadline for precisely this reason, while over the weekend both Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that a protracted deadlock in talks could lead to a popular uprising.

IN THIS bleak diplomatic environment, the Washington Institute's reassertion of the viability of a two-state solution is potentially promising. As Makovsky told the New York Times, "The idea here is to bring the two-state solution down to earth." But it can be potentially dangerous as well. Agreeing to borders before solving the refugee problem, which is not addressed in the institute's initiative, would likely be disastrous. The two-state solution is an inherently Israeli interest precisely because, assuming it is wisely negotiated, it would ensure that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic. A Palestinian "right of return" to today's Israel involving potentially millions of Palestinians – the offspring of those who left or fled during the War of Independence – would, by contrast, spell the end of Jewish sovereignty.

If Israel is to negotiate the borders of a new Palestine, wrenchingly conceding territory, this can only be done as part of a wider equation in which the Palestinians abandon the demand for a right of return. It would be for a new "Palestine" to represent the solution for Palestinian refugees, just as Israel built a thriving nation absorbing Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.

Another issue not addressed by the institute is security. Hamas's takeover of Gaza, and the relentless salvoes of mortar and rocket fire directed at nearby Israeli residential areas, underlines the potential danger of a misconceived pullout from the West Bank. That's why Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, in which he endorsed a two-state solution, highlighted that a Palestinian state must be demilitarized. Here at least, unlike on the refugees, however, there have been some positive signals from the PA.

The Washington Institute's initiative should be appreciated as a sincere attempt to help implement a two-state solution. A breakthrough on the territorial issue might indeed encourage progress on the other core disputes.

But those core issues cannot be resolved in isolation from each other. Either they are all solved in a viable framework, or none of them is.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

THE REGION: WHEN ARAB REGIMES TREMBLE

BY BARRY RUBIN 

 

THERE HAVE BEEN MANY INSTANCES WHEN LEADERS IN THE REGION FEARED .FOR THEIR SURVIVAL. THE UPRISING IN TUNISIA IS THE LEAST OF THEM.

May the good Lord protect us from news analysis and Middle East experts. Is the Arab world really in shock over the Tunisian upheaval? Is this really a symptom for a coming upheaval in the Arab world?

Perhaps I'm wrong but a word of caution is in order. I think the answer is no.


LET'S BEGIN by looking back at far bigger shocks that have made Arab regimes tremble.


First, there was the fall of communism and the Soviet bloc. The Soviet Union was the superpower patron of many Arab regimes, their source of weapons and diplomatic support, their supposed protector from Israel and the US.


Yet more than that, it was a basic role model – especially for political and economic organization – for a number of these regimes, most obviously Egypt, Iraq and Syria. I don't mean they copied it exactly, but the statist, single-party rule, government control over wide swathes of life is how they functioned for decades.

How did the regimes respond? By tightening up and killing off real hope of democratic reform. And they did quite well for themselves.

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

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

SO ARAB regimes begin to tremble sometimes. But when the going gets tough, the tough don't tremble very long; they take counteraction.


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


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

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


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

There is no reason to believe that the events in Tunisia signal a regime change. More likely: only a partial leadership change.


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



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

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


This is not, then, a turning point in Arab or Middle Eastern political history. It will, however, take its place as a precedent that will affect the thinking of governments, Islamist oppositions and the small pro-democratic movements. It gives the governments cause to make adjustments, the Islamists ideas about posing as "good government" activists and the democrats some hope for the future.


The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies. He blogs at www.rubinreports.blogspot.com

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

THE CONSCIENCE OF A JEWISH CONSERVATIVE

BY RUTH R. WISSE 

 

THE LATE IRVING KRISTOL WAS NOT JUST A JEWISH THINKER, HE WAS SOMETHING ELSE: A CONSUMMATE AMERICAN INTELLECTUAL.

A Jewish thinker is normally someone devoted to the study and interpretation of Jewish texts, Jewish history, Jewish issues, Jewish ideas.The late Irving Kristol (1920-2009) was, for the most part, something else: a consummate American intellectual. Founding editor of The Public Interest, contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, he is best known as the "godfather" of neoconservatism, a movement of ideas that spurred a major realignment in American politics.


Yet as we are reminded by The Neoconservative Persuasion, a sparkling collection of his essays edited by his widow, the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, Kristol was also an important Jewish thinker – and especially important for American Jews. Among his cohort of resolutely secular New York intellectuals, Kristol displayed an unusual attitude toward religion. Raised in Brooklyn by nominally traditional immigrant parents, and exposed to an inferior – he called it "decadent" – Jewish education, the teenage Kristol unaccountably chose to attend daily synagogue services after his mother died. (His father declined.)


A Trotskyist by the time he attended City College, he was persuaded by reading Plato that "it made sense for a supra-sensible universe of ideas to exist," and by reading the Bible that the book of Genesis was, in some nonliteral sense, true. In his 20s, asked whether he really believed in God's existence, Kristol found the question irrelevant; his relation to God was existential, not rationalist: "[A] religious person doesn't 'believe' in God, he has faith in God."


When he got a job at Commentary magazine in 1947, Kristol was assigned the area of religion as the only editor then interested in theology. Along with literature and politics, he read Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, Christian theologians and the writings of American rabbis who complained that Commentary did not pay them sufficient attention. One of these rabbis was Milton Steinberg, whose book, Basic Judaism, occasioned Kristol's first attempt, in 1948, to set down his thoughts about Judaism in a review included in this volume.

ON THE whole, he appreciated Steinberg's view of Judaism as a system of living religiously rather than a system of religious thought. But he was troubled by something shallow in Steinberg's "religion of the good deed and the good community," which struck him as fatally blind to the serious torment of a Jewish heretic like Franz Kafka and in general to the problem of evil. Why didn't American rabbis like Steinberg address the gulf between God's imperatives and man's cruelties?


Kristol was disturbed by "the transformation of [traditional Jewish] messianism into a shallow, if sincere, humanitarianism," by the retirement of "Jewish thinking" into sociological platitudes. His critique of the thinness of American Jewish theology is even more striking today than it was at the time.


If it was odd for a secular Jewish intellectual to be rousing rabbis to their spiritual duties, it was no less odd for Kristol to oppose the liberal drift of American Jewry, not to mention the leftward tendencies of most of his fellow intellectuals. But he had learned something from personal experience. As an infantryman in Europe during World War II, Kristol had seen American fighting strength put to the service of rescuing civilization from its enemies.

His first published story after the war, "Adam and I," describes how a survivor of Auschwitz talks an American Jewish soldier into providing him with clothing and a gun. Though the story is slight, and Kristol soon after gave up writing fiction, it conveys the American's dawning realization of the difference between his own protected existence and that of a Jew, an Adam, who has been expelled from the civilized world.


One can see here the seeds of a more general outlook on politics and its purposes. As far as the Jews were concerned, Kristol thought that the encounter between the worst of European weakness and the best of American power ought to have wised them up politically, making them vigilant against declared enemies; he was disappointed to find how keen they remained to ignore history's teachings. In later decades, those same teachings were what prompted Kristol's definition of a neoconservative as "a liberal who has been mugged by reality": that is, someone essentially hopeful of human progress who – however reluctantly – musters the ability to confront the forces that would thwart it.


The phrase spoke for those who in the late 1960s and early '70s were sobered up by aggressions against the American democratic order, and against Israel and the Jews, and by the failure of so many to stand up to them: from without, Soviet expansionism, Arab revanchism and other cold-war dangers; from within, New Left violence and the anti-American excesses of the accurately-named counterculture.

Kristol marveled that the liberalism of Jews, who ought to have been the first to rally in defense of the goodness of American society and its values, remained "especially rich in illusions." How could Jews, of all people, fail to appreciate the justice of Israel or the force of the enmity against it; how could they blithely continue to support socialist, quasi-socialist or left-liberal positions that demonstrably threatened the social and economic health of the United States?


Kristol's 1988 analysis of Jewish liberalism ends with the expressed conviction that his coreligionists' "cognitive dissonance" could not continue for much longer. A final, darker essay on the subject, "On the Political Stupidity of the Jews" (1999), suggests no such hope, though one suspects that so congenitally even-tempered an observer still longed for evidence to the contrary.


Norman Podhoretz, the longtime editor of Commentary and, with Kristol, the most powerful voice of neoconservatism, has held up his late friend and colleague as "a great warrior on the battlefield of ideas and a great general in the political and cultural wars of our time." The military metaphor is apt – there was, and there continues to be, a great battle of ideas over the essential worth of our civilization, and great battles require great leaders.


IN THE struggle for the minds of American Jews in particular, Kristol's leadership was of a special kind. To him, the reflexes of American Jews had atrophied; overhabituated by too many centuries of accommodation to power, they had become unable or unwilling to recognize where their true friends lay, and who were now their true enemies. He encouraged them to consider afresh what it meant, and what it would take, to persevere as a minority in a primarily Christian country – without obsolete fears of religious persecution.


In a climate of cultural conformism – the elites being, as Kristol reminded us, much more conformist than the average American – this Jewish intellectual, as independent-minded as they come, gave American Jews the best guidelines for becoming at once fully mature citizens of their country and fully mature representatives of their people.

The writer is professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard. Her books include Jews and Power (Schocken), The Modern Jewish Canon (Free Press) and The Glatstein Chronicles (Yale). This article was first published by www.jewishideasdaily.com and is reprinted with permission.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

THE TURKEL COMMISSION IS FIGHTING YESTERDAY'S WAR

BY DAPHNA KAUFMAN 

 

No matter how thorough its investigation is or how comprehensive its findings, Israel will still face surprises and setbacks.

March 2011: Several "Freedom Flight" aircraft enter Gazan airspace to bring humanitarian aid. In addition to medical and food supplies, the planes carry several human rights luminaries, including a Nobel laureate and a former head of state. Israel is caught unprepared and confused. The air force is deployed with no clear mandate. Media channels and diplomats go into a frenzy.


This hypothetical scenario highlights a grave truth – no matter how thorough or comprehensive the Turkel Committee's investigation is, the country will still face surprises and setbacks. That is because the Turkel Committee's too narrow mandate, which focuses almost entirely on the Gaza flotilla, ignores the wider and more important context: Israel faces a systemic and systematic assault on its political-economic model – a campaign to delegitimize it.


Within this long-standing "war," the Gaza flotilla represents only one battle and Israel's policy on Gaza only one pretext. As a whole, the campaign aims to precipitate Israel's political implosion and takes inspiration, despite the clear differences in circumstances, from the collapse of the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa. And as the campaign continues to seek the country's political demise, Israel has remained focused primarily on strengthening its military.


THE LOOSE network structure that allows the campaign to quickly mutate and adapt makes it particularly potent. Understanding how to better respond to a particular strike cannot help for what is next. The network that produced the flotilla, prominent mobilizations around the Durban conferences and Operation Cast Lead, the BDS campaign and the legal war against senior leaders ("lawfare") will continue to innovate.


Therefore, we must focus on the campaign's generators, not on their high-profile tactics.


In fact, the marginal radical forces driving the assault on our legitimacy have already made serious progress.


For example, the Gaza flotilla demonstrated a significant increase in cooperation between two separate groups: the country's traditional enemies that reject its right to exist based on Arab and Islamist nationalist-religious ideology, and Western-based delegitimizers who oppose its existence based on political, philosophical or historical arguments.


This evolving campaign has hit us where we are most vulnerable – international media, public opinion and nongovernmental organizations. A failure to face it may threaten the country's ability to defend itself militarily, encourage challenges to its sovereignty and fuel further use of universal jurisdiction and boycotts.


Therefore, the government, along with friends and allies, must launch a global, systemic offense. Only a sweeping, ambitious, networked approach can achieve synchronized victories – success across military, legal, political, diplomatic arenas. There is no alternative.


TO DO this, the security and foreign affairs establishment must focus on the source of the problem, the network that in varying forms and constellations launches repeated strikes. The Gaza flotilla was openly planned and uninterruptedly organized over a 14- month period by NGOs, primarily in friendly countries.

The information was available yet the threat was not on the radar. Israel and its allies should systematically collect information on these organizations and work to disrupt, expose their activities and isolate and marginalize them.


But it must also in allocate significant resources to cultivating and maintaining its own network of organizations, diplomats and friends. These can drive a clear wedge between the delegitimizers and those protesting the country's policy by substantively engaging with criticism, however harsh, and by providing factual and relevant responses. Outing, naming and shaming delegitimizers must occur alongside engagement with critics, such as human rights organizations. One cannot succeed without the other.


The national security concept should make these activities routine so that delegitimization is systemically addressed. Getting there means overhauling the conceptual basis of its response. Unfortunately, the Turkel Committee merely offers a corrective to yesterday's provocation. It does not offer any new strategy, let alone a systemic review. Israel needs much more.


The writer is a senior analyst on the Reut Institute National Security Team which published a comprehensive report on the Gaza flotilla last August. She previously worked at the Washington headquarters of AIPAC, where she served as communications and research director of the student leadership program.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

BARAK'S MANEUVER LOOKS LIKE A WIN-WIN SITUATION

BY TZACHI HANEGBI 

 

But while that may be common in business, it is far rarer in politics.

Talkbacks (1)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak's departure from the Labor Party was portrayed in the media as an earth-shattering event. And it's true that Israeli politics has experienced no such upheaval since former prime minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud and established Kadima in 2005.

But classic political drama requires both winners and losers. An event with neither tears of defeat nor cries of victory is not so traumatic. And there was no great tragedy here, no historic turning point either.

Paradoxically, this unexpected development left everyone involved feeling rather satisfied. Maybe that's where its uniqueness lies: When the dust settled on Barak's surprise announcement, each of the major players felt his position had actually improved.

From Barak's point of view, the plan he designed and executed achieved all his goals. From now on, until the end of the current government's term, he, and he alone, controls his own destiny. No one can force him to leave the government and relinquish the defense portfolio that is so dear to his heart. The threat of being ousted from his own Labor Party by the many members who opposed him no longer exists either. The daily, exhausting struggle against rebellious MKs within his party is over. The four members of his new faction are unconditionally committed to him, and their loyalty – as a result, among other factors, of the upgrade they have been granted in the government and Knesset – is guaranteed.

Now Barak can focus solely on the tasks mandated by his ministerial responsibilities – first and foremost of course, the battle against the Iranian nuclear program. When it is time to face the voters again, it may be that Barak finds that the escapade he initiated will prove less successful. But the alternative offered to him by his Labor opponents would, in any case, have ended his tenure as both defense minister and party chairman in the coming months.

THE PRIME minister too has good reason to be satisfied with the way things turned out. At first glance, the mathematic calculations of the crisis that fractured the Labor Party show that the coalition has lost eight members. The gap between supporters of the government and those who would like to see it fall has narrowed significantly, from 28 to 12. But political life, as is well known, cannot be measured solely with mathematical calculations.

On a psychological level, the government can be praised for a trend reversal of unprecedented importance. Since the moratorium on building in the settlements in Judea and Samaria lapsed this past September, an ever-growing question mark had been hovering over Barak's ability to prevent his party from leaving the coalition. Indeed, many commentators had predicted that Barak himself would lead Labor into opposition, in order to win back at least some of his and the party's disappointed voters.

Labor's departure from the government would have quickly brought about early elections. This theoretical possibility was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, with other coalition factions becoming more extreme in their conduct almost on a daily basis.

Israel Beiteinu and Shas had embarked on a confrontational path with each other and with the Likud, on a number of sensitive issues. The smell of elections was in the air.

Now, Barak's strategic decision to remain in the coalition, despite the deep diplomatic freeze, has changed all that at a stroke, and speaks volumes about the life expectancy of the Netanyahu government.

The prime minister was not mouthing platitudes when he declared that the defense minister's maneuver "contributes to the [government's] stability and governability."

In Washington, Europe, Cairo, Amman and Ramallah – and, indeed, in Teheran, Damascus and Gaza – it is now understood that 2011 is not expected to be an election year in Israel.

LIKEWISE, THE leading opposition party has no reason to be disappointed with the recent developments. Tzipi Livni, who in essence forced the majority of senior Kadima members to remain in the opposition, can justifiably claim that her party is finally reaping the benefits of its patience. Livni's assessment after the elections was that even if Netanyahu were to attempt to advance the diplomatic process, his "natural partners" from the Right would stop him.

This assessment is now gaining credibility, since Barak is now left in a resounding minority within a government all of whose other members are bound to an agenda that is the opposite of his own.

The direct implication of diplomatic deadlock is intensifying diplomatic isolation. The first signs of this isolation are already evident in the widening phenomenon of countries that are unilaterally recognizing the emerging Palestinian state.

The more Israel finds itself in diplomatic isolation, the more Netanyahu's government will be vulnerable to harsh criticism, from within and without, for its inflexible policies. In light of this, Kadima can mark last week as a week in which it received strong encouragement in its long journey to regain the reins of leadership.

Even the remaining Labor MKs, who were stunned by Barak's bombshell, can now begin to smile. They have been spared a full year battling in the bunker of the party's institutions for early internal elections, to oust Barak as chairman and pull Labor out of the government. This new reality, formed overnight, also created an additional opportunity for the Labor party, probably its very last, to prove to all those who eulogize it that it has the ability to rise from the ruins and restore its lost honor.


Can everything possibly pan out the way I've described? Probably not. In the business world, a win-win situation is commonplace. In the political world, it is a rare scenario. Not long from now, it will become clear that one of the protagonists involved celebrated too soon.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

THE DEMOCRATS VS. THE NON-DEMOCRATS

BY ALON LIEL 

 

THE IDEOLOGICAL BATTLE IN THIS COUNTRY IS NO LONGER BETWEEN HAWK AND DOVE, AND IT NO LONGER HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH PEACE.

The Labor Party last week faced a painful personal and ideological split. The party that always knew how to host "hawks" and "doves" side by side could not tolerate an ideological supermarket any more. The hawk-dove coexistence that seemed so possible in many parties until now started to become impossible. The peace bluff, so uniting over the last two decades, has been exposed.

The historic ideological division dominating the 1970s and 1980s is back in town, this time in a different format. The contemporary political map includes many more hawks than doves, but this seems irrelevant now.

Ehud Barak did not really switch ideological camps last week, he just changed his political address. By doing so, he enabled an unprecedented ideological unity among Labor's leftovers who might be sailing together again.

Before I go further into analyzing Barak's recent move and its political implications, I have to note that he and I worked together for several years. I was his foreign affairs adviser and he appointed me director-general of the Foreign Ministry. Although the contact is not very frequent anymore, I think we are still personal friends. I definitely have no reason to complain about the treatment I received from him.

FROM MONITORING Barak's career closely since he entered the political fray, I would say that it could be divided into two ideological periods. He was never really a "leftist" or a "dove," but from 1995 to 2000 he could be defined a "tactical hawk," or at best a "skeptical dove."

With his natural sense of suspicion (typical of many retired generals), he was still examining, monitoring and checking whether an agreement was possible.

The 2000 Camp David peace talks and especially the brutal intifada that broke out as a result, affected him personally.

He felt cheated, betrayed and even humiliated. He, the master of tactical maneuvering, was outmaneuvered by Yasser Arafat.

His tactical hawkishness then turned strategic. Barak stopped believing that peace was possible, and the events during those years further sharpened his already existing suspicions, this time accompanied with a desire for revenge.

When he recaptured the chairmanship of the Labor Party, he was a ripe hawk already.

THINGS DID somehow still function in Labor until few months ago, when the US effort to relaunch talks between Israel and the Palestinians totally collapsed.

The government renewed its massive settlement policy and any whiff of talks – and of peace – evaporated. At this stage, things became clearer: The hawks were creating a reality on the ground that was incompatible with a withdrawal from the West Bank. The doves, who were themselves convinced over the years that "only the hawks can bring peace," realized that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was no Menachem Begin and that their peace dreams have been shattered.

The hawks-doves battle is practically over at this stage. Barak's union with the Likud is just the final proof. A new ideological battle has begun and it no longer has anything to do with peace. This time it's between democratic and non-democratic forces.

It is the battle against the possibility of one state with two types of citizens – the Jews with full rights, and the Palestinians with partial rights. On this issue, politicians cannot coexist anymore in the same political nest.


The split in Labor is only the beginning; Likud and Kadima are next. Politicians will now have to position themselves not as hawks or doves, but as democrats versus non-democrats.


We will soon see this happening all over the political map. Unfortunately, I do not foresee the democrats gaining the upper hand.


The writer, a former chargé d'affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa, was director general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000 and 2001. Today he lectures at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. This article is also available on our website's Premium Zone.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE REPORT IS GOOD, THE SITUATION IS BAD

ISRAEL LONGS FOR VISION, WISDOM AND RESOLUTION. THE TURKEL COMMITTEE HAS CONTRIBUTED VERY LITTLE IN THOSE AREAS.

The committee investigating the May 31 Gaza-bound flotilla published the first of two reports yesterday after seven months of work. The committee, headed by retired justice Jacob Turkel, made a dream come true for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appointed it. If it had been called the Netanyahu committee it could not have produced a better report.

It completely exonerated Israel of breaking international law in imposing the naval blockade on Gaza and in taking over the flotilla's flagship, the Mavi Marmara. During that operation, nine Turkish activists were killed. Netanyahu and his ministers, who at the time quarreled over who was responsible for the failure, can derive satisfaction in terms of "what we wanted to prove."

The Turkel report's weakness is that it's not only good, but too good. It's not too good, however, for the naval commandos who risked their lives at the behest of those who sent them on their mission, which suffered from faulty intelligence and poor operational planning. The commandos were attacked, wounded and evacuated under shameful circumstances. This included 15 minutes during which three commandos were missing and nearly kidnapped without their commanders noticing. It's not the commandos' fault that the report is good but the situation, then and now, is bad.

Turkel and his colleagues were not judges in this case, but defenders. The panel included two distinguished reinforcements from abroad whose appointment had been approved by the Israeli government. So their participation was less significant than if they had been members of an external committee. The best advocate is inherently less credible than an ostensibly objective arbiter.

Therefore the report's usefulness in terms of diplomacy and public relations will probably be negligible. It doesn't represent a "committee of investigation" but rather the "government of Israel" - the entity that is responsible for the flotilla affair. Because, after all, Netanyahu and his ministers were afraid to appoint a state commission of inquiry, whose composition would be decided by the Supreme Court.

Israel's domestic problem stems from the quality of its leadership; discussion on this point was postponed to the second half of the report. Israel's external problem is not one of international law, although an astute government would leverage its exoneration to try to reconcile with Turkey, from a position of proven innocence. Justice is necessary but it is not enough. Israel longs for vision, wisdom and resolution. The Turkel committee has contributed very little in those areas.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

BARAK FOOLED EVERYBODY

BARAK'S BEN-GURION-LIKE, SHARON-LIKE, PERES-LIKE DECISION TO BOLT TO POLITICAL INDEPENDENCE COULD TURN OUT TO BE HIS BIGGEST MISTAKE - ONE STEP TOO FAR.

BY NIVA LANIR

Avraham (Beiga ) Shohat is a moderate man, but last week he said Ehud Barak had gone below a red line. In security matters, said the former Labor Party politician, Barak is dangerous for Israel. That was, if I am not mistaken, the harshest remark ever made against Barak. The danger, Shohat said, lies in the defense minister's personality:. His lack of moral and political "brakes" could be fateful when a decision is made regarding an attack on Iran.

Barak's Ben-Gurion-like, Sharon-like, Peres-like decision to bolt to political independence could turn out to be his biggest mistake - one step too far. After his failure in the 2001 elections, Barak built his comeback to political life on the distinction the public would make between his un-comradely nature and the fact that he is a leader you could depend on, between the tough politician and the security expert who could be entrusted with the county's defense. These distinctions, accepted by supporters and opponents alike, are now blurred, if not erased altogether.

In May 1998, about a year after he was elected chairman of the Labor Party, Ben Caspit and Ilan Kfir's book, "Ehud Barak, Number One Soldier" was published; it is an approved biography (i.e., in publishing terms, a biography approved by the person in question ). This week I again leafed through the book, packed with exploits, praises and Barak's qualifications, and I paradoxically found an answer to the question of why he provokes so much antagonism.

Who was given more credit than Barak, when he ran for prime minister? Whom did more people rally behind? Whom was given greater glory? The book (whose publication and distribution are a separate story of bypassing election-funding restrictions ) ends with Barak's explanation of how he will win the elections. When the voter goes to the polls, he observes, he will ask himself three questions: Whom does he believe? Whom does he trust to lead the country? And mainly: Who "cares more about me as a citizen and a person, who respects me and feels that he is actually serving me - not that I am serving him"?

Indeed, never in an Israeli election campaign did more people mobilize to such an extent against one person (Benjamin Netanyahu ) and in favor of another (Barak ).

The gist of the story is known. Hope and disappointment figure in it, in a big way. One after the other, hopes were dashed: those of Shlomo Ben-Ami (in the realm of internal security ), Shimon Peres (in regional development ), Uzi Baram, Haim Ramon and Avraham Burg (who left ). As well as the hopes of the old woman lying on a bed in the corridor of the hospital in Nahariya, of Israel's Arabs and of the Palestinians.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and the American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, once praised Barak's abilities, but criticized his behavior before and during the negotiations at Camp David and in Shepherdstown. Almost every conversation with senior officials who worked with him is characterized by strange descriptions of "double bureaus" - an official one and a different, external one. Almost every one of Barak's emissaries, whether to the Palestinians or Arab leaders, met upon his arrival three or four additional envoys, whose missions he was not aware of.

Netanyahu is being crucified for that. Barak, however, apparently thought he would stay high and dry. That worked when he zigzagged to the coalition and "stole" the party's constitution and institutions. But it stopped working when he allowed himself to deceive anyone and everyone who stood in his path, from the High Court of Justice to the chief of staff.

"Let every Hebrew mother know that she has entrusted the fate of her sons to suitable commanders," Ben-Gurion once said. He may not be turning over in his grave, but every Hebrew mother should be very concerned. Not because of the commanders, but because of the man responsible for them.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE DIPLOMATIC ASPECT OF THE GAS

THE RAGING PUBLIC DEBATE ABOUT THE LEVEL OF ROYALTIES AND TAXES THAT THE GAS COMPANIES ARE SUPPOSED TO PAY TO THE STATE DOES NOT PRECLUDE A DISCUSSION OF THE STRATEGIC, DIPLOMATIC AND ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF THE FIND.

BY ODED ERAN

The raging public debate about the level of royalties and taxes that the gas companies are supposed to pay to the state does not preclude a discussion of the strategic, diplomatic and economic aspects of the find.

The tremendous scope, in Israeli terms, of the gas discoveries makes them a strategic resource that Israel can use to promote its relations with the global economic and diplomatic blocs. On the other hand, without agreed arrangements with Israel's Mediterranean neighbors, the strategic resource could undermine regional stability even more.

Israel's clear interest is to arrive at arrangements with its neighbors, like the agreement with Cyprus on demarcating the boundary between the economic zones. Without a peace agreement and given Hezbollah's strong position in Lebanon international mediation will be needed.

One of the main Israeli entrepreneurs in the area of oil exploration has already made an offer to Cyprus to set up a joint facility to process the gas, which will later be transported in tankers to Europe. But there is a preliminary question, the answer to which lies not only with the gas producer, and that is where Israel's economic-political interests dictate that it channel the gas. One option is to export it to the Asian economic giants, led by China and India. That is logical, because their economic power is steadily growing. Export to the east makes it possible to have economic cooperation to exploit the gas and transport it with other producing countries, such as Egypt, and producers in the Arabian peninsula.

The other option is to export the gas westward, to Europe. Along with the potential for friction with neighbors such as Lebanon, the Palestinians and perhaps also Syria, if it discovers gas in its economic-maritime zone, there is great positive potential in cooperating with them in exporting the gas and transporting it to Europe. A joint liquefaction plant shared by all the gas-producing states seems a utopian dream today, but it is certainly possible through a third economic-diplomatic party, such as gas companies and European funding institutions.

As opposed to those who back exporting eastward, supporters of export to Europe will argue that Israel's economic, cultural and scientific future is anchored in Europe. The natural gas exports should be directed there so they can be leveraged to build a balanced, deep and more established relationship with the European Union.

Appended to this question is the issue of Turkey. Already today a network of pipelines to transfer gas from central Asia to Europe is being developed in Turkey. In it lies an alternative to the transport route from Cyprus that can be exploited to change the current relationship between Israel and Turkey.

On the other hand, there will be those who will argue that Turkey's turn eastward is not temporary, and that Israel cannot entrust a tremendous strategic resource to a government as hostile as Ankara.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he spoke about using the royalties for long-term investments, especially in education. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and others are doing the right thing in seeking to study the economic implications of the flow of royalties to the government, and to create the right financial tool for their optimal use.

But the strategic-diplomatic aspect of gas exports deserves more thorough discussion, and the decision cannot be left entirely up to the gas companies.

The place for this discussion on the government level is in the National Security Council, but there is also an interest in a thorough public discussion of these questions, not only the question of the level of taxes and royalties.

 The writer is director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University

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HAARETZ

OPINION

OBAMA'S STATE OF THE CONFLICT ADDRESS

THIS TIME AROUND, A STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS THAT SKIPS OVER THE STATE OF "OUR" CONFLICT WOULD BE SEEN AS AN EVASION, A WAY OF AVOIDING DEALING WITH AN AMERICAN AND INTERNATIONAL INTEREST. SAYS WHO? BARACK OBAMA.

BY AKIVA ELDAR

To judge by U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in January of 2010, the speech he will give tomorrow before a joint session of Congress is likely to focus on the American economy, whose downward spiral is the chief concern of many U.S. citizens. Last year he dedicated no more than nine minutes of his 71-minute speech to foreign affairs - a brief sentence on Iraq and Afghanistan, an even shorter report on talks with Russia aimed at reducing the nuclear stockpile, and a few words on the Iranian threat.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians weren't even hinted at.

This time around, a State of the Union address that skips over the state of "our" conflict would be seen as an evasion, a way of avoiding dealing with an American and international interest. Says who? Barack Obama.

In his 2009 Cairo speech, Obama said the only way to fulfill the aspirations of both Israel and the Palestinians is through "two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security." He said this resolution was not just in the interest of the parties to the conflict but also in "America's interest, and the world's interest."

In September, Obama reiterated that an Israeli-Palestinian peace was a strategic American interest, saying the end of the long-standing Mideast conflict would help the United States deal with Iran and terror organizations.

Conclusion: A failure to see the two-state solution implemented would be a failure of the Obama administration's effort to follow through on an American interest, and could even damage the United States.

Since the conflict is both an American interest and an international one, Obama owes American citizens, and the rest of the world, a report on the progress of final-status negotiations. It would be appropriate for Obama to set clear goals for international diplomacy and lay out an action plan for the coming year. As a service to the president's speechwriter, what follows below is a suggestion for the Israeli-Palestinian section of Obama's speech. (His assistants are advised to hide this draft from Obama's political advisers, who give preference to partisan interests and are troubled by the president's reduced standing in the eyes of the old American Jewish establishment. )

"As you no doubt recall, right after I got to the White House, I appointed our good friend, Sen. George Mitchell, as a special envoy to the Middle East. A short time later I traveled to Cairo, where I proposed opening a new page in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. I committed to act to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israel and to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians for dignity and a state of their own. From Cairo, I traveled to the Buchenwald concentration camp and announced there that the United States will always be committed to Israel's security.

"Instead of dealing with promoting a final-status agreement that would assure Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish country, I found myself mired for a year and a half in negotiations over the expansion of balconies. Even as the National Security Council noted the surprising achievements of the Palestinian Authority's security services, our consulate in Jerusalem reported an unprecedented rate of construction in the settlements. In the three months since the moratorium on settlement construction expired, Israel registered no fewer than 1,760 new building starts over the Green Line.

"You've surely read in the papers about new plans to further entrench the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. Let me remind you that this isn't a partisan issue; in the road map peace plan suggested by President Bush seven years ago, Israel pledged to completely freeze construction in the settlements and dismantle outposts built in contravention of its own laws.

"In response to a request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we convinced Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to defer, for the time being, the discussion on the difficult core issues surrounding the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. Sen. Mitchell received the Palestinians' proposed map of permanent borders that is based on the 1967 lines and entails the exchange of territory. Abbas also presented us with proposed security arrangements, including the deployment of NATO forces in territory that Israel would evacuate.

"Not only has the Israeli government vehemently refused to present its own plan for a final-status arrangement, but Netanyahu's envoy refused to physically accept the Palestinian proposal.

"In the coming months, we will make a supreme effort to rescue the peace process. If there is no substantial change in Israel's position, the United States will recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, this coming September. You all know that this is in America's interest."

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

WHO NEEDS THE TURKEL COMMITTEE?

THE PANEL HAS TWO HIDDEN GOALS: TO DETER MINISTERS FROM PROPOSING UNACCEPTABLE CANDIDATES, AND TO "IMMUNIZE" APPOINTMENTS AGAINST HIGH COURT PETITIONS.

BY AMIR OREN

The complications involved in the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant show how nonessential is the advisory committee on senior appointments, whose decisions are approved either by the cabinet (in the case of the chief of staff, police commissioner, Israel Prisons Service commissioner, Bank of Israel governor and deputy governor ) or by the prime minister (heads of the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad ).

In the current phase of the Galant affair, the committee consists of retired Justice Jacob Turkel, Moshe Nissim, Gila Finkelstein and Shmuel Hollander; the latter's membership actually expired, however, when he ended his term as civil service commissioner.

The Turkel panel was negligent in its declared purpose: preventing an appointment that would be problematic in terms of the candidate's integrity, or because of his relationship to the minister who proposed him. The committee did something that should not have been done (expressed a learned opinion about Galant's professional achievements ), and did not do what should have been done (scrutinized him in terms of probity ). It only needed to meet twice on two days, at which time it did not challenge the four witnesses it called - Galant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and outgoing Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi - but rather echoed their statements.

The term "rubber stamp" is not proper here, because it is an insult to the rubber.

The senior appointments committee, which was conceived in 1997 as a result of the lessons learned from Netanyahu's failure to appoint an attorney general, does not often reject candidates. Indeed, it seems never to have reached that point, although it came very close in 2007 when it persuaded Yaakov Ganot to withdraw his candidacy for police commissioner.

The panel has two hidden goals: to deter ministers from proposing unacceptable candidates, and to "immunize" appointments against High Court petitions. The latter goal derives from the fact that the committee's chairman (Gabriel Bach and then Turkel ) is a former High Court member, and also from the fact that, if the attorney general is called upon to defend an appointment before the High Court, he can use the committee's deliberations to prove its consideration and reasonableness.

The Turkel committee had no team of aides or tools to summon witnesses or examine documents. It did not warn Barak against choosing Galant, by having him first thoroughly check the candidate's personal background - as opposed to his military record. Barak could have asked the Defense Ministry's security department to conduct such a probe (which would also have looked into other declared candidates for chief of staff ). Because of negligence, the strengthening of the appointment in light of High Court petitions failed. The justices have presented the attorney general with sharp questions and sent him to prepare for a second round.

Without a decision to instruct the police to open a criminal investigation (against Galant, other army officers or officials in the Israel Lands Administration ), Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also has had no means to summon witnesses. An old-new player then entered the field to his surprise - a pleasant surprise in his case: the State Comptroller's Office. The department in that office that deals with administration and the Civil Service Commission has amassed a great deal of material. The head of that department, Benny Goldman, is known to be very determined and focused in his task, and he sometimes clashed with Hollander, among others.

In September, when the petition was submitted to the High Court, Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss volunteered to bring the attorney general some material about Galant. The comptroller then ceased dealing with the matter, at least as far as Weinstein knew.

But last week something in that material (shocking contradictions - or maybe false information that was uncovered? ) attracted the attention of Lindenstrauss' senior adviser, attorney Arie Roter. When the latter was legal counsel for the Shin Bet security service, he maintained a close relationship with the High Court petitions department of the State Prosecutor's Office. The chain reaction of Roter's approach to the High Court petitions department thus brought about the convergence of the separate trajectories taken by the comptroller and the attorney general.

That is the background to Galant's hearing yesterday before Lindenstrauss, and the creative use of the comptroller's powers to collect findings the attorney general needs to prepare his response to the High Court.

The Turkel committee should be abolished and its powers given to the state comptroller, whose team is skilled and experienced. The comptroller's report to the Knesset State Control Committee will be useful to effect greater monitoring of the puppet government which, in blind obedience, voted for Barak's recommendation, to which the Turkel panel agreed.

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

EDITORIAL

A NEW CHANCE FOR MR. OBAMA

President Obama unveiled a promising new theme on Friday when he toured a factory in Schenectady, N.Y., and began talking about the desperate need to foster competitiveness and innovation in the pursuit of American jobs. The real test of his commitment to that cause in the second half of his term will come on Tuesday in his State of the Union address. He will have to make his case in the face of a newly strengthened and shrill Republican Party, determined to dismantle government's most fundamental role in fighting the recession.

A stunning glimpse of that recalcitrance was revealed last week when a group representing two-thirds of House Republicans proposed cutting $2.5 trillion from discretionary federal spending over the next decade, in ways that would only make joblessness far worse. For the first time, party lawmakers showed just where their radical cuts would be, and it was immediately clear that they would throw thousands of federal, state and private employees out of work.

That kind of extremism gives the president a renewed opportunity to delineate forcefully the contrast with his own plans, and the largely unheralded accomplishments of his first two years.

The top of his agenda should be explaining to the public why job creation and growth are more important than short-term spending cuts, and why those two paths are incompatible. Now is the time for a full-throated statement about the need for federal investment in infrastructure, education and state aid. He should capitalize on his new team of business-oriented advisers to explain which industries he believes will provide the jobs, and show what he is prepared to do to foster that growth.

Clearly, though, a plan for long-term deficit reduction is vital to economic security. Mr. Obama has a chance to make clear how he plans to build in the years to come on cuts he has already proposed. But he cannot be drawn into the Republican game of choosing from a menu of ill-advised quick fixes. This is not an area where the difference can be split, or a few pre-emptive reductions can palliate the hunger on the right.

There is no point in even bringing up Social Security outside of a long-term and comprehensive budget debate. A moment for negotiation on the near-term budget will arrive, but it does not have to begin with sacrificial offerings from the podium. Mr. Obama is expected to propose a restructured tax code, but that important goal can only be reached in the context of raising more revenue to close chronic deficits.

The president may be able to find some rare common ground with Republicans on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now known as No Child Left Behind). Any new act will undoubtedly provide more flexibility for states and local districts to meet federal standards, but must maintain its commitment to pursuing equity for minority schools, along with a tough measurement system for teachers and schools.

We hope Mr. Obama dares to offer solutions on immigration, standing on the side of assimilation and earned citizenship. On the environment, he must stand firm against a coming Republican attack on the Clean Air Act and its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants like smog, soot and mercury.

Overseas, the speech should explain why Afghanistan, alarmingly unstable after a decade of war, is important to American security and how he intends to reach a minimally acceptable outcome. He also needs to address his plans for forging better cooperation with Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are based.

Beyond the usual laundry list, however, the president will have to balance inspiration — the kind Americans saw in abundance in his Tucson remarks — with feisty confidence in his fundamental principles. The midterm election showed how strongly voters hungered for lost leadership on the economy. Mr. Obama has it within him to stand up to the forces of governmental destruction and begin restoring confidence in his leadership.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

AN EVOLVING COURT

During oral argument about Montana v. Wyoming this month, the Supreme Court was doing something rare: it was in session as a trial court and its task was to decide how to divvy up water from tributaries to the Yellowstone River.

The Constitution gives the court "original jurisdiction" in cases "affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party," as in the water case. These cases have a musty aura, but the opposite is true. They are an example of how the court's understanding of the Constitution is persistently evolving, with few paying any attention.

The case of Marbury v. Madison arose on the original docket. Chief Justice John Marshall declared there that Congress couldn't enlarge or reduce the court's original jurisdiction. For 200 years, however, Congress has basically reduced it, giving lower courts authority to hear suits in nearly all of these areas.

The Supreme Court has not complained, but it has retained exclusive authority to resolve what it has called "delicate and grave" disputes between states. Even in those matters, though, the court frequently rejects cases on the fuzzy grounds that they aren't "appropriate."

The salient reason for this retreat is the mismatch between what the court is equipped to do and what original cases require. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was blunt about saying the court "cannot sit to receive evidence or conduct trials." Despite that, the court continues to do what it has since 1791: it relies on delegates known as special masters to collect evidence and recommend how the court should rule.

The issue in Montana v. Wyoming is about how to interpret the 60-year-old Yellowstone River Compact among Montana (downstream), Wyoming (upstream) and North Dakota (not involved in the case).

Montana says the compact guarantees it enough water to meet the needs of users with rights as of 1950. Wyoming says the compact allows it to take the same amount of water it did then, as long as users put it to the same use — even if better technology allows the state to make better use of the water so less flows back to the river and is available for Montana.

The special master, Barton Thompson Jr., a Stanford law professor, agrees with Wyoming, and his view makes good sense. The compact sets the amount of water that can be diverted, not consumed. As long as the water Wyoming takes isn't wasted, it's that state's to use. At the hearing, some justices seemed taken aback by the either-or choice. Justice Stephen Breyer asked, "There's no way to read this contract — this compact — so it's share and share alike?" Still, a majority of the justices are likely to agree with Professor Thompson.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

REFORM AND THE TEACHERS' UNIONS

Education officials across the country are increasingly focused on the two critical reform tasks: developing more effective teacher evaluation systems and speeding up the glacial pace of disciplinary hearings for teachers charged with misconduct. The American Federation of Teachers, the country's second-largest teachers' union, has wisely chosen to work with state legislatures and local school districts to help shape these new systems rather than try to block them.

Last week the union's president, Randi Weingarten, released a plan for speeding up disciplinary hearings that is a good starting point for more discussion. Developed by Kenneth Feinberg, the arbitration specialist, the plan calls for strictly limiting the process — from complaint to resolution — to 100 days. Right now a hearing can drag on for months or years, with the attendant stiff legal fees.

In many districts, teachers can now be investigated for vaguely worded charges like "moral turpitude" or "conduct unbecoming" that are often difficult to define and difficult to prosecute or defend against. The plan would give teachers and school systems more protection by establishing a clear set of charges — such as improper use of force, sexual abuse or refusal to obey rules — along with a strict set of deadlines for submissions of evidence and arguments.

The unions and state legislatures also need to press forward on developing evaluation systems that take student performance into account and that allow school systems to reward excellent teaching while steering ineffective teachers out of the field.

Ms. Weingarten has shown strong leadership in this area, and is well ahead of the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union. But many members of her union are resistant to the idea of accountability systems, which they say can be far too easily manipulated.

The states are already charging ahead in this area. If the unions want to have input, they need to quickly come up with a legitimate proposal of their own.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

TIME BANDITRY

Time zones are laid out longitudinally and, with a few exceptions, the clock changes by an hour for every 15 degrees you move east or west. But the length of the day — the time the sun spends above the horizon — varies by latitude and the farther north you go in winter, the less daylight there is. That explains why many Scots are upset with a bill making its way through Parliament that could institute permanent daylight saving time throughout all of Britain.

The bill proposes an "analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year." The thought behind it is that the country might be better off, in overall mood and energy use, with lighter afternoons and darker mornings. All well and good in London, argue the Scots. But in the north of Scotland — only a few degrees south of the Arctic Circle — that change could mean winter sunrises as late as 10 a.m., a dismal prospect.

Scotland and England will surely settle this difference as peaceably as they've settled most of their differences since the 14th century. But this dispute is a reminder of a world we've nearly forgotten, before the spread of railways in the late 19th century, the adoption of daylight saving time in the early 20th century, and well before the 1999 invention of the cesium clock that now keeps official time.

Time was utterly local once. Noon came when the sun was at its meridian, towns a few dozen miles apart kept different times, and most people had no need to reckon with intervals as short as a minute. In our split-second, coordinated world, the only place time is still kept that old-fashioned way is in all the rest of nature.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

REFORMING THE REFORM

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

Last week, the Republican Party proved that it has the votes to repeal health care reform — but only in the House of Representatives. (Unfortunately for conservatives, the Senate and the White House also have a say in the matter.) The House vote on Wednesday may be remembered as a first step toward actual repeal, or as a futile exercise in fist-shaking. It all depends on whether Republicans can find a strategy for undoing the health care legislation that doesn't involve an immediate frontal assault.

One option is for Congressional Republicans to hold hearings, stage more symbolic votes, and hope that the 2012 election delivers them a Senate majority, a new occupant in the White House and a chance at full repeal. But of course there's no guarantee that Obama will be defeated — and even if he is, by 2013 health care reform may be more entrenched, and the Democratic Party more united than ever in its determination to defend it. (The filibuster, lately a Republican weapon, could become the means by which supporters of Obamacare ensure that it endures.)

Another option would be to attack the law piecemeal by going after its least popular provisions — the new taxes, the Medicare cuts and the fine for Americans who don't buy insurance. This strategy might be good short-term politics but would do little to lay the groundwork for an actual conservative alternative. Worse, in the unlikely event that the piecemeal attacks succeeded, Obamacare would be transformed from a notionally deficit-neutral bill into a straightforward budget-buster. And heightening a program's contradictions in the hopes that it falls apart is an approach better suited to Marxists than conservatives.

What Republicans need is a different kind of incremental approach, one that uses the strongest conservative critiques of the health care bill as a framework for a reform of the reform. If Obama is defeated in 2012, this framework could easily be adapted into a full scale repeal-and-replace effort. But in the event that he's re-elected, it would offer a Republican Congress a blueprint for improving the law without doing away with it entirely.

Here are three such conservative critiques: first, that Obamacare entrenches the very model of health care financingthat drove costs sky-high to begin with — a model in which every insurance plan has to be comprehensive, every significant payment is made by a third party, and consumers have no idea what their treatments actually cost.

Second, the new subsidies for the uninsured are so expansive that they may encourage employers to stop offering insurance altogether, offloading their employees into the new health care exchanges and swiftly overwhelming the federal budget.

Third, the mandate to buy health insurance infringes on American liberties: never before has Washington required that private citizens purchase a particular product from a particular set of private companies.

To address the first problem, Republicans should work to deregulate the new health care exchanges, so that high-deductible, catastrophic coverage can be purchased as easily as comprehensive plans. To address the second, they should propose capping the subsidies for the uninsured, so that they don't dramatically exceed the value of the existing tax subsidy for employer-provided insurance.

The mandate is a harder puzzle, since it works in tandem with the requirement — popular enough to have many Republican supporters — that insurers cease denying coverage to customers with pre-existing conditions. If you repealed the mandate without repealing that requirement, people could simply wait until they were sick to buy insurance, driving everyone's prices up.

But Republicans could propose dealing with the same problem in a less coercive way. One alternative would establish limited enrollment periods (every two years, for instance) when people with pre-existing conditions could buy into the new exchanges without being denied coverage. Anyone who failed to take advantage wouldn't be able to get coverage for a pre-existing condition until the next enrollment period arrived. This would reduce the incentive to game the system, without directly penalizing Americans who decline to buy insurance.

None of these changes would be as sweeping and satisfying as repealing the health care bill outright. And many conservatives are loath to send President Obama anything that he might actually sign, lest he use the cover of bipartisanship to evade responsibility for health care reform's unpopularity.

But in the unlikely event that the president did embrace a reform of the reform, conservatives would have an opportunity to transform Obamacare from within. With the right changes, the new health care law could expand access to insurance in a more cost-effective, less coercive and more market-oriented way. Which is to say, it could become the kind of reform that conservatives claim to have been looking for all along.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE COMPETITION MYTH

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

Meet the new buzzword, same as the old buzzword. In advance of the State of the Union, President Obama has telegraphed his main theme: competitiveness. The President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board has been renamed the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. And in his Saturday radio address, the president declared that "We can out-compete any other nation on Earth."

This may be smart politics. Arguably, Mr. Obama has enlisted an old cliché on behalf of a good cause, as a way to sell a much-needed increase in public investment to a public thoroughly indoctrinated in the view that government spending is a bad thing.

But let's not kid ourselves: talking about "competitiveness" as a goal is fundamentally misleading. At best, it's a misdiagnosis of our problems. At worst, it could lead to policies based on the false idea that what's good for corporations is good for America.

About that misdiagnosis: What sense does it make to view our current woes as stemming from lack of competitiveness?

It's true that we'd have more jobs if we exported more and imported less. But the same is true of Europe and Japan, which also have depressed economies. And we can't all export more while importing less, unless we can find another planet to sell to. Yes, we could demand that China shrink its trade surplus — but if confronting China is what Mr. Obama is proposing, he should say that plainly.

Furthermore, while America is running a trade deficit, this deficit is smaller than it was before the Great Recession began. It would help if we could make it smaller still. But ultimately, we're in a mess because we had a financial crisis, not because American companies have lost their ability to compete with foreign rivals.

But isn't it at least somewhat useful to think of our nation as if it were America Inc., competing in the global marketplace? No.

Consider: A corporate leader who increases profits by slashing his work force is thought to be successful. Well, that's more or less what has happened in America recently: employment is way down, but profits are hitting new records. Who, exactly, considers this economic success?

Still, you might say that talk of competitiveness helps Mr. Obama quiet claims that he's anti-business. That's fine, as long as he realizes that the interests of nominally "American" corporations and the interests of the nation, which were never the same, are now less aligned than ever before.

Take the case of General Electric, whose chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, has just been appointed to head that renamed advisory board. I have nothing against either G.E. or Mr. Immelt. But with fewer than half its workers based in the United States and less than half its revenues coming from U.S. operations, G.E.'s fortunes have very little to do with U.S. prosperity.

By the way, some have praised Mr. Immelt's appointment on the grounds that at least he represents a company that actually makes things, rather than being yet another financial wheeler-dealer. Sorry to burst this bubble, but these days G.E. derives more revenue from its financial operations than it does from manufacturing — indeed, GE Capital, which received a government guarantee for its debt, was a major beneficiary of the Wall Street bailout.

So what does the administration's embrace of the rhetoric of competitiveness mean for economic policy?

The favorable interpretation, as I said, is that it's just packaging for an economic strategy centered on public investment, investment that's actually about creating jobs now while promoting longer-term growth. The unfavorable interpretation is that Mr. Obama and his advisers really believe that the economy is ailing because they've been too tough on business, and that what America needs now is corporate tax cuts and across-the-board deregulation.

My guess is that we're mainly talking about packaging here. And if the president does propose a serious increase in spending on infrastructure and education, I'll be pleased.

But even if he proposes good policies, the fact that Mr. Obama feels the need to wrap these policies in bad metaphors is a sad commentary on the state of our discourse.

The financial crisis of 2008 was a teachable moment, an object lesson in what can go wrong if you trust a market economy to regulate itself. Nor should we forget that highly regulated economies, like Germany, did a much better job than we did at sustaining employment after the crisis hit. For whatever reason, however, the teachable moment came and went with nothing learned.

Mr. Obama himself may do all right: his approval rating is up, the economy is showing signs of life, and his chances of re-election look pretty good. But the ideology that brought economic disaster in 2008 is back on top — and seems likely to stay there until it brings disaster again.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

BUILD A BIGGER HOUSE

BY DALTON CONLEY AND JACQUELINE STEVENS

WITH the Senate preparing to debate filibuster reform, now is a good time to consider a similarly daunting challenge to democratic representation in the House: its size. It's been far too long since the House expanded to keep up with population growth and, as a result, it has lost touch with the public and been overtaken by special interests.

Indeed, the lower chamber of Congress has had the same number of members for so long that many Americans assume that its 435 seats are constitutionally mandated.

But that's wrong: while the founders wanted to limit the size of the Senate, they intended the House to expand based on population growth. Instead of setting an absolute number, the Constitution merely limits the ratio of members to population. "The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000," the founders wrote. They were concerned, in other words, about having too many representatives, not too few.

When the House met in 1787 it had 65 members, one for every 60,000 inhabitants (including slaves as three-fifths of a person). For well over a century, after each census Congress would pass a law increasing the size of the House.

But after the 1910 census, when the House grew from 391 members to 433 (two more were added later when Arizona and New Mexico became states), the growth stopped. That's because the 1920 census indicated that the majority of Americans were concentrating in cities, and nativists, worried about of the power of "foreigners," blocked efforts to give them more representatives.

By the time the next decade rolled around, members found themselves reluctant to dilute their votes, and the issue was never seriously considered again.

The result is that Americans today are numerically the worst-represented group of citizens in the country's history. The average House member speaks for about 700,000 Americans. In contrast, in 1913 he represented roughly 200,000, a ratio that today would mean a House with 1,500 members — or 5,000 if we match the ratio the founders awarded themselves.

This disparity increases the influence of lobbyists and special interests: the more constituents one has, the easier it is for money to outshine individual voices. And it means that representatives have a harder time connecting with the people back in their districts.

What's needed, then, is a significant increase in the size of the House by expanding the number, and shrinking the size, of districts. Doing so would make campaigns cheaper, the political value of donations lower and the importance of local mobilizing much greater.

Smaller districts would also end the two-party deadlock. Orange County, Calif., might elect a Libertarian, while Cambridge, Mass., might pick a candidate from the Green Party.

Moreover, with additional House members we'd likely see more citizen-legislators and fewer lifers. In places like New York or Chicago, we would cross at least one Congressional district just walking a few blocks to the grocery store. Our representatives would be our neighbors, people who better understood the lives and concerns of average Americans.

More districts would likewise mean more precision in distributing them equitably, especially in low-population states. Today the lone Wyoming representative covers about 500,000 people, while her lone counterpart in Delaware reports to 900,000.

The increase would also mean more elected officials working on the country's business, reducing the reliance on unaccountable staffers. Most of the House's work is through committees, overseeing and checking government agencies.

With more people in Congress, House committee members could see to this critical business themselves — and therefore be more influential, since a phone call from an actual member is a lot more effective than a request from the committee staff.

True, more members means more agendas, legislation and debates. But Internet technology already provides effective low-cost management solutions, from Google Documents to streaming interactive video to online voting.

The biggest obstacle is Congress itself. Such a change would require the noble act — routine before World War I but unheard of since — of representatives voting to diminish their own relative power.

So if such reform is to happen, it will have to be driven by grassroots movements. Luckily, we are living in just such a moment: the one thing Move On and the Tea Party can agree on is that the Washington status quo needs to change. So far this year, that has meant shrinking government. But in this case, the best solution might just be to make government — or at least the House of Representatives — bigger.

Dalton Conley is a professor of sociology, medicine and public policy at New York University and the author of "Elsewhere, U.S.A." Jacqueline Stevens is a professor of political science at Northwestern and the author of "States Without Nations: Citizenship for Mortals."

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

MY FELLOW AMERICANS ... ' (IF WE WROTE THE STATE OF THE UNION)

 

On Tuesday night, President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address. Here's a (somewhat condensed) version of the speech we would load into the teleprompter:

"Mr. Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, fellow Americans.

First, let me say how nice it is to see Democrats and Republicans sitting together for a change. There's no reason the United States Congress should be as cliquish as a high school cafeteria. And for those of you who weren't able to line up a 'date' with a member of the other party, it's not too early to ask for next year!

(Pause for laughter)

When we gathered here last year, I reviewed our administration's efforts to stabilize an economy in free fall. Tonight we could start the same way, highlighting the accomplishments of the past 12 months. These, of course, include health care reform, new rules for Wall Street, an arms treaty with Russia, an end to the "don't ask don't tell" policy toward gays in the military, and a bipartisan accord to keep taxes low and extend aid to the unemployed.

We could spend quite a bit of time revisiting all of this. But with so many pressing needs, let's skip the self-congratulations. Let's also skip the laundry list of priorities, small-bore programs and nods to special interests that have typified these speeches. If you want to know what I propose for border enforcement or space exploration, check out my budget proposal next month. And while our foreign policy challenges are important and numerous, I will address them in other forums.

Rather, let's spend tonight on straight talk about the problem that most threatens the state of our Union: a spiraling national debt that imperils the future of every American. If we are to prevail — and we will — we must act in the spirit of our forebears, whose sacrifices bequeathed us this extraordinary nation. We must, as they did, face the threat squarely, and then — together — join in defeating it.

The hard truth is that we have been living beyond our means, and at the expense of our children. Our debt stands today at $14 trillion. That is $127,000 per taxpayer, and it's growing rapidly. Two leading credit rating agencies recently warned they might have to downgrade U.S. Treasury debt. That would mean higher interest rates on government borrowing. Not long after that would come a full-blown debt crisis. Interests rates for businesses and home buyers would skyrocket. Jobs would disappear. The world economy would be thrown into crisis.

Both parties share blame for this looming disaster. But this is not a time for finger-pointing. This is a time for dramatic action.

Two months ago, a bipartisan commission that I created produced an outstanding assessment of what is needed. It identified spending cuts throughout government, and combined them with a sensible plan to simplify taxes and raise revenue. Tonight, I am embracing the commission's good work and making it our road map forward.

Let's start with taxes. We need to dramatically simplify the tax code for both business and individuals.

Our corporate tax code combines some of the highest rates in the world with a dizzying array of loopholes. By cutting rates and closing loopholes, we will help companies focus on growing their businesses and creating new jobs, rather than on outsmarting the IRS or lobbying Congress for special favors.

The code for individuals, I needn't remind you, is a bewildering mess. The standard 1040 form now comes with an instruction booklet that is 172 pages long. Each year, Americans spend 6.1 billion hours preparing their taxes. That is the equivalent of 3 million people working full time. By simplifying the code, we can free people to work on more productive pursuits — growing the economy, generating income and helping to close the deficit.

Tax changes will take care of one-fourth of the long-term deficit problem. The other three-quarters will come from controlling spending.

My budget will call for more than a half a trillion dollars in discretionary spending cuts over the next five years. These will come in defense and non-defense, in nearly every department and agency in the government. They will cause considerable heartburn for many in this room ... and they will be the easy part.

The truth is, these types of cuts merely buy us time to deal with the real crisis — the exploding growth in benefits tied to retirement and health care. Here's how big the problem is: In 20 to 25 years, we could eliminate the entire federal government — except for those parts that pay benefits and service the national debt — and still have a deficit!

Social Security is on an unsustainable path for the simple reason that people are living longer, and drawing more benefits. To ensure that this vital program is there for our children, we must act again in the spirit of the 1983 compromise, signed by President Reagan, that saved the program from insolvency. The centerpiece of the compromise was a gradual increase in the retirement age, from 65 to 67, for able-bodied workers. Tonight I propose that we continue the gradual increase to 69 for people just entering the workforce.

(See whether anyone applauds)

Now for the truly hard part — exploding health care costs. Over the next 10 years, the federal government will spend $14 trillion on health care. Some $4 trillion of this will be above and beyond current spending levels. Left unaddressed, these increases will overwhelm our efforts to cut spending elsewhere in the budget.

Last year's reform measure — which, by the way, was not a government takeover — provided universal access to health coverage but left for another day actions needed to restrain costs.

That day is here. So tonight, I appeal to all Americans to acknowledge that the tough work is still ahead of usand will — regardless of the choices we make — require sacrifice from all of us. To this end, I would like to commend Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who'll be delivering the Republican response when I'm done speaking. He has bravely proposed legislation that would end the unlimited tax breaks for private insurance, encourage consumer behavior among patients and tries to control Medicare spending.

I don't agree with everything in his plan. Far from it. I know that many of you feel the same way. But his ideas constitute the type of strong medicine that is required. Over the coming months, I will work to craft a health care cost reduction plan that incorporates the best ideas from all sides.

So there you have it. This might seem like a hefty plate of spinach. But government has been living beyond its means for too long. Getting our financial house in order is actually a recipe for economic resurgence. If we succeed, we will prosper as money is freed for wage increases and investment. We will hand our children a better life than the one we inherited. We will ensure our competitiveness in today's global economy. Let's turn tonight's bipartisan seating arrangement into a bipartisan record of accomplishment for the American people!

Thank you. And good night. And may God Bless the United States of America."

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OBAMA: REAGAN SAW THAT 'WE ARE ALL PATRIOTS'

BY BARACK OBAMA

 

Ronald Wilson Reagan was a believer. As a husband, a father, an entertainer, a governor and a president, he recognized that each of us has the power — as individuals and as a nation — to shape our own destiny. He had faith in the American promise; in the importance of reaffirming values like hard work and personal responsibility; and in his own unique ability to inspire others to greatness.

No matter what political disagreements you may have had with President Reagan— and I certainly had my share — there is no denying his leadership in the world, or his gift for communicating his vision for America.

President Reagan recognized the American people's hunger for accountability and change — putting our nation on a bold new path toward both. And although he knew that conflicts between parties and political adversaries were inevitable, he also knew that they would never be strong enough to break the ties that bind us together. He understood that while we may see the world differently and hold different opinions about what's best for our country, the fact remains that we are all patriots who put the welfare of our fellow citizens above all else.

It was a philosophy that President Reagan took to heart — famously saying that he and Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill, with whom he sparred constantly, could be friends after 6 o'clock. It's what led him to compromise on issues as contentious as Social Security and tax cuts. And it's what allowed him to work with leaders of all political persuasions to advance the cause of freedom, democracy and security around the world, including reducing nuclear weapons and imagining a world, ultimately, without nuclear weapons.

But perhaps even more important than any single accomplishment was the sense of confidence and optimism President Reagan never failed to communicate to the American people. It was a spirit that transcended the most heated political arguments, and one that called each of us to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. At a time when our nation was going through an extremely difficult period, with economic hardship at home and very real threats beyond our borders, it was this positive outlook, this sense of pride, that the American people needed more than anything.

When the future looked darkest and the way ahead seemed uncertain, President Reagan understood both the hardships we faced and the hopes we held for the future. He understood that it is always "Morning in America." That was his gift, and we remain forever grateful.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

BOEHNER: REAGAN SHAPED OUR TIMES

BY JOHN BOEHNER

 

What would President Reagan think about all the commotion surrounding his 100th birthday? Well, first he'd probably send his regrets for being unable to attend.

 

Washington is not a place where cheerfulness tends to stand up over time, but for Ronald Reagan, it did. He was always quick with a smile or a self-deprecating joke. Reagan didn't view his affable nature as a respite from the daunting challenges the nation faced on his watch. Instead, he saw optimism as an essential component of his ability to lead the country. It helped him connect with the people he served and the leaders he served with — including both Democrats and Republicans. This is one reason why today's elected leaders aspire to Reagan's example, and must accept being measured against him.

For me, Reagan's presidency was, from its very first moments, a call to arms. Just after taking the oath of office, Reagan stood in the center of our nation's capital city and declared, "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." Those words struck a chord with small-town, small-business people like me who were fed up with intrusive government and indecisive leadership. The promise of a smaller, less costly and more accountable government was renewed. Pro-growth policies to cut taxes and reduce the size and scope of government were set in motion.

President Reagan's commitment to economic and human freedom resonated at home and abroad. He formed a partnership with Margaret Thatcher, echoed the free world's awe for Pope John Paul II and encouraged Lech Walesa and other freedom fighters. Unafraid to call the Soviet Union the "evil empire" that it was, he took the fight against communism to the foot of the Berlin Wall. He rejected the moral relativism of his day that was blind to the distinction between tyranny and freedom, seeing America as a city on a hill, set apart by a God who intended us to be free. In so many ways, Reagan did not succumb to the times — he shaped them.

There's one other thing President Reagan would surely be thinking today: that none of this would be possible without the love of his life, Nancy. I was honored to stand at the former first lady's side two years ago during the unveiling of a statue of President Reagan in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. That 7-foot likeness contains timbers from the Berlin Wall and bears one of the Great Communicator's great lines: "America's best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead."

Ronald Reagan's legacy is intact, and I'm confident it will be for a long while. If you study the man and his times, you'll see the rhythm of life as described by Shakespeare: "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. … And one man in his time plays many parts."

Ronald Reagan played his parts brilliantly, and we are right to pause today for another well-deserved standing ovation.

John Boehner is the current speaker of the House of Representatives.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

MCCAIN: REAGAN HAD 'UNSHAKABLE FAITH' IN AMERICA

BY JOHN MCCAIN

 

When I was a prisoner of war, the Vietnamese went to great lengths to restrict the news from home to the statements and activities of prominent opponents to the war. They wanted us to believe that America had forgotten us. They never mentioned Ronald Reagan to us, or played his speeches over the camp loudspeakers. No matter. We knew about him. New additions to our ranks told us how the governor and Mrs. Reagan were committed to our liberation and our cause.

When we came home, we were eager to meet the Reagans to thank them for their concern. But more than gratitude drew us to them. We were drawn to them because they were among the few prominent Americans who did not subscribe to the then-fashionable notion that America had entered her inevitable decline.

We came home to a country that had lost a war and the best sense of itself; a country beset by social and economic problems. Assassinations, riots, scandals, contempt for political, religious and educational institutions gave the appearance that we had become a dysfunctional society. Patriotism was sneered at, the military scorned. And the world anticipated the collapse of our global influence. The great, robust, confident Republic that had given its name to the last century seemed exhausted.

Ronald Reagan believed differently. He possessed an unshakable faith in America's greatness, past and future, that proved more durable than the prevailing political sentiments of the time. And his confidence was a tonic to men who had come home eager to put the war behind us and for the country to do likewise.

Our country has a long and honorable history. A lost war or any other calamity should not destroy our confidence or weaken our purpose. We were a good country before Vietnam, and we are a good country after Vietnam. In all of history, you cannot find a better one. Of that, Ronald Reagan was supremely confident, and he became president to prove it.

His was a faith that shouted at tyrants to "tear down this wall." Such faith, such patriotism requires a great deal of love to profess. And I will always revere him for it.

When walls were all I had for a world, I learned about a man whose love of freedom gave me hope in a desolate place. His faith honored us, as it honored all Americans, as it honored all freedom-loving people. Let us honor his memory by holding his faith as our own, and let us, too, tear down walls to freedom. That is what Americans do when they believe in themselves.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona was the 2008 Republican presidential nominee.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

PALIN: 'AMERICA'S LIFEGUARD'

BY SARAH PALIN

 

I had the privilege of coming of age during the era of Ronald Reagan. I like to think of him as America's lifeguard. As a teenager, Ronald Reagan saved 77 lives as a lifeguard on the Rock River, which ran through his hometown of Dixon, Ill. The day he was inaugurated in 1981, a local radio announcer famously declared, "The Rock River flows for you tonight, Mr. President."

 

The image of the lifeguard seems to represent what Reagan was to America and to the freedom-loving people of the world. He lifted our country up at a time when we were in the depths of economic, cultural and spiritual malaise. We were told that we must accept that the era of American greatness was over; but with his optimism and common sense, President Reagan held up a mirror to the American soul to remind us of our exceptionalism.

 

Reagan showed us that despite a deep recession, there could still be morning in America. He could speak to the economic troubles facing ordinary Americans because he understood what it was like to live through a Great Depression where families scraped to get by. And yet, he saw us recover from our Great Depression, and under his leadership we experienced the greatest peacetime economic boom in our history. He could speak to our fears that our years as a superpower were over, because he understood what it was like to see America at war and really fear that we might lose. And yet, he saw us win two world wars, and under his leadership we won the Cold War without firing a single shot. Reagan's belief in American greatness was rooted in historic fact, not blind optimism. He was a sunny optimist because he knew that our best days are yet to come.

Today, when we hear the worry in the voices of Americans wondering where the jobs will be for our children and grandchildren and wondering if the world will be safe and prosperous in the years to come, we should remember Reagan's faith in our inherent heroism and greatness. When we see people around the globe looking to the White House for leadership, we should remember Reagan's steel spine. He understood America's purpose in this world and what we need to do to secure liberty. As Margaret Thatcher said of him, "He sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism." He sought those things and he succeeded.

This year, as we celebrate the centennial of Reagan's birth, let's remember the lifeguard from the Rock River who rescued us with his optimism and common sense. We need more lifeguards like him.

Sarah Palin was the governor of Alaska and the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

ROMNEY: A LEGACY OF OPTIMISM, STRENGTH

BY MITT ROMNEY

 

An "amiable dunce" is what Washington super-lawyer Clark Clifford once called President Reagan.

That was the conventional wisdom among liberals back then. But opinions, at least in some important quarters, have shifted. Campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama paid tribute to our 40th president's remarkable achievements. Ronald Reagan, he said, "changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not, that Bill Clinton did not." He put "us on a fundamentally different path."

I agree with President Obama. Ronald Reagan was a transformative president.

America entered the Reagan era as one kind of country and exited it another. His mixture of extraordinary personal and political qualities made it possible. One must begin with his sunny disposition: cheerful conservatism in flesh and blood. The Gipper's irrepressible high spirits tapped into something deeply rooted in the country: optimism, faith in America itself.

Reagan came to occupy the White House in a moment of national crisis, not altogether dissimilar from the one we face today. Abroad, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had brought the Cold War to the boiling point. Islamic radicals in Iran humiliated our country in a 444-day hostage drama.

At home, the misery index — the sum total of unemployment and inflation — had reached a post-war high. Jimmy Carter, shivering in the under-heated White House, was complaining about American "malaise."

Reagan would have none of this. His policies, foreign and domestic, reflected his optimistic spirit. He confronted the Kremlin frontally. He initiated a military buildup that outmatched the USSR, challenged it in Afghanistan, and launched the Strategic Defense Initiative that is now vital to our defense.

Reagan's words were even more significant. He rang the bell of freedom and gave courage to brave souls resisting one of the great tyrannies of modern times — the "evil empire," he was not afraid to call it. Reagan was quick to see what many experts could not: that the Soviet system was faltering. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" is what he boldly demanded during a visit to Berlin. In short order, the wall came tumbling down. The Cold War was over and America had won.

Here at home, Reagan saw a federal government that had become, like a diseased heart, enlarged and sclerotic. Paving a path trod today by the Tea Party, he sharply cut taxes to restore economic growth. He took painful measures to rein in double-digit inflation. He fought to cut federal spending. He sought to restore our Founding Fathers' vision of American greatness and limited government.

Reagan's legacy is very much alive. Only amiable dunces cannot see that.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was a Republican presidential candidate in 2008.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

DONALDSON: MY RESPECT FOR REAGAN ONLY GREW

BY SAM DONALDSON

 

Ronald Reagan's longtime friends said people constantly underestimated this former Hollywood actor, and I must admit that when he came to the presidency, I was one of them.

You see, political reporters come to understand how the system works and what personal traits appear to shape a "player's" ability to work it. Reagan wasted no time working the system.

Shortly after coming to the Oval Office, Reagan summoned reporters to explain how he had asked the Treasury Department to stack up thousand-dollar bills and then multiply the stack by the size of the national debt.

"Sixty-three miles high," the president announced triumphantly. Huh?

And then there was the day that Bob Michel, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, went to meet with Reagan. The president referred to him as "Congressman Michelle." Though Michel was clearly not wearing a dress.

When Reagan's infrequent press conferences would end, his aides would scurry after reporters in an attempt to correct their boss' misstatements: "What he meant to say was 'this.' You understand on 'that' he was speaking metaphorically and knows that what he said was not literally true." But of course.

So it became easy for some to dismiss Reagan, as the late Democratic presidential adviser Clark Clifford did in calling him "an amiable dunce." But having a front-row seat to the Reagan presidency certainly changed how I viewed this nation's Great Communicator, and I came to believe Clifford was only half right. Amiable, yes; dunce, most certainly not.

History will continue to assess his performance, particularly his policies — minorities and women were neglected — and as far as running up the national debt, it was Reagan, not George W. Bush or President Obama, who put us on the upward trajectory. But then, forcing Soviet communism onto what Reagan called "the ash heap of history" wasn't such a bad way to spend the money.

Perhaps, above all, it was his great optimism about America and Americans and the way he carried himself through his eight years that mark his greatness. When Reagan walked into a room, he was unfailingly polite and friendly without any good ol' boy posturing. You knew you were in the presence of the president of the United States.

Yes, I came to respect Reagan's skills as a leader, and despite what many good Republicans believe to this day, I came to like him personally.

Two early actions made me rethink my early skepticism. On March 30, 1981, I was standing 5 feet away from John Hinckley when he shot Reagan and three other people outside the Washington Hilton. From the moment Reagan hitched up his pants as he got out of his limousine at the hospital emergency room — he always wanted to look neat in public, explained aide Michael Deaver— to the moment he left the hospital, he handled the shooting in a heroic manner. In fact, when a reporter asked what he would do when he got back to the White House, he replied matter-of-factly, "Sit down."

Later that year, when the president fired the nation's air traffic controllers for an ill-advised and illegal strike, I understood (as did the Soviets) that he knew how to "work" the country and the system better than most.

Will there be another like Ronald Wilson Reagan? Not in our lifetime. And that's too bad.

Sam Donaldson, now retired from full-time work at ABC News, served as chief White House correspondent for the network during the entire Reagan presidency.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

A 'CHANGE OF HEART' ON DEBT

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.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WOMEN IN COMBAT?

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.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

REP. COHEN'S HANDGUN PERMIT

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.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WELCOME REVERSAL AT VANDERBILT

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.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - 'HALIÇ' IS NEITHER GOLDEN NOR A HORN

Our confidence that the controversy over a planned new bridge spanning the Golden Horn will end with a consensus wrought by reason is not high. The municipality, as we reported in our Weekend newspaper, is proceeding without much regard for any aesthetic sensibilities but its own. On the other side is UNESCO, which may yank Istanbul's heritage status as punishment for a project it says will disrupt the city's historic silhouette. As Istanbul is very much a living, working and fast-evolving city, we are not sure UNESCO sensibilities, frozen like the open-air museums of Venice or Rome, will prove the better alternative.

So we'll sit out the debate and confine our lament to the larger issue that the city has no adequate mechanism for public hearings and citizen debate of any of its urban planning decisions – whether they involve bridges or historic train stations or protection of green space. This is the true problem.

But we have one complaint about the current design, which envisions two 55-meter towers shaped to evoke shiny horns. This is, of course, a nod to the name of the estuary: the "Golden Horn." This might be fine from the narrow perspective of touting the waterway in a few tourist guides. But most of us 12 or so million souls who live in Istanbul are not going to grasp the architectural metaphor. This is because in Turkish the inlet off of the Bosphorus is neither a horn nor golden. It is simply "Haliç," or "The Gulf."

OK, in Greek the name of the waterway indeed is the "Golden Horn" – that's how the English designation was created. Sometimes you'll even see it referred to as "Altın Boynuz," or "Golden Horn" in a nod to the international term. But try telling a cab driver to take you to "Altın Boynuz." He'll ask you if that's a discotheque or a jewelry shop.

Some will accuse us of being crudely nationalistic about the Turkish word for our waterway. We are not. We acknowledge the importance of the many cultures that have shaped the physical legacy on either of its shores: Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Jewish, Roma (or Gypsy if you prefer), Phoenician, Genoan and certainly others. A salute to this in a span linking the two shores is fine by us.

But we are frankly uncomfortable with the notion that we are bowing to an external perception, essentially reinventing our urban fabric against the contours of Michelin Guide perceptions like: "Tourists savor the view of the setting sun which casts a golden hue on its waters – which is believed to give its name to the horn-shaped estuary. Greek mythology says the 'Horn' was formed as Zeus' lover, who was transformed into a heifer, struck the strait in retreat from Zeus' jealous wife."

That's nice, but it does not describe our city or the place where we go to have a beer. Tourism is great, but we believe Istanbul's appeal is precisely the fact that it is not frozen in time for the benefit of attracting tourists. The name in Turkish is "Haliç."

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TALKING TURKEY ON THE CRISIS

EMRE DELİVELİ

emre.deliveli@gmail.com

 

The International Monetary Fund, or IMF, was in town on Friday as part of its own 360° World Tour , thanks to Koç University's Economic Research Forum, or ERF, and the Turkish Industry and Business Association, or TÜSİAD.

Ferhan Salman and Lorenzo Giorgianni have been globetrotting for the past several months, presenting the Fund's new mandate as well as a recent IMF paper titled "How Did Emerging Markets Cope In The Crisis?" Salman's presentation with the same title summarizes that paper's findings on the impact of, recovery from and policy response to the crisis.

Although emerging markets, or EMs, have been affected from the crisis less than other countries, there is quite a bit of variation among EMs themselves. Using the Fund's proprietary vulnerability index, the paper groups together EMs with high, medium and low vulnerability at the onset of the crisis in August 2007.

Not only the stock markets of EMs with low vulnerability fell less during the crisis, these countries' real sectors were also less affected. Compared to the more vulnerable group, they were hit later, and their GDPs contracted less as a result of the crisis.

However, there is a bit of chicken or the egg problem going on here: EMs with stronger fundamentals (the low vulnerability group) were also able to carry out a stronger policy response. EMs with more room for fiscal or monetary accommodation made full use of that liberty to dampen the impact of the crisis.

Sumru Altuğ of ERF and Koç University, during her discussion of the paper after Salman's presentation, went one step further by noting that those EMs with low vulnerability were precisely the ones that were able to enact institutional and structural reforms following deep crises.

She also questioned whether the findings could explain Turkey's record contraction of 12 percent (peak to trough), underlining that Turkey would not emerge as vulnerable from the Fund's methodology. The IMF does not reveal individual country indices, as it would amount to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded movie theater.

But we know that external vulnerability has a 45 percent weight in the overall index, and that two items, ratio of reserves to short term debt & current account deficit and current account deficit as share of GDP together make up half of the external vulnerability sub-index. As I argued before, the Turkish economy does not look strong on these indicators, so I doubt the Fund's model would deem Turkey with low vulnerability in 2007.

Besides, as Altuğ notes as well, Turkey was late to respond to the crisis. The Central Bank started its great easing cycle in November 2008, and the fiscal measures were enacted during the first of half of 2009, when some countries were already starting to emerge from the crisis. But the Fund would argue that the Turkish response was muted precisely because of the country's vulnerabilities.

Altuğ, on the other hand, argues in a recent paper that the main reason behind Turkey's record contraction is the collapse in expectations, which started after the 2007 general elections and accelerated with the global crisis. As a result, private consumption and especially investment expenditures collapsed.

I would opt for a similar explanation after acknowledging the role of Turkey's vulnerabilities and late and insufficient government response: Turkish businessmen and consumers have experienced painful crises, so it would make sense for them to cut back on consumption and investment, rationally or irrationally, at the slightest sign of a crisis.

This "once bitten, twice shy" or "crisis savvy" approach could also explain other interesting phenomena of the Turkish economy, such as sticky dollarization. It definitely deserves more thought.

Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BARBARIANS TO PAPOULIAS WITH LOVE

C. CEM OĞUZ

Readers will probably remember in November 2005 during Armenia's then-President Robert Kocharian's visit to Greece, Karolos Papoulias, the president of the Hellenic Republic, after having uttered a couple of insulting remarks against the Turkish people, chose to portray Turkey as a "difficult neighbor." For precisely this reason, he then continued, "Armenia understands better than anyone the problems in Greek-Turkish relations."

Last week, current Armenian President Serge Sarkisian made another official visit to Greece and of course Mr. Papoulias did not miss the opportunity. He was reported to have maintained, "We [the Greeks and the Armenians] were butchered by the same barbarian," namely the Turks.

As I have mentioned several times in my previous op-eds, though I support the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government's "zero problem with the neighbors" approach, I unfortunately don't believe it will yield any positive results in either Turkey-Greece or Turkey-Armenia relations. Not because of the insincerity of the AKP or its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu. Rather, for such an opening there must be a reciprocal willingness, but Greece and Armenia lack it categorically.

Throughout history, collapses of empires have always been painful. However, what is more painful is the nation-building process of the successor states. Any collapse, be it peaceful or violent, lasts merely a couple of years or decades, but the problems arising from the subsequent nation-building processes of respective peoples, who used to be the subjects of that particular empire, survive sometimes for centuries.

In that process, two important traits are of vital importance for the sake of future relations among ex-subjects: history writing and the evolution of nationalism. Unfortunately, this situation is very complicated among ex-Ottoman subjects. In the Ottoman case, the two most important traits of the nation-building process of successor states has become a sense of communal victimization, as well as the notion of the "bloody other," but particularly "the terrible Turk," who is held responsible for every single historical disease. Unfortunately, history is also being written accordingly. This problem is particularly acute in both Armenia and Greece.

It is precisely for this reason that the common denominator of the ex-Ottoman subjects is the feeling of being sacrificed as well as being treated tyrannically. Today certain Greek citizens feel that Greece suffered greatly during the period of Ottoman domination, or at least they were left behind. Yet, according to the evidence presented by the great Ottoman historian Halil İnalcık, Greece and Cyprus experienced their golden years under Ottoman administration. Fortunately, there are some first-class Greek historians who have come to objectively support that line.

Having said that, what I find more ironic among Papoulias' remarks are those on the consequences of armament race between Turkey and Greece. He said, "If we did not have the economic burden of the arms balance we would not need the International Monetary Fund."

My first op-ed on Papoulias, actually regarding the insulting remarks he made during Kocharian's visit, commences with such a paragraph: "Nowadays Voltaire's aphorisms seem to keep popping into my head. After reading a statement by Karolos Papoulias, the president of the Hellenic Republic, the latest one that came to mind was, 'I have only ever made one prayer to God, a very short one: O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.'"

God indeed grants it! If you insist on having such a line of thinking, Mr. Papoulias, I am afraid to say that both nations, but the beloved Greeks in particular, will pay with more than economic burdens.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

UNITED STATES HAS A CHOICE IN TUNISIA

NICOLA NASSER

The ongoing Tunisian Intifada cannot yet quite be termed a revolution; Tunisians are still revolting, aspiring for bread and freedom. This intifada will go down in history as a revolution if it gets either bread or freedom – and as a great revolution if it gets both. Internally, "the one constant in revolutions is the primordial role played by the army," Jean Tulard, a French historian of revolutions, told Le Monde in an interview, and the Tunisian military seems to be forthcoming so far. Externally, the United States stands to be a critical contributor to either outcome in Tunisia, both because of its historical close relations with the Tunisian military and because of its regional hegemony and international standing as a world power, but the U.S. seems to be shortcoming so far.

While the Tunisian military has made a decision to side with its people, the U.S. has yet to decide what and whom to support among the revolting masses led by influential components like communists, pan-Arabists, Islamists, left wingers, nationalists and trade unionists. The natural social allies of the U.S.' capitalist globalization, privatization and the free market have been politically sidelined as they were partners and pillars of the deposed pro-U.S. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime.

What pro-U.S. liberal sentiment remains among Tunisians is overwhelmed by the vast majority of the unemployed, marginalized or underpaid who yearn for jobs, bread, balanced distribution of the national wealth and development projects more than they are interested in upper class Western-oriented liberalism. Taken by surprise by the evolving political drama in Tunisia, the U.S. cannot by default contribute to a revolution for bread at a time its economic system is unable to provide for Americans themselves. However, it can play an important role in contributing to a real Tunisian revolution for freedom by making a historic U-turn in its foreign policy.

In June 2005, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told an Arab audience at the American University in Cairo that, "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region – and we achieved neither." But Rice did not elaborate to add that this same policy was and is still the main source of instability and the main reason for the absent democracy. Her successor, Hillary Clinton, the Barack Obama administration's mouthpiece on Arab human rights, deigned to lecture Arab governments on the urgent need for democratic reforms on Jan. 13 in Qatar, warning that they would otherwise see their countries "sinking into the sand."

But Clinton neglected to point out that her administration is still in pursuit of its predecessor's advocacy of democracy through changing regimes in Arab and Muslim nations by means of military intervention, invasion and occupation, an endeavor that has proven to be a failure in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, as well a policy that was and is still another source of regional instability and lack of democracy.

The Tunisian Intifada has proven that democracy and regime change can be homemade without any U.S. intervention. Ironically, any such U.S. intervention is now viewed in the region as a threat of a counterrevolution that would preempt turning the intifada into a revolution. A U.S. hands-off policy is the only way to democracy in Tunisia but a hands-off policy is absolutely not a trademark of U.S. regional foreign policy. The U.S. thus now has a choice now in Tunisia, but it is a choice that requires a U-turn both in its approach to Arab democracy and in its traditional foreign policy.

The U.S. risks losing strategically in Tunisia unless it decides on such a historic U-turn, because the Tunisian Intifada politically targeted a U.S.-supported regime and economically targeted a failed U.S. model of development. On Nov. 13, 2007, the Georgetown University Human Rights Institute and Law Center hosted a conference to answer the question, "Tunisia: A Model of Middle East Stability or an Incubator of Extremism?" But Tunisia now has given the answer: Tunisia is neither; it is on an indigenous Arab way to democracy and moderation.

Indeed the U.S. now has a choice in Tunisia. The Arab country which is leading the first Arab revolution for democracy is now a U.S. test case. Non-U.S. intervention would establish a model for other Arabs to follow; it would also establish a model U.S. policy that would over time make Arabs believe in any future U.S. rhetoric on democracy and forget all the tragic consequences of U.S. interventions in the name of democracy. But this sounds more like wishful thinking than an expectation born out of realpolitik.

Longstanding, traditional U.S. policy seems to be weighing heavily on its decision-makers, who are obsessed with their own creation of the "Islamist threat" as their justification for their international war on terror, which dictates their foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis Arab and Muslim states, to dictate a fait accompli to their rulers to choose between either being recruited to this war or being condemned themselves as terrorists or terrorism sponsors. The U.S. perspective has always been that Arab democracy could be sacrificed to serve U.S. vital interests and that Arab democracy could wait! But the Tunisian Intifada has proved that Arab democracy cannot wait anymore.

The exclusion of popular Islamic movements while at the same excluding democratic reforms until the war on terror has been won has been a losing U.S. policy. The U.S. exploitation of the "Islamist threat" is now no longer convincing for Arab aspirants for democracy, who still remember that during the Cold War, the U.S. exploited the "communist threat" and then the "pan-Arabist threat" to shore up autocratic and authoritarian Arab regimes. In Tunisia, the prisons of the pro-U.S. regime were always full long before there was an Islamic political movement: "In the 1950s prisons were filled with Youssefites [loyal to Salah Ben Youssef, who broke away from Bourguiba's ruling Constitutional Party]; in the 60s it was the leftists; in the 70s it was the trade unions; and in the 80s it was our turn," the leader-in-exile of the outlawed Islamic Nahda movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, told the Financial Times on Jan. 18.

"When Nahda was in Tunisia … there was no al-Qaeda," Ghannouchi said, reminding one that in neighboring Algeria there was no al-Qaeda too before The Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, was outlawed. In the Israeli-occupied territories, the banning and subsequent siege on the Islamic Resistance Movement "Hamas," which won a landslide electoral victory in 2006, should be a warning that the only alternative to such moderate Islamic movements is extremist al-Qaeda-like underground groups.

Jordan proved wiser than U.S. decision-makers by allowing the Islamic Action Front to compete in politics lawfully. Recruiting fake Islamic parties to serve U.S. policies as the case is in Iraq has not proved feasible against al-Qaeda. The U.S. has to reconsider. The exclusion of independent, moderate and non-violent Islamic representative movements, unless they succumb to U.S. dictates, has proven that U.S. policy is a failure. The U.S. parameters for underground violent, unrepresentative Islamists should not apply to these movements.

The U.S. decision makers however still seem deaf to what Ghannouchi told the Financial Times: "Democracy should not exclude communists … it is not ethical for us to call on a secular government to accept us, while once we get to power we will eradicate them." This is the voice of Arab homemade democracy; it has nothing to do with U.S.-exported democracy.

* Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist based in Bir Zeit, the West Bank.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE FOR OBAMA'S RE-ELECTION

MEHMET YEGİN

The United States is still struggling with the economic recession. The Bush administration wrecked the economy which played quite an important role in the election of a Democrat president. Nevertheless, the U.S. could not leave the crisis behind with its new administration. Actually, the numbers are slightly better but the recovery is taking place at a slow pace. The voters underlined its inadequacy in the midterm elections by giving control of the House to the Republican Party. They may do the same for the Oval Office in 2012 as well.

The economy holds the top of the list as the most important problem of the country. According to a Gallup poll conducted on Jan. 7-9, 29 percent of Americans responded that the most important problem in the country is unemployment and 26 percent gave the answer of the economy in general. Thus, the main concerns pertain to the economy and this situation may continue for some time. Last week Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that the recovery for the job market may take four or five years. From past experiences we know that the U.S. electorate tends to punish the incumbent presidents for bad economic performance and reward for their successes. Hence, the continuance of the current economic situation may end with a disaster for the Obama administration in the 2012 presidential elections.

In the parliamentary systems, the incumbent prime ministers may avoid the responsibility for economic failure in the coalition governments by blaming the other partners. Nonetheless, in the U.S., with the presidential system, the West Wing is almost always the clear address to be blamed for economic crises. U.S. voters punish the presidents in the elections even if the economic problems resulted from factors that are not under presidential control. For instance, the increased inflation during the Carter administration was mostly due to OPEC's increase in the oil price but as the president he paid the price by losing the elections in 1980.

George H. W. Bush is another example for such punishment. Bush promised in 1988 that even in the case of repeated Congress pushes for taxes he would say, "Read my lips: no new taxes." Yet, in order to cope with the budget deficit he had to break his pledge. According to the 1992 National Election Survey, seven out of 10 thought that the economy got worse during the Bush administration. In addition his opponent Bill Clinton campaigned heavily on the economy with his famous phrase, "It's the economy, stupid!" In the end, Bush lost his second chance to be elected despite closing the stage of the Cold War and ending the Vietnam trauma along with the Gulf War as foreign policy successes in his term. The Obama administration may face the same result with the delay of economic recovery. And the next president may well enjoy the recovered economy for reelection in 2016.

In the U.S., electoral behavior scholars suggest retrospective voting about the performance on economy. But there are examples of prospective voting as well. In short, the voters punish the incumbent for a bad economic performance but they also reward the presidents when they are successful. There are two major examples of this situation: the reelections of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. In the 1984 election campaign, Reagan reminded voters of the economic situation and reiterated the question that he wanted the voters to ask themselves before making their choice: "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" And the majority of the voters responded to the question with "Yes," which played an important role in defeating his Democrat opponent Walter Mondale. Clinton, in his first term, succeeded in upturning the economy. As Alvarez and Nagler pointed out, the perception of economic success played quite a significant role in Clinton's reelection whereas in their hypothetical bad economic performance scenario he would have clearly lost the election to Bob Dole.

Is the economy, in short, the sole determinant of elections? Of course not! Economy is a vital factor but it is not the only or always dominant one. For instance, in the 2004 presidential elections the dominant issues were terrorism and moral values. The Sept. 11 trauma was still influential in that Bin Laden threats were increasing the security concern and the "mission accomplished" speech of the incumbent pointed to Bush as the better protector. Besides, the concerns on same-sex marriage and Bush's appeal to born-again Christians provided a mobilization of voters in favor of him. Thus, in the 2004 presidential elections economy performance was subordinated to the perceived performance about providing security against the threats to the country and identity. 

Thus, in the case of threat, the voters primarily may evaluate the candidates for security reasons. Yet, at least for now there is not such a big threat posed to the U.S. Moreover, the public concern for terrorism is almost nonexistent. Thus, the economy seems to be the dominant theme in the 2012 elections. In retrospective or prospective terms the economy is a vital factor for the U.S. electorate. This is not simply because the Americans just think about their pockets. Indeed, Americans are mostly voting for the general well-being of the nation rather than their individual economic situation. But in either way the economy seems to play a significant role in the next presidential elections. Can the economy block the second term chances of the Obama administration? Yes, it can!

* Mehmet Yegin is deputy chair of the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, Center for American Studies.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CRUCIAL SUMMIT

YUSUF KANLI

The Turkish Cypriot side has been working very hard for some time to get prepared for Wednesday's second trilateral Cyprus summit with the awareness that the event might be a real turning point for a resolution of the almost half-century-old problem of power sharing between the two peoples of the eastern Mediterranean island.

Not only the 2003-2004 Kofi Annan peace plan period documents, minutes of meetings, talking points, arguments were gone through thoroughly and what went wrong were examined, the entire current direct talks process was reviewed once again with a peace-oriented approach and with the awareness that as much as Turkish and Greek Cypriot peoples were tired of and frustrated by the inconclusive rounds of peace talks, the international community is fed up as well and is preparing to say "Enough is enough, if a united federal resolution is not possible, two sides on Cyprus should go their separate ways." Indeed, had the international community said that back in late 1970s or in the early 1980s, when Turkish Cypriots were still having the Turkish Cypriot Federated State, which was created in 1975 to constitute the Turkish leg of the future federation, probably the Cyprus problem would have been solved long ago and perhaps the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus would not have been proclaimed in 1983.

Obviously, could the spoiled Greek Cypriot leadership have been told by the international community after the Dec. 21, 1963 [Bloody Christmas] start of the Greek Cypriot campaign of attrition for the annihilation of Turkish Cypriot people that such genocidal practices would not be tolerated, perhaps the 1960 partnership republic would have been rescued and the Cyprus Republic would have survived to this day as an effective federation of the two peoples of Cyprus, rather than a country from the administration of which one of the partners, Turkish Cypriots, were expelled by the other community, Greek Cypriots contrary to the founding agreements.

Anyhow, what's done is done and for nearly 50 years there has been a Cyprus quagmire frustrating both the Cypriot peoples and the international community. It is as well a fact that as they have the internationally recognized government, EU membership and an honorable status in the international community, Greek Cypriots want a settlement that will not force them to compromise and share all those with Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots, however, do not wish to make an agreement that would not provide them full political equality with the Greek Cypriots in the sovereignty of the island. Greek Cypriots are against creation of a new state through parthenogenesis or virgin birth. It was with tears in his eyes that late Tassos Papadopoulos said before the 2004 referendum that Greek Cypriots don't want to give up the republic and become one of the two founding entities of the new federal state. As if it was not their brutality against Turkish Cypriots that triggered Turkey to intervene in 1974 to save Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots are against the continuation of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee and Alliance with Greece, Turkey and Britain. For Turkish Cypriots, however, the new state must be a parthenogenesis republic of the two equal founding states [obviously, even for one second before such an accord, there has to be two states that would found the new state]. There has to be full political equality of the two peoples in the new partnership state that should have a weak central federal government and two strong local governments. As it is considered vital for Turkish Cypriot security, the 1960 security scheme must continue intact.

It is not at all easy, of course, to reconcile these two almost totally contradicting positions. Plus, there is the thorny property and territorial aspects of the problem as well.

Besides going through the past files, the Turkish Cypriot side has sent emissaries as well to some key countries to have some cordial discussions on developments that might take place in the aftermath of Wednesday's Geneva summit between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot presidents under the chairmanship of the United Nations secretary-general. In that framework, for example, Kudret Özersay was dispatched to London for a meeting with Sir David Hannay, the former British special envoy for Cyprus and one of the architects of Greek Cyprus' EU accession without a settlement on the island.

As it appears, despite continued Greek Cypriot objections, the Turkish Cypriot side is preparing to embrace an "international conference with the participation of the guarantor powers" decision to come out of the Geneva summit.

If a reunited Cyprus is wanted, indeed, convening such a conference – which should also be attended in observer capacity by the EU as well as the five permanent members of the Security Council – might become the last hope.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE HAITIAN FOLLIES

GWYNNE DYER

A confidential 2006 cable from the U.S. embassy in Haiti, subsequently made public by WikiLeaks, said the United States viewed the possible return of either of the two exiled Haitian ex-presidents, Jean-Bertrand Aristide or Jean-Claude Duvalier, as "unhelpful." But one of them, former president-for-life "Baby Doc" Duvalier, is already back in Haiti, probably with Washington's approval.

"Baby Doc" took over the dictatorship from his dying father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, at the age of 19 in 1971, and ruled with the same brutality and greed as his father until he was driven from power and into exile in 1986. What could have made him think it was a good idea to come back now?

If you believe the headlines, he has made a dreadful mistake. On Jan. 18, only two days after his return, "Baby Doc" was brought before a court in Port-au-Prince and charged with official corruption, embezzlement of funds, money laundering and assassination. But things are not always what they seem.

First, there is the fact that both the U.S. and France, where Duvalier was living in exile, would have been keeping track of him and must have known of his intention to return. Indeed, they probably put him up to it: He was traveling on a long-expired diplomatic passport and would never have been allowed to board the plane to Haiti if Washington and Paris had not quietly blessed his trip.

Secondly, he may never see the inside of a jail. He was set free after the court hearing without even having to post bail, and the chief magistrate has 90 days to decide whether there is enough evidence to bring him to trial. A lot can happen in 90 days.

Thirdly, "Baby Doc" has some support in Haiti, as witness the crowds chanting support for him outside the court. It's been 25 years since he left power, and most of Haiti's 10 million people are under 25. They don't remember the kidnappings, torture and murder of opponents of the Duvaliers, father and son, by the regime's militia, the Tonton Macoute.

They do remember their parents saying that Haitians lived better under the Duvaliers, and unfortunately, it is true. Since then they have seen some intervals of democracy, punctuated by military coups and foreign interventions, but living standards had declined steeply even before the huge earthquake last year that killed 3 percent of the population.

So "Baby Doc" is not just a deluded no-hoper, although he is unlikely ever to be president again. His presence in Haiti will frighten the outgoing president, Réné Préval, and his chosen successor, Jude Celestin – as it was doubtless intended to do.

Haiti has been in a protracted political crisis since the presidential election last November, with accusations of fraud flying in all directions. The outside powers that have effectively run the country since 2004, the United States, Canada and France, didn't want Préval's candidate to win, and they are making sure he doesn't.

Préval was a little too independent-minded for their taste, though nobody would accuse him of being a raving leftist. They must have feared that Celestin would also have a mind of his own, because they altered the outcome of the recent election to make sure that he wasn't in the run-off.

It was not very subtly done. Celestin came second in the election, and since no candidate had won 50 percent of the vote he should have been a candidate in the run-off second round. But then the "expert verification mission" – six of whose seven "experts" come from the United States, Canada or France – changed the results.

They disqualified a lot of pro-Celestin votes, pushing him down to third place, but they didn't actually do a recount. They just arbitrarily threw out 234 tally sheets, mostly from areas that were pro-Celestin. They didn't even examine more than 90 percent of the ballot sheets.

The man now facing front-runner Mirlande Manigat in the run-off, according to those "experts," is Haiti's best-known pop musician, Michel Martelly, who is as reliably pro-Washington as she is. If that decision stands, Celestin falls. But Préval's government is still resisting that decision, so it was time to frighten him into submission. Enter "Baby Doc."

Or at least, that's probably what's happening, though it doesn't make a lot of sense. Why not? Because what happens in Haiti doesn't really matter in the least to the United States, Canada or France.

Haitian politics are convoluted and turbulent because the major players have no loyalty beyond their own self-interest, but so long as the other exiled ex-president, Aristide, doesn't come back, the game is of no importance to the outside powers. Aristide, currently living in South Africa, could play a role in the Caribbean similar to that of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela if he regained power, but that is not currently on the cards.

What is going on in Haiti at the moment is actually just Brownian motion. The outside powers have nothing important at stake, but the music goes on playing so they feel that they have to dance. Foolish and futile, but perfectly normal.

*Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries. His latest book, 'Climate Wars,' is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PARLIAMENT LODGES

 

 'Don't worry, nobody will notice' is perhaps what was running through the minds of those who thought that this was just the right time to construct a new set of luxury parliamentary lodges in Islamabad. 'It's only Rs3 billion after all. Peanuts, really. No, no worries go right ahead and get building, we could do with a few more perks and nobody will notice.' Unfortunately an ever-vigilant media and the opposition in parliament have noticed – much as they noticed the proposed construction of a memorial to Benazir Bhutto at the cost of squillions of rupees. The public outcry was of sufficient volume and intensity to persuade the powers-that-be that building lavish memorials to past leaders, no matter how beloved, is not the best way to win friends and influence people at a time when the nation is economically on its knees. The memorial to Ms Bhutto was quietly shelved, and quite right too.


So we have the distinctly cringe-making sight of the prime minister performing the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of 301 new parliamentary lodges next to the existing lodges. We are told that the new lodges will be for the family members of parliamentarians, will have gym facilities for men and women separately and plenty of spaces to park those essential family vehicles. To make sure that the families of the parliamentarians do not have to engage in anything so mundane as their own cooking and cleaning, a part of the project is to build servants quarters covering 1.4 acres. Of course, nobody will notice. With just about every development budget in the country slashed or frozen, about four million homeless as a result of last year's floods according to the latest figures; and an economy that is strangling at the end of a rope made of a chronically mismanaged power sector – does anybody with an ounce of common sense really think that this is a good time to be building luxury accommodation for already over-compensated parliamentarians? Apparently 'yes' is the answer – which may account for at least a part of the mess we find ourselves in today.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE VISA SCAM

  

Wrongdoing, lack of ethics and attempts to use position to gain advantage seem to have no end in the country. The latest scandal to come to light involves the Foreign Ministry. According to a report in this paper, the protocol wing of the Foreign Office has kept itself busy writing off letters to foreign missions seeking visas for private individuals – apparently without looking into their credentials or background. Some of these peculiar missives appear to have been issued in the name of the foreign minister himself. It is not clear if any money was involved but — given the way things are run in the country — this is perfectly conceivable. The "introductory" letters were issued to minor businessmen and to others, in some cases claiming they were relatives of Foreign Office officials.


Embarrassingly enough, these letters seem to have been ignored by the foreign missions, which did not issue the requested visas. This in itself says a great deal about the lack of credibility, and the lack of respect, for our Foreign Office. There was a time when such requests would never have been refused as a matter of diplomatic courtesy. But since those days Pakistan's standing and status has slumped dramatically. And no doubt there was suspicion about the letters and the reasons for issuing them. Worse still — though the goings-on were apparently brought to the notice of top Foreign Ministry bosses, no action was taken apart from a minor revision in policy in the issuance of the letters. One can, then, only assume their own connivance in the sordid affair, which will only add to international mistrust for Pakistan and make it harder for those genuinely entitled to visas to obtain them. The latest reports show that once again efforts may be on to shift the blame from some big fish by scapegoating a few smaller ones.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TARGETING SCHOOLS

 

Attacks on schools clearly hit a central chord running through society. The thought that their children are unsafe fills every parent with terror and has a deep psychological impact. Across the tribal areas, and even in Peshawar, such attacks continue. One person was killed in the latest bombing in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital and 11 school children were injured. The terror these children faced will stay with them for a very long time to come – perhaps for life.


The tactics used for much of the past decade by the Taliban and other militants associated with them have not changed. It is obvious that security measures alone cannot stop them. A constant guard cannot be kept over every educational institution in the country. Instead, we need to build a campaign against such violence. We need a far stronger expression of outrage from members of civil society, and especially from religious scholars. Too many of them have maintained a silence that has continued too long. There can be no ambiguity about the fact that our religion emphasises the need to obtain education at all costs. The attacks on schools and on the pupils who attend them are then, without any doubt at all, acts of evil that deserve to be condemned. In no civilized society should children headed for school land up in hospital beds. Imams at mosques, scholars, social activists, politicians and others need to adopt a far more vocal approach to what is happening and drive home as strongly as possible the message that attacks on schools are evil in every sense of the word and those perpetrating such crimes will never be anything but a danger to society; and that something has to be done to check these attacks on the right of our children to life and education.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

PROJECTS WE CANNOT HANDLE

DR A Q KHAN


I am writing this column after serious consideration and hesitation. It is not meant in any way to hurt anyone's feelings. However, since the matter under discussion is of vital national importance, I consider it a duty to inform the rulers and the public of the finer points of what I am going to discuss. The topics are the ongoing controversy and discussions about the Reko Diq mines and concessions to foreign firms for the extraction of gold and copper, the Thar Coal Project and production of power by nuclear reactors.


The Thar Coal Project was, until recently, a hot topic. We probably all remember that we were promised 50,000 MW of power for 500 years, plus hundreds of thousands of barrels of diesel. There were claims that we had 185 billion tons of coal reserves, while reliable estimates put this figure at only three billion tons, and that too of low grade. That balloon burst quite quickly. I wrote factual details in my column on the subject in Jang and The News on Nov 1, 2010. In that column I also disclosed how our able former foreign secretary, my dear friend Riaz Mohammad Khan, had worked hard to arrange a deal with one of the largest coalmining and -processing companies of the world, Shenhua Group of China. The company was willing to provide electricity at 5.39 cents per unit and had committed to providing four power plants of 325 MW each, by 2010. However, since there was no commission involved, the deal was sabotaged. Riaz Khan is still annoyed and angry at the loss of that opportunity.

Shenhua employs about 170,000 people and produces thousands of megawatts of power. It not only mines about 350 million tons of coal per annum but also converts it into gas and liquid fuel. It has put up plants in Mongolia, Indonesia and Australia. The plant in coal-rich Mongolia is functioning since 2008. It not only has the manpower, money, equipment and extensive experience required, but it would also be very reliable because of our exemplary relations with China.


Since I have studied metallurgical engineering at some of the best universities of the world and have 40 years' experience in this field (as well as that of nuclear technology), I am in a position to write extensive, detailed articles on coalmining, coal varieties and coal's conversion into gas and liquid. I can say with authority that we do not have experienced and qualified engineers to handle such a complicated, giant project, to say nothing of my having had to cope with those who indulge in self-projection though they don't have fundamental knowledge or qualifications in the required field.


In my earlier column of Nov 1 I had mentioned the statements made by Dr Ansar Parvez, chairman of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) in Vienna in which he claimed that 8,080 MW of power could be produced by 2030. In order for that to be produced, either 29 reactors of 300 MW each or ten reactors of 900 MW each would be required. A 300-MW reactor costs about $1 billion and requires eight to ten years for commissioning. A 900-MW reactor would naturally cost proportionately more and would take the same time, if not longer, to commission. I am at a loss to see how Dr Parvez aims to achieve this.


The PAEC has existed for more than 50 years and employs almost 20,000 people, but it has not been able to make a single power reactor, even of a small size. This is despite the fact that the technology itself is half-a-century old, and India and South Korea are among countries which have been producing reactors for years. The one at Karachi was supplied by Canada and the two at Chashma by China.


In 1979 the-then chairman of the PAEC, Munir Ahmad Khan, had made similar claims. At that time it was said that the PAEC would commission one reactor every year from 1980 onwards until the year 2000, thus producing 20 reactors in total!


Whether we are talking about the Thar Coal Project, the Reko Diq Project or any other major project, we need young, experienced, highly committed engineers with the proper educational background. It is an extremely difficult and lengthy process and the team leaders and engineers will have to make it their life's work to complete the project.


The Pakistani rulers and public alike seem to be under the impression that, since we managed to produce nuclear weapons and missiles, we can now achieve miracles. Those were totally different projects. As far as the nuclear programme is concerned, I had invaluable practical experience and had the required educational qualifications. My team and I were all highly committed to the goal of making the project a success. We believed that Pakistan's very existence would be at stake if we did not complete the nuclear programme successfully.

Another important factor was the role played by personalities like Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Gen Ziaul Haq, Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Mr Agha Shahi, Gen Khalid Mahmud Arif, who was vice chief of the army staff at that time, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and Gen Abdul Wahid Kakar. All were sincere in their commitment. The necessary funds (about $25 million per year) were provided to us, as were all facilities required by the programme.

Such conditions are now non-existent. We now have corrupt, selfish people at the helm of affairs. We have only to look at the glaring examples of PIA and Pakistan Steel.


If important projects like those mentioned above are given to Pakistanis, they will become yet more PIAs and Pakistan Steel Mills. Nepotism, overstaffing with unqualified and inexperienced people, overabundance of persons of official cadre, fleets of land cruisers – you name it, it will be there. We have all heard details about the corruption related to the Agosta Submarine. Not only the fish's head, but the whole body is rotten.

The present government, or any that may follow, will never be able to provide enough funds to keep such projects going. An initial investment of hundreds of millions of dollars will be required with little to show for it in the beginning. The projects will drag on and the poor people will see gold, copper and electricity only in their dreams. Looters will have a heyday and they will walk off with filled pockets. In a country where officials cannot even build, complete and maintain schools, colleges and hospitals, how can one expect miracles?

So what is the solution for Thar? My sincere and considered advice is to give the Thar Coal Project to Shenhua. Sort out terms and conditions that are mutually beneficial and acceptable. The Chinese are our trusted friends and they will be more than accommodating. Regarding the Reko Diq projects, either discuss acceptable, beneficial terms and conditions with the present companies or find others which can offer attractive terms and conditions. If the earlier terms and conditions set were detrimental to us, it was our fault that we accepted them, in the first place; the foreign firms are not to blame. More often than not, our own people indulge in corruption at the cost of national interests. Haven't we got the examples of the IPPs and the RPPs?


Our financial wizards who signed the deal for F-16s had, for reasons best known only to them (money?), agreed to pay the company for the storage of the planes. We paid hundreds of millions of dollars as advance payment and the planes were ready, but we still paid millions more. If the deal for Reko Diq is faulty, hold the negotiators and the signatories responsible, not the foreign firm. It was our duty to safeguard and protect our national interests. However, such contracts are for mutual benefit – a question of give-and-take.

I am very much afraid that if we take the bait and try to do the job ourselves, gold, copper, gas and electricity will be but a mirage in the distance, with sand, rocks and bushes remaining the reality. The Pakistan Engineering Council, the Institute of Engineers and the Pakistan Academy of Sciences could all help in the negotiations, if need be. Riaz Mohammad Khan would still be our best bet to help in negotiations with Shenhua. I would assist him with great pleasure, if requested.


Email: ali4drkhan@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

WITHOUT KNOWING FATA

AYAZ WAZIR


FATA has attained great significance in the eyes of the West. It has become a focal point for them in their handling of affairs in the war on terror in that region. They have appointed Special Envoys to keep an eye on the developments in that area and also to find ways and means for possible solutions of the problem.


They visit the region regularly and fully understand the area and its people. The only group of people that is not aware of that area are our own leaders. They do not bother to visit the area or meet with the locals to keep themselves abreast of developments and living conditions of people of that region.


However, when it comes to conducting negotiations with leaders in the West they do not falter, even slightly, to bestow that right on themselves. They consider it their birth right to represent FATA without involvement or proper knowledge of the people of that area.


These so-called leaders have extensive knowledge of real estate in towns and cities of the West and prestigious places where flats and villas should be bought, but what they know nothing about is the tribal areas in their own country. How can they represent FATA when they do not know the area or the tribes living there? How can they gauge the impact on FATA of development in Afghanistan, or vice versa, without interacting with the people there?


One has witnessed many shortcomings of our leaders but narration of one incident will suffice befitting the situation.

A federal minister asked the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (then NWFP) for a briefing about the situation in South Waziristan. The governor conducted a detailed hour-long briefing, thinking that he had made the minister wise enough to conduct a meaningful dialogue, but upon concluding was shocked to hear the very intelligent minister ask: "Is South Waziristan in Wana?"


Visualising the kind of negotiations the minister would soon conduct abroad the governor almost fainted and sent for a glass of water to steady his nerves. After a briefing lasting well over an hour, the worthy minister did not know that Wana was the capital city of South Waziristan. This is to say nothing of his knowledge of the tribes living there.


And he was flying out to represent the area in talks with the leaders in Washington!This trend needs to be arrested, and arrested immediately. The people in FATA need to be given their due right to represent the area. They would handle matters much better than the so-called leaders.


The frustration of the local people is ringing alarm bells, but is there anyone present to hear them?FATA is in the eye of the storm but our government still wants to hide the area from the outside world. Our media has neither been fair nor given a free hand to cover events independently, like they do in other parts of the country.

A funeral in Karachi is given live coverage for hours in double digits, but carnage in FATA is just briefly in breaking news or sometimes only in the tickertape running underneath the news.


There is nobody to speak for FATA, and those who want to speak are not being listened to. The developmental mantra of the government is nothing but a farce. The security situation has not improved one bit, despite repeated operations. The writ changes hands during day and night. The common man is in the crossfire, not the one who made millions in the line of fire.


Guns and drones do not make friends. They only make enemies.The proxies from Islamabad/Rawalpindi administering FATA will neither develop the area, nor resolve the problems that the people are faced with.


This long experiment of administering the area through proxies is enough proof that FATA cannot be developed and mainstreamed if left to outsiders only. Participation of the tribesmen is the need of the hour. They can do magic if allowed to govern themselves like their brothers in other provinces of the country.


Why is this right being denied to them?

Concluded

The writer is a former ambassador hailing from FATA. Email: waziruk@hotmail. Com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

NO FREE LUNCH

HUSSAIN H ZAIDI


"I welcome you to my office. My administration attaches considerable importance to relations with your government being our frontline ally in the war against terror. Over the years, our bilateral ties have strengthened and we look upon your country as one of our strategic partners. Based on shared values and mutual interests, the strategic dialogue between the two countries has been upgraded to the ministerial level and its last three sessions have been a success."


"Thank you, Excellency, for playing host to me. It's really an honour for me to be here. I appreciate your administration's all-out support to my government and I hope that you'll continue to throw your weight behind the democratic process in my country."


"Yes, indeed; we remain committed to the cause of democracy all over the world, especially in your country, which at present is the theatre of religious militancy and extremism. We believe that political and economic liberalism is the only effective antidote to such fatal forces."


"Excellency, your assurance has rid me of my worries as you are aware that anti-democratic forces are incessantly conspiring against my government to bring it down. My party is the torchbearer of democracy and the only outfit which can face up to religious extremism. In case my government falls apart, it will seal the fate of democracy and liberalism in my country."


"Mr President, we hold in high esteem the struggle that your party has waged for the cause of democracy and would like to see your government complete its tenure without let or hindrance. That said, we'll advise you to put your house in order and ensure clean and efficient administration. I'm sorry, but your government is well short on both these counts. In particular, your economic performance is well below the mark. You have to act before you are consumed by the economic meltdown, and I'm afraid even we wouldn't be much of a help to your government."


"Your Excellency is kind enough to point out our shortcomings. This shows your faith in my government and concern for our democracy, for which we have given our blood. On our part, I assure you that we'll leave no stone unturned in coming up to your expectations."


"You are holding out such assurances all along without honouring them. May I remind you that you were supposed to reform the tax system, contain the fiscal deficit and bring transparency to the affairs of the government? But regretfully, your government is no great shakes when it comes to setting things right."


"Excellency, I see eye to eye with you that we need to take some difficult decisions to shape up the economy and governance. That these decisions have been delayed shouldn't be seen as lack of seriousness on our part. The problem is that our allies are not at one with us in taking the difficult measures you so kindly mentioned. Since we believe in reconciliation and consensus-building, we want to take our allies with us. But I assure you that sooner or later we'll win them to our side."


"I hope you'll do that before it's too late. This is vital to our continuing support to your government. Need I mention that in the country I live in there's no such thing as a free lunch?"


"Your Excellency will hear some good news from us soon."

"Coming back to the war against terror, do you have any problem with the drone strikes?"


"No, I don't mind in the least. We believe that the drone strikes are an important weapon in the war against terror. It makes no difference whether the strikes are made by you or us as long as they are directed against the militants. Even when the civilians are targeted, we see it as collateral damage. Yes, publicly we condemn the drone attacks, but Your Excellency will understand that we have to do that to tone down the public reaction."

"Yes, we do understand. We have no problem with that. Our problem is that you aren't doing enough to put down the militancy. May I remind you that, to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda and its affiliates is the foremost item on our national-security policy agenda? We believe that the north-western part of your country is the epicentre of terrorism, and unless Al-Qaeda safe havens located there are destroyed, the network cannot be smashed and our people can't be safe."


"Your Excellency, we are fully mindful of your concerns and doing our level best to measure up to your expectations. But Your Excellency would appreciate that in the war against terror my government doesn't call the shots."


"Yes, we know your constraints and are working on those as well. But we expect you to do all that's in your power."

"Your Excellency will not be disappointed. You have my solemn word."


"Ok, it was nice meeting you."


"Pleasure is mine. Before I take your leave, I'll reiterate that Your Excellency do us the honour of visiting my country."

"I'll see when the visit can be arranged."


The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail .com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

OCCUPATION HAS NO FUTURE

DAVID ZLUTNICK


In the Fall of 2009 I had the privilege of following a delegation of US veterans and war resisters travelling to Israel/Palestine to meet with their Israeli counterparts in an effort to strengthen connections between the US and Israeli anti-militarist movements and to share their experiences of refusing to be part of an occupying army. Made up of members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Courage to Resist, the War Resisters' League, among other groups, the group – called Dialogues Against Militarism (DAM) – spent a month traversing the Israeli state and the Occupied West Bank meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. As a filmmaker, I was asked to accompany the delegation to document its travels and record their conversations and interviews.


My latest film, Occupation Has No Future: Militarism + Resistance in Israel/Palestine, is the result of dozens of exchanges and encounters during the month that DAM spent in Israel/Palestine. The documentary uses this trip as a lens to study Israeli militarism, examine the occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, and explore the work of Israelis and Palestinians organising against militarism and occupation.


Through conversations with Israeli conscientious objectors, former soldiers, and civil society activists, Occupation Has No Future creates a survey of the current atmosphere in the State of Israel. The film explores the Israeli social environment that creates such heightened militarism and leads to attitudes of fear, exclusion, racism, and ultimately aggression. Interviews demonstrate how institutions like the education system and religion, along with practices of victimisation, xenophobia, and alienation all contribute to the state's ability to maintain popular support for conscription and militarisation, while simultaneously preserving belief in its label as the "only democracy in the Middle East".


In Occupation Has No Future, the consequences of Israeli domestic policy are revealed in stark terms, not only for the Palestinian people, but for Israeli civil society as well. During months of pre-production research I came to learn a lot not only about the Israeli occupation and life in the occupied territories but also about Israeli civil society, and its absence. Even with this new-found knowledge I still found Israel's all-encompassing system of militarisation hard to fathom. The military interpenetrates all aspects of society from the top to the bottom. Civilian institutions completely independent from the military are rare. Hospitals, for instance, are supplied with doctors and resources from the armed forces, so the military is allowed significant, if unofficial, control over policy. The media, a cornerstone in any supposedly "democratic" state, is still subject to military censorship (even if it is rarely imposed, as self-censorship prevails). And the question most often asked in job interviews? "What did you do in the army?"


Daniel Dukarevich is a medical student who is due to report back to the military this May. "All this system, it creates something," he says at one point in the film. "It's hard to break it. Unless you have a very strong personal experience with something else, you keep believing in it. You have no reason to doubt it."

From a very young age Israelis are taught about the Jewish history of persecution, and how it continues to this day from all sides – figuratively and literally – in the form of the Arab states and Palestinian terrorism. Criticism of Israeli policy is interpreted as the proliferation of western anti-Semitism. The military is rarely absent from the classroom. A military emphasis is present not only in the curriculum, but in the form of uniformed soldiers teaching classes, or recruiters advertising their specific units. Even the funding of schools is tied to their rates of military enlistment.


An erosion in basic civic participation is quite evident. "For the Israeli society itself, sending every 18-year-old into the army, having them grow into a position where they don't ask questions but just follow orders – I've seen that happen to me," says Tali Lerner during her interview. A former soldier who refused to finish her term of service, Lerner now works with the feminist anti-militarist organisation New Profile. "I think it's hurting this society in much more than just the occupation itself, but in all fields of society."


The documentary also examines the Israeli anti-militarist movement and those Israeli youth refusing conscription, refusing orders, and seeking to change the fundamental nature of their society. Dukarevich, the medical student, is planning to refuse his impending military assignment in protest of the continued occupation of Palestinian land. In so doing he risks not only imprisonment but being blacklisted as a doctor within Israel. In addition to finishing his medical residency, Dukarevich spends his time working with the small, but growing number of Israelis choosing to partner with an emergent grassroots Palestinian campaign of civil disobedience to defeat the occupation. Organisations such as Anarchists Against the Wall, Ta'ayush (Living Together), Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity, and many others have sprouted up over the past several years to both challenge militarism in Israel, and to support a continuing "civil resistance" – organised disobedience and demonstrations against the symbols and rules of occupation – a rising among those most affected by the occupation.

Some segments of the film take the viewer deep inside the occupation by visiting the West Bank. From Ramallah to Hebron, to the checkpoints to the refugee camps, Occupation Has No Future lets the audience understand the results of a militarised Israel through the words of Palestinians living under – and resisting – the occupation.

"Our message to all the world, this is not a security wall like the Israelis said. This is just for confiscating more land, to build more settlements, and to put the Palestinians in a big jail with their families." These are the words of the Iyad Burnat, Chair of the Bil'in Popular Committee, one of the grassroots organising bodies leading the protest movement against the construction of the Separation Wall through the West Bank.


The Palestinian voices in the film are not alone, however. They are echoed and reinforced by their Israeli allies – many of whom are former soldiers who served in the areas the film explores.


While the title of the film is hopeful, I do not mean to indicate that the struggle for an end to the Israeli occupation will be over soon. There is a lot of work to be done. But here is a place to start. Honest about the extremely daunting challenges, Occupation Has No Future also reveals the hope of a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians to live together, free from occupation, with peace and justice.


The writer is a documentary filmmaker and lives and works in San Francisco.


Courtesy: counterpunch.org

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A FRAGILE PARTNERSHIP

ASIF EZDI


The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service.


The year 2011 promises to have a full calendar of high-level contacts between Pakistan and the US. Vice President Biden was in Islamabad on 12 January for talks with the army chief and used the occasion to hold meetings also with Zardari and Gilani. On a visit to Washington two days later to attend the memorial service for Holbrooke, Zardari met Obama, who again promised to make a trip to Pakistan this year and also renewed the invitation to Zardari to pay an official visit to the US. Next month Washington will be the venue of a trilateral Pakistan-Afghanistan-US meeting at the level of foreign ministers. Later in the year, another session of the ministerial-level Pakistan-US strategic dialogue is to be held.


For the Americans, the main purpose of this surge in high-level contacts with Pakistan is to pressure or persuade the country to start military operations against militant groups based on its side of the border with Afghanistan. The Americans blame the existence of these sanctuaries to a large degree for their failure to make the kind of progress that would allow them to start a large-scale withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan. The anticipated beginning of a drawdown in US forces in July, which was announced by Obama in December 2009, has generated additional pressure on Pakistan to take early action against the militants in the border regions.

US officials have recently been playing down the significance of July 2011 for the beginning of troop reductions and have instead been emphasising the December 2014 date endorsed by the NATO Summit last November for the final transition of security responsibilities to the Afghans. Nevertheless, because of the approach of presidential election year 2012, Obama cannot ignore the fact that support for the nine-year-old Afghanistan war is slipping among US voters. The strategy review completed by the Obama administration last month therefore did not deviate from the pledge to start bringing troops home in mid-2011.


The report card claimed that the war was going better now for the US than it was before last year's troop surge. But it also admitted that there had been no decisive victory. Much of the responsibility for the failure to win the war was laid at the door of the Karzai government and of Pakistan. In Pakistan, Obama said, "progress has not come fast enough" in eliminating al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries near the Afghanistan border. "We continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist havens inside their borders must be dealt with," he said. The assessment concluded that Pakistan still had not "fundamentally changed its strategic calculus" regarding insurgent sanctuaries on its territory.


Two days before the report was released, Mullen paid his 21st visit to Pakistan to meet Kayani and press the US demand that Pakistan launch a military operation in North Waziristan. The same demand was conveyed by Biden at his meeting with Kayani earlier this month. But this issue was not specifically raised by Obama in his meeting with Zardari because the US administration realises that whatever Pakistan's civilian government may promise, this is a matter on which only the army can deliver. Therefore, in this meeting, Obama focussed instead on the need for better management of the economy by the Pakistan government and improved governance.

But the main reason why the US President had a meeting with Zardari was to signal support for the PPP-led government. Obama has good reasons to do so. Washington could not wish for a more pliant government and does not want that it should be toppled or even distracted by fears for its survival from complying with US plans for Afghanistan. The invitation to Zardari to pay an official visit later in the year and the expression of support for democracy in Pakistan, were also intended to give a boost to the beleaguered Zardari government.

The most peculiar thing about the Zardari-Obama meeting is that while the US President was assisted by Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser Donilon and other senior aides, only one close political confidant of Zardari – Haqqani – accompanied him to the meeting from the Pakistan side. No official of the foreign ministry who could prepare an accurate record of the discussions was present. It says a lot about the man in the presidency that he not only fears his security guards but also does not trust the country's civil servants.


Zardari might also have wanted to keep out Pakistan's military from his talks with US leaders and officials, but the Americans know that any discussions with Pakistan on security and intelligence matters without involving the country's military are pointless. ISI Director General Pasha therefore flew into Washington specially to join Zardari's meeting with CIA Director Panetta. Relations between the two agencies, never free of mistrust, have been strained recently by allegations of ISI's complicity in blowing the cover of the CIA station chief in Islamabad which forced him to return prematurely to his country. Talks between Panetta and Zardari are understood to have served to calm these tensions besides covering the question of drone attacks in FATA and the US pressure for extending these and other covert CIA operations to Balochistan.


As the latest high-level talks between Pakistan and the US make clear, almost everything in their bilateral agenda revolves around the present American entanglement in the war in Afghanistan. This war will not last for ever. Once it is over, the policy calculus will also change. Some Pakistanis worry that US would then again "abandon" Pakistan. A much more serious cause for concern should be the wider US plan for the region which centres on making India a global power and admitting it in due course as a member of the nuclear club, while seeking to de-legitimise Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability. US opposition to giving Pakistan access to peaceful nuclear technology for power generation while opening the doors of advanced dual-use technology to India reflects not just double standards but a complete disregard for Pakistan's vital security interests. Clearly a long-term strategic partnership between Pakistan and the US cannot be built on these foundations. The "trust deficit" between the two is the consequence of punitive policies followed by the US towards Pakistan over the years. It will only go away if these policies are given up.


In his joint appearance with Gilani before the Pakistani press, Biden sought to correct some commonly held "misconceptions" about US actions and intentions towards Pakistan. One concern which an unnamed US official said was legitimate, given the history after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was that the US would "abandon" Pakistan after the al Qaeda problem is resolved. This fear has indeed been voiced by some Pakistanis but is in fact the least justified of Pakistan's complaints. We need to think and act like a self-confident nation and stop looking for an external power that we can turn to for support. In any case, any promises of future assistance made by the present US administration would be broken if that does not suit US interests under the given circumstances and would not commit a new administration.


The fundamental problem instead is that as the US seeks to build up its relations with India, it has been completely indifferent to Pakistan's security concerns. In 1979, Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister of India, told Pakistan Foreign Secretary Shahnawaz that "if Pakistan tries any tricks, we will smash you" and reminded him of 1971. If India speaks a different language today, that is because Pakistan possesses a nuclear deterrent. US policies now threaten to undermine the credibility of the Pakistani deterrent, if not the deterrent itself. But our political leadership is unconcerned because it is busy stuffing its pockets.


Email: asifezdi@yahoo.com

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

A FEARFUL VOID

CHRIS CORK


The British have a knack of producing intrepid, but ultimately failed travellers. Captain Scott and his party died on their return from the South Pole. Their courage was never in doubt, but Scott's leadership was. Geoffrey Moorhouse set out to cross the Sahara from west to east by camel in 1972. He gave up, sick and exhausted with several dead camels behind him whilst 1500kms from his goal. The Himalayas are dotted with British corpses, and I only avoided being one of them by the skin of my teeth. I re-read Moorhouse's book recently (The Fearful Void) and understood his epic journey with a different eye and mind to when I had originally joined him on his travels, more than thirty years ago.


Fear was the key for Moorhouse. The desire to conquer an inwards fear that probably inhabits the dark inner reaches of every traveller who seeks to push the envelope a bit further than they have pushed it before. Mountain climbers call it 'feeding the rat' – the rat that gnaws your vitals unless you placate it by doing something that is, by the standards of the average man or woman whose travelling never gets much beyond a prolonged study of the National Geographic Channel on the TV, seriously crazy. Riding a bicycle from Karachi to Kunjerab comes into the latter category, and although death was never a close companion on that trip there was a definite sense of a fear quelled if not conquered at the end of it.


So what has all this got to do with the here-and-now that usually preoccupies this column? Being afraid of walking in the park is the answer to that one. If Islamabad has a redeeming virtue it is its parks and green spaces. The backdrop of the ever-changing Murree hills and the sense of being in a city that is somehow creeping up on the crumpled landscape to the north.


One of my earliest experiences of Islamabad was attending a fair at Fatima Jinnah Pak in 1993, while the park was still under construction. It was a joyful affair, men and women having a day out, welcoming me, one of the few foreigners there even then. Today the Fatima Jinnah Park is a positive pleasure. There are places where you can exercise, walking tracks, play equipment for the kids and it is clean, oh so clean. Likewise the lakeside park at Rawal Dam often thronged with people sitting watching the water, eating, playing games. I make a point of going there every time I visit the city. But a friend in Islamabad tells me that these places are now much more empty, quieter...and fearful.


Somehow the murder of Salmaan Taseer has had a wider affect my friend surmises. You used to see families here, women were relaxed, some even wore trousers or jeans, but in the weeks since the killing they have melted away, said my friend. People are afraid to go out, afraid to dress in a particular way. Just...afraid. Of course this is a highly subjective impression – people may be staying away from the parks because of the cold weather, for instance. But somehow I suspect it to be correct. Public space has become, for some, a fearful void. A tract that only the brave or foolish will cross. A noxious miasma wafts in the air, putting the smell of 'afraid' in their noses. Some of us choose to take our fears with us when we go travelling whilst others, like now, have fear forced upon them. Empty parks as a sign of the times? Perhaps so.


The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. Com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

SLASHING OF DEVELOPMENT BUDGET

 

AFTER initiative by Mian Nawaz Sharif asking the Government to put the economy on the right course, the deliberations between the Government and PML-N teams have led to certain positive developments particularly the decision to cut down the non-development expenditure. Their meeting on 26th is expected to lead to some decisions and one hopes that both the sides would be able to devise a strategy to put the economy on the right track.

Though President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have also decided to down size the bloated Cabinet as part of the exercise yet it is to be seen how many Ministers would be shown the door because in our political culture lobbies and personal relations matter a lot over and above the national interests. However the Finance Minister sprung a major surprise on Saturday when he stated in Karachi that development budget would be slashed by Rs 100 billion to stay on course with the reform programme. He also hinted at more curtailment in expenditures in the coming days. This is a disturbing development because on the one hand cut in development expenditure would have far reaching impact on the economy and the industrial sector growth while on the other hand people would be denied benefits of development in the form of jobs and facilities. Infrastructure development projects utilize domestic products that serve as a stimulus to economy. The country is also suffering a lot in the aftermath of devastating floods which destroyed infrastructure and the cut in the development budget would mean no reconstruction and rehabilitation of the affected areas. People are also suffering due to limited social services like health and education and the slashing of the budget would add to their woes. We think the proposal by the PML-N for 30% cut in non development expenditure deserves serious consideration and this is possible if there is a will to do so. The Government can save a lot if misuse of official vehicles is checked, visits abroad are curtailed to the minimum and discretionary grants are stopped. There is no doubt that the government is borrowing heavily from the State Bank to meet the expenditure yet we hope that the Government and the PML-N Committees would find some out of box solution by curtailing expenditure on other heads rather than finding the easy way of slashing the development budget.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

UNBECOMING CONDUCT OF MPS

 

BALOCHISTAN Assembly on Saturday witnessed ugly scenes as Provincial Ministers first entered into heated arguments and then there were exchanges of abusive language and threatening postures for a fist fight. It was due to intervention by some members who separated the two Ministers of the JUI(F) and an MPA of PML-Q from going to the extreme.


Earlier there had been similar incidents in Punjab Assembly and the Speaker had to repeatedly expunge the remarks of the members who were levelling allegations against each other and using threatening language in the elected house ignoring the decorum and norms that people expect from their representatives. We are sorry to say that in other assemblies as well the conduct of the MPs is not exemplary who should be role models for the people. The scuffle in Balochistan Assembly was a proof that the Ministers were not ready to listen to any criticism about their conduct and poor handling of their responsibilities. The Ministers are answerable to the members of the Assemblies who raise the problems faced by the people and need to show tolerance. A similar incident took place in Balochistan Assembly on 6th January when two ministers not only exchanged objectionable remarks against each other but they made an attempt for a physical scuffle in the house. These incidents show that the MPs have least regard for the elected houses and they are more interested to enjoy perks and privileges that the people of Pakistan pay through their taxes. Even attendance in the Assemblies is very poor and there have been reports that while the members do not turn up for the session they get their daily allowance. One example was of Punjab Assembly where Acting Speaker, annoyed over lack of quorum, checked the attendance register and found that some members were present on record but physically absent in the House. In our view these factors are causing a set back to the ongoing democratic process and all concerned should give a serious thought as to what direction the nation and the assemblies are moving and what message they are sending to the people. The people have elected the MPs to represent them and work for the betterment of their electorates and the country and not for settling personal scores. Let the MPs set healthy traditions and resolve all issues and problems in a civilized manner.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

STICKING THE TAG OF TERRORISM ON PAKISTAN

 

IT has become customary for the Indian leaders to blame Pakistan at home and abroad whenever they get an opportunity. The latest salvo has come from the President of opposition BJP Nitin Gadkari who on his first visit to China said that talks with Pakistan would only be resumed after Islamabad dismantled what he called all terrorist training camps and stopped cross border terrorism from its soil.


This statement of Mr Gadkari is in line with Indian Government agenda to continue sticking the tag of terrorism on Pakistan and keep it under pressure. The Indian media too taking cue from the leadership leaves no opportunity for Pakistan bashing. Because of these repeated charges the international community is now getting sick of anti-Pakistan tirade by the Indian leadership. Pakistan is following the policy of establishing good neighbourly relations and never responded in the same coin to India over its blatant intervention in our internal affairs. New Delhi's support to extremists in FATA and subversive elements in Balochistan is well known to the international community. The massacres of Kashmiris at the hands of Indian occupation forces, killings of 2000 Muslims by Hindu extremists in Gujerat and the attack at Samjhota Express killing dozens of Pakistanis are ample proofs of extremism and State sponsored terrorism by India. It is know crystal clear that many of the incidents of terrorism were carried out by Hindu extremists, RAW and the blame was put on Pakistan to defame it in the international community. Massacre of Kashmiri Sikhs on the eve of former President Clinton's visit to the region in early 2000 is also a clear proof of it. We would therefore ask the Indian leaders to stop propaganda against Pakistan and enter into purposeful dialogue for resolving core issues including Kashmir for attaining good neighbourly relations and lasting peace in the region..

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

RISE OF HINDU TERRORISM

AIR CDRE KHALID IQBAL (R)

 

It's not Muslims, but Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activists who planned and executed the bomb blasts at Malegaon in 2006, on the Samjhauta Express in 2007, in Ajmer Sharif in 2007 and Mecca Masjid in 2007," confessed Swami Aseemanand, the main accused of 2007 Samjhauta Express blast in front of a magistrate at a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court. RSS, the Hindu radical group of Aseemanand is the spiritual parent of BJP. This confession has substantially bolstered Pakistan's point of view that Hindu extremist outfits carry out false flag terrorist acts for which Muslim entities of India and neighbouring countries are promptly blamed under a well thought out scheme. Swami's confession is only a confirmation about the open secret about phenomenal rise of homegrown Hindu terrorism in India. According to India's Tehelka magazine, which has obtained a copy of Swami's 42-page confession, Swami told his interrogators that attacks on Muslim places were in response to attacks by Islamist militants.


India has been dragging its feet on Samjhota train related investigations since long. Pakistan is likely to raise the extradition demand of Swami and others following India's refusal to share the details of the Samjhota train-bombing probe with Pakistan. Demand for extradition may come up during the Indo-Pak foreign secretary level talks in Bhutan during the first week of February. Pakistani foreign office has already summoned the Indian envoy and asked him to hand over the findings of the bombing investigation. So far India has been dilly dallying that "it was premature" to provide results of the train bombing probe to Pakistan, while drumming up its campaign that Pakistan should quickly bring to justice the masterminds of Mumbai attacks of 2008. Islamabad has also listed other bombing incidents involving the false flag actions by Hindu radicals, like Gujarat, Malegoan, Mecca Msjid in Hyderabad, Ajmer Sharif etc. Initially, Pakistan was blamed for these incidents.

Shamsul Islam, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Satyawati College, University of Delhi has recently commented: 'The culprit of Samjhota Express dresses up in the full Hindu saffron regalia, and is followed to and from places by his band of marauders who carry the Hindu Trident and yell Anti-Muslim slogans. Colonel Prohit dresses the same way, and is treated like a hero in Bharat. Pakistan will be demanding the extradition of Hindu terrorists…who were involved in the 2007 bloody bombing of the Pakistan-bound Samjhota Express train that killed 68 innocent people, 42 of which were Pakistan nationals…the 2008 blast in the town of Malegaon killed seven people and left more than 100 injured. A female Hindu priest, Sadhwi Pragya Singh Thakur, and a serving Indian army officer were among 11 people who were arrested in connection with the attack…'.


The Indian Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) and the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) had hastily blamed these terror acts on the Lashkar-e-Tayaba (LeT) and the Bangladesh-based Harkatul Jehadul Islami (HUJI). Scores of innocent Indian Muslim youth were arrested and brutally tortured by the Indian security establishment.To make things worse, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabah rioted in Malegaon, Ajmer and Panipat, beat up Muslim youth, set Muslim businesses on fire, and looted the homes of Muslims. A number of Mulims still languish in Indian jails, blamed for the crimes committed by the RSS. In Mecca Masjid blast, 14 people died and as a knee jerk reaction, initially around 80 Muslims were detained for questioning and 25 arrested. The investigation continued on this line until CBI found the evidence that mobile phone-detonated explosives packed in metal tubes were similar to the Ajmer blasts. The bombs contained a deadly mix of RDX and TNT, in proportions often used by the Indian army. CBI director Ashwani Kumar told the media that an activist named Sunil Joshi "played a key role in orchestrating the Ajmer blast and a set of mobile SIM cards that had been used in activation of the bomb-triggers in the Mecca Masjid blast was used again in the Ajmer blast".

National Investigating Agency (NIA) has filed a case in a court accusing 11 Hindus and members of the ultra-right-wing Sanathan Sanstha, of masterminding and executing the October 2009 Margao blast. Initial suspicion and interrogation of suspected Muslim men, some believed to be members of "sleeper cells of jehadi groups" turned out to be just an allegation. In Ajmer Sharif Blast in 2007 ,3 people died. In 2010, Rajasthan ATS arrested Devendra Gupta, Chandrashekhar and Vishnu Prasad. Initial arrests of Muslims linked to HuJI and LeT proved to be wrong. During interrogation, Colonel Prohit confessed to ATS investigators that he had provided the RDX in the Mecca Masjid blasts. A human right activist and Mumbai advocate Mihir said, "It is believed that CBI is seeking directions from the home ministry to see the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and other blasts in conjunction after there has been no conclusive evidence of the involvement of Islamic groups". The RSS gang is often out in the street for whipping up frenzy against Muslims. Latest craze of these terrorists is to unfurl the Indian flag in Srinagar on January 26, 2011. BJP and its RSS components are so zealous about hoisting the tricolour in Srinagar that they have ignored the advice of the state Chief Minister that any such attempt would create serious tensions in the IHK, because freedom loving Kashmiri's have a tradition to hoist black flags on the Indian Republic day.


Pattern of this terrorism is of a unique kind. It is not by the have-nots or underdog minorities against the statue quo. This brand of terrorism is practiced by the Hindu majority against the minorities. Extremist Hindu parties maintain de-facto militant wings under various brand names. Atrocities against the poor and lower class Hindus, the Muslims and the people from other sects and beliefs, continue under a state of denial by the Indian politicians and government machinery. Some Indian writers like Arunduta Roy, officials like former IG police SM Mushrif and a few human rights organizations keep raising their voices despite prevalent coercive environment. As per Wikileaks, Rahul Gandhi believes that Hindu radicals might pose a greater threat than Islamist militants. Each passing day discovers new realities about 'shining' India when the truth glitters from the false cover stories. The secular India is well on its way to collapse as the hindutva mindset is incrementally taking over.


—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

BLASPHEMY ISSUE

ASIF HAROON RAJA

Pakistan's blasphemy law has been described by the West as discriminatory against non-Muslims. The European Parliament recorded its observation officially and sought its elimination. Pope Benedict called for Pakistan to repeal anti-blasphemy law and demanded security for Christians in Pakistan. Strangely, the fault finders see no law of non-Muslims against Muslims as biased and unjust. Insulting the revered Holy Prophet (PBUH) has been overlooked by the Pope and the west on the pretext of freedom of speech and liberal values. The seculars in Pakistan who provide strength to the critics in western world want all laws framed in the light of Quran and Sunnah to be scrapped and the country made secular. They condemn those who espouse Islam, Islamic ideology and two-nation theory. Encouraged by the success achieved in getting Hadood laws amended during Gen Musharraf's tenure which have removed all checks on promiscuity and sex with consent, ultra liberal legislator Sherry Rehman belonging to PPP tabled a bill as a private member before the national assembly in last December to modify the law by annulling death penalty. Her move was hailed by secular brigade.

The bill was promptly admitted and a committee headed by minister of minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was formed to review blasphemy law. No PPP leader objected to the review bill. This move was made in the wake of a case of a Christian Asyia Bibi who had allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and was arrested in June 2009 on charges of blasphemy. She had confessed her crime in front of the village committee and the judge of lower court and was accordingly sentenced to death. After the decision she went into appeal in Lahore High Court (LHC). Governor Punjab Salman Taseer stood up in support of anti-blasphemy law movers. Disregarding public sentiments he started condemning blasphemy law, terming it as man made and black and vowed to change it. Emboldened by the applause he received from the secular camp, he along with his wife and daughter met the convicted woman Asyia in prison in Shiekhupura last November and held a press conference in her presence assuring her that he will take her application for mercy to the president by hand and get the decision reversed.

Leading ulemas hold a unanimous view that in accordance with Quran and Sunnah, anyone who commits blasphemy is liable to death punishment and it was the sole prerogative of Holy Prophet (PBUH) and none else to forgive the blasphemer. In the last 1400 years, only 100 persons had been awarded capital punishment for committing blasphemy which is a proof that this law has been discreetly and justly applied. In Pakistan more Muslims have been charged under this law than non-Muslims and none has so far been hanged to death. Having sensed the intentions of the ruling regime the entire lot of religious right led by religious political leaders and ulemas put aside their differences and from a single platform gave a call to their followers to launch protest marches. So strong is the influence of the clerics on the downtrodden that complete shutter down and wheel jam was observed throughout the country on 31 December. Threats were hurled on Sherry and Salman favouring amendment of the law. One of the ex Nazims Sardar Ibad Dogar had announced head money award of Rs two crores to his killer. A mosque in Karachi issued a fatwa against Sherry declaring her a non-Muslim and seeking her death.


By the time religious forces started flexing muscles to exert pressure on the government not to amend the blasphemy law; PPP regime had become fragile. JUI-F and MQM had pulled out of federal cabinet and PML-N was exerting pressure while PML-Q was not agreeing to lend support. Despite the PPP leading lights taking a U turn saying that blasphemy law will never be amended, Governor Salman remained in upbeat mood. He became so reckless that he even violated LHC order which prohibited statements on this issue till the matter was decided by the court. Instead of becoming discreet because of rising tempers of the Islamists, Salman continued his tirade against blasphemy laws as well as clerics and vowed to change the laws. It was like showing red rag to the fuming bull. He became so complacent that on 4 January while in Islamabad he went to have lunch with a friend at a coffee house in Kohisar Market in private non-bullet proof car. After having his lunch, while he was walking towards his car, one of his security guards belonging to elite Punjab police Mumtaz Qadri riddled his body with 27 bullets from a close range.


Qadri's face didn't show any signs of nervousness, fright or remorse. He was composed and had a wry smile on his face. He seemed so pleased with his accomplishment that he didn't try to run away or kill himself. After emptying his magazine he quietly laid down his weapon and surrendered. Later on he disclosed that he had made up his mind three days before the incident after he heard a Barelvi cleric exhorting his audience in Rawalpindi that Governor Salman had termed blasphemy law as black and as such his murder was permissible. The startling news of broad daylight murder of the governor spread like jungle fire but the situation became complex when activists of Tehrik-Tahaffuz-e-Khatme-Nabuwat took out a rally in Mansehra immediately after the occurrence to celebrate the assassination.


They condemned Salman for making sacrilegious remarks and lionised Qadri for killing the agent of Zionists. Leading ulemas of Jamaat Ahle Sunnat in a joint statement asked Muslims not to express regrets or sympathise over his murder and asked all Imam Masjids not to offer Namaz Janaza. On 5 January no Imam including Imam of Governor House mosque was available to perform religious rituals and perforce a maulvi belonging to PPP led the prayers. The murderer Qadri was garlanded and kissed by lawyers when he was brought to Rawalpindi District Court. 40,000 activists of Tehrik-e-Khatme-Nabuwat rallied in Karachi on 11 January in support of the killer and raised slogans that Qadri had performed the act to save the sanctity of Holy Prophet. Thousands of messages cluttered up the Face book hailing Qadri as a 'hero'. PPP leaders like Babar Awan instead of blaming extremists accused Shahbaz Sharif government for failing to provide adequate security and described it as a political murder. They forgot that they had abandoned him and for political point scoring were glorifying the dead man. Salman had also been deserted by opportunist liberals in the face of mounting rage of Mullahs. Secular writers are now writing series of articles in English newspapers trying to portray Islamists in poor light and describing them as a great danger to Pakistan . They are vainly trying to glorify Salman and demonizing Islamists. They forget that ultra liberals are also fascists and responsible for provoking Islamists.


After the sad murder of Salman Taseer, Secular-Islamic divide has sharpened and the society has become more polarized. While secularists have suffered a huge setback and are on the back foot, Islamists seem to have bounced back. Most significant development is the coming together of Deobandis and Barelvis who till recent were spitting fire against each other. Barelvis and Sunni Tehriq viewed as moderates were being cultivated by the ruling regime but now both seem to be coming close to Deobandis. Issue of blasphemy has helped religious right in getting united. It will be in fitness of things to avoid discussion on blasphemy law and to let passions subside. Widening divide between seculars and Islamists must be bridged and serious efforts made to tone down extremist tendencies in both camps. What is essentially required is prevention of misuse of blasphemy laws.

The writer is a freelance analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

UN CONCERN OVER ABUSES IN IHK

DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

 

After her 11 days tour of four Indian states and Indian Occupied Kashmir, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations (UN) special rapporteur on human rights defenders, emphasized India to repeal the barbaric laws, given to its security forces in Kashmir. She address a news conference in New Delhi on January 20, 2011, seriously objecting to the laws, giving Indian security forces, wide-ranging powers of arrest, illegal detention and torture to the people of this heavenly state. The UN human rights defender particularly mentioned that, during her visit to the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir, she learnt through the grieved families about the "killing, torture, ill-treatment, disappearances, threats, arbitrarily arrests and detention," of their loves one by Indian security forces.

Ms Sekaggya particularly insisted for the immediate repeal of two laws viz; the Armed Forces Special Power Act and the Public Safety Act. India enforced these inhuman laws in Kashmir, in 1990s, after the massive public uprisings in the State, against the illegal Indian occupation. In 1990, Governor Rule was imposed in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir and Indian Security Forces were given sweeping powers of arrest and detention, through; the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA). They could even shoot to kill with virtual immunity. These special legal provisions contravene most of the human rights provisions laid down in international human rights instruments to which India is a party, notably the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to arbitrary arrest and detention.

The discriminatory law, permits people to be detained for a period up to two years on vaguely defined grounds to prevent them "from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the state or the maintenance of public order. The broad definition of this act permits the authorities to detain persons without trial for simply asking whether the state of Jammu and Kashmir should remain part of India. This contravenes their right to express their opinions guaranteed in Article 19 of the ICCPR, which provides that any individual arrested or detained be brought promptly before a court in order to decide immediately on the lawfulness of the detention.

Through the Armed Forces Special Power Act, the Army and Para-military forces in disturbed areas have the power to shoot to kill any individual who is violating or behaving in contravention of the law enforced. Provisions of this act are; "It is necessary so to do for maintenance of public order - - - - - fire upon or otherwise use force even to the cause of death against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons or the carrying of weapons or things capable of being used as weapons or of fire arms, ammunition or explosive substances."

Besides, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), is yet another discriminatory law, enforced in the Occupied State to maltreat the Kashmiris. The inhuman law permits Indian Security Forces, to detain the people arbitrarily for just inquiring whether Jammu and Kashmir should remain part of India or discussing the possibilities of plebiscite. This cruel act allows the authorities to arrest and detain people just on mere suspicion and people can be remanded up to 60 days in police custody. Amnesty International has found the provisions of TADA, is a gross violation of the international Human Rights Laws.


These broadly defined powers provide sufficient ground for shooting of detainees and suspects even in custody. In spite of expression of concern by Human Rights Organizations and Amnesty International over these "cruel laws" which contravene the right to life, Indian Government has not bothered to soften the provisions. All these laws make the security forces of India operating in the state of Jammu and Kashmir immune from prosecution for acts committed while exercising powers under these laws. Thus, members of the forces are encouraged to act with impunity.


United Nations, Amnesty International, and Kashmiris strongly feel that these laws are a license in the hands of the Indian Security Forces to kill the helpless Kashmiris in custody as well as on open roads and streets. Since no member of the security forces including police can be prosecuted, and alleged to have committed human rights violations, therefore they are free to do anything with the lives of any Kashmiris under the cover of these the laws. It is worth mentioning that, in spite of fraudulent treaty of accession of the state by Maharaja Harisingh, the people of Kashmir have never accepted their state as part of India. It was only in 1990, that, they formally started an armed liberation struggle against the Indian subjugation, upon pushing them against the wall. It was purely an indigenous uprising of the Kashmiri youth. In 1989/90, Kashmiri boycotted the Lok Sabha elections and started peaceful protests for their right of self-determination in the light of UN resolutions. This provoked India, which moved over 700,000 security forces in the occupied territory to suppress the Kashmiris. Indian forces were deployed in each nook and corner of the state. Indeed, through a unanimous vote, Kashmiris had rejected the Indian Lok Sabha elections under the Indian constitution in 1989 by casting even less than 2% votes. Thus, 98% people remained off the polling stations. This action of Kashmiris caused a panic in the ranks of the Indian government and they perpetrated brutalities on Kashmiris, continuing even today. Indian forces battling the Kashmiri freedom fighters in the state were given unlimited powers to suppress the popular uprising through above-mentioned discriminatory laws.


Ever since the outbreak of renewed insurgency in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by its people in 1989/90, a reign of terror and repression has been let loose by the Indian authorities. In the garb of so-called terrorism, a veritable war was started against the defenseless masses, obviously for their open and large-scale support to this new phase of the decade's old movement for the right of self-determination. Siege and search operations, the ransacking of the houses during searches, identification parades, dusk-to-down curfews without break, random arrests, mostly of the youth including teen-age boys (in the age group of 14-19 years) were the most common features of Indian forces. Besides this, unprovoked / indiscriminate shootings, massacres, target killings, severe beating of civilian irrespective of age and sex for fun or revenge killings, physical torture at improvised centers, night raids, rape are continued even today.


Today, once again, the world body (UNO), feels that, "The Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Public Safety Act should be repealed, and application of other security laws which adversely affect the work of human rights defenders should be reviewed." Indeed, it is high time that, India should listen to the global voices on its grass human rights violations in its occupied portion of Kashmir and give Kashmiris, their right of self-determination.

—The writer is an International Relations analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

OPTING FOR COLLECTIVE WISDOM

MALIK M ASHRAF

The economy is in shambles and to stem the rot immediate corrective measures are needed to prevent an impending collapse that could have disastrous consequences for the country as well as the masses. That is a consensus opinion of the independent economists, economic managers of the government, the State Bank of Pakistan, the opposition parties and even the PPP coalition government. There is also a permeating view that this corrective action will arguably depend on reducing the budget deficit which is hovering around 6-7 percent of the GDP that can only be done by finding new avenues of raising revenue through broadening the tax base and reducing the government expenditure. Any viable and realistic solution to the economic woes of the country will undoubtedly have to be choreographed within the ambit of these parameters.


There is also another inescapable reality that under the present circumstances, Pakistan perforce has to resort to borrowing from the international lending agencies including IMF—with all the attached conditionalities— as well as the State Bank of Pakistan to meet its development and non-development expenditure. The IMF and other international lending agencies are not prepared to oblige Pakistan any further until such time Pakistan fulfils their conditionalities regarding broadening the tax base and initiating concrete steps to reduce the budget deficit. The IMF has already withheld the release of sixth tranche of $1.3 billion to Pakistan which is a dire need to tide over the current budget deficit, owing to its inability to enforce GST and effecting structural changes in the economy. The attempts by the government to broaden the tax base through the imposition of RGST have unfortunately been scuttled by a stiff resistance from the opposition parties; the response stemming from their propensity to play to the gallery rather than concern for the economic considerations in the larger and long term interest of the economy and the country. Similar has been the case with the withdrawal of increase on the fuel prices costing the government more than Rs.7 billion in the form of subsidy. The government had to retract on these issues because it could not carry out these reforms without the support of the other political entities in the parliament. These steps negate the concept of broadening the tax base and reducing the government expenditure. No doubt the masses have been hard hit by the galloping inflation and ever increasing unemployment but the fact remains that some harsh and realistic measures will have to be taken to save the situation getting out of hand. Steps like withdrawal of increase in the oil price may have provided temporary relief to the people, but it is not a sustainable and preferred option in view of the fact that there are strong portents to suggest that the international oil prices are likely to maintain an upward trend and it will not be possible for third world countries like Pakistan to keep a lid on the domestic fuel prices unless it is prepared to go for the reckless choice of increased subsidies on the oil prices. The government is indeed faced with a dilemma. There is a pressure from the IMF and other international agencies and donors——an indispensible association — for the introduction of structural reforms and the steps to broaden the tax base and equally strong resistance from the domestic front not to yield to the dictates of the international lenders. The stalemate is likely to hurt the economy further unless the political forces realize their responsibilities towards the country and shun their propensity to look at the things through the prism of their own narrow political interests. The country is at the edge of a precipice. Irrespective of whatever happened in the past and whoever is responsible for the mess that the country is stuck into, there are no two opinions about the fact that it was time to take the bull by horns and explain the situation to the masses honestly. It is indeed encouraging to note that the Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has exhibited the required political acumen and pragmatism by responding positively to the ten point agenda suggested by the PML (N), with fixing of economy being the top priority. Mian Nawaz Sharif and his party also deserve unqualified accolades for recognizing the ground realities in their true perspective and joining hands with the government to find answers to the challenges confronting the country. The prospect of the two major political parties opting to use their collective wisdom is a good omen and augurs well for the future of democracy as well as finding plausible solutions for improving the economic situations of the people.

One hopes that the interaction between the committees formed by the PPP and the PML (N) to deliberate on the economic and other issues, which have a direct bearing on the economy, will keep in view the constraints that are hampering the plunge into a corrective mode and the opportunities that exist and come up with a practicable and realistic policy options that will provide sustainable mechanism over a short and long period to fix the economic maladies and also resolve the issues pertaining to governance on perennial basis by taking on board all the stake holders . A positive aspect of such a solution would be that both parties will also own and strive to implement the package of reforms evolved mutually, ushering in a new era of political amity.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

THE PRICE OF CLIMATE CHANGE?

MICHAEL RICHARDSON

Generations of Australians have learned that their island-continent is a land of alternating droughts and floods. Recent prolonged rain and devastating flooding across eastern Australia, particularly in the state of Queensland, underscore this heartbreaking cycle. Weather experts say that the immediate cause is natural: a periodic fluctuation in sea surface temperature of the central Pacific Ocean along the equator and in air pressure of the atmosphere above. Known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), it affects weather patterns in many parts of the Pacific, including Australia and Southeast Asia.


However, there are also signs that that ENSO itself may be affected by man-made climate change. As Queensland counts the heavy financial cost, some fear that the economic disruption and damage to industry and infrastructure may be repeated more often and more intensely in Australia in future. Losses to the Queensland economy and the cleanup bill are expected to exceed $10 billion. The national growth rate may also take a hit. Queensland is Australia's largest coal exporter — mainly to Asia — and accounts for about 20 percent of the country's $1.2 trillion economy, which relies heavily on mineral, energy and farm exports. ENSO has two extreme phases in its typical seesaw every three to eight years. One, El Nino, is associated with hotter than normal temperatures and diminished rainfall. The other, La Nina, usually brings above-average wet weather and lower temperatures. The Australian government's Bureau of Meteorology said earlier this month that the La Nina phase bringing the deluge to eastern Australia was the strongest since at least the mid-1970s. As a result, Australia had its third wettest year on record in 2010.


Indonesia's Met Office reported recently that rain across the far-flung island-nation would continue until June. It said the dry season, which normally starts in April and lasts until October, would only start in July. Meanwhile, Brazil and Sri Lanka have been hit by unusually heavy and damaging downpours, just as northern Europe and much of the United States feel the bite of abnormally frigid winter weather. Despite these bursts of wet and cold weather, two leading US climate agencies said on Jan. 12 that the average land and sea surface temperature last year tied with 2005 as the warmest on record since data collection started in 1880. The global temperature was 0.62 degree Celsius above the 20th-century average. Attributed by many scientists to the growing release of carbon dioxide, methane and other global-warming gases from human activity into the atmosphere, this temperature rise is happening at the same as the natural ENSO cycle. James Hansen, director of one of the US climate agencies, said that the average global temperature increased as fast in the past decade as in the prior two decades, despite year-to-year fluctuations associated with ENSO.


A summary on the state of the Australian climate published last year by the Met Bureau and the CSIRO, Australia's leading scientific research organization, said that in the past 50 years the mean temperature in Australia had risen by about 0.7 C and was projected to increase further by 0.6 to 1.5 C by 2030. It said that if global greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow at business-as-usual rates, Australia could be 2.2 to 5.0 C hotter by 2070.


Scientists say that the warming trend increases the likelihood of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and floods. In addition to being the equal hottest year ever, 2010 was also the wettest on record. A hotter world causes more evaporation from land and oceans. A warmer atmosphere holds and releases more water, which can mean more violent storms and bigger floods.


The equatorial expanse of the Pacific, which is far larger than the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, is critical to the development of ENSO. During La Nina, trade winds blowing west bring moist air to northern Australia and Indonesia. Heated by the tropical sun and warm water, the air rises to create towering bulbous clouds and heavy rainfall.

A question that must concern Australia and Southeast Asia is whether man-made global warming from burning fossil fuels and clearing forests is intensifying natural weather patterns like ENSO and, if so, how? It is clear that if an exceptionally dry El Nino phase occurs against the backdrop of long-term man-made global warming, one will make the other hotter. This happened in Indonesia in 1997-98 during the Asian financial crisis when forest fires spread haze pollution across Southeast Asia.

 

Some scientists also think that there is a link between rising global sea temperature and the strength of ENSO cycles. The annual climate statement by the Australian Met Bureau, issued on Jan. 5, noted that sea-surface temperatures in the Australian region last year were the warmest on record, 0.54 C above the 1961 to 1990 average. The last decade was also the warmest on record for sea surface temperatures. The statement added that "very warm sea surface temperatures contributed to the record rainfall and very high humidity across eastern Australia during winter and spring."


Echoing the scientific panel advising the United Nations on climate change, the Australian Met Bureau-CSIRO assessment for 2010 said that there was a greater than 90 percent certainty that increases in greenhouse gas emissions have caused most of the global warming since the mid-20th century. If those who believe that man-made global warming gases are intensifying extreme ENSO weather are right, the flood devastation in Australia is a warning that we upset the complex climate system at our own peril. The writer is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore. — The Japan Times

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

A MOMENT TO HONOUR ACTS OF EXTREME VALOUR

OUR LATEST VICTORIA CROSS WINNER JOINS A REMARKABLE CLUB

THERE is no rule, but it is the convention that soldiers of every rank salute Victoria Cross winners, irrespective of their place in the hierarchy. The gesture underlines how the VC has nothing to do with seniority or role but rather honours something more fundamental -- that mix of duty, discipline, daring, self-sacrifice and courage that cuts across any formal layers of military organisation. Our highest military honour recognises that bravery has no boundaries. It marks that rare quality that -- as the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said yesterday when she invested our new VC winner, Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith -- does indeed "bring our hearts to soar".

The VC marks a spirit that no amount of military training can create -- although good training doubtless provides the skills and builds the self-belief that allowed Corporal Roberts-Smith to act so bravely in the heat of battle. Training also helps create the bonds that prompted his actions in a dusty fig orchard in Afghanistan last June when he charged into the face of fire to take out two Taliban machine-gun posts. His motivation was more personal than political or even strategic. As he tells defence editor Brendan Nicholson in The Australian today: "At that point I decided I'd had enough. I wasn't going to wait until someone got hit. I know their families, they know mine . . . I'm not going to let someone get hit while I sit here doing nothing." This is a spirit as old as humanity yet as contemporary as the actions of those Australians who found the strength to perform extraordinary actions to rescue others during the recent Queensland floods. Whether it be mateship, friendship, love, respect or duty, it is a spirit that we are delighted to honour, especially so as we prepare to celebrate Australia Day this week.

Ours is a fast-paced world where success is too often measured by achievement at work or material wealth and less often by the depth of relationships. The well-lived life, guided by self-respect and respect for others, commitment to family, friends and colleagues, is often overlooked in a society that applauds celebrity and power. Yet we are reminded over and over of the presence of ordinary goodness among us. Not everyone is called upon to demonstrate extreme courage during their lifetime. Few Australians will ever be confronted by the choices faced by the Lockyer Valley saviours, let alone a professional soldier like Corporal Roberts-Smith. As Julia Gillard said yesterday when she thanked him on behalf of the nation, our new VC winner is like us, and yet different from us, his actions on that June day permanently setting him apart, even while reaffirming his quintessentially Australian nature. Yet the achievements of those, like him, who put their lives on the line for others is a reminder to us all of what is meant by character and courage, and how important it is that as a nation we take every opportunity to publicly acknowledge these qualities at every level. This is so whether it is the Australian of the Year awards or the Australian honours lists that will be revealed this week or through an elite award such as the VC.

At only 32, Corporal Roberts-Smith is already an outstanding soldier, the addition of the VC to his 2006 Medal for Gallantry making him Australia's most decorated soldier, with an extraordinary record in Afghanistan. He joins a small band of brothers as only the 98th Australian to have won the VC since it was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856. He is only the second Australian to win the VC in a theatre of war since the end of the Vietnam conflict. Like Mark Donaldson, who was awarded the VC for action in 2008, he is from the elite SAS regiment serving in Afghanistan. Like Corporal Donaldson, Corporal Roberts-Smith does not want the award to be the end of his active service. The public demands on VC winners are intense -- all Australians want a slice of these special role models -- but we are not surprised both men have wanted to continue in the theatre of war, given the dedication and professionalism they have shown. Corporal Roberts-Smith went out of his way at his press conference yesterday to say that he would wear the VC "for the unit" as he emphasised the heroism of his mates and said how much he wanted to "get back to work" alongside them all. Indeed, he spoke of how the VC added to the pressure on him to do even better, train harder, show more leadership, prove himself all over again. His courage is an inspiration, but his grounded and humble demeanour are equally impressive.

In this sense, Corporal Roberts-Smith is a worthy successor, not just to earlier VC winners, but to all those ANZACs who have gone before him. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott was right yesterday to remind us we should have faith in the "iPod" generation of soldiers. The wars we fight today may be different, the military hardware more sophisticated and the technology more precise, but in the end, as our VC winner has shown, our serving men and women share the same instincts for daring, and the same selflessness and humanity that have distinguished our defence forces for generations. We salute them all.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

EARLY EXIT IS NO MAGIC SOLUTION

THE TASMANIAN PREMIER'S DEPARTURE A DISAPPOINTING RESULT

DAVID Bartlett has every right to step back from leadership but it is nonetheless disappointing to see the Tasmanian Premier throwing in the towel so soon after asking for the confidence of the state's voters. The 43-year-old Premier cites personal matters, but it is hard to believe that poor opinion polling did not play some role in his decision, announced yesterday, to hand over to his more media-friendly deputy, Lara Giddings. The challenges for Tasmania are considerable, with jobs lost in manufacturing and forestry, and significant cuts to the public service, as well as a pending $200 million budget black hole thanks to revenue lost because of the flow-on effects of the global financial crisis. The fragile coalition with the Greens, cobbled together after the state election last March, added to the complex task of governance that Mr Bartlett confronted. Faced with a December opinion poll that revealed his approval rating at just 23 per cent, Mr Bartlett would this year have come under considerable pressure to do a better job of selling his government's achievements. His choice, made, as he said yesterday, with the care and nurturing of his young family in mind, is to go now, although he will stay on in cabinet at the request of Ms Giddings. He has stated he will not contest the next election in 2014.

There is no evidence that Labor is divided or that Mr Bartlett's colleagues had begun to move against him over the summer break. Yet any regret they may have at what could well be seen as a pre-emptive strike by Mr Bartlett will surely be mixed with relief that they now have a leader who is likely to be more adept at explaining policy to voters. Mr Bartlett had been in parliament for only four years when he inherited the premiership from the beleaguered Paul Lennon in May 2008. At times since then, he has looked like a political neophyte, more comfortable with the technology that defined his earlier career in IT and the public service, than with voters.

At times, too, Mr Bartlett has appeared frustrated that his policy reforms have not resonated with an electorate more concerned with high electricity prices than the long-term potential for Tasmania to become a pristine national food bowl, for example. In time, he is likely to be vindicated for his early advocacy of this concept and for his success in getting the National Broadband Network rolled out first in Tasmania.

Mr Bartlett has understood the extent to which the Tasmanian economy is in transition, that the state must find new jobs and new sources of wealth. Indeed, the Premier has often been too impatient to introduce change. His efforts to reform the state's Year 10 education system to bring it into the 21st century were in the right direction but it turned into a debacle -- an example of the leader's tendency to want too much, too quickly. In other areas -- such as the establishment of an integrity commission and introduction of freedom of information legislation -- he has worked steadily to improve civic life in the state. These reforms, while having little impact on popularity ratings, are likely to be seen as his enduring legacy.

Mr Bartlett takes credit too for Labor's survival in power till now. He managed to broker a coalition with the Greens last year over several bruising weeks of tactical manoeuvring when Labor and the Liberals were deadlocked at 10 seats apiece. The deal has held together far longer than some commentators thought possible. The opposition correctly points to the upheaval that yesterday's shock decision at the top -- announced first, it must be said, by the Premier on Facebook -- means to the state and the stability of this tenuous arrangement with the Greens.

Labor appears united behind Ms Giddings but the new premier, the first female premier for Tasmania, has a big task ahead of her to meet the challenges facing Labor and the state.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BRISBANE

GOODWILL AND COMMON SENSE WILL BE THE FIRMEST FOUNDATIONS.

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.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE AGED-CARE CHALLENGE

THE Productivity Commission has presented Australians with an unpalatable message: this country's ramshackle aged-care system, already inadequate, under-resourced and unfair, will be overwhelmed by demographic realities within decades without a total overhaul. Typically, the commission does not shrink from spelling out the reforms it believes necessary to make the system financially sustainable and more socially equitable.

Controversially, it calls for the better-off to make a substantially greater contribution to the cost of their care in old age. Even more controversially, it wants the value of the family home - long a political sacred cow - to be included in assessing a person's capacity to pay 5 to 25 per cent of the cost of care.

This is political dynamite, particularly if an opportunist opposition chooses to play on the anger being expressed by some older people. Just such a backlash over the family home issue caused the Howard government to back off in the late 1990s. Many far-from-rich elderly fear they would be faced with agonising decisions when at their most vulnerable, and punished for their prudence in paying off their home, their sole major asset, in the hope of leaving it to their children.

Yet it would be a tragedy if such understandable concerns blinded people to the advantages of the proposed massive program of reform. Artificial restraints on the number of aged-care beds would go. The contribution from better-off users would supplement a much increased contribution by the taxpayer. As for selling their home, the commission suggests, alternatively, that people could draw down on the home equity through some sort of government-sponsored "reverse mortgage" - although it warns such schemes can be risky and costly.

The elderly would choose whether to pay for their accommodation daily, weekly, monthly or by a lump-sum bond. They would receive advice (from a "gateway" agency) as to their assessed needs, entitlements and the services available. There would be many more, better paid, aged-care workers. A regulatory body would set standards and costs, and handle accreditation and complaints. The safety net for low-income earners would remain. There would be incentives for people to stay in their homes while capable.

The commission's draft recommendations deserve constructive debate. The issue cannot be dodged - not when the existing-aged care system, rorting allegations aside, is failing to cope decently with just over a million users. By 2050, the number needing care will have more than trebled to 3.6 million. 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

COMMONWEALTH NOT QUITE KING

MOVIEGOERS in Australia and Britain alike are flocking to The King's Speech. More seems to be at play than a well-dramatised story of how an Australian therapist saved Britain's future King George VI from an insufferable speech impediment. Perhaps audience reaction here reflects something broader about how many Australians see our modern relationship with Britain, as the more progressive ally, less hidebound by tradition and "form"? With fortuitous timing William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary, has just visited Australia calling for a revival of the Commonwealth, the post-imperial group that has bound Australia to Britain for the past 62 years.

Hague was the first British foreign secretary to visit in 20 years. That alone says something about Britain's European and transatlantic priorities. But in a speech to the Lowy Institute in Sydney last week, Hague allowed his Eurosceptic instincts to roam. He called for a "distinctive" British foreign policy, shifting weight towards Asia and South America, where emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil are helping to reshape global networks.

Even more, he urged a bigger impact on world affairs from the Commonwealth, a collection of 54 countries whose one common link (except for the odd ring-in like Mozambique) is their status as former British colonies. An eminent persons group including Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court judge, is looking at the Commonwealth's future as Australia prepares to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, or CHOGM, in Perth in October. The Commonwealth's achievements, such as helping to end apartheid in South Africa, are mainly in the past. Reviving it as an influential global institution will not be easy.

It suffers a brand problem, even in member countries. Many do not know what it is, or what it does. About a quarter of Jamaicans in one survey thought President Barack Obama was its head, not the Queen. Then, Hague's claim that the Commonwealth could be a moral authority on human rights may sound hollow to some. Kirby recently questioned the Commonwealth's record here. He noted that with 30 per cent of the world's population, the Commonwealth also harboured 60 per cent of its AIDS cases. Kirby argued laws banning gay sex in about 40 Commonwealth countries were partly to blame. He called for more "human rights protection for Commonwealth citizens".

As Australia pursues an evolving network of trade and strategic alliances in Asia, promoting the primacy of an old Anglo-centric institution may look odd to some of our rising regional partners. Hague's ideas are worth exploring, nevertheless. But it's unlikely that CHOGM will prove quite the same crowd-pleaser as The King's Speech.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

PRODUCTIVITY REPORT ON AGED CARE WELCOME START TO DEBATE

AUSTRALIA MUST PLAN NOW FOR ITS GROWING GREYING POPULATION.

THAT sharp-tongued expatriate and feminist burr under the nation's saddle, Germaine Greer, recently put her finger on a sore point in a most timely fashion. Speaking last week at the launch of an Australian stamp carrying her face - one of a series portraying Australian legends - she used the opportunity to rebuke the powers that be over the failure to come to grips with the problems of an ageing population: ''The world citizen is fast becoming an impecunious, old, ill woman. Well done, guys.''

Dr Greer is neither poor nor sick, but she is now in her seventies. In that regard she is representative of the greying baby-boomer generation that is about to present society with one of its greatest challenges, a challenge that was raised in a Productivity Commission report, Caring for Older Australians, the same day that Dr Greer made her comments. The commission estimated that the number of people aged 85 and over will increase from 400,000 in 2010 to 1.8 million (5.1 per cent of people) by 2050. While further advances in the management of some diseases are expected, there will still be more people needing complex care for dementia, diabetes and other illnesses linked to long life, as well as palliative care. The 2010 Intergenerational Report estimated that federal spending on aged care will increase from 0.8 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 1.8 per cent by 2050.

It will be an issue for most Australians who are fortunate enough to escape an early death, and it will be an issue of particular interest to women. Aged care, as

Dr Greer's interest shows, is in some part a feminist issue. Most of the people in residential aged care are women; most of the people nursing them are women, as are most informal carers, too. The commission reported that, at age 65, 68 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men can expect to need at least one intensive aged-care service at some time in their remaining life.

Currently, more than 1 million older Australians are helped by aged-care services. The commission found that the services' quality and range have improved over the past decade. But the system remains difficult to navigate, the quantity of services is limited, and quality can be variable. Anyone who has searched for residential care for a family member knows that the phrase ''variable quality'' covers inadequacies from the unpleasant - mushy meals and impoverished social activities - to the nightmarish: pitiful food allowances, urine-soaked linen and carpets, and intractable bedsores.

The commission found gaps in service coverage and limited choices for recipients of care, as well as inconsistent and inequitable pricing. It warned us to expect a relative decline in the number of informal carers - in other words, don't expect middle-aged children and ageing partners to keep carrying the burden in the numbers they do now - and said existing workforce shortages were intensified by uncompetitive wages and over-regulation. So, without big systemic changes, the future will be bleak for many Australians as they grow old and frail.

Society has a grave moral obligation to continue to care for those who have, in their time, worked hard and given much to the community, particularly those who have themselves cared for others. But there are also tough questions about how we will set up change and pay for it.

So it is entirely appropriate that the commission has been examining the issue. Its report is only a draft, so it is some time away from any possible implementation, but many of its recommendations make sense. Yes, the wealthy should pay a greater share for their care, and yes, older people should be given funding that allows them to choose the type of care they want. Older people told the commission they did not want to be passively dependent on funded providers. Under the proposals, they would be assessed for the services they need - for example, help with meals or showering, or residential care - and given care entitlements they could use with the provider of their choice.

The commission also called for a single agency to be a ''gateway'' to the service maze. The aim to simplify the process of finding care is admirable. Whether this can be achieved, in such a huge, complex area, by the creation of a new bureaucratic body remains to be seen. Bureaucracies, however well-intentioned, must administer many rules and are rarely user-friendly.

Perhaps most importantly, the review also needs to examine standards of care. The Australian Nursing Federation was disappointed that the commission did not recommend minimum care hours.

The union claims a recent survey found 95 per cent of nurses and nursing assistants said their workloads had significantly increased in the past two years and that they did not have enough time to complete their job load. That load includes medicating, showering and feeding vulnerable people. The nation's honour, as well as the dignity of the individual, depends on its meticulous fulfilment.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … ERIC HOBSBAWM

This historian's work soars and dives then grounds the grand themes in detail as meticulous as it is enlightening

To top the charts at 93 is quite something, and especially for an uncompromising scholar who attributes rock'n'roll to "infantilism". But in yesterday's bestseller list, in the admittedly selective world of the Guardian bookshop, there in the No 1 spot was Eric Hobsbawm, with a collection of essays on Marxism, bundled together as How to Change the World. The grabby title in no way detracts from the serious content, which Stefan Collini's review in our pages described as being "analytical", "synoptic" and marked by "sheer intellectual quality". In these respects, the latest Hobsbawm volume is in keeping with the 15 that came before. Through the long 19th century and the short 20th, his work has soared and dived, zooming way up above individual nations to trace Europe's big story since its industrial and political revolutions, before delving down to ground the grand themes in detail as meticulous as it is enlightening. Performances of Rossini's operas are used to map Enlightenment cultural trends, while the dates of translations of Das Kapital track the spread of Marxist ideas across the developing world. As a historian he commands the respect even of those who disagree with him, but as a communist intellectual, he has been angrily charged with indulging the Soviet Union. He has in fact long since recognised that its communism was doomed, while also fretting about the swaggering capitalism that grew up after the collapse of its rival. In that, as in so much else, this grand old man merits new attention.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

VOTES FOR PRISONERS: BANG TO RIGHTS

Reluctance to meet our obligations to the European court of human rights makes it harder to uphold rights everywhere

It has been a rough week for the coalition, and the Lib Dems' ambitions for constitutional reform have had the worst of it. The battle for the alternative vote teeters between success and disaster, while the attempt to allow prisoners the vote is taking on water. Complying with the 2004 ruling from the European court of human rights is still on the agenda, but in so weak a manner as to be likely to provoke a new legal challenge. This is not just an argument about human rights. It is a surrogate for an attack on the ECHR, led by Eurosceptic libertarian Tory MP David Davis in an unprincipled alliance with Labour's top command-and-control merchant, Jack Straw.

More than five years ago, the ECHR found that the UK's blanket ban on votes for prisoners was a breach of their human rights. To comply with the ruling, the UK government had to decide on what grounds prisoners could be disenfranchised. Despite complaints from Strasbourg, Labour procrastinated. The matter was unresolved when the coalition came in. Credit to Nick Clegg for including it in his constitutional reform remit, and coming up with a solution – votes for those sentenced to less than four years, with judicial discretion to remove the right in certain circumstances – which most thought would answer the case. Now he has been forced to concede that only those sentenced to less than a year should be enfranchised. The former proposal would have allowed about half the UK's adult prisoners to vote, the latter barely one in 10. Human rights lawyers will be standing by their BlackBerries.

There are two points here. First, as correspondents argued on these pages recently, it is morally right that prisoners should both pay their debt to society while continuing to remain a part of it. But the broader point is that the purpose of human rights legislation is to protect unpopular minorities. By definition, governments will find compliance politically uncomfortable. But noncompliance – failing to reach the basic standard that the British architects of the ECHR l