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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

EDITORIAL 26.01.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Editorial

Month january 26, edition 000739 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.      MOSCOW TERRORIZED

2.      WAITING TO EXPLODE

3.      NEO-FEUDAL LANDLORD - MANVENDRA SINGH

4.      BHARDWAJ HAS ACTED AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION - BHUPENDER YADAV

5.      IT'S STUPID TO DESCRIBE THE 2G SCAM AS NOTIONAL

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

1.      WE THE PEOPLE

2.      BEYOND BOLLYWOOD

3.      OUR MORAL UNIVERSE - MINHAZ MERCHANT

4.      'OUR ACADEMIC BOOKS INFLUENCE PEOPLE WITH INFLUENCE' - DEEP K DATTA-RAY

5.      THIN EDGE OF THE VEG - JUG SURAIYA


HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      BACK IN THE USSR

2.      SPREAD IT AROUND

3.      THE 50-50 DEMOCRACY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

4.      A LISTENING POINT, NOT A BRIDGE - ASHOK MALIK

 

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      LONG-TERM FOCUS

2.      REACHING OUT

3.      THE REPUBLIC OF INSTITUTIONS - ARUN MAIRA

4.      FREEDOM, FAITH, FEAR - ABHINAV CHANDRACHUD

5.      HOLES IN SWISS CHEESE - BIBEK DEBROY

6.      A CENTURY OF BATTLING WOMEN - ARFAKHANUMSHERWANI

7.      THE OPPOSITION FAULTLINES - MANOJ C G

8.      FROM FIGHTING OVER FRUIT TO REVOLUTION

 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

1.      LIVING WITH INFLATION

2.      NOT BACK IN THE BLACK

3.      GETTING 'PEOPLE READY' FOR GROWTH - SHAILESH DOBHAL

4.      FAST-TRACKING JUSTICE - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

 

THE HINDU

1.      BEHIND THE CARNAGE IN MOSCOW

2.      NOT BY MONETARY POLICY ALONE

3.      AFGHANISTAN — TIME FOR IRREVOCABLE DECISIONS  - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

4.      PRICE VOLATILITY & FOOD CRISES  - JACQUES DIOUF

5.      TOWARDS A BETTER FUTURE  - NAVREKHA SHARMA

6.      SPACE-AGE TECHNOLOGY ON 16TH CENTURY HISTORY  - CHRIS ARNOT

7.      OYSTER BED RESTORATION

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      GREED, CRIMINALITY THREATEN REPUBLIC

2.      BINDING DIFFERENCES - SHIV VISVANATHAN

3.      LONG SHADOW OF HU'S VISIT REACHES DELHI - SUMIT GANGULY

4.      THE HUNGRY REPUBLIC - INDER MALHOTRA

 

DNA

1.      KALMADI'S EXIT IS NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON

2.      RAUCOUS, ROBUST REPUBLIC ROLLS ON

3.      GET READY TO MOVE ON TO NEW IDEAS - RAMESH MENON

4.      TWO SHOOTINGS, AND THE CAUSE FOR THEM IS A VIRULENT IDEOLOGY - SHEKHAR HATTANGADI

 

DAILY EXCELSIOR

1.      OUR RICH HERITAGE

2.      KEEP UP THE PACE

3.      REPUBLIC INDIA - BY PROF.P.L.BAKHSHI

4.      JUST ANOTHER HOLIDAY ? - BY J S KAMRA

5.      A NEW ERA IN INDO-INDONESIA TIES - BY DEEPAK ARORA

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      FRITTERING GOODWILL AWAY

2.      RBI TARGETS PRICE RISE

3.      HOLDING HARYANA TO RANSOM

4.      WILL TELANGANA EMERGE? - BY T.V. RAJESWAR

5.      STAR VEGETABLES - BY RASHMI TALWAR

6.      ROAR OF THE TIGRESS

7.      BATTING FOR THE 'PATHETIC MOTHER' - DEBORAH ROSS

8.      (MIS)READING THE CRUELLA DE CHUA APPROACH - BOYD TONKIN

 

THE KASHMIR TIMES

1.      COSMETIC R-DAY RITUALS

2.      IN THE LINE OF FIRE

3.      POLITICAL COMMENTARY - INDER MALHOTRA

 

BUSINESS STANDARD

1.      MUMBAI WARNS DELHI

2.      THE WILTING PADMA

3.      FINANCIAL MARKET DESIGN DILEMMAS - GANGADHAR DARBHA

4.      BUDGET FACES EXPENDITURE BLUES - A K BHATTACHARYA

5.      MEDIEVAL SULTANS BUILT CITIES FASTER - M J ANTONY

6.      HAS THE PM DONE ENOUGH IN THE CABINET SHUFFLE?

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      TOO TIMID, RBI

2.      WILL TO ACT ON BLACK MONEY

3.      INDIA COMPLETES A CIRCLE

4.      THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT GOVERNANCE  - ARVIND PANAGARIYA

5.      INDUSTRY VICTIM/PERPETRATOR OF GRAFT?  - HARSH PATI SINGHANIA

6.      OF MONETARY POLICY & INDUSTRY  - JAIDEEP MISHRA

7.      REMEMBRANCE OF MELODIES  - VITHALC NADKARNI

 

BUSINESS LINE

1.      IS THIS THE RIGHT MEDICINE?

2.      INFLATION MAY HAVE THE LAST LAUGH

A.     SESHAN

3.      ON EXPECTED LINES

4.      'CROSSING THE RIVER BY FEELING THE STONES'  - M. NARENDRA

5.      BALANCED ANALYSIS OF RISKS  - M. D. MALLYA

6.      CAUTIOUS WITH BEARISH BIAS  - ROMESH SOBTI

7.      MORE HIKES LIKELY  - HITENDRA DAVE

8.      TEMPERING INFLATION  - RANA KAPOOR

 

DECCAN CHRONICLE

1.      GREED, CRIMINALITY THREATEN REPUBLIC

2.      BINDING DIFFERENCES  - BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

3.      ISLAM AND THE CONCEPT OF EQUALITY IN INDIA  - BY KANCHA ILAIAH

4.      THE HUNGRY REPUBLIC  - BY INDER MALHOTRA

5.      MARRIAGE CHAKRAS  - BY YOGI ASHWINI

6.      EQUALITY & ISLAM  - BY KANCHA ILAIAH

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      DARA SINGH SENTENCE

2.      ANNUAL HEARTACHE

3.      MASSACRE IN MOSCOW

4.      PORTENTS ON R-DAY - FAIZAN MUSTAFA

5.      SHE COULD MAKE HISTORY - RAJINDER PURI

6.      BETTER TO BE FRIENDS THAN FOES  - LI WEI 

7.      ISOLATED THAI PM MAY STILL SURVIVE DUAL ATTACKS

 

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      UNHAPPY STATE

2.      THE SONG INSIDE US  - RUCHIR JOSHI

3.      LAST NOTE

4.      BREAK THROUGH - SUMANTA SEN

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      BREATHE NEW LIFE

2.      RESET RELATIONS

3.      WOOING JAKARTA - HARSH V PANT

4.      TUNISIAN REVOLT: AN EYE-OPENER -  MICHAEL JANSEN

5.      BETTING SAFE  -  N SURYANARAYANAN

 

OHERALDO

1.      A DEFICIT IN GOVERNANCE

2.      REPLACING PRIMARY LANGUAGES WITH MOTHER-TONGUES  - KALIDAS SAWKAR

 

THE SENTINEL

1.      TALKS WITH ULFA  

2.      DOMESTIC HELP HAZARD  

3.      THE UNEVEN PROGRESS OF THE REPUBLIC  

 

THE JERUSALEM POST

1.      OWN WRITE: EMOTIONAL OVERLOAD

2.      INCOGNITA: HEBRONITES AT THE GATE - BY SETH FRANTZMAN 

3.      INDELIBLY CARVED IN JEWISH COLLECTIVE MEMORY  - BY GREER FAY CASHMAN 

4.      SALAM FAYYAD, SOUTH AFRICA AND PROSPECTS FOR PEACE  - BY PETER HILSENRATH 

 

HAARETZ

1.      DANGER: SUMMARY DETENTIONS

2.      NEITHER PUBLIC NOR HOUSING - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

3.      THE REAL PALESTINIAN CONCESSION  - BY AMIRA HASS

4.      ISRAEL'S NEWFOUND OIL IS DISTRACTING NETANYAHU - BY ALUF BENN

5.      GALANT'S ARROGANCE MAKES HIM PERFECT FOR IDF CHIEF - BY ALON IDAN

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      THE STATE OF THE UNION

2.      MAKE THEM WORK FOR IT

3.      A CASE FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

4.      GOOD NEWS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST (REALLY) - BY JEFFREY GOLDBERG AND HUSSEIN IBISH

 

USA TODAY

1.      A PRESIDENT'S MIDPOINT POLLS CAN BE DECEIVING

2.      OUR VIEW ON KIDS: WHEN UNWED BIRTHS HIT 41%, IT'S JUST NOT RIGHT

3.      STATES, CITIES SEE THE LURE OF CHINA - BY TED C. FISHMAN

4.      ON EDUCATION REFORM, SAFE IS FOR LOSERS - BY RICHARD WHITMIRE

 

TIMES FREE PRESS

1.      PRESIDENT OBAMA'S ADDRESS

2.      SOME 'STATE OF THE UNION' HISTORY

3.      JUSTICE THOMAS' PROBLEM

 

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

1.      WE'VE GOT (NON-JUNK) MAIL FROM THE EU CHIEF NEGOTIATOR! - BURAK BEKDİL

2.      ISLAMIC TRADITIONALISTS, ISLAMIC MODERNISTS - MUSTAFA AKYOL

3.      COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF TURKEY'S FOREIGN POLICY - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

4.      ISRAEL AND THE AKP'S EMPIRE OF FEAR - YUSUF KANLI

5.      HOW DOES THE US EMBASSY MONITOR US? - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

6.      TRANSITION PERIOD IN THE JASMINE REVOLUTION - SAMİ KOHEN

 

THE NEWS

1.      PROTECTING THE CORRUPT?

2.      SECTARIANISM AND SECURITY

3.      STRATEGIC SURRENDER  -  AFIYA SHEHRBANO

4.      STATE OF OUR CONFUSION  -  RAOOF HASAN

5.      AN UNWEEDED GARDEN  - MIR ADNAN AZIZ

6.      THE PALESTINE PAPERS  - KATHLEEN CHRISTISON

7.      JASWANT SINGH'S PREMONITIONS

8.      FAULT LINES  - DR QAISAR RASHID

 

THE AUSTRALIYAN

1.      NO CLICHES PLEASE, IT'S AUSTRALIA

2.      OBAMA IS BACK ON TRACK BUT DUCKED THE DEFICIT

3.      A BACKYARD IS WHAT WE WANT

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      FOOLS RUSH IN WITH FLOOD LEVY

2.      OLD MEDIA FOX, YOUNG TORY LIONS

3.      THE PEACE TALKS WITHOUT FIG LEAVES

4.      DAY TO RESOLVE TO LIVE UP TO AUSTRALIANS' IDEA OF OURSELVES

 

THE GUARDIAN

1.      BSKYB: IMPOSSIBLE UNDERTAKINGS

2.      ECONOMY: HEADING SOUTH – AND FAST

3.      IN PRAISE OF … THE OLYMPIC STADIUM

 

THE JAKARTA POST

1.      COME ON, 'BAPAK' PRESIDENT

2.      LEND TUNISIANS A HAND

3.      PERVERSIONS AND PENETRATIONS - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA

4.      MAKING SOCIOECONOMIC RIGHTS JUSTIFIABLE - HARISON CITRAWAN

5.      GEOTHERMAL: A GREEN SOLUTION - ROHMAD HADIWIJOYO

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      UNITED AGAINST TERRORISM

2.      A GROWING LAND PROBLEM

3.      FOR REGIONAL PEACE AND PROSPERITY - BY LI WEN (CHINA DAILY)

4.      A VISIT OF HISTORIC PROPORTIONS - BY DAVID KAN TING (CHINA DAILY)

5.      EVERYONE'S A DIPLOMAT IN GLOBAL VILLAGE - BY WU CHEN (CHINA DAILY)

 

DAILY MIRROR

1.      FOOD A RIGHT, NOT A COMMODITY

2.      BEYOND THE TRAP THAT IS THE MAHABODHI ATTACK

3.      MMR VACCINE AND SCIENCE FRAUD

4.      WOMEN'S REPRESENTATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS

5.      KARUNANIDHI NEXT VICTIM OF MR'S DIPLOMACY AFTER MOON ?

 

GULF DAILY NEWS

1.      THE TRUE VALUE OF MONEY...   - BY MANAL ALI SULAIBEEKH

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

MOSCOW TERRORIZED

ISLAMIC SEPARATISTS WRECK HAVOC


Monday's terror attack on Russia's window to the West, its swanky Domodedovo international airport, is a serious blow to the country's ruling pair, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, scuttling their efforts to portray a secure and stable Russia that would attract foreign investors and appease domestic voters in an election year. The attack which took place in the Arrivals hall of Domodedovo Airport, minutes after several international flights from Europe landed in Moscow and killed at least 35 people and injured more than a 100 others, was an obvious attempt to scare away the Government's much sought-after foreign investors. And in a very telling response, the terrorist attack compelled President Medvedev to postpone his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he was to pitch Russia as an investor-friendly destination. Additionally, the attack, which came less than a year after the Moscow Metro carnage in 2010, has shattered the country's security illusion, casting serious doubts about President Medvedev's credibility to provide for a secure state. But more importantly, with President Medvedev immediately labeling the attack as an act of terrorism and fingers being pointed towards Islamist extremists in the Northern Caucasus region, in Russia's restive South, the grisly attack served as an early warning for a situation that will fast spiral out of control, if not handled with an iron fist. In the last two decades, Russian security forces have twice fought the Al Qaeda-linked Muslim separatists in Chechnya, and only in the early 2000s were they able to contain the insurgency. In recent years, the region has been rebuilt, under the control of a pro-Kremlin President but elements of the insurgency still remain in Chechnya, as well as in the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan, where it is led by Doku Umarov, the self-appointed Emir of the Caucasus, who plans to establish an Islamic state in the Caucasus. Terror attacks, especially those directed towards security forces, are the norm in these areas and rarely merit a mention in the state-controlled media. However, they are much less frequent in other parts of Russia and consequently, a vast majority of the Russian people are easily lulled into an illusion of security. It is in times such as these that large scale terror attacks in the heart of Moscow remind the people of Russia's internal enemies.

 

Already, President Medvedev has promised increased security measures and military operations may well be undertaken in the region as well, but it is doubtful that it would serve as a deterrent for further attacks. To make matters worse, other measures undertaken by the ruling duo have also failed to diffuse situation. Since 2008, President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have focused on developing the region to create jobs for the disenchanted Muslim youth, who serve as a breeding ground for extremism. Their efforts have been largely unsuccessful, even after Prime Minister Putin promised an additional $13 billion in 2011 alone to support development initiatives in the North Caucasus. The recent attacks — carried out by the notorious Black Widows, Islamist militant women who claim they are avenging the death of husbands, killed by Russian security forces during the two Chechen wars — are ample evidence that mollycoddling the separatists will not work, and they need to be dealt with a strong hand.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

WAITING TO EXPLODE

POPULATION GROWTH WILL NEGATE DEVELOPMENT


Even as the world gets ready for the momentous occasion of the arrival of the seven billionth baby — it may happen late this year or early next year — India has every reason to be worried because it has the highest number of babies born every minute. Currently, the population clock is ticking away at 51. With 17 per cent of the world's population — and still growing — trying to make do with a mere 2.5 per cent of global land, India's future looks far from radiant. It means no matter how sound the policies are, Governments at the Centre, irrespective of the ruling party, will fail to reduce poverty with 20 million more mouths to feed every year because population growth would negate all economic development. That India was one of the first countries in the world to formulate a National Family Planning Programme in 1952 shows it anticipated the danger and wanted to take corrective measures. But policy-makers clearly have lost the plot as the country is certain to miss the target of stabilising population at 145 crore by 2045. If Jawaharlal Nehru allowed the population "asset" to grow because he thought it was "the key to our nation's economic future", Mrs Indira Gandhi's Government skewed the programme with coercion during the Emergency days. And subsequent Governments failed to bridle the runaway growth because of their flawed focus on female sterilisation. What the policy-makers lost sight of is the fact that most women in our society are passive participants in the family planning process with no or little say in decision-making. If they go for sterilisation, it is only after they have four living children. Further, the emphasis on centralisation of family planning programmes has failed to give due consideration to regional differences. As a result, while States like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Delhi saw birth rates dropping because most couples favour family planning, good policies fell by the way side in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan because people have a negative toward birth control.

Hence, it would be in order to say that schemes per se have not failed, but the focus is wrong. Meaningful population control can only be achieved with concomitant emphasis on education, women's empowerment, mother and child healthcare and income generation — inherent issues that can bring about changes in social mindset altering priorities in future. In fact, Kerala has shown the way. The State has brought it down to 1.7, thanks to its high literacy rate, more independent women and regular family income. In sharp contrast, Uttar Pradesh, ridden with rural poverty, high infant mortality rate and subservient status of women, has about 11 babies born every minute. Worse, most of these children are being born to under-nourished parents living in gut-wrenching poverty and sub-human conditions. Hence, to avert a Malthusian nightmare, policy-makers must get their priorities right.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

NEO-FEUDAL LANDLORD

MANVENDRA SINGH


The state has the sole authority to decide ownership and usage of land. This inherited neo-feudalism of the colonial era is the cause of today's problems


Land use change is a problem as old as the establishment of British rule in India. It was the emergence of colonial ruling practices that altered the relationship with land in most of India. The creation of a state structure that governed everything, from categorising birth to registering death, completely changed the ownership of land and how it could be used. Most of India, until then, lived with land largely as a collective, community-owned, asset. The continuation of that colonial state structure lies at the root of the problem in which Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa finds himself in today.


The people of a particular village owned most of the land as 'commons'. It was further classified in terms of usage — tilling or grazing. Another equally large quantity of land, much of the time, was owned by a temple, a deity, or simply left aside for grazing in perpetuity. There would never be an individual who could determine the fate of such land. But that was until the colonial state emerged. And once it did, land became amongst the most commonly violated of Indian liberties.


The intrusiveness of the state was most apparent in the proliferation of military cantonments, police camps, various district secretariats, and such other institutions of Government that sprung up across the country. Facilities for the ruler, so as to govern this mass of people, came up on lands that were once commonly owned by the local inhabitants. That was how, after all, the British were able to get the land on which to raise these bases. The type of land, and its tenure rights, were changed at the whims of an imperial bureaucracy. The largest individually owned lands were of course of the agricultural type, and almost always as part of feudal inheritance.

Come 1947 and the birth of the Nehruvian state structure, this relationship with land as a tool of the state came to be perpetuated. The first to face the axe were, of course, the feudals. The Government came down on them with the various Land Ceiling Acts, and the state entered into the business of distributing appropriated lands of the feudals. While the feudally owned lands in excess of permissible limits were distributed amongst the landless, the 'commons' that remained came into the purview of a bureaucracy that replicated a continuity of imperial administrative practices. And this land came to be parcelled out for peanuts, or a premium, over the decades as a demonstration of the ultimate authority of the state. Favours sought, and favours given, have largely revolved around the authority to sign away land or even change its use.


It is impossible for an Indian owning land to change its use, its type. Which means its categorisation cannot be changed by an individual, but for a price. If the revenue records declare that land to be agricultural, it shall remain that way come what may. The owner can have that land type changed provided money changes hands. Which may, and most likely not, be legal. Despite petitions and payments it still depends on the whims and fancies of those sitting in the district headquarter, and all the way up to the State capital, to authorise that change in land use. No individual has the authority to do so unilaterally — that power rests with the state, exactly as it did with the imperial authority.


This is where the problem begins. And it is even worse when it comes to changing the land use of 'commons', or inappropriately called 'Government land' now. For what is owned by the Government was with the people as a community asset. Changing the land use of 'Government land' requires the intervention of the Chief Minister and the concurrence of the Revenue Department simultaneously. Which is what various Chief Ministers have been doing in every State of the Union of India.


Even as the Governor of Karnataka is batting, bowling and umpiring for the political party that has elevated him from the district courts to a Raj Bhavan, it is worth noting as lessons to be learnt. His permission to prosecute the Chief Minister is politics by every means possible and an attempt to foist on the BJP what is has been doing to the Congress-led Union Government. Without recourse to colloquialism, such politically-motivated responses rarely get to see the light at the end of the long legal tunnel. And they definitely don't take away from the issues that have got the Government of India into hot water. But neither does it take away from the Chief Minister's problems. There is a problem that the Opposition in the State, led by the Governor, is doing its best to make merry with.


Notwithstanding the fact that this does not detract from the telecom or Commonwealth Games scandals that have shamed India in global perceptions, the Karnataka issue was always avoidable. So the president of the BJP has been correct and astute in his analysis by declaring the Karnataka imbroglio as something that is "immoral but not illegal". It is immoral because it has benefitted the son of the Chief Minister, but it is not illegal, for it is within the purview of the State Government to have done so. This is where the dilemma currently lies.

There is a valuable lesson to be learnt in this, most of all for the BJP as it represents the principal opposition to the Nehruvian vision of the country. The post-independence state raised by the Nehru–Patel duo was a continuation of the imperial administrative structure based on taking away native authority and rights from the people of India. In the 21st century, and with the country having traversed much distance, there is a lot that can, and must be, returned to the people of India. Empowering the people means giving them the ownership of all that has always belonged to them. Nothing reflects this contest between the imperial and the Indian more than the power to take land away from people and to change its use from being community-based to the commercial.

The BJP would do well to institute a re-look at the Nehruvian neo-imperial state, for there are many aspects of life in the district that can quite easily be tackled by the people themselves. But nothing will have a greater impact than a re-think on land. The BJP can stamp its difference through how the state respects land rather than disregard its ownership and use. And it will prevent anybody being tempted in the future.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

BHARDWAJ HAS ACTED AGAINST THE CONSTITUTION

IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL SCHEME OF GOVERNANCE, A GOVERNOR MUST ACT ACCORDING TO THE ADVICE OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS, SAYS BHUPENDER YADAV


That the Karnataka Governor Hans Raj Bhardwaj has granted sanction for the prosecution of Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers shows the violation of the spirit of the Constitution. The aforementioned action taken by the Governor has raised a constitutional issue: Can the Governor use his power under Article 163 without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers?


In the present situation, it is a fact that before granting the sanction the Governor has not taken any formal advice from the Council of Ministers. Article 163 of the Constitution provides that the Governor should act upon the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.


The question, therefore, is if the Governor is to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, is he bound to take the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers for all purposes? Is he supposed to act in the same terms even when members of the Council are themselves being prosecuted, and it is extremely difficult that the Council of Ministers would grant sanction that would jeopardise its members' future?

It is here that we should read what the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court has laid down in MP Special Police Establishment vs State of MP (2004) 8 SCC 788.

Para 33 of the judgement reads, "Certainly, the Council of Ministers has to first consider grant of sanction. We also presume that a high authority like the Council of Ministers will normally act in a bona fide manner, fairly, honestly and in accordance with law. However, on those rare occasions where on facts the bias becomes apparent and/or the decision of the Council of Ministers is shown to be irrational and based on non-consideration of relevant factors, the Governor would be right, on the facts of that case, to act in his own discretion and grant sanction."


On perusal of the above laid principle, it becomes perceptible that unless there is an apparent bias on the part of the Council of Ministers the Governor cannot act on his own. The Governor can only use his own discretion on recording such apprehensions supported by cogent reasoning.


Therefore, the attempt of Mr Bhardwaj to quote the judgement out of context is not only specious and dangerous, but it amounts to endangering the constitutional balance so as to facilitate petty political games.

The Governor after being caught out in this devious manoeuvre attempts to quote and use a letter of the Council of Ministers asking the Governor not to grant sanction in the matter when the issues relating to them were already being investigated by the Lokayukta and Justice Padmaraj Commission. What the Governor forgets is that the Council of Ministers were not even served with the copy of the complaint filed by the Lawyer's Forum. Therefore, the Council of Ministers cannot be asked to blindly respond to a charge, since that would be clearly against all forms of natural justice and fair play.


It seems the Governor intends to elude from the legal process. However, it is worth remembering that the immunity to the Governor granted under Article 361(1) making the office of the Governor immune from being made answerable to any court of law for any act done or purported to be done or discharged by him in his official capacity does not cover mala fide actions of the Governor, accentuated by bias or acts of the Governor which are clearly outside his powers that is ultra vires.

The Supreme Court also highlights that the role of the Governor should be fair, transparent and should be in the interest of democracy. In 2006 (2) SCC case of Rameshwar Prasad vs Union of India; the Supreme Court has held, "It is not deficiency in the Constitution which is responsible for the situation. It is attributable to the people who appoint the Governors on considerations other than merit. It is a disturbing feature, and if media reports are to be believed, Raj Bhavans are increasingly turning into extension of party offices and Governors are behaving like party functionaries of a particular party. This is not healthy for democracy."


Thus in the present situation the Union Government must recall its Governor to safeguard the constitutional machineries in the State of Karnataka and in the interest of the democracy of the country.


The writer is an advocate in the Supreme Court and a national secretary of the BJP.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IT'S STUPID TO DESCRIBE THE 2G SCAM AS NOTIONAL


There is no denial of the fact that the Indian exchequer was advertently robbed in the 2G Spectrum scam, says Neelakantan


What are the types of scam that a person in an influential position can perpetuate?


One type of scam is to sell something that belongs to the Government at a cheaper than market rate. That buyer then sells the asset at prevailing market price and pockets a profit. Typically, discretionary land allotments fall in this category. Such benefits often accrue to 'people who are close to power' or 'loyal'.


The second type of scam is the opposite of this one. Where the influential person enters into a contract to buy something (Guns, Submarines) for the forces or Government or infrastructure at an inflated price. A variation of this is to buy substandard or outdated technology or non standard items. In either of these cases, the cost is inflated.

Now, in buying and selling assets — it is entirely possible that the official in question is naive or stupid. But to expect in these times that any politician can be so stupid as to not see his (or his backers) self interest is a little bit of a stretch. So we can assume that people at influential positions make transactions based on self interest as much as national interest (the former may trump the latter as we have seen).


Leaving stupidity aside, benefits from both the above transactions (in the former case, the profit is often a reward for loyalty) can flow back to the "person of influence". This is known as a kickback. Kickbacks can be in cash and kind. Kickbacks in kind varying from a simple job or jobs to a stake in business to real estate. Kickbacks in cash may be to varying non persons, benami friends and Swiss accounts.


The reason why this elucidation is required is because there is attempt in some quarters to shift the goalposts on the spectrum scam that the loss is notional.


The loss is not notional because some other entities made money on the spectrum almost overnight — since the spectrum was sold on 2001 valuations in 2007. The loss would have been notional, had the holders of the spectrum made no money on it.


This argument assumes that the Government does not need that extra money or that the extra money would have made the Government spend more on pork barrel schemes.


But that argument is simply stating a known fact that the Government is corrupt. If the mug does not leak, the bucket will. That is no basis to justify the underpricing of an asset and selling it off to favoured bidders.

In fact, the argument could be equally strong on the other side that the extra money would have helped the Government lower taxes or invest in defence and infrastructure and in many other much needed areas.


The second shifting is to say that customers benefited because of lower tariff on account of the low cost of spectrum sale.


On this count, if the Government was so concerned about offering low cost to customers, it should have taken a very nominal licence fee and opened the floodgates to multiple operators with a profit sharing clause. Clearly, the reason of the low cost of sale was not about benefiting customers. This is now being added to the argument — perhaps by the operators who benefited. If this was true, why did people lobby for a particular man to head the Ministry? And as far as I know, customers did not lobby for him to be there.


The fact is that the money that should have gone to the exchequer went into private hands. Whether it went into politicians hands is a matter of investigation which as we all know will run into millions of years and zillions of dead ends — by which time it will fade from public memory and the beneficiaries will enjoy the high life. The money, in the meantime, will be invested in real estate, gold or in tax havens and may even come back as FII investment in the stock markets.


But for now, it is important that we let the focus remain on the fact that the exchequer was robbed.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

WE THE PEOPLE

 

In 1950, free India formally became a sovereign republic where the popular will is king. Fast forward six decades, and pride in constitutional democracy and its achievements remain undiminished. Today, Indians aren't alone in feting their success story scripted by marrying political freedom with economic progress. The world too recognises us as an emerging powerhouse drawing strength from deep-rooted democratic traditions. But on this occasion, let's remind ourselves that the republican ideal is ultimately about people's empowerment. For countless Indians, growth is a mere statistic. How can we make prosperity touch more lives?


While welfare policies promote social justice, they can't substitute for equality of opportunity. However well-meant, disbursal of state largesse makes citizens dependent on political paternalism; genuine empowerment weans them off it. It's by increasingly shifting public resources away from a dole culture toward robust returns-oriented investments in health, education and infrastructure that we can best enable and empower citizens. Give people crutches and they may never walk without needing help. Give them schools, colleges, vocational training, medical facilities, electrified homes and workplaces linked to road and communication networks, and they'll race ahead on their own steam.


But India's demographic dividend can't pay off without economic opportunities. So, reforms must be geared to creating productive employment. While boosting services-led growth, we must also think beyond it since it demands the kind of skilled manpower we're yet to produce on a mass scale. With the vast majority subsisting on agriculture, farming as well as rural infrastructure and markets demand urgent modernising. Equally, large-scale factory employment is key to poverty alleviation. Labour reform is a must to deliver job security and the skills upgrade that a high-growth economy will increasingly want from its workforce at all levels. Faster industrialisation, in turn, will need support from supple land acquisition rules.


Affirmative action itself must take 21st century forms. Reassuringly, NREG or cycles for schoolgirls, welfare is catering more to economic need than special interests. But social spending needs targeting. Why not route benefits directly, not via intermediaries or leaky distribution systems? Why not use innovative channels like phone banking-based access to funds and services? IT can revolutionise everyday life, whether by digitising records or expanding banking cover. Countless Indians are officially faceless, and hence feel socially powerless. Via UID and financial inclusion initiatives, they can acquire a sense of belonging. That's really what empowerment is all about: turning passive, indistinguishable recipients of state crumbs into active agents with a personal contribution and stake in national prosperity. Achieving this will, finally, depend on quality of governance. We must combat corruption and criminalisation of public life. And we must promote accessible and accountable leaderships. We the people deserve nothing less.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

BEYOND BOLLYWOOD

 

One week is all it has taken to showcase the evolution of Indian art and literature, both in terms of their appeal within the country and their rising international profile. The Jaipur Literature Festival, now Asia's largest such event, and the India Art Summit held in Delhi are exercises that would have been considered impossible even a decade ago. But in the space of just the past half-a-dozen years, there has been a seismic shift. The fact that the literary festival has brought authors of the calibre of J M Coetzee and Orhan Pamuk - while the art summit has 84 galleries from 20 countries showcasing the works of artists like Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Anish Kapoor - speaks of how these events have put India on the global map. Call it an exercise of soft power that not only makes the international community aware of India's artistic relevance but gives Indian authors and artists a platform to engage the world.

And with over 50,000 attendees this year in the case of the literature festival - the art summit has had over a lakh visitors - these events have served another important function. The integration of art and literature into a country's social and intellectual fabric is essential for its vibrancy and periodic renewal. These events - and others like them - have played a crucial role here, moving past the economic and cultural factors that have limited access to great works to an elite. By taking art out of galleries, by bringing great authors to the people, they have done their part in broad-basing the appeal of such cultural goods. And as such events continue to evolve and grow - the fracas over Indian English writing eclipsing bhasha literature at the Jaipur festival points to a churning that is healthy in the long run - so will their benefits.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

OUR MORAL UNIVERSE

MINHAZ MERCHANT

 

Has our moral universe shrunk? Not the aam admi's. He struggles to keep body and soul together in the face of rising prices and falling values. His moral code has remained constant. The moral universe which has visibly shrunk is the politician's and that of his complicit associates: bureaucrats, policemen and an army of faceless but brazenly corrupt officials. The government's proposed anti-corruption ordinance begs the question: why does it not first enforce the existing Prevention of Corruption Act against its tainted ministers? It has forced several to resign but has not prosecuted even one.


Economic reforms will be 20 years old this July. Without political reforms, however, the full benefits of economic liberalisation won't reach the poor. The nexus between vested political and business interests, fused by lobbyists and middlemen, erodes those benefits. The reason poverty remains intractable in India is that good economic governance needs the protective umbrella of good political governance. Without that, both privilege and poverty will persist.


A fish rots from the head down, never from the tail up. The top political leadership sets the standard of governance. If that standard is set low, corruption infects the entire body politic. Every recent public scam involving leaders of the Congress and other parties can be traced to this systemic rot. Three key political reforms - police, judicial and electoral - are necessary to cleanse our public institutions.


In 2006, the Supreme Court directed the government to implement police reform. Make the National Police Commission autonomous, the court ordered, and give it a structure that is independent of political control. The National Police Commission would independently decide salaries, promotions, transfers, weaponry. Political control would go. Law enforcement, capricious today, would become professional and accountable. Successive governments - both in the states and at the Centre - have ignored the Supreme Court directive. They continue to do little for police welfare. Officers are badly paid and have become institutionally corrupt. They serve the wrong master - politicians. In the process, they betray those they are paid to protect: ordinary citizens. Unless we have an independent, professional police force, law enforcement will continue to work against the public interest, not for it.


An exasperated Chief Justice of India, Sarosh Kapadia, last month finally ordered the chief secretaries of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh to implement the 2006 Supreme Court directive on police reform. After defying this directive for five years, the states have now promised to fall in line. But will they? History suggests they will not. The full-bodied police reform the Supreme Court wants may remain a chimera. On cue, the Centre on January 10, 2011 asked the court to dilute some provisions of the 2006 directive. Clearly, the government will relinquish control over the law enforcement machinery only if it is compelled to by being cited for contempt, a stick the Supreme Court may yet have to wield.


Judicial reform is the second systemic political change needed to restore the credibility of our institutions. The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill (and the under-preparation Right to Justice Bill) must be implemented in letter and spirit. Too few judges sit in our courts. Lawyers are complicit in the endless adjournments that bedevil the entire legal system. Just as the police owe primary allegiance to politicians and not the public (which pays for both but gets good service from neither), the judiciary frequently ends up serving the interests of the powerful, not the deserving.


The proposed Indian Legal Service (ILS) and Indian Judicial Service (IJS) could advance several reforms: fast-track courts, a separate stream of specialised courts for financial disputes, strict penalties against lawyers for serial adjournments and a performance rating system for the promotion of judges. The IJS will add 25,000 judges to the 27,000 lower-court judges currently weighed down by 25 million pending litigations. Without sweeping judicial reforms, the average citizen will continue to be a victim, not beneficiary, of the law.


The third key reform is electoral. Black money and criminality combine to send to Parliament several men and women unfit for public office. The Election Commission (EC) should follow two lines of action to disinfect the system. First, legally debar candidates with criminal charges against them (murder, rape, kidnap) from standing for election. Will that punish a few 'innocent' victims who have been falsely implicated by political enemies? Not if the EC reviews the chargesheets against such candidates and makes an independent, robust decision. Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi recently publicly backed this move.


The EC, in its second reform, must frame rules to make donations to political parties transparent. Each candidate would be entitled to a fixed quantum of state funding. He would be allowed private funds only under strict audit through declared private donors. This transparent funding model will cut the advantage cash-rich candidates have over poorer, but cleaner, candidates.


Systemic corruption is a symptom of failed governance. Political reforms that remove our key public institutions from government control can make 2011 the definitive year for sweeping institutional change just as 1991 was the inflection point for economic liberalisation. That would greatly expand our moral universe.

The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'OUR ACADEMIC BOOKS INFLUENCE PEOPLE WITH INFLUENCE'

DEEP K DATTA-RAY

 

What kind of publishing do you do?

We are well regarded because we deliver quality. The core purpose is to fulfil the university's objective of excellence in research, scholarship and education. We publish for different segments ranging from scholarly to professional and school textbooks. Our academic books influence people with influence. The prime minister recently mentioned reading one and i'm sure he gets very little time to read. It's pleasing that OUP has a strong presence in schools as well as professional engineering and business management segments. This meets our `educational purpose'. Textbooks are important. They fulfil an essential national need. Our development depends on accessible education and affordable quality educational materials. This is why our publishing mix is 250 educational and 200 academic books annually. The link between the two is this - educational publishing generates considerable revenue, part of which we plug back into high quality academic publishing.


OUP is obviously doing well. How does an old brand still remain successful?

Not still! We are doing lots of new things. Even publishers can be innovators! For instance, we have focussed on a niche genre. Since we have the resources and the depth to really make a difference to how our country is understood, we came up with the genre of academic reference books. The format is coffee table and the quality is superb, glossy pages, lots of high quality images. But what makes these books different is that the content of the book is written by serious academics or researchers. We started with the 'Oxford Companion' series and now are producing the Oxford Encyclopaedias. These projects require considerable investment sometimes taking 10 years to realise. Such projects also lend themselves to digitisation and e-books which are very useful for researchers.

OUP comes under the
University of Oxford. What is the relation between the two of you?

OUP as an organisation espouses high standards. As head of OUP, India, Oxford University gives me a mandate to operate in the territories of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan but the key responsibility is maintaining standards. While there is freedom to run the business side of things, the editing process - which is the most important since it determines quality and reputation - is vetted by the university. Peer reviews of our new books go to Oxford where the Delegates approve each title. The Delegates' seal of approval ensures that the core values of Oxford are sustained. I'm happy that the Delegates often comment on the variety and quality of works that go from India.


Who publishes with you and why do authors want to be published by OUP, India?

We don't discriminate when it comes to authors, apart from quality of course. One can't differentiate much between Indian and foreign authors nowadays because Indians are based abroad and of course lots of foreign authors come to us because they write about India and want to become a part of OUP's successful list on South Asia/India. We have the reputation which is maintained by the peer review system and Delegates' approval stamp. And, remarkably, we are growing steadily. We give visibility since we already have an established network within and without India. USA is a very buoyant market for us where the OUP office helps in the distribution. I'm talking about authors who have signed with us selling well there - partly because it's a big country with a number of universities teaching courses on India/South Asia. OUP will celebrate its centenary in India in 2012 and i am sure we will serve India for many more centuries!


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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEW

THIN EDGE OF THE VEG

JUG SURAIYA


Do our experts know their onions? Speaking about the steep rise in the price of vegetables, particularly onions, and what to do about it, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, made the suggestion that "farmers should be allowed to sell their produce to the best intermediary who will give them and the consumers the best price". Helpful advice, though more than a little obvious. Like saying that a circle should be allowed to be round in shape.


Of course farmers should be enabled so that they can sell what they grow to the person who gives them the best price, thus incentivising them to grow more, instead of being forced to sell their produce for a pittance to rapacious middlemen who currently control the mandis and jack up food prices at will at the expense of the consumer. It's an obvious problem, with an obvious solution: permit foreign chains like Tesco - who have perfected the technique of bulk buying and bulk selling - to set up shop in India. In countries where such chains exist, food prices remain relatively stable, thanks to the competition between rival supermarket organisations.

As obvious as this solution is, it is ruled out because of political opposition - mainly by the BJP and the Left, who for once are on the same side of the ideological divide - to foreign direct investment in the retail business. We can't let these exploitative foreigners in because they might rob us. So much better instead that we let ourselves be robbed by our own monopoly of exploitative middlemen. Keep it in the family, so to speak.


Another suggestion, made by the agriculture ministry, is to have vegetable farm clusters located within a 50 km radius of all large towns and cities. Not a very practicable solution, considering the escalating price of real estate on the growing periphery of urban India where mixed-use residential-cum-commercial townships are springing up every day. To make it economically attractive to reserve such sought-after real estate for vegetable farming, the price of onions would have to be R 1,000 a kg, or more.


So much for expert advice on how to bring down the price of veggies. Perhaps what we need now is some inexpert advice. As always, the most inexpert advice is the simplest. And in this case it amounts to a simple proposition: if we can't afford to buy sabzi from others, let's grow our own. All municipal parks, gardens, maidans and other open spaces, all over the country, should be put under veggie cultivation. Who needs grass when you can have gobhis instead, or chrysanthemums when you can have cabbages? To set an example for the nation to follow, Rashtrapati Bhavan should lead the way by turning its Mughal Gardens into a sabzi patch, with the president awarding, in a televised ceremony, a special prize to the mali who could produce the biggest mooli or kaddu.


Lawns attached to private homes should by law be put under vegetable cultivation. Don't have a house with a lawn, but just a pokey little flat, and rented at that? No problem. You too can do your bit for the cause of ensuring the nation's veggie security. Grow potatoes and tomatoes instead of flowers in the paudhas perched on your window sill.


Inflation, of any kind, is a self-fulfilling condition based as it is not just on shortages but on the expectation of continuing, and worsening, shortages. If something is more costly today than it was yesterday, it will be costlier tomorrow than it is today. Such reasoning leads to hoarding, and creates further shortages. But with everyone growing their own the spectre of veggie shortages will forever be exorcised.

 

We need a symbol for this new Green Revolution. Jawaharlal Nehru made the rose he wore in his lapel the symbol of his India. Maybe Rahul should start sporting a pyaaz on his lapel.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

BACK IN THE USSR

Beyond being a human tragedy, the terrorist attack on Moscow's Domodedovo airport is symbolic of what ails Vladimir Putin's Russia. The attack has all the hallmarks of Islamicist separatists from the Caucasus who have been in some form of conflict with the Russian State since the collapse of the Soviet Union. These groups, most notably the Chechens, have increased their attacks in the Russian hear-tland in the past two years following a lull in their activities after the Beslan hostage crisis in 2004. But what the return of mass terrorism to Russia really represents is missed opportunities by Moscow, a pattern of behaviour commonplace in all policy fields. Mr Putin came to power after the shambolic years of Boris Yeltsin and successfully brought stability to post-Soviet Russia. What was more impressive was his clear vision of a need for Russia to modernise its economic and political systems. This included jettisoning the remnants of the old Soviet system, bringing the business mafias spawned by Mr Yeltsin to heel and moving Russia closer to the West. This was helped by a surge in oil and gas revenue in the years before 2008 that seemingly gave Mr Putin a financial cushion to carry out reforms.

This vision has only been half-realised and, in some cases, even what was accomplished has been undone. Poli-tical reforms have gone nowhere. Mr Putin has strangled freedom of expression, seemingly using even assassination to silence his critics. The electoral system provides a choice of Mr Putin or a Putin crony. The economic story is even more dismal. While the so-called 'oligarchs' have been tamed, Russia remains an economy dependent on natural resources for sustenance. The Soviet Union's impressive technological capacity has shriveled away: tiny Belgium files four times more patents than Russia. It is not that Mr Putin does not know what is wrong. It is that his circle does not have the political courage or skills to simultaneously release their political grip and enact economic change.

The Caucasus also represents a missed chance. Russia was able to contain the first Chechen insurgency but failed to follow up military successes with a political settlement. Unsurprisingly, terrorism has returned to Moscow — in the same way Russia's other ailments continue to stunt its potential and keep it in the ranks of has-been powers.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

SPREAD IT AROUND

Republic Day commentators, take a bow. It is an art to be able to make the somnolent procession floating down Raisina Hill sound like the Mardi Gras. As you read this, you are probably watching the microcosm of the republic as encapsulated in a series of floats, each more aesthetically challenged than the other. So, there will be the village belles from Rajasthan, a Kerala tourism brochure gone mad, the intellectually inclined Bengal offering, the gay abandon of Punjab and the tribal glories of the northeast, to mention a few. Has all imagination fled that we need to see this celebration of India through the prism of the films division?

If we can force ourselves to get away from concentrating all our patriotism on the promenade stretching from the viceregal ramparts to the emotive environs of India Gate, we should be able to celebrate our republic anywhere. So, why shouldn't this day be one of a billion festivities all over the country? We should allow people to get a real taste of our smorgasbord of cuisines, our resplendent textile heritage, our energetic regional film industry, our unmatched arts and crafts, we could go on. These could be in different places and you could pick and chose which you want to sample. There is a certain je ne sais quoi to seeing the jets screaming overhead and the mighty tanks rumbling down which arouses the machismo among many of us. And we can live with that.

But if we could use this holiday to dispel stereotypes as depicted in the hideous tableaux, we would be doing a great service to the notion of the republic. So let us not oppress a hapless foreign dignitary to look on bewildered as we try to unveil an India which exists only in the fevered imagination of babudom. Try and make the best of this holiday, after you've sat through the fearsome floats. And we do hope you will have as much fun today as we did writing this.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

COLUMN

THE 50-50 DEMOCRACY

RAMACHANDRA GUHA

Some years ago, when the Government of India was asked to make a special presentation at the World Economic Forum at Davos, it showcased the country's achievements under the title: 'The World's Fastest-Growing Democracy'. The words, carefully chosen, were aimed at Western liberals whose attractions to the world's fastest-growing economy were tempered by reservations about its political system. This was not an isolated occurrence — for, as manifest most recently in the decision of our Ambassador in Norway to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Indian Establishment is not shy of claiming moral superiority over China on account of our democratic traditions.

This positioning of India as the Asian nice guy can backfire, as when those Western liberals (most famously, President Obama) chastise us for endorsing the military regime in Myanmar. The scolding has been dismissed as hypocritical, on the grounds that the United States has historically been very keen on supporting dictators against democrats in Asia (remember Suharto, Zia, Musharraf), Africa (Mobutu and many others) and Latin America (Pinochet, Somoza, sundry Brazilian generals). But, as we mark our 62nd Republic Day, it is harder to dismiss a criticism made by an increasing number of Indians — that there has been a sharp erosion of democratic values and processes within India itself.

This erosion is evident most strikingly in two spheres —the rule of law and the freedom of the Press. One of India's most respected lawyers, Shanti Bhushan, claims that of the 16 chief justices of the Supreme Court he has appeared before, at least half were corrupt. Other senior lawyers confirm that the claim is credible. Levels of corruption in the lower courts may be even higher. That some judgements can be 'fixed' is widely believed — so much so that a powerful journalist is now known to have advised Niira Radia how to doctor a case in her client's favour.

Apart from cash, violence and intimidation can also pervert the law or stop it from pursuing the true ends of justice. Even when manifestly guilty of looting the public exchequer, politicians do not spend extended time in prison. This is in part because judges and prosecutors worry about their own safety if the party of the accused were to return to power.

The frailties of the legal system are abundantly on display in India's conflict zones — such as Kashmir, Manipur, and the Naxalite-affected areas of central and eastern India. Police officers and soldiers who commit human rights violations are rarely charged and never punished. In Dantewada, a district whose tragic recent history I have been closely following, tribals who have had their homes burnt or women raped by a vigilante group promoted by the state government, are simply too terrified to register a complaint. Even if they had the necessary legal support, local police stations will not accept FIR's, and local courts will not entertain cases. Out of despair, a brave adivasi leader named Kartam Joga moved the Supreme Court. His reward was a spate of spurious cases filed by the state government, who then put him away in jail, in an act of vicious retribution.

The sufferings of the tribals are a product of the barbaric methods adopted both by the Maoists and by State-sponsored vigilantes. The Maoists are accountable to nobody, but it is a sign of the abdication of its Constitutional responsibilities that when the Supreme Court chastised the Chhattisgarh government for its failure to rehabilitate displaced tribals, it set up an enquiry committee composed of the same politicians — Raman Singh, Mahendra Karma, et al — who had energetically promoted the vigilantes. (By the same moral standards, A Raja should be appointed chairman of a committee enquiring into the 2G scandal.)

This callousness of a professedly democratic regime towards the human rights of its citizens provides ammunition to extremists who wish to secede from India or convert it into a one-party State. But our democratic claims are also undermined by increasing curbs on the freedom of the press. Sometimes, it is newspaper owners and managers who are at fault, as when they enter into private treaties with corporate houses to provide favourable coverage, or pass off party propaganda as impartial assessments (what is called 'paid news'). At other times, it is individual journalists who are guilty, as when they act as spokesmen for particular businessmen or industrial houses.

A third threat to press freedom comes from government interference. Consider the curbs on setting up community radio stations, or the banning of news broadcasts from privately owned radio channels. These are a product of a general fear of free expression, but, speaking in more particular terms, states governments often withdraw departmental advertisements (a key source of revenue) from newspapers which have been critical of its policies. Sometimes, the intimidation is less subtle; as when politicians threaten independent-minded journalists, and even (as has happened in Dantewada) have them beaten up by hired goons.

 That India, unlike China, has regular elections, and that Indians, unlike the Chinese, can live anywhere they want, are freedoms to cherish and be grateful for. Among other visible (and admirable) strengths of Indian democracy are the independence of institutions such as the Election Commission and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and the sturdily apolitical character of our armed forces. Set against these gains are the corruption and criminality of our political class, the corruption and corrosion of our legal system, and the increasingly self-serving nature of our Press. Rather than brag about how much more democratic we are than China, we should pay attention to how far Indian democracy, c. 2011, falls short of the ideals envisaged and the standards laid out by our own Constitution in 1950.

(Ramachandra Guha is the author of Makers of Modern India)

*The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A LISTENING POINT, NOT A BRIDGE

ASHOK MALIK

Whichever way it ends, the BJP Ekta Yatra has one clear loser: Omar Abdullah. In his political and administrative responses, his impetuous over-reaction and his absence of statecraft — which have given the BJP's Yatra, tired idea as it was, a traction it would not otherwise have got — the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has only weakened himself.

There is a context to this. In the past year, the Kashmir Valley has gone through a tense and troubled period. For this, it is easy to blame the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, Islamist radicals beyond the Hurriyat's grip, masterminds across the Line of Control, wildcat 'intellectuals' from New Delhi and the history of the UPA government's engagement with Kashmiri political opinion since 2004.

Yet, the fact is the unrest in the Valley was also substantively — though admittedly not entirely — a protest movement against a clumsy chief minister, one who had to be persuaded by the Union home ministry to venture out to his embattled state capital, and was perceived as distant and aloof even by those who had elected him in 2008. Indeed, it is sometimes unclear if the junior Abdullah has a core constituency left outside the studios of English news channels.

The BJP's Yatra catered to segments of opinion but, to be fair, was not top of the mind for the ordinary citizen. In that sense, the national mood is very different from January 1992, when an earlier Ekta Yatra had seen Murli Manohar Joshi unfurl the national flag in Srinagar. The Congress government of the time — Jammu and Kashmir was then under President's rule — had finessed the BJP by practically air-dropping a small party team, under heavy security, to wave the flag, make a symbolic point and leave.

Abdullah could similarly have used this Yatra to his advantage. He could have allowed it under restrictive conditions — not difficult to organise on Republic Day anyway — and placed the onus on the Union government. Simultaneously, he could have sent out a message to the 'intifada warriors' that provocative gestures and actions on their part were bound to evoke a counter-mobilisation by the BJP and in the India beyond the Valley. All these months, Abdullah has sought space from the national polity to build his capital and credibility among those Kashmiris who need not be violent but nevertheless have sympathy for the separatist cause. Yet, he refuses to have a two-way conversation with this section, shies away from explaining to them the limits of what India can do and what compromises it can absorb. The chief minister in Srinagar cannot just be a listening point; he needs to be a bridge.

That aside, in forcing the stoppage of trains, not letting planes take off, removing BJP leaders from even Jammu and expelling them to Punjab, Abdullah has yet again adopted a Valley-centric approach. He is also the chief minister of Jammu, isn't he? This is a region where the BJP has significant support and where the Yatra was unlikely to cause any adverse incident. Why wasn't a public meeting possible there?

As during the Amarnath Yatra pilgrim shelter dispute, Abdullah has been extremely careful with Valley sensitivities but unmindful of Jammu's concerns. His speech in Parliament in July 2008 — when the first UPA government faced a vote of confidence — was cheered in Valley-obsessed circles in New Delhi but went down extremely badly in Jammu.

In private conversations, UPA ministers admit Abdullah is getting carried away but are letting him make his mistakes. No doubt North Block will send him a bill after the Yatra chapter is over.

(Ashok Malik is a Delhi-based political commentator)

*The views expressed by the author are personal

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LONG-TERM FOCUS

 

The Reserve Bank of India has hiked interest rates by 25 basis points. This is certainly welcome; though the RBI should have taken a more aggressive stance against inflation, and hiked rates by 50 basis points. This would have been more in line with their analysis a day before that suggested that high inflation is a risk to growth. Further, their forecast of inflation has gone up, and credit growth is higher than RBI's target. The role of monetary policy is not to address prices of those items that are short in supply, but to prevent a spillover into the general level of inflation, and into higher inflationary expectations. In this light, since output growth is above expected levels and capacity utilisation is near full, the main risk to the economy is higher inflation and not lower output growth. Therefore, the stance of monetary policy needs to be aggressively anti-inflationary. In the short run a very marginal reduction in GDP growth will not be unacceptable to the Indian economy, given the need for longer-term price stability.

The approach to control inflation needs to be multi-pronged. India has seen years of loose fiscal and monetary policy, along with a lack of reform in agriculture, in which supply shortages have now arisen. The RBI has said that the government needs to do fiscal consolidation and improve the quality of its expenditure. While the government certainly needs to do its bit in tightening fiscal policy, this does not mean that monetary policy can be accommodative. The need for tighter monetary policy arises regardless of what is the source of inflation.

While a simplistic analysis may suggest that interest rates have no role to play when prices are rising due to rising food prices and therefore nothing should be done about it, the RBI has correctly, in its analysis, agreed that monetary policy has a role. This position is a considerable improvement over the stance RBI took last year when, in a number of speeches, the RBI governor argued that it was not giving priority to inflation control because inflation was being led by higher food prices. It is welcome that RBI has moved beyond the simplistic analysis it offered earlier. In the face of persistent and moderate inflation, sophisticated analysis and expertise is a very important element of policy formation. As the Indian economy transforms to a market based economy with business cycles, the RBI and government need to put greater focus and resources on such capacity.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REACHING OUT

 

From January 24 to mid-February, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh plans to run a mass contact prog-ramme called Rachcha banda, which its leaders hope will be an opportunity for the beneficiaries of the state's many welfare programmes to give a bit of direct feedback. The programme was closely associated with Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy; indeed, the helicopter crash in which he died happened as he was en route from Hyderabad to Chittoor district to participate in several village-level meetings as part of the campaign. It's not surprising that the Congress's priority is to recapture some of the magic of the YSR brand; what's surprising

is that it has taken so long. For over a year, it has passively allowed the late leader's son, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, to monopolise his legacy, with the result that the state Congress is demoralised and dispirited.

Andhra's importance to the Congress cannot be overestimated. Not only has it been, both in 2004 and 2009, the source of a solid bloc of southern seats in Lok Sabha; but it has consistently been the incubator of new variants of the social-sector schemes with which the national party has tried to associate itself. Under YSR, probably the Congress's only major state leader with a power base completely independent of Delhi, the party successfully positioned itself as an efficient provider of welfare — while not neglecting Hyderabad, as the giant Outer Ring Road project, one of India's largest road projects, shows. After YSR's death, the Congress lost a political battle with its own worse side; rather than allowing for the possibility of another YSR-like alternative power centre to develop, chief ministers were handpicked from Delhi with community equations and loyalty considerations front-and-centre. If that wasn't enough, Central bungling on Telangana

has further divided and paralysed its state unit.

Seen in this context, an attempt to associate the current government in Hyderabad with the implementation and improvement of schemes for which YSR's son hopes to get credit, is an unsurprising political move. Yet the bane of Andhra politics, and a trap that the Congress is capable of falling into, is competitive populism. To beat Jagan — and Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party — the Congress should remember that YSR got ahead by smartly reworking social-sector governance. More of that is what is needed.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE REPUBLIC OF INSTITUTIONS

ARUN MAIRA

 

Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen are positioned on two sides of a Big Fight on the Internet: could India have improved human development indicators until it had increased economic growth following the 1991 reforms? Bhagwati is firm that economic growth must come first, to provide the money required for social side improvements. The other view is that since human development is an input for economic growth, it must have precedence.

This is a chicken-and-egg debate and misses the real issue: the ineffectiveness of the country's programmes to improve education, health, and social infrastructure. If 85 per cent of money that was spent for public benefit was wasted prior to the economic reforms, as Rajiv Gandhi said, and continues to be wasted even afterwards according to Rahul Gandhi, attention should be focused on the design and condition of the pipes. Not on whether there is enough water to fill the overhead tank, which is what some economists are debating.

Institutions and organisations are the machines and pipes that convert money into results. They must be redesigned to produce more bang for the buck and better outcomes for citizens. How to do this would be a more useful debate.

One school of thought proposes that the quality of public services will improve by handing them to the private sector, which, with its focus on efficiency and profits, will cut out the waste. The same school of thought also believes that environmental damage is caused by a "tragedy of the commons" when no one "owns" the water, the forests, and the atmosphere. It believes that creation of private property rights (including tradable rights to pollute the atmosphere) will induce human beings to behave more responsibly.

The basic premise of this school is that a market in which self-interested persons can trade, will always produce good outcomes. It believes that institutions for progress must be founded on principles of private property rights and competition.

A few weeks ago, as Indian and US business leaders discussed innovation, someone asked a question: why do Indians want to re-invent the wheel? Solutions have already been discovered elsewhere. India's problem is the implementation of solutions, he said. Here is the answer. There are two reasons why India must find new, innovative solutions. The first is that the wheel of progress that has been invented elsewhere has put more pressure on the earth than it can bear. The goal of progress seems to be that all aspire to attain the lifestyle of American consumers. If all the people of the world were to live at the standards of middle-class Americans we would need five earths to support everyone's needs. But we have only one earth. So it is imperative we find a better and more sustainable way for economic growth.

The second reason is that, as the wheel of progress has moved, it has been leaving too many too far behind. This is a problem in China, as it is in India, and lately it has been perceived as a problem even in the US. Economic growth is essential of course, so that there is enough for all. For hundreds of years, the way the wheel of progress has moved in all nations, is first growth — and then, with a lag, more inclusion.

However, two new forces have increased the impatience with the usual pace of the trickle-down in this traditional model of growth.

One of these forces, gathering strength across the world in the last 20 years, is a consciousness of universal human rights. These, expressed in the UN Millennium Development Goals, are basic: the right to food, health, sanitation, and education. The other force, of even more recent origin, is the ubiquity of information, through 24/7 media, cell phones, and the Internet. People know what others have. They wonder why it should be their destiny to wait while others already enjoy the fruits of progress.

These two forces, stirred up further by rapidly proliferating numbers of civil society organisations, have made people much less patient than they used to be with the pace of the trickle-down. Therefore, for more rapid inclusion and sustainability, we need innovation in the wheel of progress.

Institutions are the wheels on which the cart of progress moves. The need to tune up government is evident. And the need to redesign market-and-property based institutions to meet challenges of inclusion and sustainability is evident too: in increasing public interest in new concepts of business accountability, social entrepreneurship, producer companies, and so on.

When Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009, many wondered what the relevance of her work on community-based institutions was to economics. Its time has come. As she said during her recent visit to India, the solution is not only the government, nor only the market, and neither only the community. Because good institutions for managing shared resources, efficiently as well as fairly, require blended capabilities: public-

private-people partnerships.

Innovations are required, too, in global institutions to improve collaboration and regulation, and in institutions that are trying to deliver on the ground.

This Republic Day, let us remember: India is a huge experiment in human progress. A very large and very diverse country, it has chosen to be democratic before it is

economically developed. It must go past the stale debate about capitalism verssus socialism. Innovation in institutions is the most important agenda for India's leaders to achieve its aspirations of more inclusive, more sustainable, as well as faster growth.

The writer is a member of the Planning Commission

express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

FREEDOM, FAITH, FEAR

ABHINAV CHANDRACHUD

 

Two decisions of the Supreme Court of India in the month of January projected starkly contrasting symbols about the rights of tribal people in India. On the one hand, the court made a very powerful symbolic statement in a case which highlighted atrocities committed against tribal women, holding that tribal people in India should be entitled to "equal respect". However, on the other hand, in the infamous Graham Staines murder case, the court upheld the decision to sentence the accused to life imprisonment instead of death — and, as part of its argument, had cited the fact that Staines was engaged in work that included converting tribal people in Orissa to Christianity. The court has now rightly expunged the controversial remark.

Symbolically, these two decisions could have been seen as standing for contrasting propositions: tribals in India are entitled to equal rights as everyone — but they cannot decide for themselves whether they can convert to a different religion. In Kailas vs Maharashtra, the

victim, a 25-year-old tribal woman in Maharashtra, was beaten with fists and kicks before being stripped and paraded on the street in the nude by a "higher caste" couple. The accused were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment and a fine. They filed an appeal before the SC. While dismissing the appeal, the court strongly condemned their actions, and even reproached the state government for not asking for a stronger sentence.

In a symbolic break from the convention of only deciding what is necessary for the resolution of a case, the SC held that the original inhabitants of India were pre-Dravidian aborigines, and that tribal people must therefore be given the respect they deserve as the original inhabitants of India. Strangely, the court cited "Google" as its reference, and referred to a paragraph seen in Wikipedia, the encyclopaedia which anyone can edit. Yet, the court's message of fostering "tolerance and respect for all communities and sects", and its emphasis on changing the "mentality of our countrymen towards... tribals", was vociferous. The SC even went to the extent of rebuking Dronacharya, a character in the epic Mahabharata, for cutting off the tribal Eklavya's thumb.

However, barely a fortnight later, the SC delivered its opinion in the Graham Staines murder case. The accused, Dara Singh, had murdered the Australian missionary and his two minor sons, Philip (10) and Timothy (6), by burning them alive while they were sleeping in a station wagon at Manoharpur. Graham Staines was engaged in professing and propagating Christianity in the tribal interior of Orissa, and he was entitled to do so under the bill of rights chapter in India's Constitution.

In the remarks that are now expunged, the SC had held that Staines' killer did not deserve death because his intention was "to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity". The court declared that the high court had "correctly appreciated" this aspect of the case. The question thus became: does the motive of punishing a missionary for trying to convert "poor tribals" to Christianity offer sufficient justification for refusing to apply the death penalty?

Article 25 of the Indian Constitution grants to every person, including non-citizens, the right to profess and propagate religion. In propagating Christianity to tribals in Orissa, Staines was exercising this fundamental constitutional right. It would have been different if the court had found Staines was forcibly converting tribals to Christianity, in which event he could be said to have been interfering with the religious rights of others. Yet, absent a finding of coercion, the court had found it justifiable to refuse to sentence the accused to death on the ground that Staines was attacked purely for exercising the constitutional right to propagate religion.

Further, India's Constitution also grants to every person including "poor tribals" the freedom of conscience and to practice the

religion of their choice. If the freedom of speech includes the right to receive information, then the freedom of conscience surely includes the right to know about other religions. By giving Dara Singh life imprisonment instead of death, it could be asked if the court symbolically undermined the right of "poor tribals" to hear missionaries and decide for themselves whether they want to convert to another religion.

Dara Singh wanted to punish Staines for exercising his constitutional right to profess and propagate religion. A debate on the moral aspects of the death penalty aside, if the motive of punishing a person for exercising a fundamental constitutional right is considered a "mitigating factor" by our courts then constitutional rights will cease to have meaning. For this reason, the court's decision to expunge the controversial remark must be welcomed. However, public memory is not as easily erasable as a paragraph in a judgment; it is difficult to see how the court's decision to give Dara Singh life imprisonment does not symbolically contradict the right to religion under the Indian Constitution, and its previous tribal rights decision.

The writer is an associate attorney at a US law firm express@expressindia.com

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

HOLES IN SWISS CHEESE

BIBEK DEBROY

 

Rudolf Elmer used to work for Julius Baer, a Swiss bank that goes back to 1890. Elmer divulged details of 2,000 high net-worth individuals who hold accounts with Julius Baer to WikiLeaks, and some Asians figure in this list. We are waiting for the list to come into the public domain; as far as one knows, the government doesn't have access to this list either and almost certainly there are Indians on it.

The government does possess access to another list though. This concerns LGT (Liechtenstein Global Trust). The German government paid an ex-LGT employee (Heinrich Kieber) to part with accounts held by Germans in LGT, and in the process, unearthed the names of some resident Indians (RIs) and NRIs too. That was almost three years ago.

About two years ago, following an exchange-of-information clause in the Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA), Germany provided a list of 26 (reportedly) Indian names to India, and it is this list that the government is reluctant to divulge, unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

Why is the government reluctant? First, because there is a secrecy clause in DTAA. This doesn't seem convincing, because secrecy clauses don't typically concern third countries (Liechtenstein). Second, because this will hamper obtaining information under DTAAs with other countries. That doesn't seem convincing either, certainly not for OECD countries.

Since 2002, there has been a model agreement on exchange of information on tax matters, developed by the OECD's global forum on effective exchange of information. This is not binding, but several bilateral agreements have been signed on this basis.

For instance, Article 26 of the OECD Model Tax Convention on Income and Capital states that "in no case shall the provisions of paragraph 3 be construed to permit a Contracting State to decline to supply information solely because the information is held by a bank, other financial institution, nominee or person acting in an agency or a fiduciary capacity or because it relates to ownership interests in a person."

Unfortunately, it also states, "Any information received under paragraph 1 by a Contracting State shall be treated as secret in the same manner as information obtained under the domestic laws of that State, and shall be disclosed only to persons or authorities (including courts and administrative bodies) concerned with the assessment or collection of, the enforcement or prosecution in respect of, the determination of appeals in relation to the taxes referred to in paragraph 1, or the oversight of the above. Such persons or authorities shall use the information only for such purposes. They may disclose the information in public court proceedings or in judicial decisions." If Liechtenstein changed its laws in 2009, that was because of Article 26.

The Swiss have also diluted secrecy provisions in Article 47 of their Federal Banking Act of 1934, originally introduced when Nazis sought to investigate assets held by Jews. However, even before dilution, privacy or confidentiality has never been absolute. Clauses on withholding information can be revoked if a Swiss judge or prosecutor imposes a lifting order, after there is a domestic or international criminal investigation concerning "terrorist financing, money laundering, insider trading and tax fraud".

What's now been diluted is the distinction between tax evasion and tax fraud. Tax evasion is non-reporting of income, while tax fraud is active deception. If it is a domestic Swiss client, the distinction still remains and tax evasion will not warrant lifting of secrecy, unless it is serious. However, if it is a foreign client, OECD and G-20 pressure has led to the distinction between tax evasion and tax fraud becoming blurred, even for numbered accounts (where names of account holders are only known to senior bank officials.) There has also been some EU pressure to harmonise tax laws, since EU believes EU nationals use Swiss bank accounts to evade taxes.

All kinds of mind-boggling numbers ($1.5 trillion) float around on Indian black money stashed abroad in Swiss bank accounts. Since black money is a vague expression, no one knows what the right figure is. There is also the Global Financial Integrity Report that, between 1948 and 2008, India lost $213 billion in illicit financial flows (with a present value of $462 billion) and that, between 2004 and 2008, capital flight abroad increased.

The assumption that there is a neat dichotomy between black and white income is false, since white becomes black and vice-versa. The proposition that black income understates India's rate of GDP growth is also false. The rate of growth in GDP isn't affected, unless share of black income in total income changes over time. There is a distortion and understatement. But if that distortion remains constant over time, why should rates of growth be affected?

That apart, many instances of corruption are actually transfer payments from the point of view of GDP. Having said that, the oft-cited figure that 40 per cent of India's GDP is black is likely to be an overestimate. Whatever be the definition of black, a key element is non-payment of taxes. The agricultural sector doesn't pay taxes. Nor does a large chunk of services — and there are legitimate exemptions too.

Consequently, something between 20 and 25 per cent (as a share of GDP) seems more plausible. There is no reason for all of this to fly abroad. After all, greater returns can be obtained in India — in the capital markets, in real estate and land.

But whatever be the number, there must be money stashed abroad, not just in Switzerland, but Singapore too. (Singapore has implemented stricter laws on client privacy in banks.) There are 327 banks and registered security dealers in Switzerland, most small. With the Swiss increasingly cooperative and open, we won't be able to obtain information on all these, but we should be able to obtain information about UBS and Credit Suisse, two major ones.

And ditto for other tax havens. Like the US, we might also be able to persuade the Swiss that bank accounts cannot be opened by Indian citizens unless there is a document stating that no taxes are due in India. However, who is "we"? For such purposes, "we" is the government. The government obtaining information is one thing. It being placed in the public domain is another.

All governments are reluctant to part with information. The Indian government is not one of the better ones, notwithstanding the RTI, PILs and court intervention — especially if benchmarked with developed countries, and not with the rest of South Asia. Therefore,

Julian Assange performs a useful role; we might get more out of WikiLeaks than out of the Government of India.

The writer is a Delhi-based economist, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A CENTURY OF BATTLING WOMEN

ARFAKHANUMSHERWANI

 

"There are some defeats more triumphant than victories" said Michael de Montaigne.

Indeed, the women candidates who contested in the AMU student union elections got more than victory could have given them. Though there have been some women who have contested the elections in the past — and won too — this was never for the top three positions together. In the 136-year history of union elections, this was the first time that as many as 11 young women expressed the desire to lead. They were followed by hundreds of young men and women that chanted election slogans, who heard their eloquent speeches and clapped for them too.

Also, for the very first time, the undergraduate students of the women's college (Abdullah College) were allowed to exercise their right to vote for the candidate of their choice, though within the hostel's four walls. So far they have had a separate union, a separate election and of course a female president elected by them. So, in more ways than one, this election was special for women students at AMU. AMU students, teachers and of course the administration, deserve appreciation for providing a conducive environment for women to present their candidature.

Let's look at the results. The elected presidential candidate, Abu Affan Farooqui, received a total of 4830 votes; the girl candidate for the same position could manage just 181. Amir Qutb became honorary secretary with 3878 votes; his opponent, Naheed Mustafa, with 370 votes, was sixth of seven candidates. Girl students are 40 per cent of AMU; some departments, like medicine and education, are up to 70 per cent female. Clearly, even girls did not vote for girls.

Before the election results were announced there was an unprecedented euphoria. Especially about Naheed Mustafa, a confident law student, who likes to drive a car in a small town and has won hearts with her go-getter attitude and articulate election speeches. Encouraged by the number of female candidates, there were murmurs on campus about nurturing talent as we await 33 per cent women's reservation in parliamentary elections.

So what came in the way of this rewriting of history's course? What went so terribly wrong that, out of 11 women candidates, only one could make it to the cabinet?

Some like to believe that, since most of the women candidates did not have a strong support base among even other women students, and decided to fight the elections just before they filed their nomination papers, they couldn't convince the majority of their leadership potential. Some others were putting out preconditions before they could vote for them — that women candidates should have enough safety paraphernalia, like a separate car, a separate room and women security guards. There is also said to be a very small group of women students who were fundamentally opposed to women candidates contesting the elections citing religious reasons. If true, in 21st century India, nothing could be more disconcerting.

The AMU student union was established on August 26, 1884, as the Siddons Debating Club, named after the college's first principal. "In this club, learned discussions on topics of general and academic interest will be held from time to time .The rules and regulations of speech would be exactly the same as those of Cambridge", said AMU founder Sir Syed Ahmed Khan at the inaugural ceremony.

Sir Syed's perseverance with modernism and modern education caused Muslims of that time to he was "England-obsessed"; they blamed him for emulating the English and not the Arabs. Yet this great visionary was ahead of his time, and was aware of the importance of women's education in modern India. It topped his agenda: the very first Siddons Club debate was held on the subject of female education. "The first Vice President of the students' union was Khwaja Sajjad Husain, and the first secretary Syed Muhammad Ali, both staunch supporters of female education," writes AMU PRO Rahat Abrar, in his book on female education.

In early 20th century India, when home tuition was the best Indians could think of for their girls, AMU was producing graduate and post-graduate women. The first post-graduate women passed out of AMU some 85 years ago, in 1925. The first chancellor of the university, Sultan Jahan Begum, also happened to be a woman.

The Aligarh movement has always been a supposed engine of Muslim liberalism and confidence; but this institution, proud of its tradition and values, has always been a battleground between its hardliners and its liberals. The defeat of women candidates is a reflection of this old battle in this new age.

In the 19th century, Sir Syed initiated the move to educate Muslim women; in the 21st century, shouldn't Aligarh Muslim University take the lead in giving them leadership roles?

The writer is a TV journalist and Vice President of the AMU Old Boys' Association, Delhi

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE OPPOSITION FAULTLINES

MANOJ C G

 

The Opposition faultlines

The Left and the BJP fought against the government shoulder to shoulder during the winter session of Parliament. But as the budget session nears, and perhaps with the Assembly elections in Kerala and West Bengal in mind, the comrades are reviving their attack against the BJP over "saffron terror".

Both People's Democracy and New Age — the official weeklies of the the CPM and the CPI respectively — lash out at the BJP and the RSS. An article in New Age notes that terrorism has been a favourable stick with which the RSS-BJP has tried to beat others. "So, what has the RSS to say now? What about the BJP? ...They have constantly accused an entire community of terrorism," it says. "Any blast anywhere, and the RSS asks others to behave... When a few minority community people were arrested, the RSS lost no time in calling for their heads, irrespective of whether they were picked up rightly or wrongly. Why no calls for hanging of those responsible for killing no less than 68 innocent passengers in Samjhauta Express? Why this defence? There can't be two standards to judge the same crime," it asks.

The lead editorial in People's Democracy also hits out at the BJP for "stoking communal passions" by insisting on hoisting the tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk. "The fact that the BJP chooses to make an issue of hoisting the flag in Srinagar alone, not elsewhere, is, clearly aimed at gaining political mileage by sharpening communal polarisation," it says.

Referring to the Amarnath yatra movement, it points out that in Jammu & Kashmir, the RSS and BJP have continuously fished in troubled waters seeking political advantage. "One of the key RSS personnel that allegedly played an important role in this movement, Indresh Kumar, is now in the spotlight of the CBI's investigations into the Hindutva terror network," it notes.

Demand or supply?

An article in People's Democracy on inflation points out that the trend over the last one-and-a-half years suggests that there are structural factors at work that are setting a higher floor to the inflation rate. It says corporate consolidation of production and trade, decontrol that permits profiteering, a reduced role for public agencies and public sector firms, and the withdrawal or curtailments of subsidies on a range of inputs, have pushed up costs and prices substantially. Further, it talks about the role that speculation has to come to play in the light of the presence of large corporate players in the wholesale and retail trade, and with the growing role of futures and derivatives trading in a host of commodities.

The government, it says, does not consider these angles worth pursuing because of reasons including the ideological. "It cannot bear questioning the outcome of reform. It cannot bear suggesting that corporate entry can lead to profiteering in a context of decontrol," it says. The government, it says, has recognised this structural, inflationary tendency in a peculiar — in fact patently absurd — way by attributing it to the demand-side effects of high growth.

But even 'though the high growth era began in 2004, it is only now that it has generated demand-supply imbalances," it noted. "And, that if there is indeed a supply-demand imbalance the government is constrained, for whatever reason, to redress it by resorting to imports. Making such assumptions is not just wishful thinking, but avoiding the conundrum," it adds.

Shuffle and error

The CPI(ML)'s weekly magazine hits out at the UPA government in the context of the cabinet reshuffle. It says: "swamped by allegations of corruption of massive proportions on many fronts, the UPA has decided to brazen it out with a campaign of cover-up and creating confusion to scuttle any credible and timely probe and punishment." The article slams the Government for defending CVC P.J. Thomas defying repeated strictures by the Supreme Court, criticises Kapil Sibal for his attempt to rubbish the CAG's estimation of the 2G scam amount and claims that the CBI has already shown signs that it is less than committed to nailing the guilty in the CWG case.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

FROM FIGHTING OVER FRUIT TO REVOLUTION

 

Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia — This is where an Arab revolution began, in a hardscrabble stretch of nowhere. If the modern world is divided into dynamic hubs and a static periphery, Sidi Bouzid epitomises the latter. The town never even appeared on the national weather forecast.

The spark was an altercation on December 17, 2010. It involved a young fruit-and-vegetable peddler named Mohamed Bouazizi and a policewoman much older than him called Faida Hamdy. What exactly transpired between them — who slapped or spat at whom, which insults flew — has already entered the realm of revolutionary myth.

Soon after Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the modest governor's building where protesters now gather around portraits of the martyr. Bouazizi would live another 18 days. By then, an Arab dictatorship with a 53-year pedigree was shuddering. Within another 10 days, it had fallen in perhaps the world's first revolution without a leader.

Or rather, its leader was far away: Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Its vehicle was the youth of Tunisia, able to use Facebook for instant communication and cyber-inspire their parents. Castro spent years preparing revolution in the Cuban interior, the Sierra Maestra; Facebook propelled insurrection from the interior to the Tunisian capital in 28 days.

How could a spat over pears in Nowhereville turn into a national uprising? No Tunisian newspaper or TV network covered it. The West was busy with Christmas. Tunisia was the Arab world's Luxembourg: Nothing ever happened. Some poor kid's self-immolation could never break a wall of silence. Or so it seemed.

That day, December 17, a dozen members of Bouazizi's enraged family gathered outside the governor's building. They shook the gates and demanded that the governor see them. "Our family can accept anything but not humiliation," Samia Bouazizi, the dead man's sister, told me, sitting under a bare light bulb in a small house near a trough where sheep were feeding.

Humiliation is an important word in this story. It was the "hogra," or contempt, of the dictator's kleptocracy that would cyber-galvanise an Arab people. The protests soon swelled. Participants uploaded cellphone images onto Facebook pages. "My daughter, Ons, who's 16, started showing me what was going on," said Hichem Saad, a Tunis-based entrepreneur. Al-Jazeera was alerted through Facebook.

When Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the now ousted dictator, addressed the nation, as he would three times, Facebook-ferried fury was the response. Ben Ali might have 1.5 million members in his puppet party; he soon faced two million Facebook users. By now Faida Hamdy, the policewoman, had slapped Bouazizi across the face. Perhaps she did. Her cousin told me he slapped her: hurtling facts are too good to check.

Hisham Ben Khamsa, who organises an American movie festival in Tunis, watched with his kids as Ben Ali made his last speech on January 13. Now, the strongman's confrontational fury had gone. Like the shah of Iran in 1978 — too late — he had "understood." He felt the people's pain. Bread prices would come down.

"He hadn't understood a thing," Ben Khamsa told me. "This was about dignity, not bread. His political autism was terminal. Everyone was live-commenting the speech on Facebook." The next night, Ben Ali fled after 23 years in power, short of his predecessor's 30 years. It's said the average age of a Tunisian is one dictator and a half. That nightmare is over.

Now the new youth minister, a 33-year-old former dissident blogger, tweets from cabinet meetings. Everyone is talking where everyone was silent. "Every Arab nation is waiting for its Bouazizi," his sister told me.

Some observations: First, the old nostrum goes that it's either dictators or Islamic fundamentalists in the Arab world because they're the only organised forces. No, online communities can organise and bite. Second, those communities have no formal ideology but their struggle is to transform humiliation into self-esteem.

Third, cyber-uprisings can go either way: Iran hovered on a razor's edge in 2009, Tunisia's regime fell in 2011. In both societies the gulf between the authorities and young wired societies was huge. The difference is probably the degree of sustained brutality a dictatorship can muster.

Fourth, Internet freedom is no panacea. Authoritarian regimes can use it to identify dissidents; they can try to suppress Facebook. But it's empowering to the repressed, humiliated and distant — and so a threat to the decayed Arab status quo.

Tunisia was a Facebook revolution. But I prefer a phrase I heard in Tunis: "The Dignity Revolution."

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LIVING WITH INFLATION

The market was expecting a 25 bps increase in the repo and reverse repo rates. So when invoked, it was more or less self-fulfilling, which also means that it is unlikely to have much of an impact. RBI has also upped its inflation number for March to 7%. Put these two together and we can draw two conclusions. The first is that we will be living with high inflation for the remaining two months, which is probably an honest idea conveyed and second, even RBI is helpless. Less than two weeks ago, the government threw up its hands on inflation saying nothing could be done in the short run and that it was up to RBI to take suitable measures. RBI, in turn, meekly increased rates by 25 bps and left it to nature to take care of the rest. Maybe it was the best that could be done, but the tone of helplessness is significant and probably disappointing as the economic review released a day before made inflation tackling a more serious issue.

Also, RBI has left banks to improve liquidity by dealing better with imbalances in funds, which is surprising. It has cautioned more on banks reconciling their high credit growth with limited deposits backing them. Is there an ALM mismatch? The SLR and OMOs did not quite deliver the result and ideally RBI could have announced direct measures to alleviate liquidity. The implication is that we can expect tight liquidity conditions to prevail in the coming months unless banks are able to play the conjurer's role and get in deposits by increasing deposit rates further—increased government spending in the year's last quarter, though, could help. This brings to the fore the issue of lending rates. RBI has maintained that growth is on target, which means that there has not so far been an impact due to higher interest rates. We are betting that the same sentiment will hold for the next quarter, too, which could be the surprise element. Higher interest rates up to a point will not militate against investment and growth, but once we reach an undefined limit, profits are affected and there could be some adverse repercussions. Protagonists of the growth-neutral theory say that as long as demand is there, no one will cut back on production, as it is their business to produce. But, industry has another story to tell, as beyond a point profits come under pressure—especially for infrastructure projects. What exactly is this inflexion point is the moot question.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NOT BACK IN THE BLACK

It's not clear if the Supreme Court will be satisfied with finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's explanation as to why the government cannot reveal the names of Indians who have money stashed away in Swiss banks—Tuesday's press conference was called in response to the Court giving the government a mouthful on the subject. The government told the Court international treaties forbade it from revealing the names. At Tuesday's press meet, the FM detailed what the government had done in the matter. It had initiated the process of negotiations with 65 countries so that India could get details of banking transactions; 8 more income tax units had been set up overseas; taxmen working on transfer pricing had been trained better—within a short period, the FM said, adjustments worth Rs 45,000 crore had been made in import and export transactions, and Rs 33,800 crore of additional taxes collected. Some of this shows new determination and some looked like the old stuff being trotted out again—the best example of the latter, of course, is the setting up of a new multi-disciplinary committee to estimate the size of the black economy and the addition to it each year.

Instead of just taking the government's word that it is going to get at the black money, let's examine its record. As compared to its projected tax collections of Rs 7,47,000 crore in 2010-11, tax arrears add up to Rs 1,17,000 crore. These are amounts owed by persons the government knows the names of, and none of them are protected by any tax treaty; these are amounts where the income tax demand has already been raised; Rs 46,000 crore of this is not even under any form of dispute; around Rs 29,000 crore has been due for more than 5 years. Or take the celebrated VDIS amnesty scheme in 1997—as against the 35% tax to be paid, enough loopholes were left to allow people to pay 5-10% tax and get away, but no action ever got taken against officials who allowed this; Lalu Prasad and Mayawati were prosecuted for their black money but the cases never moved forward. In the latest 2G scam, if there is no revenue loss, as the government says, the case has lost much of its sting. Mauritius has long been seen as an entry point for India's black money to come back tax-free, but little has been done about it all these years … Why are we so focused only on money stashed abroad?

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

GETTING 'PEOPLE READY' FOR GROWTH

SHAILESH DOBHAL

Many big businesses in the country like Reliance Industries (RIL), Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) and Wipro are in the throes of a top management rejig. Their old management structures, often driven by the promoter-manager or a company-lifer CEO, were good enough for punching above par growth in the 1990s and 2000s. But, as the complexity of doing business increases multifold—from geographical diversity, non-conventional competitors, shorter business cycles, complex technologies—and emerging opportunities tease core business beliefs, clearly it's time to ring in the new or risk missing the bus. In fact, of late, anecdotal evidence suggests that no other issue is consuming company managements more than the capability and readiness of their top honchos to harness the humongous opportunity that an economy growing at close to double digits presents across sectors. No wonder, a host of them are busy with internal reorganisation to remain agile and nimble for the next phase of growth.

The country's biggest engineering and construction company, Rs 45,000-crore L&T, recently announced splitting itself into nine virtually independent entities, with a dedicated company-style CEO, CFO, HR head, board, and a separate profit and loss account in an effort to become more competitive, develop a stronger leadership pipeline and clearer succession path for high performers to the corner room. RIL is working on a structure that moves the oil-to-retail conglomerate from its erstwhile 'entrepreneur' driven style to a process, professional CEO approach of its key businesses in oil, gas & energy; retail & telecom; petrochemical & polyester and SEZs. Information technology major Wipro junked its three-year-old joint-CEO model and settled for relative newcomer to lead it back to industry-beating growth and handed over decision making to managers close to the market. And M&M is quietly populating its India ranks with expats to see it through new businesses in aerospace and two-wheelers, even as it pushes home-grown managers to its operations in over six dozen global locations.

Though not exactly similar in nature, the succession process currently on at the $90 billion Tata Group and at Infosys Technologies in replacing outgoing chiefs Ratan Tata and NR Narayana Murthy, respectively, is also grappling with issues of how the new person fits in with the challenges these organisations face in the post-slowdown, Chindia-rising new world business order. Murthy has already spelled out the challenges for his replacement—making and managing "a truly multi-cultural organisation with local leadership and local talent". Tata, too, had hinted that his successor needs to marry the group's Indian values with its overarching global reach, with around two-thirds of revenues coming from outside India, and that the group is open to an outsider, even a foreigner, if need be.

L&T's current chairman & managing director AM Naik has been very categorical on the need for the software-to-rigs monolith to operate in a more entrepreneurial way, even while the country's largest private company, family-owned RIL, seeks a more 'process' driven future for itself. In fact, at first go, L&T's and RIL's approach may appear diverse, but essentially both are trying to de-bottleneck their top management and create an empowered group of leaders to take on roles erstwhile fulfilled only by the owner-manager or the larger-than-life professional CEO. As RIL scouts the globe for new energy sources such as shale gas, and enters big businesses such as power generation and broadband, it's clear that a small group close to the chairman taking all calls on things strategic and operational is no longer plausible, and the process of creating a strong leadership pipeline needs to be institutionalised. This new-found 'process' and 'institutional' orientation to top management at RIL also becomes necessary as more and more of its revenues come from outside India, and therefore the need to be in sync with global best practices in human resources, too. First reports out on the business transformation plan being drafted for it by management consultants AT Kearney and Booz & Company point that the blueprint is as much about its new investment strategy as the management pyramid that will oversee it.

At the core of most of these recent management rejigs is the realisation that it is the drive, skills, integrity, empowerment and resourcefulness of people, especially at the top, that will separate the winners from the also-rans. For instance, tomorrow's leader in the IT services space will be determined by how the top leadership in tier-1 companies is able to crack the elusive non-linear model of growth, which is making growth relatively independent of the number of coders added to the company's manpower. Or for a currently predominantly business-to-business focused company like RIL and L&T to grow or acquire managers capable of handling scale in consumer-facing sectors like retail, banking, finance, retail broadband, etc. Recollect that RIL is staffing, at the top, its five-year-old retail subsidiary, Reliance Retail, with expats from Southeast Asian countries used to big box retail, in order to manage the scale that is gradually building up here. And L&T has already broken tradition and hired outsiders to head two of its promising businesses—power and IT. Tata Motors again picked an outsider, and a foreigner at that, as its global CEO last year. Clearly, as far as getting 'people ready' for the future, there are no holy cows for India Inc.

shailesh.dobhal@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FAST-TRACKING JUSTICE
SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN

As part of a settlement between the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, relating to an investigation into the alleged use of money borrowed overseas in the local stock market, Anil Ambani and four top executives of two companies promoted by him will not be able to invest in listed stocks until the end of 2011. Further, two companies, Reliance Infrastructure and Reliance Natural Resources Ltd (RNRL), must stay away from the secondary market till December 2012, according to a Sebi order issued on January 14, 2010. As part of the consent order, Ambani and the four executives have paid a settlement charge of Rs 50 crore, 'without admitting or denying the charges'.

When the case first came to light sometime in August last year, it was probably the first time that Sebi had asked an industrialist of the stature of Anil Ambani to appear before it for a personal hearing. Even if corporate India didn't quite say so, it sat up and took notice of the regulator's move. Though purists wouldn't have liked the matter being resolved through a consent order, Rs 50 crore is a record amount for Sebi, which has probably recovered about Rs 100 crore between end-2007 (when the practice of consent orders was first initiated) and now. Before that, between 1995 and 2007, the regulator must not have managed to extract more than Rs 15 crore. Indeed, a closer look at the case reveals that Sebi has done the right thing. If a company has violated Reserve Bank of India's regulations relating to borrowings via the ECB route, it is not a breach of rules that falls under Sebi's jurisdiction; that should be investigated by those responsible for looking into FEMA violations. Sebi's job is to ensure that promoters don't play in their own shares and that if money is invested in stocks it has to be in other stocks, and a proper mention of this is made in the published accounts of the companies. To that extent, Sebi has done well to wrap up the case quickly and extract the penalty.

The idea, after all, is not to hurt or destroy a listed company, in which there are minority shareholders. So, by asking the individuals concerned to cough up Rs 50 crore, and also allowing the companies involved to access the primary market, the regulator has attempted to protect minority shareholders. At the same time, Sebi has made sure that the message is not lost on those involved. The fact that Anil Ambani found it necessary to hold a special press conference on a Sunday afternoon, after officials repeatedly clarified their stand on the two preceding days, is proof that the message has gone home. In a country where industrialists often attempt to use their political connections to pressure regulators to get their way, it's important though that Sebi doesn't give in.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) too often enters into plea bargains, sometimes for what would seem to be fairly serious offences. In a recent case, the SEC charged NutraCea, three former executives and two former accounting personnel for engaging in a fraudulent accounting scheme to inflate sales revenues at the Arizona-based company. NutraCea and four of the five individuals agreed to settle the SEC's charges against them, and the SEC's litigation continues against the fifth individual. Typically, Sebi entrusts cases where those alleged to have violated a rule, approach it to reach a settlement, to an independent committee headed by a retired high court judge. In about a third of the cases, the committee has concluded that the terms offered by the offender aren't good enough and Sebi has either renegotiated the terms or taken the matter to the court. For sure, consent orders have helped reduce litigation, which is a good thing, and the use of an independent committee is a great initiative. However, if too many cases are settled through the consent route, the law itself may not evolve, leaving the market bereft of an understanding of what the regulator's or the court's interpretation of a certain issue is. Also, if the government is serious about bringing offenders to book, it needs to ensure that Sebi has the finances to hire the best lawyers. That would give the regulator the confidence to take on even the biggest industrialists.

shobhana.subramanian@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BEHIND THE CARNAGE IN MOSCOW

The horrendous bombing carnage at Russia's biggest airport on Monday took a toll of 35 lives and wounded about 180. A suicide bomber detonated a bag with about seven kg of explosives packed with nuts and bolts in the overcrowded arrival hall of Domodedovo airport outside Moscow. It was an afternoon rush hour when airliners touch down every couple of minutes. So far, nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, but investigators believe it was staged by militants operating from Russia's troubled Northern Caucasus. Many terrorist acts in the past were staged by Chechen rebels who waged a separatist war against Russia in the 1990s. However, in recent years, the virus of terrorism has spread to other predominantly Muslim territories in Russia's south and mutated to patently jihadist insurgency, which has joined hands with al-Qaeda to create an 'Islamic caliphate' across the Caucasus. The spread of radical Islamism also feeds on economic dislocation and unemployment, which is close to 50 per cent in the region. Last year, the Northern Caucasus saw a fourfold increase in terror attacks in which hundreds of people died, according to the Russian Prosecutor General's office. The Domodedovo bombing was the second terror strike in Moscow in less than a year. In March 2010, two young women from Dagestan married to jihadists set off bombs in the Moscow Metro, killing 40 people. Last year, the Kremlin adopted a multi-billion-dollar plan to create jobs and uplift the region's economy. But it will obviously take time for the development efforts to yield results.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a review of security procedures on transport and vowed to find and punish those behind the explosion. After 9/11, security was tightened for airlines and airports around the world but the Domodedovo tragedy underlined Russia's vulnerability to attacks on key infrastructure used by millions of people every year. It will be remembered that it was at the Domodedovo airport that Chechen suicide bombers boarded two Russian passenger planes in 2004 and blew them up in mid-air, killing 90 people. While the level of security on the air side of Russian airports has since been hardened, on the land side it has remained lax. The terrorist who blew up Domodedovo entered the terminal unhindered as there was no screening of the public arriving at the airport. Monday's atrocity should serve as a wake-up call for Russia to curb terrorism in the Northern Caucasus as it prepares to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Football Cup. Other countries hit by terrorism, including India, must extend all possible cooperation and assistance to Russia in this uphill battle.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

NOT BY MONETARY POLICY ALONE

In raising the repo and reverse repo rates by just 0.25 per cent, the Reserve Bank of India has come up with a somewhat subdued response to inflation, which it says remains the dominant concern. However the policy review asserts that there will be no let up in the monetary policy's primary objective of targeting inflation. The tone of the review is clear and direct as far as inflation is concerned. Certain other factors such as the slow progress in fiscal consolidation at home and high commodity prices abroad are underpinning inflation. Monetary measures by themselves will have very little impact on these. Besides, the imperatives of maintaining an atmosphere congenial to growth can never be ignored. The hike in policy rates should therefore be moderate enough not to disturb growth. Recently, there has been a serious shortage of liquidity and the RBI is continuing to pitch in with additional liquidity for a few more months. It has marked up its projection of WPI inflation for March 2011 to 7.0 per cent, while retaining its forecast of GDP growth for the current year at 8.5 per cent with an upward bias.

The growth and inflation projections are subject to several risks. Food inflation has been persistent over the past two years, is fairly widespread across many food items, and shows no signs of moderation even in a year of normal monsoons. There are indications that high food inflation is impacting general inflation, besides keeping inflationary expectations at elevated levels. Non-food manufacturing inflation has been persistent and sticky. Domestic producers are operating at near-full capacity and the scope for importing commodities to supplement local supplies has become restricted in the context of a moderate global recovery. Two other major concerns are the widening current account deficit (CAD) and the tardy progress in fiscal consolidation. CAD for 2010-11 is expected to be at an unsustainable 3.5 per cent of the GDP. Moreover, if as expected, global commodity prices continue to rise, CAD will widen further and inflation will increase. As much as the size of the CAD, the means of funding it also pose real concerns. Here the RBI repeats its familiar warning on the dependence on portfolio flows which are inherently unstable. Although the government has had the benefit of disinvestment proceeds and 3G spectrum sales, fiscal consolidation on the basis of one-off receipts is not sustainable. Monetary policy works most efficiently in dealing with inflation when the fiscal situation is under control. An excessive burden on monetary policy alone may be counterproductive.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

AFGHANISTAN — TIME FOR IRREVOCABLE DECISIONS

NEW DELHI SHOULD TRUST ITS INNATE CAPACITY TO CONDUCT ITS DISCOURSES WITH KABUL AND ISLAMABAD BILATERALLY.

M.K. BHADRAKUMAR

Islam primarily serves as a flag or banner for other deeper kinds of rivalries and confrontation in Afghanistan. None of the principal elements of the ground situation — resistance to foreign occupation, irredentist Pashtun nationalism and the Durand Line, regionalism and ethnicity, "failed" Afghan state, drug trafficking, abysmal poverty, warlordism, corruption, etc, — can be seen as an "Islamic" phenomenon. Again, to characterise a group such as the Taliban as "terrorist" has always been analytically crude and counterproductive.

Modern history is replete with instances — and India knows only too well — that eventually it is a political call. Therefore, if we are hung up on the idea that the Taliban is driven by some implacable radical Islamic agenda, we will never find ways to reduce the problem. As the well-known author and specialist on global Muslim politics Graham Fuller put it in his recent book A World Without Islam, "Nearly all of the movements [such as the Taliban] have nonreligious, ultimately negotiable goals."

However, India never quite got right these quintessential templates of the Afghan problem. So, many mistakes ensued. As the Afghan endgame advances, irrevocable decisions are to be made and India cannot afford more mistakes. Looking back, one part of our flawed thinking lay in the optic we employed, viewing the Taliban as a monolithic entity. In Afghanistan, history didn't begin on 9/11. The United States butted into a fratricidal strife, initially posing its invasion as an attempt to bring vigilante justice which subsequently morphed into a seamless war against terrorism. But it has all along been a slow-motion geopolitical confrontation for gaining regional dominance. In sum, India needs to rethink and reassess its interests. The challenge is formidable since this demands great suppleness of mind.

For a start, India must get straight the core issues in the power struggle erupting in Kabul between the U.S. and its Afghan proxies, on one side, and President Hamid Karzai and his allies, on the other. India needs to grasp why it is so terribly important that Mr. Karzai doesn't end up as a loser. The western media are caricaturing him as a tinpot dictator. The thrust of it is that he decided to postpone by a month the convening of the new Parliament. But does Mr. Karzai have any choice other than ordering a special tribunal to review the election results? Close to half the Afghan population consists of ethnic Pashtuns and, yet, non-Pashtuns have won 75 per cent of the parliamentary seats. Hazaras, who form 10 per cent of the population, won almost 20 per cent of the seats, including in the overwhelmingly Pashtun-dominated regions. Obviously, the results are deeply flawed and Mr. Karzai apprehends that Pashtun alienation, which is at the root of the insurgency, will further deepen and the Taliban's support base will expand.

Enter the Americans. Washington has waded into the ethnic politics by instigating non-Pashtun leaders to challenge Mr. Karzai's decision. The game plan is clear: if Parliament is convened, Mr. Karzai will be digging his own political grave as the U.S. proxies incrementally weaken the President and may even impeach him at a suitable moment of Washington's choice. But if Mr. Karzai insists on greater Pashtun representation, non-Pashtun groups will be displeased and the delicate web of pan-Afghan alliance that he tenaciously wove while consolidating political power over the past 2-3 years will be torn asunder, apart from derailing the nascent reconciliation process with the Taliban. In short, the U.S. is using the ethnic card to "entrap" Mr. Karzai and eventually force a "regime change." It is virtually resuscitating elements within the erstwhile Northern Alliance to thwart his programme for intra-Afghan dialogue. It doesn't need much ingenuity for an outsider to inflame ethnic rivalries latent in Afghan politics but Washington is virtually undermining the country's stability. Simply to taunt Mr. Karzai, American think tanks, with tacit encouragement from the Washington establishment, are fawning over the former Afghan intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, who was removed from his job last year.

Why such venom toward its own one-time protégé? The answer is simple: Washington finds Mr. Karzai increasingly acting as an Afghan nationalist rather than a U.S. surrogate. It pays lip service to an "Afghan-led" peace process but, in reality, wants to dictate the contours of any future settlement in Kabul. This is crucial for securing long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Washington is seeking a new status of forces agreement with Kabul but Mr. Karzai stoutly resists the U.S. plan to maintain permanent bases. He has openly stated foreign occupation should end.

Again, Mr. Karzai has been developing wide-ranging ties with Iran and Russia, including military cooperation, so as to reduce his dependence on the U.S. by the 2014 timeline. Moscow has proposed to Kabul a key role for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Recently, Mr. Karzai visited Moscow and, over a fortnight ago, the former Northern Alliance stalwarts, Burhanuddin Rabbani and Mohammad Fahim (First Vice-President), visited Tehran. And following a telephonic conversation between Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Russia and Iran found themselves having similar concerns on regional issues.

Washington is upset at these developments. Besides, the climate of Afghan-Pakistan relations has visibly improved and the U.S. feels "excluded" even as Kabul and Islamabad show signs of kick-starting an intra-Afghan dialogue. The recent visit to Islamabad by Mr. Rabbani (who heads the Afghan High Council for Peace appointed by Mr. Karzai) underscored a new flexibility on the part of Pakistan. Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani received Mr. Rabbani. Evidently, Islamabad is working directly with Mr. Karzai and it unnerves Washington. The spectre of a peace settlement born out of regional initiatives haunts Washington.

Logically speaking, the U.S. should be desperate to get out of Afghanistan. But American signature tune has changed lately and Vice-President Joe Biden has flirted with the idea of long-term American military presence. Middle-level U.S. officials have got into public diplomacy to reinforce Mr. Biden's kite-flying. The recent speech titled "The Obama Administration's Priorities in South and Central Asia" by Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake at the James Baker Institute for Public Policy falls into this category. Mr. Blake underscored that Washington intended expanding its engagement with Central Asia, "this critical region," at a "critical crossroads, bordering Afghanistan, China, Russia and Iran."

From the Indian perspective, Mr. Blake's speech made a stunning claim that New Delhi is Washington's key partner in Afghanistan and Central Asia. He pandered to Indian vanities and, by doing so, made an attempt to play India against Pakistan. This diplomatic skullduggery is happening at a time when the U.S.-Pakistan ties are frayed and India's ties with Pakistan are under strain. To say the least, it is a familiar colonial game of "divide and rule." Mr. Blake seems to think Indians no more read history.

Anyhow, he used hyperbole: "We would work with India on women's empowerment and capacity building in Afghanistan. These projects with India in Afghanistan mark a small but important part of a significant new global development — the emergence of a global strategic partnership between India and the U.S. … India's democracy, diversity and knowledge-based society make it special, a model of a tolerant pluralistic society in the region, and one that now actively seeks to work with the U.S. and others to help solve problems on a global level … The strength of India's economy makes it the powerhouse of South and Central Asia's growth."

Quite obviously, Mr. Blake pandered to our hubris. But we can have a sense of proportion. To be sure, Americans are feeling rather lonely in the Hindu Kush nowadays but then, their misery is of their own making. In any case, India's unwavering priority ought to be peace at home and peace in its neighbourhood. The U.S. has destabilised Pakistan and practically wrecked up Afghanistan and is loathed by the vast majority of Pakistani and Afghan people. Of course, it will be a catastrophic mistake on our part to even remotely identify with the U.S.' Machiavellian enterprise to prop up disgruntled elements against Mr. Karzai. New Delhi should rather trust its innate capacity to conduct its discourses with Kabul and Islamabad bilaterally.

However, in order for it to make these important choices at a crucial juncture in the geopolitics of the region, India needs to reassess the profound meaning of the Taliban-led Afghan resistance to foreign occupation. A good beginning will be to discuss the Afghan situation transparently with Pakistan at the Foreign Ministers' meet in Thimphu. India should have the foresight to welcome any effort by Kabul and Islamabad to kick-start intra-Afghan talks. If peace dawns, the excuse for foreign military presence will become unsustainable and the root cause of terrorism and extremism will be removed. But statesmanship of the highest order is required to realise that Pakistan and India can be on the same side with regard to the Afghan problem.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)

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THE HINDU

OPED

PRICE VOLATILITY & FOOD CRISES

THE PRESENT SITUATION IS DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF 2007-2008, ALTHOUGH RECENT CLIMATIC EVENTS MAY SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION NEXT SEASON.

JACQUES DIOUF

Must history always repeat itself? We are indeed on the verge of what could turn out to be another major food crisis. The FAO Food Price Index at the end of 2010 returned to its highest level. Drought in Russia and the export restrictions adopted by the government, together with lower crop harvests than expected, first in the United States and Europe, then in Australia and Argentina, have triggered a process of soaring agricultural commodity prices on international markets.

Admittedly, the present situation is different from that of 2007-2008, although recent climatic events may significantly reduce agricultural production next season. The hike in prices concerns sugar and oilseeds in particular, more than grains which account for 46 per cent of calorie intake globally. Cereal stocks amounted to 428 million tonnes in 2007/08 but stand currently at 525 million tonnes. However, they are being seriously drawn down in order to meet demand. On another front, oil prices are at around $90 a barrel, instead of $140.

No doubt higher prices and volatility will continue in the next years if we fail to tackle the structural causes of imbalances in the international agricultural system. We continue to react to circumstances and thus to engage in crisis management. The underlying problems were identified in 1996 and 2002 at the FAO World Food Summits. On both occasions, the attention of the highest authorities of the world was drawn to the failure to deliver on commitments. If current trends persisted, the goals set by the world leaders of reducing by half the number of hungry people on the planet by 2015 would only be achieved in 2150.

There has been no decisive change in policy since 1996, despite the warnings by the Global Information and Early Warning System of FAO and those issued through the media. Yet, today there are still close to one billion people who are hungry.

We must therefore forcefully remind everyone of the conditions needed for an adequate supply of food for a population that is constantly growing and that, in the next 40 years, will require a 70 per cent increase in agricultural production worldwide and a 100 per cent increase in the developing countries.

First is the issue of investment: the share of agriculture in official development assistance (ODA) dropped from 19 per cent in 1980 to three per cent in 2006, and now stands at around five per cent — it should amount to $44 billion per year and return to its initial level that helped to avert famine in Asia and Latin America in the 1970s; the budgetary expenditure of low-income food-deficit countries on agriculture represent about five per cent, when this should be at least 10 per cent; finally, domestic and foreign private investments of around $140 billion per year should amount to $200 billion. These figures are to be compared to global military expenditure of $1,500 billion per year.

Then there is the issue of international trade in agricultural commodities which is neither free nor fair. The OECD countries protect their agriculture with a total support estimate of $365 billion per year, and the subsidies and tariff protection in favour of biofuels divert some 120 million tonnes of cereals from human consumption to the transport sector. Further, unilateral sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade are hampering exports, particularly from the developing countries.

Finally, there is the subject of speculation that is exacerbated by the measures of liberalisation of agricultural futures markets in a context of economic and financial crisis. These new conditions have served to convert hedging instruments into speculative financial products replacing other less profitable forms of investment.

The solution to the problem of hunger and food insecurity in the world therefore requires an effective coordination of decisions on investment, international agricultural trade and financial markets. In an uncertain climatic context marked by floods and droughts, we need to be in a position to finance small water control works, local storage facilities and rural roads, as well as fishing ports and slaughterhouses, etc. Only then will it be possible to secure food production and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of small farmers, thus lowering consumer prices and increasing the income of rural populations who make up 70 per cent of the world's poor. We must also reach a consensus on the very lengthy negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and put an end to the market distortions and restrictive trade practices that are aggravating the imbalances between supply and demand. Finally, there is a pressing need for new measures of transparency and regulation to deal with speculation on agricultural commodity futures markets.

Implementation of such policies at the global level requires the respect of the commitments made by the developed countries, notably at the G8 Summits of Gleneagles and L'Aquila, as well as at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh. Developing countries, for their part, must increase their national budget allocations to agriculture. And private foreign direct investment needs to be made in conditions that will ensure in particular, thanks to an international code of conduct, an equitable sharing of benefits among the different stakeholders,.

Crisis management is essential and a good thing, but prevention is better. Without long-term structural decisions and the necessary political will and financial resources for their implementation, food insecurity will persist with a succession of crises affecting most seriously the poorest populations. This will generate political instability in countries and threaten world peace and security.

The speeches and promises made at major international meetings, if not acted upon responsibly, would only fuel a growing sense of frustration and revolt. The time has come to adopt and implement policies that will enable all farmers of the world, in developing and developed countries alike, to earn a decent income through mechanisms that do not create market distortions. These men, women and youths must be allowed to exercise their profession under conditions of dignity so we can feed a planet that will grow from 6.9 billion inhabitants at present to 9.1 billion in 2050. ( Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi . Jacques Diouf is Director-General of FAO — Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.)

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THE HINDU

TOWARDS A BETTER FUTURE

PRESIDENT SUSILO BAMBANG YUDHOYONO'S VISIT IS AN EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FOR SERIOUS ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN INDONESIA AND INDIA TO TAKE RELATIONS TO A HIGHER LEVEL.

NAVREKHA SHARMA

On January 26, Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be chief guest at India's Republic Day. The guest in 1950, India's first Republic Day, was Indonesia's President Soekarno [Sukarno], who came to thank Nehru for supporting Indonesia's "Revolution" against the Netherlands (1945-49). Over time, vested interests downplayed, even ignored, this history, but Asia's rising profile (and the return of democracy to Indonesia after 40 years) encourages us to correct our perspectives on the past even as we mutually engage for a better future.

In August 1946, after Japan's surrender in the War, Dutch mercantile interests desired to return to their rubber, sugar and tobacco plantations in Indonesia but the fledgling Republic stood in their way. The Dutch, strongly supported by western public opinion, still considered Indonesia to be an "internal question," overlooking her political maturing during four years of Japanese occupation. So began the Revolution, in which India's role was important and sometimes, critical.

While Dutch forces filtered into Indonesia slowly (and surreptitiously) from Europe, British-Indian troops from Asian theatres were rushed in, inter alia to suppress the Republic's aspirations. Nehru's tireless calls to withdraw them from Indonesia rattled the British, who supported Dutch ambitions but could not afford at the same time, to oppose important Indian leaders with whom Britain herself was engaged in delicate negotiations over the future of her "Jewel in the Crown." Immediately after the War, the world was still Eurocentric and Britain's advice guided U.S. decisions on colonial matters, especially "East of Suez." This was Nehru's advantage which he pressed fully, with one eye to Asia's "collective destiny."

Conference in New Delhi

Congratulating the Republic on its first anniversary (August 17, 1946), Nehru boldly announced a plan to hold an Asian Relations Conference (ARC) in New Delhi. Thrilled with this morale booster, Soekarno ordered India's tricolour to be flown with the merah putih (Indonesia's flag, Red and White) at anniversary celebrations in Jogyakarta. To Nehru, he wrote: " Your country and your people are linked to us by ties of blood and culture which date back to the very beginning of history. The word 'India' must necessarily be a part of our life for it forms the first two syllables of the name we have chosen for our land and race …"

The ARC was held in April 1947. Prime Minister Syahrir came directly from signing the historic Linggadjati Agreement which recognised the Republic's de facto authority over Indonesia, in an aircraft flown by Biju Patnaik, later Chief Minister of Orissa .

Honour for The Hindu

But three months later, Dutch force strength had grown sufficiently to embolden them to attack the Republic. Under strong expressions of outrage, Nehru took Indonesia's case to the U.N., where a Committee of Good Offices, comprising one representative each from the U.S., Belgium and Australia, was in due course announced. The Hindu's staffer in Djakarta, T.G. Narayanan, was appointed its Secretary.

Another Nehruvian initiative was to convene the "New Delhi Conference" on Indonesia on January 20, 1949, after a second Dutch attack. The Cold War had by now settled in, the U.S. was in total strategic command and the Republic's importance to the West (after it had suppressed a Communist revolt) had increased manifold. Independence appeared closer, but the Dutch were incredibly stubborn and the U.S. slow to act. At this tense juncture, the Delhi Conference greatly boosted the Republic's morale.

The Revolution taught Indonesia's friendly islanders to suspect all big powers of coveting her extraordinary natural resources. Bitter experience with Soeharto's "crony capitalism and Asia's Financial Crisis (1997/8), re-ignited these suspicions but by then, Indonesians had become smarter. After growth plunged by -13 per cent in one year, Indonesia's economic planners switched from a raw material export-based strategy, which had fuelled the earlier seven per cent growth, to a manufacturing cum domestic consumption-based strategy which drives GDP at a more viable six per cent today. In the late 1990s, Indonesia faced political crises too, with communal and ethnic violence and multiple insurgencies across its 17,000-odd islands. But 12 years later, it has evolved from the world's longest military backed dictatorship to a functioning democracy. How many Indians know of these peaceful transformations only 90 nautical miles from our doorstep?

Indonesia today

Indonesia, until recently the world's "sleeping giant" or "most under-rated country," has today become a "golden child" who can help arrest its economic slowdown. Its burnished image, based on a well thought out "National Resilience" strategy, combines religious inclusiveness (not majoritarianism), democracy and decentralisation (concepts familiar to us), with HDI indicators of literacy, health and gender which are uniformly higher than ours. It is seriously addressing deficiencies in higher education, management and the sciences.

India was exceptionally close to Indonesia at its birth, but differences during Soekarno's later years followed by a long dictatorship, have made us strangers. We have been content with a back-to-back existence, instead of active engagement to draw inspiration (and lessons) from one another's models. Trade and investment is growing but lacks balance; tourism and academic exchanges are negligible. A trust deficit bedevils defence cooperation despite enabling agreements. The presence of many successful Indian businessmen in Indonesia is insufficiently leveraged for broader purposes.

Two large, maritime, neighbours with surging middle classes, having similar plurality of religions and ethnicities, should have more to say to one another in their own development and security interest. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's visit is an excellent opportunity for serious engagement to take relations to the higher level which both our peoples deserve.

( Navrekha Sharma was former Ambassador in Indonesia.)

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THE HINDU

SPACE-AGE TECHNOLOGY ON 16TH CENTURY HISTORY

A VIRTUAL JIGSAW MAY HELP ACADEMICS SOLVE A MYSTERY ABOUT THE WEALTHY FAMILY CLOSELY LINKED TO HENRY VIII.

CHRIS ARNOT

Cutting-edge space science technology of the sort used to analyse moon rock is being applied to fragments of 16th-century tombs. Scientists from the Space Research Centre in Leicester, central England, are working with an art historian from the nearby university as well as academics from Oxford and Yale in a three-year project that hopes to shed new light on our understanding of the Tudor Reformation.

The tombs, at the parish church in Framlingham, are close to the family seat of the Howards, the extremely wealthy and powerful Dukes of Norfolk. But they were originally sited 65km away at Thetford Priory, traditional resting place of the Howards until Henry VIII had it dissolved in 1539. They were moved and reassembled some time in the 1540s while the third duke languished in the Tower of London. (Henry was becoming increasingly paranoid about the threat that he posed to his infant heir.) The reassembly process was flawed, however. Some different materials were used.

What appear to be fragments of the original tombs were unearthed at Thetford by archaeologists as long ago as 1934. But they languished in a warehouse for decades and came to light only recently, when Dr. Simon Thurley took over as chief executive of English Heritage and asked all curators to find out what they had in store. Leicester University art historian Dr. Phillip Lindley was called in to investigate the fragments and was immediately fascinated — not just by the quality of the artwork by French sculptors, but also by the possibilities that arose of re-thinking parts of Tudor history. "We're trying to relate what happened to the monuments to what happened to the number one power family of the day," he says.

Lindley would like to be able to take the tombs apart and investigate how they were reassembled. "Obviously I can't do that," he says. "But I was talking about it to scientists at the Space Research Centre who proposed that we scan them, take them apart virtually and then put them back together again to look as the Howards originally intended. It's like doing a jig-saw puzzle on screen with all the pieces mixed up."

The two main tombs were commissioned for the third duke himself and for his son-in-law, Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond, who died in 1536, aged just 17, and happened to be the illegitimate son of the king himself. (The fortunes of the Tudors and the Howards were intertwined; hence historians' ongoing fascination.) Fitzroy had become firm friends during his short life with his brother-in-law, the Earl of Surrey. Yet another Howard, Surrey was the third duke's son and the man who introduced the sonnet to England with Thomas Wyatt. That didn't cut any ice with the king. He had Surrey executed for treason shortly before his own death in 1547.

Surrey's tomb is at Framlingham as well and is currently being investigated by Dr Lisa Ford of the Yale Center for British Art. "I was talking to Lisa over a coffee when I was at Yale," Lindley recounts. "By an astonishing coincidence, we discovered that we were both absorbed by tombs in the same small corner of England." Another key member of the research team is historian Dr. Steven Gunn, of Merton College, Oxford, charged with providing historical context for the findings. "The Howards are central to our understanding of the artistic development of 16th-century England," he says. "We know that their tombs were moved from Thetford during the third duke's imprisonment, and we now have what seem to be the missing pieces. But was it a case of taking them to Framlingham because they'd already been destroyed, or did they have an Ikea-type tomb kit ready to be put together at Framlingham when Thetford was dissolved?" Lindley has other questions: "Why were parts of the monuments left at Thetford? Had the third duke's and Fitzroy's tombs been dismantled and taken to Framlingham while the duke was in prison? Or are the excavated fragments the remains of the third tomb [Surrey's]?" He is hoping that the virtual technology will help the research team to provide some answers.

Should appeal to the public

Gunn also hopes that what he calls "this Time Team approach to archaeological reconstruction" will appeal to the general public and to school children. And the "audience advocate" will be striving to ensure that it does. The project has attracted funding of £4,97,000 from two research councils — Arts and Humanities and Engineering and Physical Sciences — and, for what is thought to be the first time in the field of research, the team has appointed someone to ensure value for money. "My role," says freelance interdisciplinary scientist Dr. Adair Richards, "is to ensure that a project funded by public money serves the public. One way we're going to do this is to work with English Heritage to create a learning toolkit to allow teachers to present Tudor history in a new way, with a focus on the research process rather than just the results." The hope is that up-to-the-minute space technology will provide children of the future with a new way of looking at clues that illuminate the past.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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THE HINDU

OYSTER BED RESTORATION

Volunteers from across America are rebuilding oyster reefs along the Gulf of Mexico's delicate shoreline, hoping to revive oyster beds under assault for decades from overharvesting, coastal development, pollution, and most recently the BP oil spill.

The waters harbour much of the world's last remaining productive natural oyster beds, but BP PLC's April 20 oil well blowout dumped millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf and dealt yet another blow to the once bountiful habitat.

This past weekend, volunteers descended on Mobile Bay, Alabama, with 23,000 bags of oyster shells aimed at eventually creating 100 miles (160 km) of new oyster reefs near the shoreline. The goal is to help replenish oyster reefs that promote new growth, help protect delicate salt marshes and sea grasses, and act like coral in the tropics to provide habitat for numerous marine species.

It's one of the first coastal restoration projects since the oil spill sent thick crude washing into estuaries and onto beaches.

Biologist Rob Brumbaugh of The Nature Conservancy, which helped organise the event, said studies show that the world has already lost 85 per cent of its natural oyster reefs, but the Gulf of Mexico remains a bright spot, even after the oil spill.

About 350 volunteers came to lay 10-pound (4.5 kg) bags of oyster shells in a neat line several feet high on mud flats about 150 feet (45 m) offshore to create new reefs across Mobile Bay.

Funding

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributed about $70,000 to the project, which was approved before the oil spill but was delayed until the waters were relatively clear of crude. Funding also came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and donations.

The total cost is expected to be about $100 million, and it likely will take up to five years to complete if funding continues. Brumbaugh said the oysters also help keep waterways clean. Each oyster can filter up to 50 gallons (190 litres) of water a day.

Oysters along the entire Gulf Coast were hit hard in the spill's aftermath, prompting closures and delays of harvesting seasons that are part of the region's economic lifeblood.

As much as 65 per cent of the nation's oysters come from the Gulf.— AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

GREED, CRIMINALITY THREATEN REPUBLIC

Republic Day 2011 arrives in unusual circumstances. While the country's economy is expanding at a rate that is the envy of the world, the national mood is relatively low key and dispirited. This is not just due to the inflation which is eating into real incomes. All major economies have been hit by inflation and, unlike in India, the sustained rise in prices for them comes without the compensation of a noteworthy expansion of their economy. It is evident that factors for our despondency lie elsewhere. A major consideration here cannot but be the canker of corruption which is eating into our vitals, stripping the prestige of the nation's elite in all fields, and making a mockery of the political and economic system. In addition, the failure of our delivery systems appears to render the making of high policy fruitless, particularly in social sectors which aim to cater to the bulk of our population, which is depressingly poor. From time to time this has been noted by top dignitaries, who ascribe to this glaring failure the rise of the menace of Naxalism that generally hides criminality in the garb of a pro-people agenda. Indeed, criminality in every form and at every level of society has spread so wide that honest citizens despair they can find redress.

True, as President Pratibha Patil noted in the First Citizen's customary Republic Day-eve address, our biggest achievement is that we have sustained our democracy. No doubt this has been in the face of severe challenges in the social, political and economic spheres that tested us from time to time. The President might have added that we have also retained our stability in spite of all the gnawing negatives. This is easily appreciated when we cast our eye on our geographical neighbourhood. But while making a cursory reference to democracy, the President's speech fails to enthuse. It is a rambling catalogue of broad tasks before the nation without focus on the present. When needed, says the head of state, course correction should be undertaken unhesitatingly and with urgency, but she leaves us guessing in what areas of our national endeavour might this apply with immediate effect.

Two shocking events of a criminal nature took place in different parts of the country on the day before Republic Day. In Maharashtra, the additional collector of Malegaon was burnt alive, allegedly by the kerosene mafia. And in a courtroom in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, in what is virtually a suburb of the nation's capital, Dr Rajesh Talwar, father of teenager Aarushi — whose gruesome murder a couple of years ago had shocked the entire nation, was grievously attacked. The President's speechwriters could not have anticipated such terrible happenings, and yet it is hard to miss that there is no more than a cavalier understanding in the President's speech of the fact that criminality has enveloped our society faster than anyone might have imagined. In the fairly long address, there is a single interrogative sentence which asks if criminality has grown in the country. References to corruption also miss the issue's sensitivity. The role of the political executive at the Centre and in the states, as well as high officials in abetting corruption, is entirely overlooked as the burden is cast exclusively on financial institutions, the corporate world and civil society.

This country has enormous talent and resilience. Many of our achievements over the years have elicited the world's admiration. India's counsel is heard with respect everywhere. But there is no denying that we have reached a stage where the brazen pursuit of narrow self-interest by the nation's influential and powerful is proving to be an obstacle to our harmonious advancement. On this Republic Day, let us focus on overcoming this hurdle collectively, without losing our democratic élan.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

BINDING DIFFERENCES

SHIV VISVANATHAN

India is a strange country. We seem to be quarrelling all the time. We identify ourselves by the dislike we feel for other or smugness with which we say "we are not them". Our identity is composed of divisions, of the memories of Partition, of linguistic re-ordering, of the populism of small states. Our national game is neither hockey nor cricket but factionalism. It adds to the perpetual instability of our system. Yet, long-range watchers studying this chaos wonder if our dividedness hides the logic of a different order. Is there a gene that prevents us from falling apart even as we quarrel with each other? What is the secret of unity which works beyond the magic of even Fevicol advertisements?

To say India is tied by identity and consensus would be naïve. Our differences are blatant. Yet in a way we are tied by our differences. Oddly, it is the logic of our difference that keeps us together. India is a country with the courage of its confusions.

Difference allows for varieties of behaviour. It allows for an interaction in the public domain but restricts communal ties or familial interaction. It is a different kind of wisdom, a different grammar.
We are a country of segmentary minds. Each segment is opposed to the other segment and the two segments confront together a third entity at a higher level. Checks and balances operate according to levels. Nukkad can fight nukkad but combine at a different level. Violence gets contained at the next level of unity. Beyond segmentariness, there is syncretism. Here difference is acknowledged and differences combine to reflect opposites. Sufism could combine Hindu/Muslim tenors, Sikhism, Hindu/Islam. Syrian Christianity uses the Hindu to sustain the Christian core. There is a transference taking place over time, where sharing is always possible over difference. It is almost as if taboos created around difference allow for playful reciprocities. Thirdly, difference in India does not always operate across hard territorialities. Boundaries are porous and choices do not have to be polarised. The People of India survey states that there are 300 communities in India that cannot be classified as primarily Muslim or Hindu. Our identities thrive on cross-connections.
There is a standard narrative of divisiveness that is invoked in every squabble. Indians love factionalism and factionalism seems to provide the dynamic of everyday power. There is the old adage that the English conquered us through a policy of divide and rule. But remember, Indian society like many other segmentary systems is easy to defeat but hard to conquer. In fact we expect the coloniser to be like us, settle down like one more caste and slowly merge into the system. Our news is all about squabbles. Party politics operates as factional politics. Everyone needs some one to differ with in order to be himself.

The Indian idea of unity is based on "I differ from you, therefore I am", "I contradict myself, therefore I continue to be". We are a society that believes that logic of some against others is better than the logic of all against one. We allow differences to create multiplicities rather than resort to extermism. Our self as a collection of contestations allows for tolerance and unity.

There are exceptions to the rule. The riots in 2002 in Gujarat are one example. Usually after a riot, there is a plethora of stories of how families of one ethnic group protected another. Stories of friendship, ethics, hospitability, solidarity create a compensatory universe which facilitates a return to normality. With Gujarat, one heard the language of exterminism, of wanting to eliminate a minority. Thankfully such a framework has not extended to other states. However, Kashmir was an example of a similar ruthlessness in another form as the Kashmiri pandits were driven from their homes to become refugees in their own land.
But the glue is not just structural idea of crosscutting differences. Accompanying this architectonic is the gum of folklore, the epidemic of dialects, the grammar of diversity. This unity exists in two forms. Firstly, it is civilisational, articulated as a sacred complex of spaces. The second is national. There is a sense that the flag and the constitution keep us together, providing a frame to negotiate differences. At a level of folklore, there is the cosmopolitanism of the common man, proud of our cultural hospitality, carrying with him a sense that India is a compost heap of differences. We constantly invent versions of unity from Vande Mataram, Jana gana mana to the unity songs of Bollywood from Raj Kapoor's Mera Joota hai Japani and Made in India. There is a sanitised unity that creates sentiments of togetherness. Our myths always have places for the alien, the stranger, the marginal, the dwarf, and no matter how history sanitises myth, our minds carry the legends of hospitality and syncretism, making us cosmopolitan despite ourselves. We might quarrel with the local Bengali, but happily invite a million Bangladeshis to feel at home. The Tibetan senses our hospitality and Tibetans in turn add to our celebration of difference.

Bollywood captures the mindset of the difference. Bollywood, especially Bombay Talkies, was a miniature answer to the Partition, to the difference between Hindu and Muslim and their creative collaboration across differences. Bollywood has maintained that mindset, even sentimentally forging alliances between Hindu and Muslim at the moment of maximum collective rage. Only one other institution can match that sense of difference and unity — the Army. The Indian Army recognises the ethnicity of battalions — Jat, Sikh, Rajput, Gorkha and Maratha. Each has its own tradition and yet each adds to the collective unity of the Army. Bollywood and the Army are the stuff of legends and folklore. As institutions they provide the imaginative glue of a quarrelsome society proud of its diversity yet convinced there are logics beyond uniformity and homogeneity.

As long as our myths, our memories and our folklore rule the grammar of our lives, history can be as quarrelsome as it wants. If myths are elaborations of contradictions, our democracy is a resolution of the myth of difference.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

LONG SHADOW OF HU'S VISIT REACHES DELHI

SUMIT GANGULY

 

CHINESE PRESIDENT HU JINTAO'S carefully scripted state visit to the United States has come to a close. Despite careful preparation on the part of the Obama administration little tangible progress has been made on the issues of greatest concern to itself. For example, Mr Hu made no commitment to change the value of China's currency, to ensure greater access to his country's burgeoning market, to address serious international and American concerns about the state of human rights and about tightening international sanctions on Iran. He did, however, without specifying a timeframe, claim that China had helped create as many as 14 million jobs across Asia thanks to its rapid economic growth. Simultaneously, he committed himself to buying as many as 200 Boeing aircraft for $19 billion as part of a larger $45 billion export deal with the US. Also, in the security realm, the joint communiqué did emphasise a shared concern about North Korea's uranium enrichment.
It may be of more than passing interest in New Delhi that the Indo-US relationship was not the subject of any remarks on the part of US policymakers or even political commentators. Instead the entire focus of the visit was on how the United States and the People's Republic of China would tackle a host of bilateral and global issues from America's yawning trade gap to climate change. Bluntly put, despite that fact that US President Barack Obama referred to Indo-US relationship as one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century" for the foreseeable future, it is the Sino-American relationship that will occupy centrestage in global affairs. Indeed such an argument can be made without necessarily buying into what the former US national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, referred to as G2, a Sino-American condominium to help manage key global issues.
That said, there is no question that thanks to the costs of the financial crisis within the US, the continuing trade gap and the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US must necessarily tread with care when dealing with an economically robust and increasingly militarily-able China. On the other hand, it is equally important to underscore that China has a vital interest in access to the American market, to address growing American concerns about intellectual property rights in China and to avoid military behaviour that could seriously endanger the security of American allies in East Asia.

 

What does this new, emergent Sino-American relationship mean for the traditional allies of the United States such as the states of western Europe, Japan and Australia? Also, what are the implications for its new friends, such as India? This attempt at some form of rapprochement in Sino-American relations does not necessarily signify that the US is about to abandon its traditional partnerships with western Europe, Japan and Australia. Nor, for that matter, is it likely to dispense with the hard-won gains that have taken place in Indo-US relations over the past decade or so. These relationships, though not as momentous as the emerging US-China nexus, will remain significant.

 

Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that a tectonic shift is underway in global politics and the implications for India are significant. Though China is a very long way from becoming an equal of the United States, the first Sino-US summit in 13 years has made clear that it has emerged as the single most important player in global politics after the US. In this environment, India's policymakers, who remain fixated on the dream of ensuring that India achieves its rightful place in global affairs, face a demanding set of tasks. Categorically stated, unless India wishes to see itself consigned to playing the role of a regional power with only limited reach beyond the confines of South Asia it will have to move with both vigour and dispatch.

 

To that end it will need to set aside internal policy bickering and focus single-mindedly on sustaining economic growth while reducing poverty. It will also need to devote much energy to dampening a range of domestic fires from Kashmir to its "red belt". Finally, it will have to embark seriously on a long-term strategy of military modernisation to ensure a robust military capability to meet a range of contingencies. Most of these goals are entirely within its ken.

 

However, addressing these issues alone, without carefully thinking through, and working toward what role it aspires to play in the emergent global order, will not guarantee it success. To that end it needs to go beyond the rhetoric of national autonomy and enlightened self-interest. These principles, though sound, do not constitute an adequate guide to the conduct of the foreign policy of an emergent power. Instead policymakers will need to give careful thought of how India might find a way to manoeuvre in a global arena where the co-dependence of two dominant states will cast a long shadow on a host of global issues — from international trade to global climate change. As India's leadership celebrates its 62nd year as an independent republic it may well be critical to think of where it hopes to find itself in the global order in the decade ahead.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE HUNGRY REPUBLIC

INDER MALHOTRA

WHAT A tragedy it is that the country is "celebrating" the 62nd Republic Day on a note of despondency. To be sure, there have been a few previous occasions when the nation's mood on the republic's anniversary has been even more sombre. January 26, 1963, soon after the traumatic border war with China in the high Himalayas, was the first such. In 1976, in the stifling atmosphere of the Emergency, most Indians were deeply, if also silently, resentful. Eight years later, on Republic Day, the nation was tormented by the intimations of the searing tragedy to come: Operation Blue Star in Punjab that almost inexorably led to Indira Gandhi's assassination.

Thank God, today there is no sign of external aggression or of anything like the Bhindranwale-led insurgency in Punjab in early 1980s. But that is precisely what makes the current situation all the more distressing. For, it is entirely the handiwork of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), with some help from the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that the political class looks hellbent on provoking an explosion in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its ploy to hoist the Tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on January 26, something it has never staged since 1992, is as disingenuous as it is dangerous, especially because both the state and Central government are determined to forestall it.

Political posturing by rival sides apart, it is the government's dismal failure to check either the rising tide of corruption or the skyrocketing prices, especially those of food, that has understandably dismayed the people. And the way things are going the dismay could easily turn into anger. Prices of vegetables and onions are beyond the reach of even the lower middle class and are causing hardship to the middle middle class, to say nothing of the poor that form close to half the population. Shockingly, at such a time statements from exalted official sources show greater concern for the "nervousness of the corporate sector" than for the endless suffering of the vast multitude.

It would, of course, be churlish to deny that at present a larger proportion of Indians than ever before since independence eat better, live longer and have greater access to education and healthcare. Yet, in absolute terms, the number of those that go to sleep hungry is immensely more than that of people who have risen above the arbitrarily fixed poverty line. What a blot on rising India it is that the glaring gap between the rich and the poor is widening all the time. Worse, one of every two children is malnourished. Sure enough there is a plethora of poverty alleviation schemes. But, as Rajiv Gandhi famously said, of every rupee spent on them 85 paise are siphoned off thanks to monumental corruption at every level of the system.

Is it any surprise then that the UPA government's credibility has been eroded gravely by the long and dark shadow that falls between its brave words about combating corruption and its actual deeds. At the 125th anniversary session of the Congress there was inspiring rhetoric about "zero tolerance" for corruption. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had spelled out a five-point, anti-corruption plan. But a succession of subsequent actions by the coalition led by her party demonstrates that the gulf between rhetoric and reality remains unbridgeable.

Immediately after the Congress plenary, the new telecommunications minister, Kapil Sibal, attacked the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for the latter's computation of the loss on account of the 2G spectrum mega scam. He made out that there was no loss at all. For this the Supreme Court was constrained to pull him up and the Public Accounts Committee rebuked him. More startling was the government's resolute stand, repeated vehemently regardless of the apex court's observations to the contrary, that it would never disclose the names of those caught stashing black money abroad in secret bank accounts. The government invokes the "confidentiality clause" in double taxation avoidance agreements. The public believes that the swindlers' list is being kept top-secret because "high-profile politicians and bureaucrats" figure on it, apart from tarnished tycoons, corporate crooks and freelance profiteers. Hopefully, WikiLeaks will publish the list and damn all concerned.

The recent non-event called "cabinet reshuffle" belied the Congress' claim that those guilty of corruption would "not be spared". The continuance in the cabinet of Vilasrao Deshmukh, indicted by the Supreme Court for obstructing justice, and Virbhadra Singh, who is being tried on charges of corruption, speaks for itself, as does the transfer of ministers considered too clever by half from one ATM ministry to another.
Two years ago India signed a UN convention on corruption that can help solve the problem of money hoarded abroad, but has inexplicably not ratified it yet. For four years it has not even reacted to the Election Commission's request that the commission be given the power to "de-register" nearly a thousand political parties that take no part in elections but are engaged in money laundering by receiving big donations. No wonder the Economist says that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not acting strongly enough against "eye-popping graft", and adds that "a cautious prime minister is letting his second term drift away".

The BJP was in disarray until last autumn. Now it has been able to put the government and the Congress party on the back foot because of unacceptable corruption and inflation. Other Opposition parties that do not like the saffron party have found it necessary to go along with it. Both sides remain inflexible and unyielding, especially over the demand for a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the spectrum scam. Consequently, instead of the country collectively fighting the monster of corruption, the two mainstream parties are engaged in a bare-knuckle fight against each other. And the BJP is merrily able to scream against graft in Delhi and shield the corrupt in Bengaluru. The party's new president, Nitin Gadkari, has even made the startling discovery that what is "immoral" is not "illegal" and therefore acceptable.

The tussle, which wrecked Parliament's winter session, has since escalated because of the ugly spat between Karnataka's governor and ruling party. Who can say what this would do to the Budget session of Parliament and to Indian polity generally?

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DNA

KALMADI'S EXIT IS NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON

 

Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot have been removed from the Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) and not a moment too soon, especially as far as the credibility of the Congress party is concerned. The ostensible reason is that the request came from the Central Bureau of Investigation which pointed out to the government that as long as these two were still in charge there was little chance of a fair enquiry into the allegations of rampant corruption against them.

 

But it is more likely that this is one more face-saving gesture by the Congress, which is still left with a lot of egg on its face, given the revelations of the last months of 2010. Kalmadi has been, of course, unrepentant and defiant almost of his power and status. Indeed, he even has the International Olympic Committee in his corner, as it sent out a message to the Indian government that interference in its India wing will not be tolerated. It goes without saying that it is Kalmadi who heads the Indian Olympic Association.

 

Kalmadi's defiance shows a man who is completely out of sync with the times. He appears to have lost all sense of propriety and moral responsibility. Rather than make a honourable exit after the CWG debacle, he has waited to be removed from post after post within the party and without. Yet, it is also possible that this is how Kalmadi understands the power game as it used to be played — the force of public opinion could be manipulated or ignored in whichever way it suited you.

 

Those times, unfortunately for him — and fortunately for us — are gone. The charges against him have to be proved, of course, but right now, that seems academic, given the evidence which has reached the public domain. There is also the added embarrassment of complaints of non-payment of dues running into millions of dollars by companies in Australia. The new sports minister Ajay Maken, who has taken charge after MS Gill was removed, is scrambling to make amends. This is an additional humiliating circumstance which this government does not need.

 

The CWG overran its budget by thousands of crores — a fact that ought not to be forgotten. Sitting at the top of that pile is Kalmadi. The ongoing scrutiny promises to be a lesson in how too much power can lose you both friends and influence.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

RAUCOUS, ROBUST REPUBLIC ROLLS ON

 

The usual debate on and about the Republic Day for many years now has been whether the parade, mostly showcasing India's military strength, is the right way to celebrate the day. Some have suggested that the parade should be done away, either because it has become anachronistic in a world thriving on commerce rather than on war — despite the many conflict zones dotting the world map — or it is simply a sheer waste of money. On the other hand, arguments have also been offered defending the parade with all its pomp and power. It would be nice if we can extend the Republic Day debate beyond the one about appearances — though appearances are important and it would be a philosophical folly to think that they are of no consequence — and talk about the keystone of the republic — the Constitution, which holds the Republic together in its essential form.

 

In the raucous 70s, many influential voices felt that there was a need to overturn the Constitution and that the nation should not be chained to a dead document written in another era. There was even an attempt to change the Constitution. The Congress set up a committee headed by Swaran Singh; the Preamble was amended to include the words, 'socialist' and 'secular'. But the Emergency that Indira Gandhi chose to impose boomeranged.

 

She lifted the Emergency and called for elections in 1977. She was resoundingly defeated. The Constitution survived and so did the amendment in the Preamble, mainly because it reflected the Directive Principles in Part IV. The rest of the Preamble reflected the Fundamental Rights of Part III. So, though the mischievous intent was not to be overlooked, it did not violate the spirit of the historic document.

 

In 1999-2000, as the Republic was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance government under prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had set up a constitution commission to study working of the Constitution under retired chief justice of India M Venkatachalaiah. The retired judge sought an assurance from Vajpayee that the Constitution would not be changed and that this was a mere review. The Constitution survived again.

 

The Constitution is cited by legal conservatives as well as Maoist radicals, by liberals and reactionaries among the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Neo-Buddhists, Jains and Parsis. It guarantees the freedoms of all shades of opinion and that is what keeps the raucous, robust Republic rolling through good and bad times.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

GET READY TO MOVE ON TO NEW IDEAS

RAMESH MENON

 

One of the most important things in life is getting ready. Think about it. Are we ready to do anything that we want? Maybe, you want to be an innovator. You want to do things a bit hatke. But are you ready for it. Are you thinking differently? Are you experimenting?

 

Are you challenging yourself everyday? Are you ready for failure? What are you going to feel when people laugh at what they think are ridiculous ideas? Rarely do we first prepare our minds before we do things. This is why things just collapse into pieces before us. And when they do, we hang our heads in embarrassment and slink away with a feeling of failure. We just do not realise that we failed because we were not prepared.

 

Sometimes, preparing your mind is not easy as it involves much more than talking to yourself. It involves learning and unlearning. It might mean that you need to beef up your knowledge to get ready to succeed. It might mean that you need to develop critical skills before you proceed. It might be fresh thinking so that you are ready to develop new perspectives on how to go about it. That is why it is important to prepare your mind so that your visual orientation changes and you see things differently. You will suddenly realise that your attitude has become more positive. You feel more energetic. You see so many opportunities before you that were there all these years but you just blindly walked past them.

 

However, preparing your mind is not enough. It is only half the battle. You must also consciously try to prepare the minds of others around you. They also have to be prepared to accept you, your ideas, your work, your style. They have to be aware of your skills, your capabilities and the magic that you can bring about.

 

You cannot do this unless you build bridges with people around you, are persuasive with every sentence and are able to pass your sincerity on to them. This is not easy to do, but it is also not impossible. Slowly, as you win them to your way of thinking with gentle persuasion, they become a vehicle for your ideas.

 

Expose yourself to as many ideas as possible with an open mind. Grab every opportunity that comes your way without being sceptical. Be as active and visible as possible.But first prepare yourself and the little world around you. Then, go for it.

 

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DNA

COLUMN

TWO SHOOTINGS, AND THE CAUSE FOR THEM IS A VIRULENT IDEOLOGY

SHEKHAR HATTANGADI

 

There is more than a superficial resemblance between the gunning down of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab Province, by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in Karachi, and the shooting, less than a week later, of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a right-wing hothead. The real assassin in both shootings, however, was the same — the politics of hate. Qadri confessed, not without a tinge of boastfulness, that his mind was made up when he heard a cleric declare in public that the liberal-minded and seemingly westernised Taseer was irrefutably guilty of blasphemy and, as such, his murder was permissible — even desirable.

 

That Taseer opposed the discriminatory enforcement of Pakistan's blasphemy laws against non-Muslims, and supported a mercy petition for Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman on death row for an allegedly derogatory remark against the Prophet, was just too much rational nuance for Qadri and other blinkered faithfuls. They accepted wholesale, the oversimplified and therefore effective-us-versus-them rhetoric of the hardliner mullahs. It's a rhetoric crafted to turn every issue into a frenzied no-holds-barred battle where disagreement equals unforgivable sacrilege, and where the contrarian is demonised to facilitate his quick and ruthless extermination.

 

Unlike Qadri, Giffords' assailant Jared Loughner has not confessed. But evidence suggests he was motivated into genocidal violence by propagandist stimuli emanating from the American right media. In an atmosphere of economic insecurity and social turbulence acerbated by sharp ideological differences, reasoned discussion and debate are at a premium. And so the Republican party's ultra-right wing, led by the brazen Sarah Palin, who was the losing vice-presidential candidate in the 2008 elections, seeks to settle electoral scores with the Democrats by deploying rabidly confrontational expressions: "job-killings" for lay-offs; "death panels" for health-care committees; "don't retreat, reload" as a rallying cry, and worse. Note the despicable use of gun imagery: Palin's webpage framed maps of "problem" states (meaning those with pro-Democratic leanings) in gunsight cross-hairs. Listed by name on that same page, Giffords saw her office vandalised as part of this hate campaign, and then stopped being a mere figurative target of right-wing terror.

 

Do these shootings stir our national conscience? Memories of the 1984 assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi by her security men come hurtling back. But the future beckons with ominous forebodings. Disgraceful unruly scenes in the Parliament and state legislatures mirror the crude and abysmally low level to which political discourse has degenerated.

 

Politicians of all ideological hues increasingly resort to the most reckless polemic to further their narrow communal or regional agendas. Take the emotive issue of labour from the hinterland states migrating cityward, where the local politician's angry and inflammatory sons-of-the-soil outburst greets them. Whether the anger is genuine and deeply felt, or whether it's a mock sentiment deployed cynically to secure lumpen loyalty and thus ensure political survival, its consequences for civil society can be equally deadly.

 

Such leaders are often emboldened by a spineless administration that by its very inaction allows an already caustic political climate to turn toxic and violent. Pressured into a response by the Srikrishna Commission report which fearlessly recommended the prosecution of the culprits of the 1992 Mumbai riots over the Babri Masjid demolition, the Maharashtra government did an about-turn: it actually filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that it would not reopen any of the 1,371 riot-related cases! The news media too, with their weakness for hyperbole, end up as willing accomplices.

 

Even the judiciary — the hapless citizen's last great hope — may have let him down when it controversially "terminated" prosecution proceedings against a Hindu zealot for inciting violence through his writings and speeches during the same riots. It need not have. India's constitutional law provides explicitly for "reasonable restrictions" to the fundamental freedom of speech and expression.

 

And our present judges have inherited a fine legacy of upholding these freedoms, but never at the cost of public order. In Ramji Lal Modi v State of UP (1957), the Supreme Court exhorted the executive to err — if at all — on the side of abundant caution when it concluded that if an activity has a tendency to incite violence and to cause public disorder, it can be penalised even though in some cases that activity may not result in a breach of public order. Because the ultimate choice, as Justice Robert Jackson so succinctly summed up in Terminiello v City of Chicago (1949), is not between order and liberty: it's between liberty with order and anarchy without either.

 

— The writer is a lawyer and law professor

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

OUR RICH HERITAGE

 

Long ago Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, that great exponent of bansuri, was on a tour of this region. He was accompanied by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, the Mumbai-based distinguished son of our soil --- a renowned player of santoor. The former happened to listen to Ms Krishna Kumari singing Bhakh. Carried away by the melodious voice and unique presentation he could not resist himself and asked Sharma: "Which sur is this?" The incident narrated to us by Mr Ved Rahi, another illustrious Jammuite (multi-lingual writer and film director) speaks of our extremely rich heritage. Bhakh is a very captivating genre in Dogri music as well as literature. It is this region's extraordinary contribution to music. That one of the legendary musicians was moved by its mystique and charm is not surprising. Pandit Chaurasia certainly knows what sur is. Broadly sur is a form or a mode of singing each corresponding to its subject-matter. Surs confine to the contours of Rags and Ragnis that define Indian music. The bansuri guru must have been amazed why he had been deprived of Bhakh for so long. Bhakh is described as classic Dogri music. It can be sung by at least six persons at one time. As a word Bhakh is stated to have evolved out of Sanskrit and means a loud voice in Dogri. It is a remarkable feature of our life between the Chinab and the Ravi (around the Shivalik and Kandi areas). A writer has thus described the phenomenon: "When a man stands atop the Shivalik or a Himalayan peak he would be captivated by the beauty of snow-capped mountains in the north and the charming sounds of the flow of the rivers while in the south a plain created by these rivers by their struggle for millions of years looks beautiful in the silvery mist during the day time. His voice reacts when it smashes against the hills and creates an echo, a charming sound called Bhakh in Dogri; a particular kind of music in Dogri."

 

The reason why we are reminded of this subtle form of music is Ms Krishna Kumari has been given this year's Sangeet Natak Academy award for Bhakh. It is one of the topmost honours meant for those contributing to national music in one way or the other. Well done! Indeed, it is recognition for her as an individual committed to her chosen avocation. At the same time it brings honour to us in this province and the State being yet another welcome addition to the evolution of Dogri as a language to reckon with. It is a pity that a book written on her by Mr Ved Rahi almost a year ago has not seen the light of the day so far. It has finally been dusted off its shelf by the State Academy or Art, Culture and Languages and is being printed. This is a different story.

 

For the moment we can afford to forget it and rejoice in the glory of Bhakh and its subtle practitioners. Quite a few singers have taken Bhakh across the borders of the country and lent their voices to it as far as in France. Ms Krishna Kumari is one of those who have done so. She can look back on her role with satisfaction.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

KEEP UP THE PACE

 

Few official documents are as forthright as the mission statement of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) is. It vividly depicts the state of public health in the country: (a) vertical health and family welfare programmes have limited synergisation at operational levels; (b) lack of community ownership of public health programmes impacts levels of efficiency, accountability and effectiveness; (c) lack of integration of sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and drinking water issues; (d) there are striking regional equalities; (e) population stabilisation is still a challenge especially in states with weak demographic indicators; (f) curative services favour the non-poor; for every Re 1 spent on the poorest 20 per cent population Rs 3 is spent on the rich quintile; (g) hospitalised Indians spend on an average 58 per cent of their annual expenditure; (h) over 40 per cent of hospitalised Indians borrow heavily or sell assets to cover expenses; and (i) over 25 per cent of hospitalised Indians fall below poverty line because of hospital expenses. We have quoted only a few observations that directly relate to ordinary citizens. The NRHM's objective is "to improve the availability of and access to quality health care by people, especially for those residing in rural area, the poor, women and children." To that end it has special focus on 18 states which have "weak public health indicators and/or weak infrastructure." Jammu and Kashmir is one of these states. One of its visions is to "undertake architectural correction of the health system to enable it to effectively handle increased allocations as promised under the National Common Minimum Programme and promote policies that strengthen public health management and service delivery in the country." There is actually repeated emphasis in the entire scheme on the "optimum utilisation of funds and infrastructure and strengthening delivery of primary health care."

 

It is when viewed in this context that one is baffled to know that a whopping sum of Rs 25 crore has remained unspent under the Mission so far. According to a report in this newspaper, the Rogi Kalyan Samitis (Patient Welfare Committees) have not been able to utilise the funds during the last five years. Under the plan the RKS has been conceived as a non-government organisation in terms of its functioning (although it concludes official representatives), the underlying idea being to "provide sustainable quality care with accountability and people's participation along with total transparency." The inability to make use of the available funds has been attributed to the "lack of awareness about various components of the NRHM." Plans are afoot to start sensitisation programmes in this regard for all the concerned functionaries including the legislators. At the same time, the NRHM sammelans have been proposed to be held at all district headquarters. The first such get-together will be held in Udhampur on February 7 with the help of the Indian Association of Parliamentarians. It is hardly a secret that the implementation of the NRHM has suffered in the beginning in the State. For some time now its pace has picked up and given a boost. It needs to be further accelerated to meet its laudable targets. The significance of the Mission can hardly be over-emphasised in our milieu in which private medical services are exorbitantly priced.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

REPUBLIC INDIA

BY PROF.P.L.BAKHSHI

 

Sixty-one years ago, on 26th January 1950 India became a federal, democratic republic after its constitution came into effect. Since then, every year the day is celebrated with great pride and happiness all over the nation. As India celebrates 61 years of Republic the Indians now feel some pride to find their country as one of the fastest growing economies in the world and being cited as an economic concern by world leaders including those of USA, UK, France and Russia. Republic India has now turned a senior citizen- the venerated designation given to elderly people who are invariably looked for guidance in view of their acquired experience and wisdom.


A new nation- independent India- was born at midnight on August 15, 1947 and began tryst with destiny as its first Prime Minister- Jawaharlal Nehru, so poetically put it. This very day Nehru asked his countrymen if they are ready to make the best use of independence and accept the unseen challenges. After more than six decades of freedom we can confidently answer in the affirmative. Most of the developed and developing countries seem wary of our steady growth, economy and internal stability over the years. Barack Obama's fear that India is a nation that is slowly catching up with the US speaks so great of our people's efforts.


In August 1947 the British rulers partitioned erstwhile India, with East and West Pakistan as Muslim homeland on either side of truncated secular India. Six decades later, India- the world's largest democracy is poised after years of rapid economic growth to take its place as one of the giants of the 21st century. Sixty-three years ago the rest of the world saw India as a country of snake charmers, sadhus and slum dwellers. But now this developing country has made its presence felt in the world map. According to leading American business magazine Forbes, India was one of the world's poorest economies when it won its independence, and incredibly, six decades later, the country's emerging economic clout has made it Asia's top spot for billionaires. Its economy has recorded an average growth rate of 9 percent in recent years. If India continues with the same growth rate it has witnessed in the last few years, it is expected to triple its income by 2025.
The greatest achievement over the last sixty years of the democratic India is its unflinching adherence to the principles and practices of democracy. We have consolidated the democratic process and as such India has changed out of all recognition.

 

Apart from freedom, dignity and sovereignty India has come a long way. Linguistically diverse and home to all the major faiths, as well as variations of topography, climate, and levels of economic development, India's biggest accomplishment is resisting the centrifugal forces threatening to tear it apart. In spite of a glut of culture, languages, religions, customs, faith and traditions, the people here are bound together in unison by a deep-rooted secular Indian identity. The nation has survived all the challenges that have beset it for the last 63 years which notably includes border wars, terrorism and economic meltdown.


Six decades of independence has made India a leader among the developing nations. It attained strength to compete with the developed countries. Its voice is now heard and its opinion is valued. These days India is the cynosure of eyes around the world, having been termed as an emerging economic superpower. India's scientists, technocrats and entrepreneurs are propelling the nation into the 21st century and beyond. India also boasts an outstanding research and development talent pool that can match, if not outshine the very best. Technology is becoming India's biggest strength and strongest differentiator. The IT industry is already a force to reckon with. India has become world's preferred healthcare destination. The medical tourism has appreciably risen in the last decade. India's generic drug makers have revolutionized the industry. New Delhi- the capital city of India recently hosted the world's second largest multidisciplinary sporting extravaganza- the 19th Commonwealth Games and thus witnessed the combination of big makeover, sports, tourism and business. Besides having a positive impact on country's social sector it is presumed that CWG held will have a favorable effect on the Indian economy and help attract more foreign direct investment into the country. According to a reported estimate the Games would spurt India's growth by 4,940 million dollars over the next four years. India is a nuclear power now and has a vision of becoming a world leader in nuclear technology due to its expertise in fast reactors and thorium fuel cycle. The nuclear deal has taken this country to its rightful place among the comity of nations. It marks the end of India's decades-long isolation from the nuclear mainstream and of the technology denial regime. The deal will help India meet exploding energy demand in an environmentally sound way and open a nuclear market worth billions of dollars. India has entered the select group of countries that build nuclear powered submarines. The Indian military recently cleared for production a fighter jet that will be the first plane flown by the air force designed and built at home. The fighter jet will be armed with missiles for air-to-ground and air-to-air combat. Indian Space Research Organization plans on putting an Indian in space by 2014 and have one moon walk about six years later. The program will help India become only the third country in the world to send manned mission to the moon. India is vying for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its aspirations got a boost when US President Barack Obama expressed support to the bid during his visit to India in November 2010.


None of this is to discount the huge challenges still facing India. Already home to more than a billion people with more than 700 million voters, it is poised to pass China as the most populous country in 2020's. There is a clear concern that the benefits of its booming economy have not reached a vast majority of its one-billion strong population. Still we have to achieve a lot because the gap between haves and have-nots is not narrowed down. Poverty is not yet wiped out. Political freedom is one thing; economic well-being and the country's unity and integrity are most significant factors. Gender fight continues even after 6 decades of our own rule.This vast country still remains raven by the caste system, especially in the rural areas. The country faces varieties of insurgencies. The country's infrastructure remains utterly inadequate; roads are congested, pollution persists, ports and airports have insufficient logistical capacity and even the biggest cities are routinely struck by electricity cuts and water shortages. India is still perceived as a corrupt country. The recently reported mega-scams have tarnished our image. One-third of the nation's population is illiterate and that about half of its women cannot read or write. Infrastructure needs to be shored up, and educational opportunities need to expand rapidly without selfish political interference. The country has yet not reached the heights it should have achieved after more than six decades of Independence. The media has an important role; it has to change the mindset of the people of the country. To fix all that, India's politicians and especially think tank need to become more accountable to their constituents and assigned responsibilities.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

JUST ANOTHER HOLIDAY ?

BY J S KAMRA

 

I heard two youngsters talking about a forthcoming holiday. That 'holiday' was The Republic Day. The thing which upset me was that they treated this great day as just another holiday. Why we people have started taking these great days as days which have nothing very special about them. They have become just another holidays, when we can relax, watch TV, sleep, and enjoy the day, like we do it on a Sunday!


Why this upsetting trend? A number of factors are responsible for this. Firstly, the people have lost all hope on the politicians. They treat politicians as corrupt people who come to power not to serve the people but rather to serve themselves. Be it any political party, either at the centre or the state level, corruption does not stop, and the system remains marred with corruption .The various scams which the people come to know about, have frustrated the people and thus they no more care about i5th august, 26th January etc. Due to high scale corruption prevailing in our country, the people feel that their money has gone to the politician's pocket. Thus the people feel looted by the politician.


Secondly, the Governments have failed to deliver when it comes to punishing the guilty and send the culprits behind the bars. Even when the whole world knows that a particular person in the Government is corrupt, the Government in power looks the other way. This fills the common man with huge anger and therefore,realizing that there is little that he can do, he decides at that moment that from that moment onwards, he will no longer care about the government and will keep to his business. It is obvious that if the politician has looted the public money, why the public will be interested in the Government functions. Thus the Government can still put its act together by punishing the guilty and thus proving to the public that there is still some law left in our country.
Thirdly, the Government must organize the Government functions in such a way that people can enjoy at the venue of the function. First of all, the government should start by sending invitation cards to the public for the forthcoming function. After the Republic Day parade, and other events, the people should be invited to speak directly to the sitting government officials. Suggestions should be invited from the public on increasing the efficacy of the Government in serving the people. These suggestions, if found good and practical, should be implemented and this implementation, along with the name and address of the suggestion giver, should be publicized through the media. Thus the people will have a feeling that they are provided an opportunity of expressing their views on the Governance of their state or country.


The venue of the Government function must include means of public entertainment like rides for children, food stalls, and even shopping. People love to visit places where they can have a good day which they can spend with their family. The Government will have to attract people to these functions through attractive advertising. The function organized by the Government, should give the feeling of celebration to the people. The people should feel that they are 'celebrating ' the Republic Day of India and have not come there just to watch their child perform from his or her school. The people , of course don't want to go to a function where they are bullied by the police, nobody is there to welcome them, they have to wait for the netaji to come endlessly etc, etc.
Fourthly, it should appear to the public that the function is organized for them and not for the VIPs. Thus to observe this, the policemen should be asked to talk politely, at least, on these few days. VIPs should reach on time and must not keep the public waiting. The sitting arrangement for the general public should be good and comfortable and so on. The Government officers and the politicians should not sit in VIP areas. Instead they should sit with the public. This will send the message that the Government is not separate from them, the Government should send the message that the Government people are not inaccessible but are a part of the society we all belong. They should learn from American President, who danced with the children in our country. And who appeared so acessible unlike Indian politicians.

Lastly, it is also the responsibility of the Government to inculcate duties towards the country through various media. The people should also keep in mind that there are good people also in our system. So there is still hope. Corruption is there in all countries. It is true that we stand among the toppers but still we can pin hopes on the people who have character and who are committed to fight against all odds to serve the country.
(The author is Director V J IAS Academy, Jammu)

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

A NEW ERA IN INDO-INDONESIA TIES

BY DEEPAK ARORA

 

"Kita Bersandara". We are brothers. This is how Indonesian Ambassador Lt Gen Andi M Ghalib described his country's historic ties with India. New Delhi will role out the red carpet for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Republic Day parade as the chief guest.


The upcoming of the Indonesian President will further strengthen the strategic and economic and trade ties between the two countries.


The visit of Dr Yudhoyono will witness 17 government to government and 17 business to business MoUs and open a new era of relationship between India and Indonesia, said Ambassador Ghalib in an exclusive chat with this correspondent.


The importance of the visit can be gauged from the fact that the President arrives with a 325-member strong delegation including 12 Ministers and 140 businessmen. The President will also be accompanies by his wife, First Lady Ani Bambang Yudhoyono.


Historically, India has had close and special ties with Indonesia. During Indonesia's struggle for independence from the Dutch colonialism, the first Indonesian President Sukarno maintained close relations with Jawaharlal Nehru and other Indian leaders. After the independence of both countries, Nehru and Sukarno laid the foundation of the Asia-Africa conference and Non-Aligned Movements in 1955.


There have been three Indonesian Presidential visits in the past decades – Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000, Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2002 and Yudhoyono in 2005. During his visit in 2005, President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed the Joint Declaration on establishing a Strategic Partnership between the two countries. Since that time, bilateral relations between the two countries in political, security, defence, commercial and cultural fields developed rapidly.


Ambassador Ghalib said one of aims of the Strategic Partnership in trade sector was to raise bilateral trade from US $ 4 billion in 2005 to US $ 10 billion by 2010. However, he said the US $ 10 billion target was achieved in 2009 and the bilateral trade stands at US $ 12 billion in 2010. The bilateral trade is expected to reach US $ 25 billion by 2015.


Otto Riadi, Counsellor at the Indonesian embassy, informed that Indian businessmen are bullish on investments in Indonesia. He said Indian businessmen have already committed an investment of US $ 20 billion in Indonesia in 2011 and 2012.


Indian Minister Kamal Nath had said in a recent meeting that in the next seven years, Indian companies would be the biggest investor in Indonesia.


Echoing similar sentiments, Ambassador Ghalib said the large number of business delegation accompanying the President shows that Indonesians are also keen in increasing investments in India. Explaining an Indonesian proverb, he said "never go far away before going first to your neighbour".


The Ambassador said Indian food, films, music and culture are very popular in Indonesia. Similarly, Mahabharata and Ramayana are very popular in Indonesia.

He said as an effort to boost economic relations, a joint group of officials from both countries has finalized a study on the feasibility of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) and the two countries might start negotiations during Dr Yudhoyono's visit.


President Yudhoyono, who arrives here on January 24, will hold wide-ranging talks on bilateral and international issues with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil. He would also address captains of Indian industry on Tuesday (January 25) and also witness signing of Business to Business agreements.


As many as 17 agreements will be signed in various fields such as business, energy, science, education and culture. The two countries will also sign an extradition treaty, a mutual legal assistance treaty and another pact to check financing of terrorism and money laundering.


Ambassador Ghalib said terrorism was our common enemy and the President will explore ways to collaborate with India to root out terror from the world. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world and the third biggest democratic nation after the United States and India and the third fastest growing economy in Asia after China and India. Indonesia is also one of the founding fathers of ASEAN and will presume ASEAN Chairmanship this year. Therefore, Indonesia will certainly become a more essential and vital partner of India in South East Asia region. (NPA)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FRITTERING GOODWILL AWAY

BJP'S CREDIBILITY IS AT A LOW EBB

 

AT a time when there is widespread disenchantment with the Congress, the BJP as the principal opposition party had a golden opportunity to project itself before the people as a credible alternative. It is indeed a measure of BJP's poor stewardship that despite public anger with the ruling UPA over the spate of corruption scandals and galloping prices, it is showing little signs of bouncing back. The boycott of an entire session of Parliament over the Government's refusal to appoint a Joint Parliamentary Committee to go into corruption scandals could hardly have gone down well with people at large. Had the opposition attended the Parliament session and put the Government on the mat through extensive homework, it would have earned considerable public support. However, the path it chose — of persistently staying away from Parliament and taking to the streets has not endeared it to right-thinking people in general.

 

To add to this, the manner in which the BJP leadership has been shielding Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa on serious corruption charges has also hit the party's credibility hard. Had it shown the door to Yeddyurappa at the appropriate time, its campaign against UPA corruption would have acquired moral force. By letting that opportunity go by, it has failed to project itself as a party that stands for clean governance.

 

The big fuss created by the BJP about wanting to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day despite signs that it could give a handle to separatists to foment trouble in the sensitive Srinagar Valley is another retrograde step that shows the party in poor light. Evidently, the BJP has not been able to shake off the Advani line even after it passed the mantle on to a younger leadership. With the Lok Sabha elections over three years away, there is still time for the BJP to mend its ways and assume the role of a combative but responsible opposition. If it does so, it could still be seen by many as an alternative to the Congress. On the other hand, if it persists with its current line, it can hardly hope for a rosier future.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RBI TARGETS PRICE RISE

ROBUST GROWTH HOPES STILL INTACT

 

EVERY quarter the RBI reviews its monetary policy. If the apex bank wants to control price rise, it raises the repo rate — the rate at which it lends money to banks — and the reverse repo — the rate at which it borrows from banks. It does the opposite to push growth. The rate hikes raise the cost of borrowing for banks, firms and individuals. On Tuesday the central bank hiked the repo and reverse repo rates. The aim is to cut money supply. As a result, interest rates go up. People get discouraged from taking loans to buy new homes, cars etc. As demand is suppressed, prices fall.

 

The RBI considers inflation at 5.5 per cent acceptable. But its latest forecast says inflation will stay at 7 per cent by the end of this fiscal. The wholesale price-based inflation in December was 8.43 per cent. However, it is the steep rise in food prices that hurts the poor more and is politically damaging. Food prices cannot come down if money supply is reduced. For that agricultural productivity has to be raised. The production of other food items whose prices are climbing like eggs, meat, fish etc has to be increased. In the short term, food supply has to be improved and hoarding curbed. Profiteering middlemen have to be nailed.

 

Besides, oil prices are moving up. The persistent price rise forces workers to press for a wage hike which, if done, pushes up the production cost and impacts profits and growth. This is happening in all emerging economies like China and India except Malaysia. Inflation and interest rates are rising in the developing countries. In the US and Europe interest rates have been kept low, close to zero, to perk up growth. Cheap money from the developed world moves to the developing countries, raising share and property prices. The RBI has raised the repo and reverse repo rates by just 25 basis points because it does not want to hurt growth, which got a setback in November. The RBI thinks India will still grow at 8.5 per cent this fiscal.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

HOLDING HARYANA TO RANSOM

JAT STIR TURNS INTO A PUBLIC NIGHTMARE

 

ONLY those who have to live through a siege know what life in a town cut off from the rest of the world is like. Residents of Jind and neighbouring areas have been facing the nightmare for 10 days now, thanks to the Jat agitation for shifting the Mirchpur trial from Delhi to Hisar and shifting of 98 accused from Tihar jail to a prison in Haryana. Trains and buses have not been allowed to ply. Essential items are in short supply. Even seriously ill people cannot get medical aid. Things are no better in Hisar and Bhiwani districts. The attempt is to brazenly armtwist the government into doing things the way the Sarvkhap Mahapanchayat wants them.

 

The agitators seem least bothered that the matter is sub judice. It is the Supreme Court which had ordered that the trial should be transferred to a special court in Delhi because of the apprehension that the Dalits victimised by the Jats in Mirchpur violence in April, in which a differently abled girl Suman and her septuagenarian father Tara Chand were killed and many Dalit houses were burnt, would not get justice if the trial was held within Haryana. Subsequently, all the accused were also moved from Hisar jail to New Delhi's Tihar prison at the direction of a Delhi court. So, in effect, the agitators are challenging court orders.

 

Political parties instead of cooling tempers have been fanning the fire for narrow gains. Even otherwise, the khap panchayats enjoy a predominant position in the Jat-dominated areas and not many have dared to take them head-on. The agitators are now threatening to snap milk and water supply to Delhi. The agitation has moved from the hands of an 11-member moderate committee to a radical 41-member committee dominated by younger and inexperienced people. The previous committee had reached an agreement with a representative of the Haryana Government, PWD minister Randeep Singh Surjewala, that the government would move a petition in the court for seeking a fresh enquiry by the CBI. The new panel has rejected the offer and demanded a special investigation team (SIT) besides the shifting of the trial and the accused. Things would not have come to such a pass if the Mirchpur violence had been investigated properly and impartially right from the start.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WILL TELANGANA EMERGE?

THE LOGJAM MUST BE RESOLVED

BY T.V. RAJESWAR

 

IT has been reported that the Centre's views on the Justice B.N. Srikrishna report, stating the various options in respect of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, are likely to be announced towards the end of January.

 

The Telangana districts of the erstwhile Hyderabad state have had a troubled history from the days of Nizam's rule. The kisan agitation against landlords, launched by the Communist underground movement, lasted till 1952 when it was directed to be called off by the dictates of Stalin himself. The agitation was led by gentlemen revolutionaries like Sundariah, Ravi Narayan Reddy and Maqdoom Hohiuddin, who was also a celebrated poet. Soon after the kisan agitation phase ended, the Telangana districts and Hyderabad city in particular witnessed a sustained agitation against the outsiders, including a large number of civil and police officers who were deputed to man the administration in the liberated Hyderabad state. The deputationists were from the erstwhile Madras Presidency and they treated the local officers and the people with scant respect. The agitation was known as the mulki agitation, which took a violent turn in many places. A mulki was the native of the erstwhile Nizam state, which meant the son of the soil. It led to the eventual repatriation of almost all the deputationists.

 

Around the same time there was a strong agitation in the Telugu-speaking districts of the erstwhile Madras Presidency demanding Andhra state.

 

A self-effacing Gandhian, Potti Sriramulu began a fast unto death in Vijayawada. Regrettably, no senior leader intervened in the matter. C. Rajagopalachari was the Chief Minister of Madras Presidency. Potti Sriramulu's death led to widespread agitations all over the Telugu-speaking districts. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru announced the formation of an Andhra state consisting of the Telugu-speaking districts of Madras Presidency with Kurnool as its capital.

 

This led to the demand for a Telangana state. The State Re-organisation Commission of 1955 led by Fazl Ali opined that the considerations in favour of a separate Telangana were such that these could not be lightly brushed aside.

 

Since Telangana did not emerge in 1956 the agitation for a Telanga state began and it assumed serious proportions in the 1960s under the leadership of Dr. Channa Reddy and his young deputy, Mallikarjun, who were leading a newly formed party called the Telangana Praja Samiti. The Samiti won most of the Telangana seats in the 1971 general election. The Samiti joined the Congress later, but the demand for a Telangana state was never given up. The year 2009 saw a spurt in the Telangana agitation with K. Chandrasekhara Rao of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti leading the agitation. The students all over the Telangana region, particularly in Hyderabad, were largely behind him. The Centre reacted with a statement promising to consider Telangana. This was followed by the appointment of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee, which has submitted a detailed report. Justice Srikrishna did a thorough job and proposed various options while examining the Telangana demand. The committee felt that the continuing demand for a separate Telangana had some merit and was not entirely unjustified. It went on to say that in case Telangana was conceded, the apprehensions of the people of Andhra regions who are settled in Hyderabad should be taken care of.

 

Reports have come that the Telangana districts are again on the boil with the students in Hyderabad city leading the agitation. The lawyers of the various courts in Hyderabad have also joined them. For a change, they have resorted to a Gandhigiri agitation.

 

Justice Srikrishna's principal recommendation was that the status quo may be maintained with theTelangana region being given constitutional guarantee of a Regional Council.

 

The lull in Telangana should not be misconstrued since violent agitations could break up any time. Voices in favour of Telangana have come from different quarters and for various reasons. The 17 MPs representing the Telangana districts are strongly in favour of Telangana and will get re-elected in the 2014 elections on this plank alone.

 

The public sentiment in the Telangana region is so strong that the Congress MLAs are diffident on contesting elections on any platform other than Telangana. The BJP is fully supportive of Telangana. The Telugu Desam Party members from the Telangana region are also supporting the Telangana demand. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections the dynamic Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy ensured 33 Congress MPs from the Andhra state. This is not likely to happen again. A cynical view is that if Telangana is conceded, at least17 seats from the Telangana region could be safe for the Congress.

 

Reports have emerged recently that the Congress leadership is examining the question of appointing a Deputy Chief Minister from the Telangana region, hoping that it would assuage the feelings of the people of Telangana.

 

Hyderabad city may have to be conceded to Telangana, even if it were made a Union Territory. Rayalaseema has considerable mineral wealth while the coastal Andhra Pradesh districts are also agriculturally and industrially advanced. They have the potential of developing into fully viable states with their own new capitals coming up within the respective states. Rayalaseema and the coastal Andhra state have a considerable scope for becoming economically successful states, comparable to any newly created state. In the event of the status quo in Andhra Pradesh not continuing and the Telangana state emerging, the people of the regions of Rayalaseema as well as the coastal area from Andhra Pradesh may prefer their own states. This is one of the options set out in the Justice Srikrishna report. These three new states, if they come into being, would be economically far more viable than the states of Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

 

The latest reports speak of a thinking on the part of the Centre that in the absence of any consensus on the options given by Justice B.N. Srikrishna, it will be advisable to go slow. However, a consensus is unlikely to emerge on its own unless someone in authority at the Centre takes the initiative. It has also been reported that since Andhra Pradesh remains divided and volatile, there is little possibility of a statehood Bill getting passed in the state assembly. But the question of moving a Bill in the assembly arises only when a decision is taken on conceding the Telangana demand.

 

The logjam will have to be resolved if the Telangana agitation is not to erupt in all its fury all over again. The Home Minister is the right person to ascertain the views of the various stakeholders and come out with a solution acceptable to all concerned.

 

The writer is a former Governor of UP and West Bengal

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

STAR VEGETABLES

BY RASHMI TALWAR

 

Spiralling prices will soon elevate kitchen 'maids' (vegetables) into  'delicate darlings' on fancy leather embossed menu cards in top-notch restaurants, says a  soothsayer whose prediction of 'World  will come to an end in 2012' is gaining ground following the scarcity of edibles or their approaching 'touch-me-not' status.

 

The initial hee-hawing, crass and naughty jokes will die and then will emerge the collective phoenix of 'vegetable bounty' rising with the sounds of rapturous joy, which to a human may sound as 'wicked mirthful chuckle' but in essence it would have the ultimate and absolute power over those who have their nasal track intact, and a tongue that retains its salivation  and 'hangs' beyond the Lakshman rekha of the lips.

 

 The 'Khans', 'Kapoors', 'Khannas' and many Apollo gods like Hritiks, Akshays, Ajays, Neil Nitins of Bollywood  would stomp their feet and even roundel up into broiler chickens to have their way with producers to include paeans and visuals of a delicate 'Greeny' bouquet in the movie, boomed the baba.

 

Lissom lasses (having turned reed thin) will not be entirely replaced, but step down just a shade to give space to  'Culinary delights'. ' The Ultimate Tease' will mesmerise 'starving millions' taking them away from their worldly worries  giving them luscious 'taste', 'feel', 'oozing desire', 'lust' and much more, say the wide-eyed  actors with 'dollar dreams'  to the film producers . And it will continue to bring  taalis'  too, they clap vigorously to show their stamina. 

 

The marketing honchos will grab the idea and announce —'Movie promos would be preceded by a top-of-green-rack PERFUME collection'. The top notch ones 'Giggle Garlic' 'Onion Belch' and 'Radish Burp' will share space with 'Coriander Crush' , 'Tomato Orbs', 'Ginger Gargle', 'Mast Carrot', 'Royal Brinjal', 'Icy Pea' and 'Musk Mushroom' in the first launch.

 

A multi starrer song will have Hritik singing to 'garlic': Bas itni siiiiiii tum se guzarish hai ..ye jo barrish hai …issss mein  apni bahon se tumko mit jane se bacha lu ..bus itni si guzarish hai …'

 

Aamir will step in wooing the 'onion':"Chand sifarish jo karta hamari,  deta woh tumko bata, sharm-o-haya ke parde gira ke (onion peels) karni hain humko khata, zidd hai ab toh hain khud ko mitana, hona hai tujh mein fanaa.

 

The baba's cackle had now turned into a cacophony. I felt so bloated that I was ready to fly like a hot air balloon: "Stop it ! Stop it", I shouted. 'It is already 2012! Get your cremation pyre ready if you want to go to heaven!"

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

 

ROAR OF THE TIGRESS

STRICT VS LENIENT UPBRINGING. THE LATEST BATTLEGROUND OF THE 'CLASH OF CIVILISATIONS' IS HOW MOTHERS RAISE THEIR CHILDREN. AMY CHUA IS A YALE UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR WHOSE MEMOIR CHRONICLES HOW SHE RAISED HER TWO DAUGHTERS. THE BOOK HAS IGNITED INTERNATIONAL INTEREST AND HAS PROVIDED FODDER FOR THE BATTLE BETWEEN WESTERN AND ORIENTAL VALUES. THE BOOK, AND THE DEBATE AROUND IT, ARE OF INTEREST TO ALL PARENTS AS THEY MAKE CHOICES THAT THEY HOPE WILL BE THE BEST ONES FOR THEIR CHILDREN.


Guy Adams

THE US already has its soccer moms, hockey moms, and even Sarah Palin's merry band of Mamma Grizzlies. But a new brand of pushy parent is suddenly the talk of Middle America: the no-nonsense "Tiger Mother."

 

Amy Chua, a little-known law professor at Yale University, coined the phrase last Saturday, in a newspaper article outlining her extraordinarily robust attempts to raise high-achieving kids. Within hours, she had become a media sensation.

 

Her new book, a parenting manual called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother shot to number six in the Amazon sales charts. Her article, headlined "Why Chinese Mother Are Superior," is the week's most read article in the Wall Street Journal. It has generated a quarter of a million "likes" and six thousand reader comments, most of them hostile.

 

Chua has meanwhile been touring the US chat-show circuit, and radio news bulletins, and cropping up in newspaper editorials, having sparked a furious debate over the rights and wrongs of what she calls touchy-feely Western parenting.

 

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chua's book outlines the hard-line philosophy towards child rearing. It lists "watching TV," playing computer games, taking part in school plays, and "getting any grade less than an A," among the many things children should never be allowed to get away with.

 

Also forbidden in her household is "playing any instrument other than the piano or violin," "not playing the piano or violin," and failing to be "the number one student in every subject except gym and drama."

 

In a society which has slipped consistently down the world rankings for academic achievement in recent decades, at the same time as parenting standards have become ever more permissive, Chua's book has struck a raw nerve.

 

Some call her a borderline child abuser; others say that her "tough love" approach gets results and should be widely copied. Plenty of others say that it advances a dangerous stereotype, at a time when America is increasingly paranoid about the rise of China.

 

Chua, 48, is happy to take the controversy on the chin, if only because it helps sell books.

 

In one passage of her parenting manual she talks about shouting at her daughters Sophia, 18, and Louisa, 14, almost daily. They were dubbed "lazy" and "garbage" when they didn't get full marks on homework.

 

If they failed to complete 90 minutes of music practice each night, Chua would set fire to their teddy bears and threaten to donate their dolls houses to a charity store.

 

With her husband, a fellow academic called Jeb Rubenfeld, she tells how she decided to bring the girls up in the Jewish faith, but force them to learn fluent Mandarin, a language that neither parent speaks (Chua's native tongue is Hokkien Chinese), from a live-in coach.

 

She talks with particular nostalgia about her efforts to teach Louisa a particularly tough piano solo. "I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling."

 

Invited onto NBC's Today programme this week, she said that her methods worked: both girls are "straight A students". In a small concession, she has therefore allowed them to learn tennis.

 

"I wish I hadn't been so harsh with them at times, but if I had it to do all over again, I think I would basically do the same thing, with small adjustments," she said. "I think there are many aspects of Western parenting that some Asian parents find horrifying."

 

Others aren't so sure. High suicide rates among Indian and Chinese immigrant children have been blamed on pressure to succeed, and there has been dissent about "Tiger Parenting" from within the Chinese community.

 

"My first reaction was, 'Is this a joke?' I kept waiting for the punch line," Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, 44, a second-generation Chinese American mother of four from Michigan told the Associated Press. "Her methods are so crude. The humiliations and the shaming. The kids will hear that voice in their heads for the rest of their lives." — The Independent

Who's Amy?

Amy Chua
Amy Chua

  • Amy Chua's parents were academics and members of the Chinese ethnic minority in the Philippines before immigrating to the United States.
  • Amy's father, Leon O. Chua, is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences professor at the University of California, Berkeley and is known as the father of nonlinear circuit theory and cellular neural networks.
  • Amy was born in 1962 in Champaign, Illinois and lived in West Lafayette, Indiana.
  • Chua graduated magna cum laude with an A.B. in Economics from Harvard College in 1984.
  • She obtained her J.D. cum laude in 1987 from Harvard Law School, where she was an Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Review.
  • Chua lives in New Haven, Connecticut and is married to Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld.
  • She has two daughters, Sophia and Louisa.
  • She is the John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School. She specialises in the study of international business transactions, law and development, ethnic conflict, and globalization and the law.
  • Chua has written three books: World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2003), Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — and Why They Fall (2007) and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (January 2011). The first two books are on international affairs and the third is a memoir. Source: Wikipedia

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

BATTING FOR THE 'PATHETIC MOTHER'

DEBORAH ROSS

 

I you ask me, it is time to hear it for The Pathetic Mother, who might not have realised how pathetic she was until reading about the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American mother who banned her children from sleepovers, play-dates, watching TV, owning pets, and not being the top student in any subject other than drama or gym.

 

The Pathetic Mother knew she was a pathetic mother when she read this list and thought: "If only my child were good at gym, it would be something, no? But, alas, I can't even get the dolt to put in extra time at the monkey bars."

 

The Pathetic Mother has many defining characteristics. The Pathetic Mother goes through the TV listings with her children at the start of every week, allowing them to pick a programme a day they truly want to watch, writes out a list, attaches it to the fridge, and then ignores it because the alternative might be having to play Ludo, which is so boring she always wishes she were dead. The Pathetic Mother pays for a full term of recorder lessons then allows her child to attend only the once because she can't think of a decent enough response to the protest: "Mum, you promised me a world of musical delight, but it's only a stick with a hole in it." The Pathetic Mother caves in to her children's demand for a pet, although at least has the good sense to direct them towards Sea Monkeys, which can be tipped down the toilet once the children realise that they grow into slimy flecks and not little pirates with cutlasses, as shown on the box.

 

The Pathetic Mother recognises that sleepovers are evil but doesn't have the heart to ban them on the grounds that, if the children return ashen-faced and good-for-nothing what are the chances they'll insist on a game of Ludo or, worse, Monopoly, which goes on for five lifetimes and an eternity? Nil, she'd have thought. The Pathetic Mother loves her children but when she witnesses them falling off the monkey bars yet again can't help but think: "Gifted? Probably not. Now, where's that ambulance. Ideally, it would be nice to get back in time for Bargain Hunt." And while Pathetic Mother is courteous to Tiger Mother — you are about to ferry them to extra, extra, extra maths, you say; interesting — she would quite like to lay her out all the same. If you have never felt similarly, do ask yourself this: "Am I pathetic enough?" We don't just accept anybody, you know. — The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

(MIS)READING THE CRUELLA DE CHUA APPROACH

BOYD TONKIN

 

LATE last year, I talked to the American legal academic and detective novelist Jed Rubenfeld. Calm and courteous, he told me about the pleasant view from his house in New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University. He mentioned his need to escape his desk in order to spend more time with his two fast-growing teenage children. Little did I know then that these innocent details of Ivy League domestic routine came from the heart of (if you credit a tribe of foam-flecked pundits) the most infamous household in the Western world.

 

For Professor Rubenfeld, whose novels The Interpretation of Murder and The Death Instinct delightfully stir Sigmund Freud into the mix of period crime, is married to his colleague on the Yale law faculty, Professor Amy Chua. And Amy Chua has to many thousands of bloggers, columnists and assorted opinion-pushers suddenly emerged as a sinister, mythical mash-up of Dragon Empress, Wicked Witch, Snow Queen and — above all — Cruel Mother.

 

Selective editing and skewed presentation have contrived to turn her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother into a child-abuse handbook that tells parents how to hothouse their little devils into class-topping, violin-wielding, race-winning prodigies of super-high achievement via a regime of overwork, insults, punishments and threats. Read the reactions and you will conclude that the Cruella de Chua approach makes Spartans look like cissies.

 

Or so the story goes. Why not do something suitably nerdy and dutiful, and read the book? Because it's a treat from first to last: ruefully funny, endlessly self-deprecating, riven with ironies, as Chua offloads her insecurities onto daughters Sophia and Lulu and then flays herself into paroxysms of guilt and stress for doing so. A heartless blueprint for breeding neurotic billionaires? Unlikely, as most of the family drama stems from Sophia's progress on the piano and Lulu's on the violin — a pretty quixotic obsession for any parent hung up on material success. Besides, any woman who thinks that practising fiendishly tough pieces by Bartok and Prokofiev with a succession of loopy musical gurus has more of a point than playdates and sleepovers will win many votes.

 

The book's climax arrives not with over-achieving success but farcical failure. Rebel Lulu erupts in a nuclear tantrum at a Moscow restaurant: "I hate the violin. I HATE my life." As Chua reflects, "I'd made a career out of spurning the kind of Western parents who can't control their kids. Now I had the most disrespectful, rude, violent, out-of-control kid of all." Then a road to reconciliation opens. Now Chua even grants her smiling approval when Lulu wants to try her hand at "improv". Improv? Ye gods! Dragon lady, where are you when your daughter really needs you?

 

Do we simply want upbeat platitudes in accounts of family life, or else their mirror-image in fantasies of unmaternal sadism, and not the truth about love as anxious projection (Freud might have a lot to say) and conscience-shredding ambivalence? Maybe Chua's major crime is not to advocate a "Chinese" model of high-pressure parenting — in reality, as she admits, one shared by plenty of migrant communities — but to sound more like a grouchy oriental Philip Larkin than our feel-good culture allows: "The truth is I'm not good at enjoying life. It's not one of my strengths. I have a lot of to-do lists and hate massages and Caribbean vacations." Chua's Eyeore-ish voice is a knock-out. —The Independent

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

COSMETIC R-DAY RITUALS

THE FLAG HOISTING CONTROVERSY HAS ADDED TO THE UGLINESS OF HOLLOW CELEBRATIONS


When the country is caught in a quagmire of several crisis, especially multiple scams and institutionalised corruption as well as deepening inflation, 61st Republic Day is an apt time to introspect fairly the progress the country has made towards democracy and development, the tribulations and the failures. It is also time to search for answers and road maps to rectify all that has gone wrong. Unfortunately, the nation is caught in the grip of a non-issue raked up unnecessarily and irresponsibly by the BJP and badly mishandled by the government with its shrill noises and over-reaction. The irrational insistence to hoist the flag in Lal Chowk has ironically robbed the occasion of its sanctity and diverted attention from core issues to absolute trivialisation of symbols of the country. The entire episode, of political parties playing politics over national days of importance and national icons, shamefully reflects the virtual bankruptcy and immorality of polity in this country. This day could have been more suited an occasion to talk about how democracy is being exercised throughout the country and assess the situation of civil liberties that citizens of the country enjoy or talk of devising and strengthening mechanisms that ensure power to the grassroots level. Rather, the focus is more on ceremonial ritualism. What makes things worse this year is that this is being done with an evident aim to create provocation and hamper the peace and harmony of the country by playing such dirty politics in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir. 
Over the last few decades, Republic Days and Independence Days have virtually turned the country's roads into curfew bound roads with emphasis solely on select official and non-official functions to commemorate the day. This is especially so in the trouble torn state of Jammu and Kashmir where people's participation on such occasions is limited to buying flags and hoisting it on rooftops, car windscreens or their own localities. Such days infact prove to be intimidating for the larger public, with not even a mouse stirring on the roads, particularly in the Valley. Throughout the state, the police goes on a spree of arresting and detaining persons on slightest of pretext or no pretext at all, roads are suddenly sealed and movements restricted without any announcement and all attention is addressed towards official extravaganzas where handpicked people can hear the netas of the country speaking to the nation. Advertisements and statements begin early, asking people to participate enthusiastically but their entry in the official shows, whose venues turn into formidable fortresses, become out of bounds. With thousands of cops and security men engaged throughout Jammu and Kashmir simply to ensure a peaceful  Republic Day, it is obvious that the national day has become an epitome of display of pride rather than an occasion to redeem and restore the faith of the people of the country in the country's democratic and secular ideals. The showmanship takes precedence over the essence of democracy enshrined in the constitution that guarantees civil rights and liberties to all. Even on a day that should be a symbolic celebration of rights and liberties of citizens, of the liberaland economic democracy that enables the masses to be engaged in the process of nation building at some level or the other, it is no small an irony that much of the exercise is focused on a display of military prowess, parades and the country's macho image, all at the expense of curtailing the very rights of some civilians ensured by the constitution that was born on this day. The kind of restrictions imposed to thwart the BJP yatra, having full potential of disturbing law and order in this state, therefore turn out to be nothing new. They are evidently part of an exercise that has become the norm in recent years.
Had the BJP patriotic fervour pivoted more around the question of denial of democratic space even on a day to commemorate democracy of the country, it was something the others would have willingly followed. Even the alienated masses in Kashmir could not have found a reasonable argument to distance themselves from such a campaign. But the party, hell bent on using national symbols, whose sanctity can be better maintained minus use of force, as weapons for vengeance and chauvinism, has scant regard for democratic rights. Neither do the governments in power, whosoever is in the saddle. Already, there is much that is wrongfully plastic and cosmetic in the way national days are celebrated. By choosing to forcefully infuse a pseudo patriotic spirit in a region where people do not even enjoy the basic civil liberties is not just paradoxical. It would have disastrous consequences. So, it is time to keep this non-issue behind us and begin some genuine pondering on where the nation lags so that a process of bridging the gap between communities, regions, haves and have nots, rich and poor can aid the course of real and meaningful progress, development and democracy in its true sense of the word. 

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

IN THE LINE OF FIRE

LANDMINES CONTINUE TO BE A PERPETUAL THREAT


The explosion of landmines in Chakkan da bagh area once again brings to focus the vulnerability of the people living in the border areas. No amount of logic that the incident actually took place across the Line of Control in the Pakistan administered areas can provide any kind of solace to this side. Both India and Pakistan have heavily mined their respective territories for decades since 1947-48 when the borders were carved and mines have been buried without any de-mining process ever having taken place along the Line of Control prior to the opening of the trade routes four years ago. As a policy, the armies on both sides never clear the minefields laid along the Line of Control, but when the trade and bus routes across LoC started from entry points in Uri and Poonch, these were the only exceptions. With mines having exploded on Monday in Chakkan da Bagh close to where one of the routes is, questions are once again raised about the quality of mine clearance operations. Experts and activists have pointed out that it is inhumanly impossible to fully demine areas, especially after they have been left abandoned for decades. They not only make people's lives vulnerable, they also turn fertile areas into barren tracts of land. It is not the LoC areas that witness frequent landmine casualties, such incidents are also common along the international border. Last week, the villagers found two live landmines in their fields in R.S. Pura and maintained that this was the fifth incident of its kind this year alone. The most recent land mine laying operations on the IB was in 2001-2002 when India and Pakistan came close to a war. It was the largest ever  mine laying operation with millions of mines having been emplaced. Though two years after, the Indian army undertook mine clearance operations and officially claimed 98 percent clearance, the mine explosion incidents and reports of presence of landmines in these areas question the quality of clearance operations. They also expose the misleading claims. With millions of mines having been emplaced, even two percent non clearance means a rather big number for the rather small population living on the borders. So for the sake of humanity, mines as a security strategy must be dispensed with altogether.

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL COMMENTARY

SORRY STATE OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY

INDER MALHOTRA


FROM the late 1960s until well after Indira Gandhi's assassination India was in the grip of grave polarization focusing on her personality. Since then polarization has subsided and recurred several times. Its most conspicuous resurgence was in 2004 when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was defeated in the Lok Sabha election and the Congress returned to power as the core of the United Progressive Alliance. What looks like surpassing all the divisions and clashes of the past is the current and constantly escalating confrontation between the ruling Congress party and the principal Opposition party, the BJP, the only two mainstream parties in the country.


Remarkably, until October last, the BJP, having been thrashed in the May 2009 Lok Sabha poll, was in utter disarray. But then it suddenly rallied because of the Congress party's acute vulnerability due a spate of shameless corruption cases climaxed by the 2G-Spectrum scam. The ruling combination's stubborn refusal to accept the BJP's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate this loot isolated it. For, almost all other Opposition parties, including those that dislike the saffron party, joined it to pillory the Congress.
The entire winter session of Parliament was disrupted because of this stand off.  Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's belated offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee has cut no ice, and the Congress remains opposed to the JPC, there is no knowing what will happen to Parliament's Budget session, a month away. Meanwhile, the Congress' cup of misery has been filled to the brim by a series of developments, principally the spiral of rising prices, especially of the essential food items that are now beyond the reach of the lower middle-class and are causing hardship even to the middle middle-class.


So far the Congress was at the receiving end, and the BJP could preen itself on having regained the political initiative and revived its fortunes. But, as it has done often in the past, the BJP has embarked on venture that can do no credit to it and is almost certain to damage in national interest, and that too in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. In a gross and provocative manner it has chosen to repeat a ploy it had last tried out there in 1992. Its youth wing wants to hoist the national flag on Republic Day in Srinagar's Lal Chowk. Why is it insisting on going ahead with a pointless gesture  after nearly two decades it hasn't bothered to explain. Nor has it paid any heed to J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah's reasoned plea to desist so that the slow process of return of tranquility in the state after last year's fraught situation is not disrupted. It rejected even Mr. Abdullah's invitation to join the flag hoisting ceremony at the Bakhshi stadium only a stone-throw away from Lal Chowk where the saffron party's venture might invite trouble.


Under the circumstances the chief minister cannot be blamed for having decided to take all necessary steps to prevent potential troublemakers from reaching their destination. Activists of the BJP's youth wing on way to Srinagar have been arrested and others trying to reach there from outside the state are being stopped at J&K's border. This is what led to the arrival at Jammu of Shushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively. They, too, were denied entry. After a lot of high drama and low politics, they were arrested and "forcibly" sent back to Punjab. Even the BJP's most important ally, Bihar's chief minister, Nitish Kumar, was constrained to advise it to drop the foolhardy and dangerous venture even at this late stage, but to no avail.


Instead of heeding sage advice, the evidently irate BJP leaders are threatening even more dire action. In unbecoming language they are blaming both the Central and state governments of having "surrendered to Kashmiri separatists", and claiming "patriotism" for only themselves. Strangely, they do not seem to realize that the people of India will not be taken in by their theatrics. The saffron party will end up damaging itself.
Kashmir, howeverm is not the only battleground between the BJP and the Congress-led combination. The two sides are engaged in a far more bitter war in the southern state of Karnataka. While in Kashmir the BJP alone is manifestly in the wrong, in the southern state both the combatants are equally to blame. As the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations stated 27 years ago, the most misused and abused office of the Indian Republic is that of the governor. Expected to be non-partisan constitutional heads of the government of the states to which they are appointed, many, if not most, governors have tended to be promoters of the interests of the ruling party or coalition at the Centre. Consequently, the Sarkaria Commission had recommended that an active politician belonging to the ruling establishment at the Centre should not be appointed governor of a state ruled by a different party or combination.


Had the UPA government followed this sound principle, H. R. Bharadwaj, former Union law minister, would never have been sent to the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore. A prisoner of his old, highly partisan past he has been on the warpath with the BJP ministry of Karnataka from the word go. It would be unfair to say that Mr. Bharadwaj has always been in the wrong. He was entirely right, for instance, in demanding action against the fabulously rich Bellary Reddys who virtually control the state government, nominally headed by B. S. Yeddyurappa. But the governor's unprecedented order giving some unknown lawyers permission to prosecute the serving chief minister was rash and not exactly non-partisan, to say the least.


No wonder Mr. Yeddyurappa is calling the governor "an agent of the Congress" and senior BJP leaders have rushed to Rashtrapati Bhavan to demand Mr. Bharadwaj's recall. It is doubtful if the Manmohan Singh government would advise the President to accede to this demand. But that does not diminish its validity. On the other hand, neither the Karnataka chief minister nor other protesting BJP leaders are lilywhite innocents. They may scream against corruption in New Delhi but bend over backwards to shield the egregiously corrupt in Bangalore. Mr. Yeddyurappa's own hands or not exactly clean. He cannot deny that he "de-notified" land that was later acquired by his near relatives. Curiously, his excuse is that other chief ministers, preceding him, had done exactly the same thing. The most startling statement has come from the BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, who says that the Karnataka chief minister's action was "immoral" but not "illegal".


It seems to occur to no one that a democracy in which even the minimum democratic norms are thrown to the winds by one and all is a democracy only in name.

 

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THE KASHMIR TIMES

EDITORIAL

POLITICAL COMMENTARY

SORRY STATE OF INDIAN DEMOCRACY

INDER MALHOTRA


FROM the late 1960s until well after Indira Gandhi's assassination India was in the grip of grave polarization focusing on her personality. Since then polarization has subsided and recurred several times. Its most conspicuous resurgence was in 2004 when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance was defeated in the Lok Sabha election and the Congress returned to power as the core of the United Progressive Alliance. What looks like surpassing all the divisions and clashes of the past is the current and constantly escalating confrontation between the ruling Congress party and the principal Opposition party, the BJP, the only two mainstream parties in the country.


Remarkably, until October last, the BJP, having been thrashed in the May 2009 Lok Sabha poll, was in utter disarray. But then it suddenly rallied because of the Congress party's acute vulnerability due a spate of shameless corruption cases climaxed by the 2G-Spectrum scam. The ruling combination's stubborn refusal to accept the BJP's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate this loot isolated it. For, almost all other Opposition parties, including those that dislike the saffron party, joined it to pillory the Congress.
The entire winter session of Parliament was disrupted because of this stand off.  Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's belated offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee has cut no ice, and the Congress remains opposed to the JPC, there is no knowing what will happen to Parliament's Budget session, a month away. Meanwhile, the Congress' cup of misery has been filled to the brim by a series of developments, principally the spiral of rising prices, especially of the essential food items that are now beyond the reach of the lower middle-class and are causing hardship even to the middle middle-class.


So far the Congress was at the receiving end, and the BJP could preen itself on having regained the political initiative and revived its fortunes. But, as it has done often in the past, the BJP has embarked on venture that can do no credit to it and is almost certain to damage in national interest, and that too in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. In a gross and provocative manner it has chosen to repeat a ploy it had last tried out there in 1992. Its youth wing wants to hoist the national flag on Republic Day in Srinagar's Lal Chowk. Why is it insisting on going ahead with a pointless gesture  after nearly two decades it hasn't bothered to explain. Nor has it paid any heed to J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah's reasoned plea to desist so that the slow process of return of tranquility in the state after last year's fraught situation is not disrupted. It rejected even Mr. Abdullah's invitation to join the flag hoisting ceremony at the Bakhshi stadium only a stone-throw away from Lal Chowk where the saffron party's venture might invite trouble.


Under the circumstances the chief minister cannot be blamed for having decided to take all necessary steps to prevent potential troublemakers from reaching their destination. Activists of the BJP's youth wing on way to Srinagar have been arrested and others trying to reach there from outside the state are being stopped at J&K's border. This is what led to the arrival at Jammu of Shushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha respectively. They, too, were denied entry. After a lot of high drama and low politics, they were arrested and "forcibly" sent back to Punjab. Even the BJP's most important ally, Bihar's chief minister, Nitish Kumar, was constrained to advise it to drop the foolhardy and dangerous venture even at this late stage, but to no avail.


Instead of heeding sage advice, the evidently irate BJP leaders are threatening even more dire action. In unbecoming language they are blaming both the Central and state governments of having "surrendered to Kashmiri separatists", and claiming "patriotism" for only themselves. Strangely, they do not seem to realize that the people of India will not be taken in by their theatrics. The saffron party will end up damaging itself.
Kashmir, howeverm is not the only battleground between the BJP and the Congress-led combination. The two sides are engaged in a far more bitter war in the southern state of Karnataka. While in Kashmir the BJP alone is manifestly in the wrong, in the southern state both the combatants are equally to blame. As the Sarkaria Commission on Centre-State relations stated 27 years ago, the most misused and abused office of the Indian Republic is that of the governor. Expected to be non-partisan constitutional heads of the government of the states to which they are appointed, many, if not most, governors have tended to be promoters of the interests of the ruling party or coalition at the Centre. Consequently, the Sarkaria Commission had recommended that an active politician belonging to the ruling establishment at the Centre should not be appointed governor of a state ruled by a different party or combination.


Had the UPA government followed this sound principle, H. R. Bharadwaj, former Union law minister, would never have been sent to the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore. A prisoner of his old, highly partisan past he has been on the warpath with the BJP ministry of Karnataka from the word go. It would be unfair to say that Mr. Bharadwaj has always been in the wrong. He was entirely right, for instance, in demanding action against the fabulously rich Bellary Reddys who virtually control the state government, nominally headed by B. S. Yeddyurappa. But the governor's unprecedented order giving some unknown lawyers permission to prosecute the serving chief minister was rash and not exactly non-partisan, to say the least.


No wonder Mr. Yeddyurappa is calling the governor "an agent of the Congress" and senior BJP leaders have rushed to Rashtrapati Bhavan to demand Mr. Bharadwaj's recall. It is doubtful if the Manmohan Singh government would advise the President to accede to this demand. But that does not diminish its validity. On the other hand, neither the Karnataka chief minister nor other protesting BJP leaders are lilywhite innocents. They may scream against corruption in New Delhi but bend over backwards to shield the egregiously corrupt in Bangalore. Mr. Yeddyurappa's own hands or not exactly clean. He cannot deny that he "de-notified" land that was later acquired by his near relatives. Curiously, his excuse is that other chief ministers, preceding him, had done exactly the same thing. The most startling statement has come from the BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, who says that the Karnataka chief minister's action was "immoral" but not "illegal".


It seems to occur to no one that a democracy in which even the minimum democratic norms are thrown to the winds by one and all is a democracy only in name.

THE NEW BRUTAL WOMAN..!
BY ROBERT CLEMENTS
As details of Indian diplomat Anil Verma slapping his wife in London gets murkier, I met my imaginary friend P.K. Bole.
We had not met for quite some time and he was at the bus stop as I waited to catch my bus to work. I told him about the diplomat's wife beating habits
"It is allowed!" he assured me smugly to my own shock. "Our great masculine culture allows reasonable and adequate causes for slapping your wife. First you must prove you were provoked by her; for example if she interrupts you with a wise answer while you are arguing with her, or attempts to show she is intellectually superior, while you are talking like a fool, then you have the right!"
"What about nagging?" I asked.
"Depending what she is nagging you about," said P.K. Bole wisely, "If it is about the fifth glass of whisky you want to drink, or the last game of cards you want to play or opening your sons piggy bank and spending it on your secretary, then it is allowed."
"What if dinner is tasteless or if she is a lousy cook?" I asked.
"That goes under husband cruelty," said P.K. "you can even go up to two slaps for that!"
"Can it become a habit?" I asked.
"It should," said P.K. Bole.
I noticed that most of the men in the bus line had become interested in Bole's talk and a little man in front with a voice that went from shrill to shriek suddenly joined in, "I slapped my wife today," he said.
"Excellent," said P.K. Bole. "Obviously she provoked you?"
"Actually I tried to hit my son," squealed the little man, "but he ducked and my wife standing behind got the blow. I have been waiting to do this for years!'
There was a sudden commotion and a huge strapping woman came running into the line with a rolling pin. "Take this and this and this," she cried as she hit the little man, "and are these your friends? Take this you idiots," she yelled as P.K got a blow to his head and I on my elbow.
P.K. Bole, the little man and I stood unsteadily at the bus top wiping the blood from our wounds. "You didn't tell me about this?" I wept, "That women would hit back?"
"Hit back!" whispered P.K. Bole, "I think there's a mighty revolution on; not only have they started hitting back but they've started drawing blood!"
"But all those rules you were talking about?" I asked.
"Are obsolete, let's get out of here before Anil Verma's wife also gives us a beating! This is the new brutal woman we are seeing, who has had enough of our male chauvinistic ways..!
bobsbanter@gmail.com

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

COLUMN

MUMBAI WARNS DELHI

STUMPED BY RESURGENT INFLATION, RBI KEEPS POWDER DRY

Any vehicle that has one person's leg on the accelerator and another's on the brake can only move in jumps and starts. That is probably what is beginning to happen, with New Delhi's leg on the spending accelerator and RBI's leg on the monetary brake. The burden of the January 25 policy statement is that RBI is telling North Block to go easy on the accelerator, if it has to resist slamming the brakes. The debate on whether RBI should have increased policy rates by 50 basis points, given its stated concerns about inflation, or the 25 basis points it chose to misses the entire thrust of the central bank's third quarter review and monetary policy statement. Make no mistake, the central bank is concerned about resurgent inflationary pressures. It should be expected to stay the course and raise rates further in its forthcoming reviews or even in mid-course. It has raised baseline projection of headline inflation rate, based on wholesale price index, by 150 basis points, from 5.5 per cent to 7 per cent, and has drawn attention to a range of factors, domestic and global, that would keep inflation rates above acceptable levels in the medium term. If the central bank has resisted more drastic action, opting to keep its powder dry, it would seem the reasons have to do with RBI's views on non-monetary sources of inflation and its willingness to go along with other macro-economic authorities on the strategy for growth.

By keeping its powder dry, RBI has, however, reserved the right to strike a few weeks later, depending on how the Union government manages its fiscal balances. The combined risks from higher inflation, higher current account deficit (CAD) and "the fiscal situation", as RBI puts it, "contribute to an increase in uncertainty about economic stability that consumers and investors will have to deal with. To the extent that this deters consumption and investment decisions, growth may be impacted. While slower growth may contribute to some dampening of inflation and a narrowing of the CAD, it can also have significant impact on capital inflows, asset prices and fiscal consolidation, thereby aggravating some of the risks that have already been identified". New Delhi must get the message loud and clear. The ball is firmly in the finance minister's court.

 

 While the central bank sees no risk to growth, which it expects to be around 8.5 per cent in 2010-11, it recognises the emerging external constraints to growth and inflation management, especially the role of rising commodity prices, though the recent recovery in Indian exports growth is a hopeful sign that the higher-than-expected CAD can be managed. RBI believes that food, energy and commodity prices are widely expected to harden during 2011, "driven by a combination of supply constraints and rising global demand", making inflation "a global concern in 2011". In the light of both external and domestic trends, the Union government must pursue a responsible fiscal strategy that allows the government to keep control on fiscal and revenue deficits and sustains non-inflationary growth, by easing a range of supply constraints through policy reform and encouragement of increased investment.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE WILTING PADMA

TOO MUCH DEMOCRACY HAS DEVALUED A FEUDAL PRACTICE

The Right to Information (RTI) Act has done a lot of good things for Indian democracy, but it seems to have done some bad things too. For example, making public the list of 1,300 nominations for this year's annual Padma awards, the final list being announced by the government on the eve of the Republic Day, takes a large part of the shine and mystique off the awards. Time was when recipients of the awards and their family, friends and admirers would all celebrate the award and rejoice in the national acclaim. Today, however, the procedure has been made so transparently bureaucratic that it must feel like being selected for a government job! To a great extent, this state of affairs has been brought upon the Padma by its dilution over the years. It was always the case that while these awards were given in large part to distinguished persons, the sycophants of the dispensation in power and an assortment of wheelers and dealers also managed to get their names listed. While those in the know in the corridors of power knew who the deserving were and who the undeserving, innocent citizens across the country would more often than not presume that all those honoured with the Padma were a deserving lot. Interestingly, while the awards rules prohibit awardees from using the honour as a prefix or even a suffix to their names, many often do. It is the rare Indian who declines a Padma on the grounds that her professional worth need not be certified by the state and it was enough if a relevant professional body honours.

In recent years, the outright politicisation of the Padma awards, under successive governments, and the selection of several persons of dubious distinction, brought the courts into the picture and as often the courts suggested a hamhanded way out. On top of the bureaucratic system put in place by courts, which privileged a few government officials and their chosen few non-governmental personages, the RTI Act has stripped the awarding process bare. We now know the names of all the worthies who have been nominated. In due course, the RTI Act may also make public the names of the nominators. From the list of 1,300 nominations that have passed initial scrutiny, about 120 to 130 will be selected, after proper vetting by intelligence and security agencies. Income tax authorities have not yet been brought into the picture, but some day they may get a say too. Given that the final selection is still made by an assortment of government officials and their chosen few, it is still not clear if the truly distinguished recipients of these awards would still feel proud to be named. All governments give away such awards and more often than not the recipients are always a mix of the deserving and the demanding. So, there is nothing specially wrong either with the Padma process or the outcome, apart from the fact that the award is being stripped of its mystique. An excess of populism and patronage politics seem to have hurt the Padma awards as much as their original inspiration — the British monarch's birthday honours.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

FINANCIAL MARKET DESIGN DILEMMAS

THE ART OF FINANCIAL POLICY IS IN ENSURING STABILITY IN TIMES OF CHANGE AND ENCOURAGING CHANGE IN TIMES OF STABILITY

GANGADHAR DARBHA

The report of the Bimal Jalan Committee, constituted by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) in January 2010, on changes in ownership and governance of Market Infrastructure Institutions (MIIs), such as stock exchanges, clearing houses and depositories, has sparked an intense debate.

It is said that the first casualty of a fiercely contested public debate is "truth"! The more intense the debate and the more polarised the expressed views, the less likely one would get to an objective and neutral policy conclusion. Very often these extreme views tend to be well-funded but not well-founded in economic theory and reasoning.

 

 Equally worrisome is the self-reinforcing nature of the polarisation of views: anyone with a view that is neutral and balanced is likely to get rejected by both sides, marginalising balanced views and giving prominence to extreme views. At the risk of being rejected by both sides, I would like to analyse the recommendations of the Jalan Committee from the neutral perspective of economic theory of market design and industrial organisation.

The Jalan Committee report contains recommendations on how many stock exchanges there should be in the country; on ownership structure of stock exchanges; on profits of stock exchanges; and on listing of stock exchanges. Many commentators have observed that the committee took an anti-competitive and protecting-the-status-quo stand that would favour the currently dominant stock exchange as against the other current and future stock exchanges. The first important question to ask in this context is whether a competitive market structure is necessarily and always socially optimal or desirable. The common-sense argument favouring competitive market structure stems from the ideas of classical welfare economics that related perfect competition to efficient allocation of resources.

But, as we know from the works of Professors Joseph Stiglitz, Bruce Greenwald and Sanford Grossman, in situations of informationally incomplete and imperfect financial markets, competitive mechanisms may not always ensure optimal resource allocation. Moreover, in demanding a competitive market structure, we must distinguish between competitive outcome and competitive process. A game-changing and substantial technological or financial innovation can generate a dominant firm, and such an outcome is socially desirable even if it looks non-competitive. Monopolistic outcome, however, raises two classes of problems: first, a monopolist can affect the terms and alternatives available for other market participants because of the power she possesses; and how would one ensure the "social responsibility" of a monopolist.

This is where the argument for competitive process comes into picture: if the overall process of market design is competitive, the current dominant position will always be contestable either by the existing or by the potential entrants. In other words, the opportunity to become a dominant exchange should always be available for every potential entrant to ensure that no permanent monopolies get established. In the current context, one could ask if one stock exchange is in a dominant position, how to ensure that it doesn't limit the domain of financial innovation that should be available for other stock exchanges and the resultant benefits of financial innovations to investors.

It appears that the Jalan Committee, while correctly recognising the social benefits of a vertically integrated dominant stock exchange in terms of economies of scale and scope, seems to have underestimated the power of competitive process in disciplining the dominant stock exchanges. Instead, it chose to control the stock exchanges by regulating the entry, ownership structure and incentives of the management along the lines of a public utility.

Consider, for example, the issue of self-regulatory nature of stock exchanges. It is being argued how a for-profit/listed stock exchange operating to maximise its shareholder wealth may not always have incentives to enforce rules governing the behaviour of exchange members. In a competitive environment, this is not an issue as the process would ensure the migration of liquidity from a badly managed stock exchange to another stock exchange that protects the investor interest. Instead of recommending the creation of such a competitive environment, the committee takes a position that "entry of a large number of stock exchanges will fragment liquidity to such an extent that this might stifle growth and innovation in the process". The committee recommends regulations that micro-manage the ownership structure, caps profitability and management incentives of stock exchanges to resolve the potential conflicts of interest in the three-way principal-agent problem of owners and management of stock exchanges, and the investors.

While there is no clear, established evidence showing how a particular form of stock exchange ownership adversely affects the incentives to enforce regulation, there is abundant evidence that profitability and incentives have significant impact on financial innovation. While stock exchanges are to be considered institutions of systemic importance, they are not like other public utilities because of their innovation-intensive nature. Caps on profitability and micro-management of incentives for stock exchanges can, therefore, create implicit entry barriers and damage the financial innovation process.

Despite the tremendous success that we have had in terms of creating securities markets infrastructure over the last 15 years or so, India still has a long way to go in terms of catching up with global peers in financial product, function and institution development. It is our ability to innovate on a continuous basis that ensures the development of financial markets and institutions in the long run. The sole purpose of any rules and regulations, therefore, on ownership structure, management of incentives and competitive process related to financial markets should always be the efficient financial innovation process.

It is easy to be tempted by the backdrop of the biggest financial crisis of this century and choose policies that focus on short-term stability at the cost of long-term development. But, the real art of financial policy is in ensuring stability in times of change and encouraging change in times of stability.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BUDGET FACES EXPENDITURE BLUES

A K BHATTACHARYA

The Union finance ministry has done exceedingly well on the revenues front in the current financial year. In June 2010, it raised about Rs 1.3 lakh crore by auctioning licences for third-generation phone and broadband wireless access services. This was more than three times the revenue it had budgeted. Its target for disinvestment proceeds this year is also within reach. Already, it has collected more than half its annual target of Rs 40,000 crore. With the proposal for a follow-on public offer of shares for Indian Oil Corporation scheduled in March and a few others in the pipeline, the ministry would achieve that target too in the current year.

On the tax revenue front, the finance ministry's performance has been even better. In most years, the last quarter helps the government mobilise more than 30 per cent of the annual target. However, this year the situation changed quite dramatically. The current year saw record collections in the first three quarters of 2010-11. By the end of December 2010, total tax collections amounted to 72 per cent of the annual target of Rs 7.45 lakh crore. In the normal course, mobilising the shore-up revenues, the finance ministry has now raised the annual target to Rs 7.82 lakh crore. The confidence stems from the general revenue buoyancy in the economy and the revenue department's ability to collect more during the year.

 

This is bound to have a salutary impact on the government's fiscal deficit for the current year. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had projected a fiscal deficit of 5.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) for the current financial year, a sharp drop from 6.8 per cent last year. It is now reasonably certain that he would not only meet the fiscal deficit target for the current year, but even reduce it further. The point to be noted here is that the deficit contraction plan would have gone awry if revenues had not exceeded the target set at the start of the year. This is because the finance minister has allowed his expenditure to exceed his Budget estimate. Strictly speaking, the finance minister is not directly responsible for the expenditure overshooting what was budgeted. The government's political failure to rein in expenditure, thanks largely to its commitment to various rights and entitlements for underprivileged sections of society, was a major factor responsible for the pressure on the government on the expenditure front.

This is also why the Reserve Bank of India today is in a position to offer its considered advice to the government on how it should take a fresh look at its finances. In its latest monetary policy review statement, the central bank governor has indicated that the government's challenge is not on the revenues front, but on how it can improve the quality of its expenditure. The central bank has even pointed out how the government's flagship welfare programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), has potentially led to wage inflation. Even the wholesale price-based inflation rate for the full financial year is now going to be 7 per cent, compared to the earlier projected level of 5.5 per cent.

The central bank has hit the nail on its head. The government's problem today is not its revenues. Thanks to a healthy growth rate, its revenues would remain buoyant. The problem is on the expenditure side. For a government, whose expenditure on the MGNREGS can go up by 50 per cent next year to Rs 64,000 crore or a little less than a per cent of the country's GDP, the real challenge must rightly be how to control and reprioritise its expenditure. The central bank's monetary policy review yesterday, therefore, has as much relevance for interest rates as for the government's Budget for 2011-12.

In short, the challenge for the finance minister, as he prepares to present his next Budget in about a month, is how to respond to the demands for raising expenditure from various stakeholders in the government. Revenues are important in a different way. They need reforms — the introduction of the Direct Taxes Code and the Goods and Services Tax, for instance. However, the finance minister has to take tough decisions on the expenditure side. His options are limited, but even within those limited options, the finance minister has to send out the right signals to the economy that the government believes in prudent expenditure management. The Budget for 2011-12 can afford to focus less on the government's revenues, but it does not have that luxury with its expenditure.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

MEDIEVAL SULTANS BUILT CITIES FASTER

STATE LAWS ON LAND ACQUISITION IGNORE THE NEED FOR SPEED

M J ANTONY

Since land is in short supply and they don't make it anymore, there was a series of disputes over this valued asset in which the Supreme Court passed judgments in the past fortnight. The right of the rural people for grazing cattle, surrender of sugarcane fields above ceiling and space for new townships were some of the subjects of intense discord, which were fought up to the final court by village headmen and corporate giants. Significant among them were two judgments of a constitution bench that settled doubts over town planning laws in some states where they conflicted with the central law, the Land Acquisition Act.

Since smaller benches of the court had doubts over the supremacy of the central and state legislation on acquiring land for building new townships, the constitution bench spent more than 250 pages in its judgment to harmonise the laws so that planned development could continue unhindered by legal complexities. It gave the state laws unfettered play, and only time will tell whether the new-found freedom for the states will serve public good.

 

The constitution bench discussed the law in the context of new urban centres growing around metros. Development of land in the peripheral areas outside municipal limits is normally irregular and haphazard. Several states have, therefore, passed laws to regulate regional town development. They aim at dispersing population and industry from congested cities and providing adequate public service like schools, hospitals, market and water supply.

The laws are paved with good intentions. But the implementation is often swamped in local politics, vested interests, bureaucratic lethargy and litigation. The lands are hastily notified for development but the development plans take long to be ready. What happens to the landholders whose property has been taken away and the scheme is not implemented? The central law says the acquisition will lapse in such cases after two years. The state laws grant even a decade to attract such a consequence. Which one should be followed was the question before the court. The Maharashtra law was dealt with in the case, Girnar Traders vs State of Maharashtra, and the Karnataka law was considered in the appeal, Offshore Holdings (P) Ltd vs Bangalore Development Authority.

Though the state governments announce development plans, they are not readied with urgency, and this inaction causes landholders harassment. The Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act tried to remedy this situation by amending the law and put a ten-year deadline for implementing the development scheme. If the plan does not take off, the land "reserved, allotted or designated" for the scheme is released to the owner. The Bangalore Development Act sets the limit at five years.

The constitution bench ruled that the central law that provides for a two-year limit would not apply to the state laws, which provide for different time frames and consequences for default, including lapsing of the acquisition proceedings. The state laws are "self-contained codes" and the Land Acquisition Act would not apply to the states' plans for developing new townships.

The Supreme Court has, therefore, interpreted the laws as they exist, but the consequences on the ground would not be gratifying. If one follows the time line of acquisition proceedings, whether under the central law or the state laws, a glaring fact is the harassment suffered by the land owners. Even the court has recognised in this judgment that, "The pendency of acquisition proceedings for long periods often caused hardship to the affected parties and rendered unrealistic the scale of compensation offered to them." The Law Commission has also noted this problem and recommended short time limits for completing all formalities between the issue of preliminary notification and the award of compensation. However, disputes of the 1980s continue to come to the Supreme Court.

Even if the acquisition formalities are completed within time, the deadlines set by the state laws to start construction are too long by current standards. This is a time when the country has to run fast to stay where it stands. Spending five or ten years to clear development plans for a new township harks back to the socialistic era with all its entrapments. The central law envisages two years for the completion of the proceedings. But the state laws, which were passed later, instead of reducing the period, have extended it many times over. The advance in technology to build and operate infrastructure has not been recognised by the lawmakers, let alone the snail-paced paper work in public works departments. Despite several amendments to the laws, the provisions as they stand retard the process of town development instead of simplifying it. Medieval Sultans raised magnificent citadels faster.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HAS THE PM DONE ENOUGH IN THE CABINET SHUFFLE?

The prime minister has upheld the coalition principle without tweaking policy or integrity, but the exercise has scarcely addressed the challenges that the country faces today.

Mohan PrakashIn our party and government, people don't stick to office like lemmings. If there is even a shadow of wrongdoing, they are asked to leave the government

It is farcical to hear a party like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticise the recent Cabinet reshuffle. In our party, the Congress, ministers and MPs abide by party discipline. In the BJP, they apply the power and blackmail principle. Not so long ago, in November, when Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa tried to expand his Cabinet, the party chief whip quit his post because his name was not among the probables; an MLA told reporters that he was an aspirant for a Cabinet berth and would decide on his plans if he was not inducted; and two groups of supporters of MLAs demonstrated before Yeddyurappa's house demanding their leaders be made ministers.

In our party, the Congress president and the prime minister sit together and take a view on who should be made minister. This is preceded by a stock-taking exercise. In this round, the PM has said another reshuffle will follow. On the basis of the party and government's current priorities, an administrative exercise has been launched, the first phase of which was put in place last Thursday. More such moves will follow.

What does the reshuffle tell us? That our party would like to see in place a government that is innovative, youthful and bursting with ideas on clean, effective governance. Experience and youth have been judiciously balanced. Some regions are yet to be represented in government — this too will follow. All major communities and religious groups have been represented, which is as it should be in a multi-ethnic country like ours.

In our party and government, people don't stick to office like lemmings. If there is even a shadow of wrongdoing, they are asked to leave the government. They are asked to wait outside government till their name is cleared. But the BJP? The income tax department, Central Bureau of Intelligence, the Enforcement Directorate, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence: which agency will it need to shame the BJP into getting its leaders to demit office?

Key infrastructure ministries have new faces. Ministers performed well in one department so they have been moved to work the same magic in their new charge. India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In the prime minister we have an economist of world renown, who is applauded for his understanding by world leaders — I am referring to the standing ovation he got at the G20 summit. But the brilliance of our prime minister is lost on the Indian opposition. In the Congress president we have someone whose complete and unwavering focus is on the poor and the disadvantaged. India's ministers have this dual task – of translating the vision of these two leaders.

The effects of this are already being seen. Not only was a Congress-led government elected to power for a second time by the people, but also its mandate is progressive, inclusive and caring. We listen to what the people are telling us, translate that in terms of our party's thinking and implement policies. We take care to prepare our members for a generational leadership change, by giving them responsibility in the government so that they understand how systems work. Whatever our ministers do is according to the law of the land, on the basis of rule of law. There is no room for arbitrariness, favouritism and giving in to pressure groups. Our party president has even said that chief ministers should do away with discretionary quotas. Some governments, on the other hand, run on discretion – which for them, is the better part of valour.

We have a coalition government and both in party and government, we are sensitive to what this means. We don't try to impose our writ on the conduct of ministers of the allied parties. Equally, we don't tweak policy – or standards of integrity – for the sake of staying in power.

I believe the Congress president has upheld the coalition dharma in full while consulting with the prime minister on how the council of ministers should be constituted. I also think honesty, efficiency and performance have been rewarded. Ultimately it is always about giving the people of India the highest standards of clean governance.

Nirmala Seetharaman

BJP Spokesperson

The Congress party's decision has sent out the signal that there is a complete absence of political will to provide governance and address the current challenges

The recent decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to shuffle his Cabinet has been aptly described by some independent thinkers as shuffling deck chairs on a sinking ship. The decision has not achieved anything and it has even confused members of the Congress party who have been included or promoted in the Cabinet.

For one, there is no signal of the government's intent to put in place what can be considered an effective team of ministers to address the pressing issues of today — price rise, corruption and governance. The Congress party and the prime minister have been talking about bringing down the average age of Cabinet ministers, but this much-discussed announcement was not in evidence after the reassignment of portfolios.

In the decision, the criteria for performing and non-performing members of the Cabinet just didn't matter. In fact, the Congress party's decision has sent out the signal that there is a complete absence of political will to provide governance, to address the challenges that the nation is facing today. There were expectations that the Cabinet reshuffle would be done keeping in view the recent corruption charges that have come up and issues like the food price rise.

Above all, there are many Congress party members who are unhappy with the reshuffle. It is also true that some Cabinet members are also dissatisfied with the reassignment of portfolios. There are many people within the Cabinet who are unsure if they have been promoted. The case is the same for the alliance partners who are also dissatisfied by the decisions made by the government in the Cabinet reshuffle. There are many alliance partners who are wondering where they stand in the confusion that was worst confounded by this Cabinet reshuffle.

We would have thought that this entire exercise by the Union government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would make the government come out with such a message that it is serious about fighting corruption — but that doesn't seem evident. The year 2010 was the year of corruption scandals starting from the 2G spectrum allocation scandal to the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Housing Society scam in which war widows were denied of a legitimate benefit. We were expecting more action in the Cabinet reshuffle or some major changes but it seems that 2011 will be the year of cover-ups. The BJP, along with the entire Opposition has been demanding the formation of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to investigate the corruption charges but the Union government is adamant about not allowing an investigation by parliamentarians. We are very clear on our demand of setting up a JPC because only it can investigate the larger issues of governance that have come up, and we are not going to change our stand on this.

The issue of rising prices of food and other essential commodities is a big concern for the common people in India but the decisions made in the Cabinet reshuffle have failed to send a clear signal that the Union government is serious about these issues. Food inflation is at an all-time high. The Congress came to power in the name of the aam aadmi, who for the last two years has not heard anything other than promises that prices will come down in the next six months and some astrological predictions about prices. The Union government continues to give inflation data but takes no steps to bring down prices. The BJP has repeatedly demanded that the government must ensure and take immediate and concrete steps to keep food articles at affordable prices.

Now Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has given us a promise that there would be another and more expansive change in the Cabinet after the Budget session of the Parliament. The prime minister and the Congress have both missed an opportunity to make the correct changes since there were a lot of expectations this time from the people of this country. In this entire exercise of the Cabinet reshuffle by the government, the only change is that there is a change in the portfolio of Sharad Pawar. Otherwise there is nothing new in this exercise of the government.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOO TIMID, RBI

SLASH THE FISCAL DEFICIT TO FIGHT PRICES


THE most charitable view on the Reserve Bank of India's third quarter review of monetary policy would be that it trusts the government now to hike tax collections, curb expenditure and slash the fiscal deficit, so that monetary policy can chug along without signaling an urgent need to change. After waxing eloquent about why inflation is 'clearly the dominant concern' — the baseline (emphasis added) projection of inflation for March 2011 has been revised up sharply to 7.0% from 5.5% earlier — the Bank fails to follow through with tough action. It settles, instead, for more of the same: a 25 basis points hike in the both the repo and reverse rate (at which the RBI infuses and withdraws liquidity from the system). The Policy actually builds up a case for strong action. The year-onyear growth in non-food credit at 24% is above the RBI's projected rate of 20%. The incremental credit-deposit ratio at the end of December 2010 is 102%, up from 58% last year. The economy is operating close to its trend rate of growth. The current account deficit for the fiscal, a likely 3.5% of GDP, is termed unsustainable. The bank's latest survey shows households' inflation expectations remain elevated. There has been a substantial increase in prices of several food items even though their production has not been affected (showing rising demand even as production is stagnant). High global food prices pose an additional risk to domestic food inflation. Persistent food inflation 'cannot but have some spillover effects on generalised inflation, particularly when the growth momentum is strong…In the absence of commensurate increase in capacity there is the risk of demand side pressures accentuating.'

 

Yet after all this, the Bank fails to act tougher. It develops cold feet and settles for a tame 25 basis hike in policy rates and extends liquidity support measures that were set to expire later this month. This is unfortunate. The dominance of the fisc over monetary policy means the latter must often tighten harder-than-warranted in order to rein in inflationary expectations. This is what Dr Rangarajan, governor of the RBI in the mid-1990s, did when he raised interest rates sharply. He was pilloried for it then but today few dispute that his tough action laid the ground for the long period of low interest rates, inflation and high growth that followed.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WILL TO ACT ON BLACK MONEY

START WITH REFORM OF POLITICAL FUNDING

 

THE government's five-pronged strategy, including the creation of a legislative framework to curb black money generation, is welcome, but it is the will to act that matters more than the number of prongs the professed strategy has. Without instituting a system for transparent funding of political activity, it would be impossible to curb the generation of black money, because the system as it stands calls for generation of black money to be handed over to the politician who has the power to protect the giver from legal retribution. Tax evaders thrive when the cost of non-compliance is low, compared to the cost of compliance. Simple and transparent economic policies and tax laws, along with lower tax rates, will lower the cost of compliance and thereby raise the relative cost of noncompliance. The probability of being caught and punished should be sufficiently high as to figure as a major factor in the cost of non-compliance. The tax department must establish audit trails on all financial transactions, both domestic and cross-border, making the fullest use of the country's information technology prowess and also strengthen enforcement. Tax evaders should be penalised, not be provided more relief through amnesty schemes. Such schemes only penalise honest tax payers and are gilt-edged incentives to evade taxes and pay up, if circumstances so warrant, the next time amnesty is on offer. A proper estimate of black money is in order, and the proposed to move to create one is welcome.

 

While the focus should be on policy reform to prevent yet more creation of black money, there is no reason to give up all past flight of black money from India to offshore tax havens as a lost cause. India already has a legislative framework in the form of double taxation avoidance agreements (DTAAs) to secure information on suspected tax evaders who have stashed away money overseas. India has to honour the terms of the treaties, including on non-disclosure of the information made available under these treaties. But India should try to negotiate better treaties that make for greater transparency.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

INDIA COMPLETES A CIRCLE

ON THE 62ND REPUBLIC DAY

 

THE chief guest on India's first Republic Day on January 26,1950, was Indonesia's President Sukarno. Today, the chief guest on the 62nd Republic Day will again be the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Over the past 62 years, even while India has moved from the Nehruvian era of democratic socialism to a globalised economic order, the policy of looking eastwards continues — the previous chief guest on January 26, 2010, was President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea. And so what if the poet Arthur Hugh Clough once wrote, For not by eastern windows only,/When daylight comes, comes in the light./ In front, the sun climbs slow, how slowly./But, westwards look, the land is bright! Unlike the 20th century, the 21st century belongs not just to America and Europe but to Asia as well, led by fast growing China and India.

 

The Republic Day festivities will conclude with the Beating the Retreat on January 29. The playing of lilting tunes by the marching military bands — like Saare Jahan Se Achcha, Colonel Bogey's March, and then Abide With Me to the climactic chimes of tubular bells just before the bugle call to announce the Retreat — symbolises the end of the Republic Day festivities and the beginning of the serious work of governance, as manifested in the Union Budget for 2011-12, to be presented on the last working day of February. Since Republic Day celebrates the country's full freedom, achieved through the adoption of the Constitution of India, there is a renewed need to ensure that governance is good and in tune with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Good governance in tune with Constitutional propriety could even reverse the view expressed in a recent national poll by 66% of the respondents that the most corrupt lot are politicians and that 72% would prefer a clean politician even if their work doesn't get done!

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THINKING CLEARLY ABOUT GOVERNANCE

BREAKTHROUGH IN GOVERNANCE CAN ONLY HAPPEN WHEN THE ABILITY OF ALL BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT TO PUNISH INCOMPETENCE AND VIOLATION OF THE LAW FOR PERSONAL GAIN IS DRASTICALLY IMPROVED, SAYS ARVIND PANAGARIYA


THE mega corruption scandals — Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum, Adarsh society and foodgrain — have dominated the headlines in India in recent months. The mood around the country, especially among intellectuals, has been one of despair. Many argue that these scandals represent the total breakdown of governance and will prove fatal to India's growth story and its ambition to become a global power.

Are these fears justified? To be sure, the monetary magnitudes associated with corruption scandals have escalated with rising incomes, many more scandals than in the past have come to light recently and the central government appears largely paralysed. Yet, the reality on governance is more complex, requiring careful analysis before jumping to doomsday scenarios.

 

While governance has surely deteriorated in some dimensions, there is compelling evidence that it has also seen improvements in other dimensions. If we wish to come out of our current mess, we must recognise and learn from successes achieved to-date rather than focus exclusively on the failures.

 

Thus, begin with the telephone service. Today, the idea that you would have to bribe your way to speedily acquire a telephone and then maintain a constant flow of baksheesh to a low-level official in the local telephone exchange for continued availability of the dial tone seems ludicrous. We take the ready availability of a mobile phone that works in all places at all times as a given. Yet, generations of Indians suffered from a governance system that treated a wellfunctioning telephone as luxury and denied access to it to the common man.

 

Until the 1980s, you also had to pay a bribe or stand in a multi-year-long queue to buy the outdated models of Ambassador and Fiat cars. As late as 1990-91, licensing restricted the automobile production to just 1,80,000 units, ensuring that this "luxury" would be available only to the privileged few. Today, India produces more than two million cars per year and the consumer can walk into a showroom to instantly buy a world-class car of virtually any make. The transformation in two-wheelers has been even more dramatic: with the production exceeding 10 million, they can now be bought in even the remotest corners of India.

 

The common man's life has improved in other walks of life as well: railway, bus and airplane tickets can be bought without bribes and the service in air travel and at the banks is dramatically improved. Among other improvements is the near-absence of harassment of tourists coming in and out of the country by customs officials; disappearance of the limousines of industrialists lined up at the ministries of industry and commerce to obtain investment and import licences, respectively; and the much-improved tax administration. The number of income tax payers has steadily risen with the share of this tax in the GDP rising from less than 0.4% in the first half of the 1990s to nearly 2% currently.

 

At least three factors have helped bring about these improvements in governance. First, pro-market reforms have scaled back the interference of the government in the provision of many goods and services, allowing the private sector to fulfil the demand. Second, judicious use of information technology has helped reduce the scope for government discretion. For instance, with computerisation, it is much harder to tamper with ticketing for railways, buses and airplanes. In the same vein, the establishment of Tax Information Network has greatly improved direct tax administration and helped curb tax evasion. Finally, the Right to Information Act has been instrumental in both bringing to light corruption scandals and restraining the government officials still fearful of losing their reputations from breaking the law.

DRAWING upon these successes to achieve further improvements, we must continue to shift the provision of goods and services from the public to the private sector wherever possible, creatively expand the use of information technology and encourage ever-widening use of the Right to Information to expose corrupt government officials and politicians. In this context, the provision of a unique identification number for each citizen, championed by Nandan Nilekani and now being implemented under his guiding hand, is perhaps the most important initiative under the present government.

 

While further steps along these three avenues will undoubtedly help, big breakthrough in governance requires progress in an area in which we have entirely failed to-date: punishment to officials when they fail to deliver the service for whose delivery they are hired, but provide such service only upon payment of a bribe or violate the law to reap large bribes, as in the recent scandals. The ability of the executive, police and judiciary to punish incompetence, wilful non-performance and violation of the law for personal gain has progressively deteriorated in India. As a result, the only time public service is delivered with any effectiveness is when the provider behind the desk happens to have a conscience, a circumstance encountered only infrequently.

 

Respite from the rapidly declining ability of the government to do its part has principally come from increased income, which has allowed individuals to successfully seek private sources of supply of what are essentially public goods. Thus, the citizens are now increasingly sending their children to private rather than public schools, seeking the services of private medical providers rather than public health centers and installing in their homes inverters to combat the erratic supply of electricity and filtering systems to clean up contaminated water supply flowing in the taps. From a rarity even 20 years ago, bottled water can now be found in even rural areas. But these are socially highly costly solutions and cannot go very far, especially in areas such as electricity and water supply. The true solution, as in any well-functioning country, is the introduction of accountability in the executive, judiciary and police through appropriate punishments for the failure to perform one's duty under the law.

 

(The author is a professor at Columbia University and Non-resident Senior Fellow   at the Brookings Institution)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FAC E - O F F

INDUSTRY VICTIM/PERPETRATOR OF GRAFT?

 

HARSH PATI SINGHANIA

Managing Director JK Paper Lack of regulatory clarity the main cause

IDEALLY, one would like to have zero corruption, but realistically, it is difficult to entirely eliminate corruption, given the imperfections in any system. This is true of any country, whether it is developed or developing. The objective, then, should be to minimise the extent of corruption and its adverse impact on a common citizen or industry — which is a corporate citizen.

 

Sometimes, industry becomes a victim because of the lack of transparency and clarity and a complex system of regulatory procedures. Policy reforms have no doubt reduced many channels of corruption. There are, however, procedural impediments that exist at different levels. These lead to delays and increased costs, particularly when we are in the era of fast growth and hectic economic activity. An ordinary citizen or a corporate citizen (business) thus has to pay a much higher price for delays now than ever before.

 

Lack of transparent procedures and inefficient governance also leads to delays in delivery of essential government services, for example infrastructure facilities. This adversely affects the overall economy, business and industry across the board, and not just at the individual firm or company level. With an even more active media and greater education and public awareness, the issue of corruption in India is noticed much more now, and more importantly, not only does it affect the country's image among its citizens, but also it has an adverse impact for India's image globally. Issues relating to corruption thus affect business in an indirect way as well. Foreign firms may, in some cases, become reluctant to come to do business in India. This, in turn, affects the local companies by denying them the opportunity of forming joint ventures with overseas firms and hence affects them too.

 

In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind that corruption is more a symptom of ineffective or lack of good governance. Efforts to improve governance would ultimately lead to minimising corruption. Both government and business have an important role to play in this, which will benefit the citizens at large.

 

N BHASKARA RAO

Chairman Centre for Media Studies

Scams prove that to be the case

 ANNUAL surveys on corruption by Centre for Media Studies in the last decade have been consistent in pointing out politicians and bureaucrats as the main perpetrators of corruption. Industry, too, figures there, and in the top five slot.

 

But the revelations of the recent Radia tapes showed the involvement of big industrial houses in alleged wrongdoing. But we should also remember that despite corruption post the license–permit-raj, the industry of the country has achieved impressive growth, expanded and even put the country on the global competitive canvas. And we should not fritter away this historic growth opportunity. Without industry being a victim of corruption, we would have reached still newer heights — as in the case of the software sector.

 

In the wake of a series of scams, eminent leaders from industry and civil society have been expressing concern about corruption and the compulsions to tackle it on a war footing. This is a positive development. Curbing corruption has to be a concern of every section of society, not just the government or the industry. And it has to go beyond rhetoric. To do so, we need specific, focused and concerted action plans rather urgently.

Our surveys in the last two national elections have indicated for the first time the extent of the practice of "note for vote", and its linkages with the overall phenomena of corruption. This sort of malpractice is what can be called the "mother of all corruption" in the country. As such, corruption in the country cannot be curbed at any level including, in particular, that which involved the industry without addressing poll-time corruption.

 

Recent surveys on corruption have indicated that there is a decline in the extent of corruption involving public services where competition, privatisation and technology have come into play in a big way. Such changes may be attracting little media attention, but it's certain that the phenomena cannot be reversed. We need to have the belief that we can end corruption. How else can we restore self-confidence and reverse the trend?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

NOW&TH EN

OF MONETARY POLICY & INDUSTRY

JAIDEEP MISHRA

 

NOTHING links man to man like the frequent passage from hand to hand of cash, noted the impressionist in a telling remark. That was then, in the Roaring Twenties, in an era characterised by seeming societal dynamism. Fast forward to the here and now, and it is most unfortunate that there're serious allegations of money changing hands in policy implementation in sectors like telecom; other scams have come to light as well in the past several months.

 

A systematic overhaul of the policy process is clearly warranted, even as the grave charges are investigated with speed, and exemplary action taken. But in tandem, we do need policy reform so that key deficiencies in our financial system are addressed to shore up enterprise, markets and quality growth outcomes. For instance, we do need a vibrant domestic bond market to better allocate resources, including for long-gestation projects. Meanwhile, in a welcome move, the central bank has policy indicated a modest rise in the cost of funds, to rein in inflationary expectations, given the need to boost credit offtake what with recent industrial growth figures in the low single digits.

 

The latest figures for the index of industrial production (with base year 1993-94 at 100), for November 2010, show output at 317.9, albeit as per quick estimates. In terms of yearon-year growth, the November figures imply that industrial growth is down to a paltry 2.7%, over the same period last fiscal. Lacklustre growth is also seen across various industrial segments. Take, for instance, basic chemicals and chemical products, with a weight of 14% in the industrial index. Growth is down to 2.5% during the month. And what's worse, it is on top of an actual decline of 2.8% in the corresponding month in the previous year. There are several other sectors where growth has been low-keyed, including textile products, basic metal and alloy industries and wood products.

 

Disaggregate figures for industrial output using used-based criteria does point at significant deceleration in the growth momentum as well. It underlines the need to boost the availability of finance for industry, especially in the backdrop of much slower growth in credit offtake from the banking industry, as has indeed been the case in the past several months. A thriving secondary market for debt, for example, should rev up the supply of corporate bonds to fund, say, infrastructure projects at fine rates, and step up industrial output in the bargain.
 

However, in reading the latest growth numbers as per the industrial index, the base year and weightages of which have not been revised in almost two whole decades, one would need to adequately factor in relative growth trends across sectors. After all, anecdotal evidence would suggest that segments like white goods and automobiles have grown much faster than the overall industrial economy, which the unrevised weightages may not adequately capture.

 

It is true that the November numbers also include runaway growth in the transport equipment and parts segment, read automobiles, where there has indeed been sustained uptrend for months. Nevertheless, given that there's been relatively faster growth in the auto segment since the pathbreaking 1990s, it needs to be kept in mind while interpreting the latest sectoral output figures. In any case, there are now entirely new products in the home/office electronics segment which are unlikely to be reflected in the latest growth figures for consumer durables. Note also that in such durables, which have a weightage of 5.3% as per the industrial index, growth for the month is down to 4.3%.

 

The increase is on top of a huge 36.3% rise in the segment previous November. Analysts have pointed out that the festival days fell a little later this season, and it may explain the low output of durables this time around as there is generally much preceding bunching of attendant buying. However, it cannot be gainsaid that the consumption and hence production of consumer goods have gone up substantially relatively speaking since the index was designed, and the profile of the goods — especially those with high offtake — have much changed.

 

The point is that the decelerating trend in industrial growth, together with a similar trajectory for bank credit offtake — with reports suggesting that small and medium enterprises are particularly affected — all point at the need for a deeper and wider debt market. The fact remains that the market for corporate bonds is "tightly linked" to that for corporate equities. The mavens actually view the corporate bond and the share as two different single-name securities, read derivatives, written on the same underlying asset. Note also that while structured, mortgage-backed products did go belly-up during the financial crisis abroad, a vibrant secondary market for single-name securities has long been a prominent feature of the mature economies abroad. And we do need such market design here. We anyway need to boost on a sustained basis industrial growth vis-a-vis overall output: the ratio here has barely changed in decades!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CO S M I C U P LI N K

REMEMBRANCE OF MELODIES

VITHALC NADKARNI


PANDIT Bhimsen Joshi once sang Shankara so brilliantly that your columnist recalls a fellow musician standing up in the middle of the recital to loudly applaud him. When we met the iconic vocalist, who passed away at 90, back stage during the interval to convey our appreciation, he wouldn't hear it: "What are you saying (kas-cha kai?)," he kept saying with palpable humility. "I could give you only two anna's worth from the solid rupee's worth that I got from the Gurus," he said.

 

Bhimsen obviously meant what he said and wasn't at all being unduly modest, or being politically correct. He was an eternal seeker and every recital of his was a true exploration of the glories lurking within the mukhdas(faces) of the khayals (which literally means 'remembrance of melodies past').

 

One of his early and unforgettable recordings has a Miya ki todi that speaks of 'Guni (gifted) Gandharvas', 'Kinnaras' and 'Apsaras'. Now these are celestial beings of Indian mythology whose USP is music or song and dance. In the Indian tradition, therefore, 'Gandharva', which by definition is an incarnation of music, becomes a term of honour or a badge of excellence. When artists proceed beyond excellence 'Gandharva' begins to acquire additional epithets; such as 'Bal' (child prodigious) or 'Sawai' (one-half-times), or 'Kumar' (youthful) and even 'Chota' (small). Bhimsen's talent was beyond such epithets.

 

Calling him 'Guni Gandharva', for instance, would be to state the obvious and redundant. 'Pandit' was sufficient and flexible enough to describe the solar singularity of his music which spanned all genres and appealed to all sensibilities in way that only trueblue music does.

 

In this context, Bhimsen often liked to reiterate that a raga was by definition one that entertained (ranjayate iti raga). It was that mesmerising quality of music that Bhimsen embodied and which enabled him to take his art beyond compartments and chambers out into the streets and bazaars to conquer the hearts and minds of people. Bestowing of all the Padma awards on him, topped by the 'Jewel of India' (Bharat Ratna), bears eloquent testimony to that universal appeal.

 

In the ultimate analysis, his music spoke to the senses and to the soul with equal felicity. There lies the secret of his enduring legacy: Only a maestro of his classical calibre could do justice to the deceptive simplicity of Sant Vani.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

IS THIS THE RIGHT MEDICINE?

THE RATE HIKES ARE MARGINAL BUT THE REASONS FOR THE RBI'S INTERVENTION WHILE GROWTH IS NOT YET "BROAD-BASED" ARE UNCONVINCING.

The Reserve Bank of India's new hikes of 25 basis points each in the repo and reverse repo rates have not come as a surprise to markets and analysts; indeed the central bank's actions almost seemed the right thing to do, so much has inflation control been identified with the RBI alone, despite the obvious failure of public policy to ensure timely supplies. Since price stability is the RBI's abiding credo, the repo rate hikes appear to be just the right medicine.

But they are not. Read the third quarter macro-economic review along with the second quarter review released last November, and the good doctor's diagnosis of inflation and prescriptive prognosis seem at odds with each other. In both the macro-economic surveys the central bank opens on a grand and optimistic note: GDP is inching towards 9 per cent on the back of "broad-based growth". Then both reports confess to cracks in the engine itself; there are "sectoral imbalances." The latest report adds that agriculture has fared well with the kharif crops but the "supply response" of non-cereal food items to market signals — high prices, that is — are "weak". In both reports, the six core-industry expansion is niggardly and, as the present review complains, "remains a constraint to growth." Both qualify their initial enthusiasm by pointing to Manufacturing's constricted growth: in November, the RBI noted that half of the 17 industries in the index with a combined weight of 26 per cent contributed 76 per cent of the output. So growth, where it counts most, is not all that it is cracked up to be. Now consider inflation, the prime reason for the RBI to lean on the rate button. In both the macro-economic reviews and the next day's credit policy statement justifying the current rate hikes, the RBI explains the origins of inflation in food and other structural factors. As for the prices of non-food manufactured goods, crucial to general inflation, the latest review tells us that, at around 5 per cent, they are "stable", having "flattened" over the months. In the credit policy review the next day it complains of such levels as "persistent" and "sticky." Towards the end of both, it lamely warns us of the "risks" of demand pressures but the reasons for the RBI's intervention while growth is not yet "broad-based", just as it wasn't in November, are unconvincing.

The rate hikes are marginal and have been "factored in" but the real import of the review lies in the minutiae of detail and its diagnostic skills; both show us that the prescriptions have to come from New Delhi, not Mint Road.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

INFLATION MAY HAVE THE LAST LAUGH

A. SESHAN

 

THE RBI POINTS OUT THAT DEMAND-SIDE PRESSURES SUCH AS MGNREGA AND SUPPLY-SIDE PRESSURES SUCH AS CRUDE AND COMMODITY PRICES CANNOT BE TACKLED BY MONETARY POLICY. HOWEVER, IT SHOULD RE-EXAMINE ITS LARGE LIQUIDITY INFUSIONS THROUGH REPOS.

 


Two-thirds of the decision-making process is based on analysis and information and one-third is always a leap in the dark.

– Napoleon

The Governor of the Bank of England once said that while the market may follow the lead provided by the central bank, there could be occasions when it is the other way round.

The latest policy announcement of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) bears out this statement. The market had expected a tightening of policy. The banking system had anticipated 25 basis-point increases in repo and reverse repo rates. Many banks have already raised their deposit and lending rates due to the difficult liquidity situation.

FISCAL ISSUES

The reviews of macroeconomic and monetary developments and policy are, as usual, comprehensive and analytical. One detects an undertone of helplessness. The RBI makes a candid admission that pressures emanating from crude oil and other commodity prices, and demand-supply imbalances in some food items, would be non-responsive to monetary policy actions. Fiscal consolidation has been emphasised.

There is an oblique reference to demand-side pressures arising out of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). For a long time, the official explanation for inflation was that it was due to bottlenecks on the supply side. Then there was recognition of the damage done on the demand side, when Ministers conceded the effects of the rise in incomes. There was, however, no reference to the lack of any commensurate increase in output, particularly in the agricultural or rural sector.

It is well on record that MGNREGS acts on the demand side, with insignificant addition to the productive capacity of the economy due to leakages of various kinds. Now, the latest recognition is that the current inflation is due to both demand and supply factors! Mr. P Chidambaram admitted recently in a speech that there was no complete understanding of the causes of the current inflation. Are policy actions leaps in the dark?

AMBITIOUS EXPECTATIONS

The RBI spells out the following anticipated outcomes and approaches:

Contain the spill-over effect from rise in food and fuel prices to generalised inflation;

Rein in rising inflationary expectations, which may be aggravated by the structural and transitory nature of food price increases;

Be moderate enough as not to disrupt growth; and

Continue to provide comfort to banks in their liquidity management operations.

A spill-over to generalised inflation cannot be prevented when organised labour gets compensatory allowances that will be part of the cost of the goods and services they produce. Even in the case of the unorganised labour, this may happen with an increase in bargaining power. The policy statement shows awareness of this factor.

It is interesting to read about shortages of labour for agricultural operations and increase in rural wages due to the MGNREGS. Farmers of Punjab and Haryana are affected by the reduction in seasonal migration of agricultural labour from Eastern India due to the availability of local jobs for them under the Scheme. Why should a labourer go from Bihar to Punjab, maintain two establishments and earn, say, Rs 150-200 per day, when he can get Rs 100 for a job not done in his village or near it?

The spill-over from fuel to general prices depends upon the government's action in relation to pass-through— which is not in the control of the central bank — and the importance of fuel in the input-output tables of the economy. Ninety per cent of petroleum products are in the nature of intermediates and their price increases will have secondary effects on the general price level.

The second outcome may also be difficult to realise when the central bank raises its own inflationary expectation from 5.5 per cent to 7 per cent. Is it necessary for the Bank to make such a projection? On the third and the fourth outcomes, growth may not be affected as credit flow is not likely to be constrained because of the hike in repo rate. Banks have already factored in the higher costs of deposit mobilisation and raised lending rates. There is no let-up in credit flows.

The RBI needs to reflect on the fourth outcome or objective. The shortage of liquidity is indicative of the desirable effect of monetary policy, but the Bank feels that it should not exceed its comfort zone of plus or minus 1 per cent of net demand and time liabilities of the banking system. It should ask itself whether what it has been injecting into the system through repos on a large scale is warranted.

The lender of the last resort function was basically conceived in central banking to ward off insolvency when it happens, say, due to a run on a bank. On other occasions the Bank cannot say: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."(Matthew 7:6-8)

How can the Bank retain the projection of credit growth at 20.0 per cent against the current trend of 24.4 per cent if it is so liberal in repos that have practically become short-term loans due to the continuous borrowing of some banks over several weeks?

It can think of asking persistent borrowers some questions on the need for repos, after it makes the funds available, in order to put them on alert.

(The author is a Mumbai-based economic consultant. blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

ON EXPECTED LINES

THE RBI IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE TO TAKE MEASURES TO INCREASE RATES UNTIL CLEAR SIGNS OF INFLATION CONTROL ARE IN SIGHT.



The increase in repo and reverse repo rates by 25 bps each is in line with the expectations of most market participants.

The Reserve Bank of India , in a complex macro environment, has attempted balancing growth and inflationary trends, by adopting a calibrated approach, post the normalisation phase, into the tightening phase of the monetary policy.

Rate hikes to continue

The RBI is expected to continue to take rate increase measures until clear signs of inflation control are in sight, since the GDP growth estimate is 8.5 per cent for FY-11 with positive bias and inflation estimate having being changed to 7 per cent, with both supply and demand side pressures observed.

The further rate increases expected are in the range of 75-100 bps up to FY- 12.

The current issue of system liquidity, which has been far lower than the intended 1 per cent of NDTL (Net Demand and Time Liabilities), has been partially addressed through extension of the 1 per cent Statutory Liquidoty Ratio leeway up to April 8.

The dynamics of liquidity over the past nine months has been very challenging for the market.

From a debt market perspective, the yield curve is expected to remain in the flattened mode.

The 10-year G-Sec rate is expected to trade in the 8.15-8.25 per cent range in the immediate term and will look for direction based on fiscal deficit estimates from the budget and inflation moderation.

The equity markets also have not reacted much to the announcement since the rate increase is on expected lines.

Apart from inflation and interest rates on the domestic front, the opportunities which overseas markets could offer on a relative basis based on global growth and the impact of the same on flows and oil prices are the current challenges for the markets.

Conservative approach

From a current equity strategy perspective in a market which looks more challenging relative to the previous two years, the approach is to be a bit more conservative from a portfolio perspective.

Conservatism to be reflected in terms of market capitalisation mix with more focus on large caps until there is more clarity from a global and domestic perspective.

On the back of a good GDP growth of around 8.5 per cent for FY-11, moderated growth rate of about 8 per cent is likely, which is good on a stand-alone basis.

(The author is Chief Investment Officer, Kotak Mahindra Old Mutual Life Insurance Ltd.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

'CROSSING THE RIVER BY FEELING THE STONES'

M. NARENDRA

 

FACED WITH COMBATING INFLATION WITHOUT HURTING GROWTH, THE RBI HAS CHOSEN TO FOLLOW CHINESE WISDOM.

 


Being faced with the delicate task of combating inflation without hurting growth, the RBI has chosen to follow the Chinese wisdom of 'crossing the river by feeling the stones'.

In the circumstances, the RBI has resumed hiking policy rates to signal inflationary pressures and expectations are far from over.

The base line projection of WPI inflation for March 2011 has been revised upwards to 7 per cent from 5.5 per cent.

At the same time, the increase in repo and reverse repo rates have been kept at 25 basis points so as not to derail the 8 per cent plus growth anticipated for the current fiscal.

The substantial task of reining in inflation may be left to the forthcoming budget which can address the demand-side and supply-side factors underlying persistent inflationary pressures more effectively.

Reining in inflation

The next policy review by mid-March may be a more appropriate time to frame a suitable monetary policy stance as that would give time to the various anti-inflationary measures, both on the demand-side and supply-side, already taken to work themselves out.

The RBI has sympathetically considered the banks' genuine need for more liquidity to fund the anticipated 25 per cent plus growth in credit offtake. In the last Policy, the RBI had announced a buy back calendar to the tune of Rs 48,000 crore for December - January 2011 of which a sum of Rs 37,068 crore has already been completed.

The additional liquidity support to banks under the LAF to the extent of up to one per cent of their net demand and time liabilities (NDTL), currently set to expire on January 28, has been extended up to April 8. .

Banks have also been given waiver of penal interest for any SLR shortfall on account of using this facility.

The second LAF (SLAF) will be conducted on a daily basis up to April 8. Increased government spending is expected to ease the liquidity shortfall currently around Rs 1 lakh crore.

Nevertheless, the pressure on short-term money market rates and bond yields is expected to continue with an upward bias, till inflation is brought within the comfort zone.

(The author is CMD, IOB.)

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

ASSIGN A YEAR-LONG MISSION TO EACH R-DAY

B.S. RAGHAVAN

One can be pretty sure that the mode of observance of the Republic Day today will be no different from what it has been all these years.

There will be glitzy functions at thousands of places all over the country, with the nation's capital setting the pace, marked by eye-catching parades and stentorian exhortations by dignitaries from the President downwards.

It is almost certain that Gandhiji, who wanted the sprawling Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Governors' cavernous mansions, devouring thousands of acres of prime estate, to be converted into hospitals and schools, with the occupants shifting to modest habitations, would strongly disapprove of the enormously expensive pomp and show which only help persons in high pedestals of power and authority to indulge their vainglorious propensities.

One of the founding fathers, C. Subramaniam, used to speak and write, for as long as he lived, against continuing a practice that did nothing but mock at the poor, the deprived and the downtrodden.

Instead, each Republic Day should be assigned a mission that will conduce to the larger public good, and the governments at the States and the Centre, the non-governmental organisations and the people at large asked to devote themselves to producing concrete results by the next Republic Day.

When I was thinking about what this year's theme could be, the choice was made easy for me by my coming across an unusual person with the name of Republica.

I have heard of many who had been named after leaders such as Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru, but never one named after the Republic itself!

Vital mission

Dr Republica Sridhar is the daughter of R. M. Dave who came to Chennai from Vadodara and settled down in the city, and was close to leaders in the freedom struggle. The respect in which he was held and his services to society earned him recognition as the Sheriff of Madras in 1962-63.

By naming his daughter as he did, he sought to imbue her with not only a pride in being an Indian, but the social commitment that went with it, especially in the form of organising palliative care and looking after the terminally ill.

Other than R. M. Dave's Trust, about 20 groups of dedicated professionals are similarly engaged in this vital mission in Chennai alone, providing pain relief and palliative and terminal care to patients and their families through medical and para-medical volunteers, out/in patient consultations, home visits, and support and counselling for families in times of grief and bereavement.

Reaching out to needy

The NGOs, although financially strapped, are reaching out to the needy, offering their services free or at nominal cost. They can make a far greater impact if they join hands and pool their facilities.

For all its critical importance, this field of service is still in its infancy in India, with many of the clinics making-do with scant resources and rudimentary infrastructure.

There are, of course, some shining examples of private-public partnership, the most noteworthy being the lead taken by Dr S. M. Chandramohan of the Government General Hospital, Chennai, to have the designated personnel of the Hospital trained by the Lakshmi Pain and Palliative Care Charitable Trust.

This laudable effort, which seems to have run aground due to the expiry of the MOU, needs to be revived and extended in scope by inducting more NGOs as partners.

In Kerala, the Pain and Palliative Care Society set up at the Institute of Palliative Medicine in the grounds of the Government Medical College at Kozhikode is also doing excellent work.

But, all this is a tiny drop in the ocean, considering that the number needing such care, especially among the poor, exceeds a crore in India. And the rapid increase in the aging, and those with chronic ailments, is going to pose the biggest challenge in the social welfare sector in the coming years.

As such, it deserves to be designated as the theme for this year's Republic Day.

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

BALANCED ANALYSIS OF RISKS

M. D. MALLYA


By raising the key policy rates by a moderate 25 bps each, the RBI has reasserted its anti-inflationary stance without losing focus on growth. Taking a firm action on inflation was, however, warranted by rising demand-side pressures as reflected in rapid bank credit growth, robust corporate sales, rising input and output prices and buoyancy in tax revenues.

In the RBI's assessment, the current growth-inflation dynamics for India suggests that the balance of risk has tilted towards intensification of inflation. At the same time, the central monetary authority wanted its action to be moderate enough as not to disrupt the growth momentum. To ensure sufficient availability of loanable funds to productive sectors, the RBI has extended the additional liquidity support to banks under the LAF (up to 1 per cent of NDTL) and the second LAF window from January 28 to April 8.

Growth opportunities

The policy document offers an excellent and succinct summary of the state of Indian economy, emerging risks and growth opportunities and resulting policy challenges.

While today's policy action was along the expected lines, the RBI has sensitised the market players about the emerging risks in the months ahead in the form of translation of food inflation into generalised inflation, intensification of domestic demand pressures, widening of current account deficit, slowdown in inward FDI flows and likely pressures on fiscal balances.

The RBI's overall optimism for growth, despite growing inflationary concerns, would go a long way in improving the comfort level of international investors.

(The author is CMD, Bank of Baroda.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

CAUTIOUS WITH BEARISH BIAS

ROMESH SOBTI

The macro economic outlook released ahead of the Monetary Policy provided clarity on the issues and execution strategies to mitigate risks to the economy. Global cues are bearish through high commodity prices exerting inflationary pressures and low demand not being supportive to the growth momentum. Domestic cues are mixed, supply-side issues exerting pressure on inflation and good domestic demand supporting growth momentum.

Given the macro economic conditions of high growth and high inflation scenario, it is important for RBI to be supportive to address the inflation side with higher priority, but without hurting growth momentum. The desirable approach was to take a moderate stance with a good blend of anti-inflation and pro-growth measures.

The Reserve Bank of India's other concerns are inflation-adjusted real interest rates and transmission of Policy rates in the deposit and lending rates. This is achieved through maintenance of short-term liquidity in the system over the 1 per cent NDTL tolerance level. The current cash shortfall of 2.0-2.5 per cent of NDTL has achieved these two objectives with the 12-month deposit rate over 9.75 per cent against the headline WPI of 8.5 per cent and overnight rate trading at 50 basis points above the operative policy rate.

'Wait and watch'

The RBI's guidance ahead of the Policy was clear that it would wait and watch till supply-side measures kick in the desired results on inflation and limited impact on food, fuel and primary articles inflation through tight monetary measures. Having said this, the need is to stay supportive to arrest any kind of demand side pressures creeping in to make things turn from bad to worse. This is what RBI has precisely delivered in this monetary policy to maintain price stability at current levels. The need was not to send any signals to trigger runaway moves either-way. So, the delivery of 0.25% hike in policy rates and extension of LAF support crossing FY11 was to the expectation of market stake holders, while it was pleasant surprise for few who were expecting a more hawkish stance.

Way forward

The way forward, however, is not yet clear. Despite upward revision in inflation target to 7 per cent, there is limited confidence to achieve this target from the current level of 8.5%. The data from now on will be crucial to set up the next course of action. Having said this, commodity prices are showing signs of reversal and a good Rabi crop would ease food price inflation; thus no need to get bearish at this stage.

It is prudent to stay cautious with mild bearish bias into the future till confirmation of reversal in inflation pressures. Till then, short-term interest rates are to stay at elevated levels, considered good for investors, and higher interest cost to borrowers.

(The author is MD & CEO, IndusInd Bank.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

MORE HIKES LIKELY

HITENDRA DAVE

The Reserve Bank of India has acted as expected and gone in for a 25-basis-point hike in both the repo and reverse repo rates, accompanied by a policy with hawkish undertones suggesting that the tightening cycle is far from over. Immediate reaction in the bond and swap markets suggest expectations of further action when the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meets again in March.

Rightly concerned

While the role of the monetary policy is rather limited in tackling inflation that has been triggered by commodity prices and structural constraints on the supply side, the RBI seems rightly concerned over spill-over effects on the demand side and a more generalised wage-led uptick in inflation. Interestingly, the RBI has also explicitly expressed a need to moderate non-food credit growth (24.4 per cent year-on-year) to more sustainable levels in the policy document.

There also seems to be an increasing concern on the widening current account deficit and the impact of global commodity prices on the deficit, inflation and fiscal parameters.

There is recognition that sustainable inflows (read foreign direct investment) are necessary to finance the current account deficit, especially in the face of a potential hardening of commodity prices with improving global growth prospects.

Key factor

To this extent, policy responses might err on the side of caution to protect interest in growth. Perhaps, this has been a key factor in the central bank deciding to go ahead with a more moderate hike of 25 basis points instead of shocking the market with a more aggressive move of 50 basis points.

We believe that the upward revision of the expected year-end inflation to 7 per cent and the overall tone of the Policy indicate a further series of hikes of at least 50 basis points in the medium term, which would also be the minimum required to raise real interest rates in the system to neutral territory.

(The author is MD and Head, Global Markets, HSBC India.)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

TEMPERING INFLATION

RANA KAPOOR


"With sticky and elevated inflation levels, anchoring inflation expectations will remain the top priority" is the headline message that the Reserve Bank of India has conveyed.

 

This stance has been bolstered by robust domestic demand , with private consumption leading the growth

impulses. The RBI has done well in adopting a calibrated approach through a measured hike in policy rates that will minimise risks of disrupting the growth momentum.

 

A sharp reversal in the easing of food inflation since December 2010 along with elevated global commodity prices has led the Policy balance to tilt towards inflation management since persistence in food and fuel inflation has now begun to feed into generalised inflation expectations.

 

It is pertinent to temper inflation expectations, as structurally high inflation erodes medium-term growth prospects.

 

Going forward, it is imperative that structural imbalances get urgent and immediate attention to remove supply bottlenecks and alleviate price pressures. Supply constraints in agriculture, power and other infrastructure sectors have exacerbated inflation pressures.

 

However, the inherently slow process of supply-side adjustments leaves us with limited option of leaning heavily on monetary measures. A co-ordination of monetary, fiscal and administrative steps in the coming months will be able to address the concerns on inflation.

 

Appropriate, warranted

 

The monetary policy tightening measures are appropriate and warranted from the perspective of managing inflationary expectations.

 

I believe that inflation is an inequitable tax, and with financial inclusion emerging as a key catalyst for sustainable growth, the underlying focus of both monetary and fiscal policy will continue to be on inflation management.

 

(The author is Founder/MD & CEO, YES Bank).

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GREED, CRIMINALITY THREATEN REPUBLIC

Republic Day 2011 arrives in unusual circumstances. While the country's economy is expanding at a rate that is the envy of the world, the national mood is relatively low key and dispirited. This is not just due to the inflation which is eating into real incomes. All major economies have been hit by inflation and, unlike in India, the sustained rise in prices for them comes without the compensation of a noteworthy expansion of their economy. It is evident that factors for our despondency lie elsewhere. A major consideration here cannot but be the canker of corruption which is eating into our vitals, stripping the prestige of the nation's elite in all fields, and making a mockery of the political and economic system. In addition, the failure of our delivery systems appears to render the making of high policy fruitless, particularly in social sectors which aim to cater to the bulk of our population, which is depressingly poor. From time to time this has been noted by top dignitaries, who ascribe to this glaring failure the rise of the menace of Naxalism that generally hides criminality in the garb of a pro-people agenda. Indeed, criminality in every form and at every level of society has spread so wide that honest citizens despair they can find redress. True, as President Pratibha Patil noted in the First Citizen's customary Republic Day-eve address, our biggest achievement is that we have sustained our democracy. No doubt this has been in the face of severe challenges in the social, political and economic spheres that tested us from time to time. The President might have added that we have also retained our stability in spite of all the gnawing negatives. This is easily appreciated when we cast our eye on our geographical neighbourhood. But while making a cursory reference to democracy, the President's speech fails to enthuse. When needed, says the head of state, course correction should be undertaken unhesitatingly and with urgency, but she leaves us guessing in what areas of our national endeavour might this apply with immediate effect. Two shocking events of a criminal nature took place in different parts of the country on the day before Republic Day. In Maharashtra, the additional collector of Malegaon was burnt alive, allegedly by the kerosene mafia. And in a courtroom in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, in what is virtually a suburb of the nation's capital, Dr Rajesh Talwar, father of teenager Aarushi — whose gruesome murder a couple of years ago had shocked the entire nation, was grievously attacked. The President's speechwriters could not have anticipated such terrible happenings, and yet it is hard to miss that there is no more than a cavalier understanding in the President's speech of the fact that criminality has enveloped our society faster than anyone might have imagined.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

BINDING DIFFERENCES

BY SHIV VISVANATHAN

India is a strange country. We seem to be quarrelling all the time. We identify ourselves by the dislike we feel for other or smugness with which we say "we are not them". Our identity is composed of divisions, of the memories of Partition, of linguistic re-ordering, of the populism of small states. Our national game is neither hockey nor cricket but factionalism. It adds to the perpetual instability of our system. Yet, long-range watchers studying this chaos wonder if our dividedness hides the logic of a different order. Is there a gene that prevents us from falling apart even as we quarrel with each other? What is the secret of unity which works beyond the magic of even Fevicol advertisements?

To say India is tied by identity and consensus would be naïve. Our differences are blatant. Yet in a way we are tied by our differences. Oddly, it is the logic of our difference that keeps us together. India is a country with the courage of its confusions.

Difference allows for varieties of behaviour. It allows for an interaction in the public domain but restricts communal ties or familial interaction. It is a different kind of wisdom, a different grammar.

We are a country of segmentary minds. Each segment is opposed to the other segment and the two segments confront together a third entity at a higher level. Checks and balances operate according to levels. Nukkad can fight nukkad but combine at a different level. Violence gets contained at the next level of unity. Beyond segmentariness, there is syncretism. Here difference is acknowledged and differences combine to reflect opposites. Sufism could combine Hindu/Muslim tenors, Sikhism, Hindu/Islam. Syrian Christianity uses the Hindu to sustain the Christian core. There is a transference taking place over time, where sharing is always possible over difference. It is almost as if taboos created around difference allow for playful reciprocities. Thirdly, difference in India does not always operate across hard territorialities. Boundaries are porous and choices do not have to be polarised. The People of India survey states that there are 300 communities in India that cannot be classified as primarily Muslim or Hindu. Our identities thrive on cross-connections.

There is a standard narrative of divisiveness that is invoked in every squabble. Indians love factionalism and factionalism seems to provide the dynamic of everyday power. There is the old adage that the English conquered us through a policy of divide and rule. But remember, Indian society like many other segmentary systems is easy to defeat but hard to conquer. In fact we expect the coloniser to be like us, settle down like one more caste and slowly merge into the system. Our news is all about squabbles. Party politics operates as factional politics. Everyone needs some one to differ with in order to be himself.

The Indian idea of unity is based on "I differ from you, therefore I am", "I contradict myself, therefore I continue to be". We are a society that believes that logic of some against others is better than the logic of all against one. We allow differences to create multiplicities rather than resort to extermism. Our self as a collection of contestations allows for tolerance and unity.

There are exceptions to the rule. The riots in 2002 in Gujarat are one example. Usually after a riot, there is a plethora of stories of how families of one ethnic group protected another. Stories of friendship, ethics, hospitability, solidarity create a compensatory universe which facilitates a return to normality. With Gujarat, one heard the language of exterminism, of wanting to eliminate a minority. Thankfully such a framework has not extended to other states. However, Kashmir was an example of a similar ruthlessness in another form as the Kashmiri pandits were driven from their homes to become refugees in their own land.

But the glue is not just structural idea of crosscutting differences. Accompanying this architectonic is the gum of folklore, the epidemic of dialects, the grammar of diversity. This unity exists in two forms. Firstly, it is civilisational, articulated as a sacred complex of spaces. The second is national. There is a sense that the flag and the constitution keep us together, providing a frame to negotiate differences. At a level of folklore, there is the cosmopolitanism of the common man, proud of our cultural hospitality, carrying with him a sense that India is a compost heap of differences. We constantly invent versions of unity from Vande Mataram, Jana gana mana to the unity songs of Bollywood from Raj Kapoor's Mera Joota hai Japani and Made in India. There is a sanitised unity that creates sentiments of togetherness. Our myths always have places for the alien, the stranger, the marginal, the dwarf, and no matter how history sanitises myth, our minds carry the legends of hospitality and syncretism, making us cosmopolitan despite ourselves. We might quarrel with the local Bengali, but happily invite a million Bangladeshis to feel at home. The Tibetan senses our hospitality and Tibetans in turn add to our celebration of difference.

Bollywood captures the mindset of the difference. Bollywood, especially Bombay Talkies, was a miniature answer to the Partition, to the difference between Hindu and Muslim and their creative collaboration across differences. Bollywood has maintained that mindset, even sentimentally forging alliances between Hindu and Muslim at the moment of maximum collective rage. Only one other institution can match that sense of difference and unity — the Army. The Indian Army recognises the ethnicity of battalions — Jat, Sikh, Rajput, Gorkha and Maratha. Each has its own tradition and yet each adds to the collective unity of the Army. Bollywood and the Army are the stuff of legends and folklore. As institutions they provide the imaginative glue of a quarrelsome society proud of its diversity yet convinced there are logics beyond uniformity and homogeneity.

As long as our myths, our memories and our folklore rule the grammar of our lives, history can be as quarrelsome as it wants. If myths are elaborations of contradictions, our democracy is a resolution of the myth of difference.

- Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

logo

ISLAM AND THE CONCEPT OF EQUALITY IN INDIA

BY KANCHA ILAIAH

The social role of Islam in the Indian subcontinent has become a topic of global debate. The liberal world is looking at Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as "bad states" and as uncritical and undemocratic societies because of the issues they grapple with.

There is a view that Islam has not gone through any reform, while other religious and civil societies have passed through reform after reform. There is a strong view that the Islamic civil societies are resisting reform, even while a religion like Hinduism, which practices caste and untouchability, is willing to change.

This view is now acquiring global acceptability with the recent developments in Pakistan — particularly in relation to the blasphemy laws.

Before examining this view, we must understand the social role of Islam in the subcontinent.

Before Islam came to India, there were two notions of God in India. One was that of Vaidic Brahminism, which believed that God (Brahma) created Indians into unequal varnas (or castes); The other was the Buddhist view of God, which was essentially agnostic. Though the Christian notion of God was also prevalent, it was confined to a small region, that of Kerala.

Once the Islamic traders came along, the notion of Allah, who created all human beings as equal (irrespective of caste, tribe and race), spread across the Indian subcontinent.

Though this was followed by the invasion of Muslim rulers, the Sufi movement began and started acquiring a pan-India character by the end of the 11th century itself. It was mainly from the Muslims and the Sufi movement that the Hindu notion of spiritual exclusion, which was based on caste, tribe and race, got challenged. Perhaps this caused enormous exodus of lower castes into Islam and the plural but unequal castes began to be homogenised within Indian Islam. At that stage, in the land of caste (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on), Islam became a massive agent of inclusiveness and oneness.

This new practice of homogenising hierarchal and unequal castes was seen as a blasphemous act by the native Hindu spiritual pundits. This must have resulted in enormous violence and counter violence in the subcontinent.

Islam in the process achieved what was difficult for even the Buddhists. As we know, by 1947 about 31 per cent of Indians (mostly lower castes) embraced Islam and thus the present Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh emerged as Muslim nations. This happened merely because of the inclusive spiritual policy of Islam in general and of the Sufi saints in particular.

Let us not forget that the inclusive Muslim trade even in the villages played a key role in expanding Islam. In fact, it seems to have broken what Karl Marx called "the self-sufficient (but under developed) village economy".

Today the practice of untouchability exists in Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism because of their notions of "blasphemy".

The Christian world, which is attacking the Islamic blasphemy laws as medieval, should know that the Indian church — particularly the Catholic Church — still practices untouchability and casteism through a different mode of blasphemy laws that are borrowed from the Hindu system. We do not have any statistical data on how many dalits and lower castes were punished or even killed in places such as Kerala by Syrians and Marthomas for engaging in social intercourse with upper castes — the character Velutha in Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things is a good example.

Now one central argument around "Islam as a global religion" is that it homogenises its civil societal order so much so that it does not allow any contending pluralities to exist.

Such a trend from within stagnates its civil societal transformation, for transformation requires pluralities to operate at least vertically. Blasphemy laws work as instruments against change and transformation.

Islam seems to have worked out the theory of blasphemy that makes it tightly inclusive. But this very tightly inclusive spiritual policy evolved through the Islamic history also made the expansion of Islam into caste society possible.

The caste culture worked out a theory and practice of blasphemy to establish strictly exclusivist social units. God in that society is not seen as a social unifier but as a divider. The strength of Islam and also the language of Urdu — perhaps after the decline of Pali — was unification through a spiritual discourse of inclusion and oneness of soul, body and the social organism.

What the Christian West has not noticed is that Indian Islam succeeded in abolishing untouchability from its social fold totally, though caste exists in some form.

Pakistan came into existence as an aggressive Islamic state. The Christian world has to understand its trauma and it must also ponder why it has failed to abolish untouchability within the fold of Indian Christianity.

Thus, the notion of blasphemy should not only be understood in terms of attack on one particular belief of God or a Prophet, but should also be understood as abusing a human being's rights against the other in relation to God. This is where the discourse around God and the multiple forms of blasphemies must expand.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE HUNGRY REPUBLIC

BY INDER MALHOTRA

WHAT A tragedy it is that the country is "celebrating" the 62nd Republic Day on a note of despondency. To be sure, there have been a few previous occasions when the nation's mood on the republic's anniversary has been even more sombre. January 26, 1963, soon after the traumatic border war with China in the high Himalayas, was the first such. In 1976, in the stifling atmosphere of the Emergency, most Indians were deeply, if also silently, resentful. Eight years later, on Republic Day, the nation was tormented by the intimations of the searing tragedy to come: Operation Blue Star in Punjab that almost inexorably led to Indira Gandhi's assassination.

Thank God, today there is no sign of external aggression or of anything like the Bhindranwale-led insurgency in Punjab in early 1980s. But that is precisely what makes the current situation all the more distressing. For, it is entirely the handiwork of the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), with some help from the principal Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that the political class looks hellbent on provoking an explosion in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir. Its ploy to hoist the Tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on January 26, something it has never staged since 1992, is as disingenuous as it is dangerous, especially because both the state and Central government are determined to forestall it.

Political posturing by rival sides apart, it is the government's dismal failure to check either the rising tide of corruption or the skyrocketing prices, especially those of food, that has understandably dismayed the people. And the way things are going the dismay could easily turn into anger. Prices of vegetables and onions are beyond the reach of even the lower middle class and are causing hardship to the middle middle class, to say nothing of the poor that form close to half the population. Shockingly, at such a time statements from exalted official sources show greater concern for the "nervousness of the corporate sector" than for the endless suffering of the vast multitude.

It would, of course, be churlish to deny that at present a larger proportion of Indians than ever before since independence eat better, live longer and have greater access to education and healthcare. Yet, in absolute terms, the number of those that go to sleep hungry is immensely more than that of people who have risen above the arbitrarily fixed poverty line. What a blot on rising India it is that the glaring gap between the rich and the poor is widening all the time. Worse, one of every two children is malnourished. Sure enough there is a plethora of poverty alleviation schemes. But, as Rajiv Gandhi famously said, of every rupee spent on them 85 paise are siphoned off thanks to monumental corruption at every level of the system.

Is it any surprise then that the UPA government's credibility has been eroded gravely by the long and dark shadow that falls between its brave words about combating corruption and its actual deeds. At the 125th anniversary session of the Congress there was inspiring rhetoric about "zero tolerance" for corruption. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had spelled out a five-point, anti-corruption plan. But a succession of subsequent actions by the coalition led by her party demonstrates that the gulf between rhetoric and reality remains unbridgeable.

Immediately after the Congress plenary, the new telecommunications minister, Kapil Sibal, attacked the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) for the latter's computation of the loss on account of the 2G spectrum mega scam. He made out that there was no loss at all. For this the Supreme Court was constrained to pull him up and the Public Accounts Committee rebuked him. More startling was the government's resolute stand, repeated vehemently regardless of the apex court's observations to the contrary, that it would never disclose the names of those caught stashing black money abroad in secret bank accounts. The government invokes the "confidentiality clause" in double taxation avoidance agreements. The public believes that the swindlers' list is being kept top-secret because "high-profile politicians and bureaucrats" figure on it, apart from tarnished tycoons, corporate crooks and freelance profiteers. Hopefully, WikiLeaks will publish the list and damn all concerned.

The recent non-event called "cabinet reshuffle" belied the Congress' claim that those guilty of corruption would "not be spared". The continuance in the cabinet of Vilasrao Deshmukh, indicted by the Supreme Court for obstructing justice, and Virbhadra Singh, who is being tried on charges of corruption, speaks for itself, as does the transfer of ministers considered too clever by half from one ATM ministry to another.

Two years ago India signed a UN convention on corruption that can help solve the problem of money hoarded abroad, but has inexplicably not ratified it yet. For four years it has not even reacted to the Election Commission's request that the commission be given the power to "de-register" nearly a thousand political parties that take no part in elections but are engaged in money laundering by receiving big donations. No wonder the Economist says that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not acting strongly enough against "eye-popping graft", and adds that "a cautious prime minister is letting his second term drift away".

The BJP was in disarray until last autumn. Now it has been able to put the government and the Congress party on the back foot because of unacceptable corruption and inflation. Other Opposition parties that do not like the saffron party have found it necessary to go along with it. Both sides remain inflexible and unyielding, especially over the demand for a joint parliamentary committee to investigate the spectrum scam. Consequently, instead of the country collectively fighting the monster of corruption, the two mainstream parties are engaged in a bare-knuckle fight against each other. And the BJP is merrily able to scream against graft in Delhi and shield the corrupt in Bengaluru. The party's new president, Nitin Gadkari, has even made the startling discovery that what is "immoral" is not "illegal" and therefore acceptable.

The tussle, which wrecked Parliament's winter session, has since escalated because of the ugly spat between Karnataka's governor and ruling party. Who can say what this would do to the Budget session of Parliament and to Indian polity generally?

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

MARRIAGE CHAKRAS

BY YOGI ASHWINI

let's take a look at the level at which most marriages exist. And that is the level of attachment. When one thinks that s/he cannot live without the other, it is mistaken as love. These are mere connections which normally fail to become marriages and often result in what we see as divorce these days. The basic concept of marriage — "togetherness and oneness" — is lacking in these relationships. People are so tied up, so blinded by their own selfish needs that they act like two separate individuals. The modern concepts of "individuality", "identity" and "space" have crept into almost every single relationship today and the whole concept of marriage looks like a mockery of marriage in real terms. Yet, it is so difficult to let go of the person.

It is sense of possession, when you want a complete hold on your spouse, on what s/he is doing, who they are meeting, where they are going. You want the person entirely the way you think s/he should be.

Jealousy, anger, lack of faith are all lower emotions and are far away from togetherness. In a marriage based on these kind of emotions, the relationship, the house and the environment around in in complete disharmony. These marriages are connected at the solar plexus, or the surya chakra.

A connection formed on the basis of love is much higher and has no ties. It is established at the anahat chakra, the seat of selfless love. Love can never hold you back or tie you with emotions and conditions. It is selfless; it sets you free because you are happy in the happiness of the person you love, unconditionally.

Though it's a rarity to find connections based on love today, even rarer are connections established on the basis of creativity, i.e. at the level of vishudhi chakra. This is the higher form of creativity, where people unite when they have risen over their selfish needs and can now think beyond themselves. One step over one's own needs.

Then comes the highest energy centre in a being, ajna chakra or the seat of Lord Shiva in a human body. The connection formed at this centre is so subtle that in this day and age — the third phase of kalyug — it is nearly impossible to find a connection at this level. Only people who have transcended the physical, the emotional, who've surpassed the level of love and creativity at the physical level can connect at this highest and subtlest level of existence. This is the union of Shiva and Shakti, complete in every respect.

But a marriage is not simply a means to have experiences to evolve. It comes with responsibility of the spouse for both partners. When you marry someone, the complete responsibility of the spouse is yours and you have to look after the physical, material, emotional and all other requirements of the partner throughout life with love and respect. That is a marriage.

Manav vivah or the kinds of marriages we see today are the ones which require a ceremony and are intended to last a lifetime. The concept of love marriage is not a modern concept; it used to happen earlier also and was called the gandharva vivah, implying that if two people wish to get married without a ceremony, it is possible and permissible. They can merely exchange garlands and get married. They don't need a ceremony to announce to the world that they are married.

The third type, the demonic or asuric vivah, is when you forcibly marry the other person, against his or her wishes (can be a case of sexual assault). However, this person has to look after all the physical and material needs of the person during his/her lifetime.

The fourth kind is yaksha vivah. Yakshas are the guardians of Gods. This marriage is a ceremony by rituals and lasts longer than the manav vivah but not as long as the fifth one, the deva vivah.

Deva means Gods. Blessed by the higher forces of nature, this ceremony takes 13 months to be completed and lasts for seven lifetimes.

This is the final of a two-part series. The first part appeared on January 11

— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.

Contact him at dhyan@dhyanfoundation.com [1]

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

EQUALITY & ISLAM

BY KANCHA ILAIAH

The social role of Islam in the Indian subcontinent has become a topic of global debate. The liberal world is looking at Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh as "bad states" and as uncritical and undemocratic societies because of the issues they grapple with.

There is a view that Islam has not gone through any reform, while other religious and civil societies have passed through reform after reform. There is a strong view that the Islamic civil societies are resisting reform, even while a religion like Hinduism, which practices caste and untouchability, is willing to change.

This view is now acquiring global acceptability with the recent developments in Pakistan — particularly in relation to the blasphemy laws.

Before examining this view, we must understand the social role of Islam in the subcontinent.

Before Islam came to India, there were two notions of God in India. One was that of Vaidic Brahminism, which believed that God (Brahma) created Indians into unequal varnas (or castes); The other was the Buddhist view of God, which was essentially agnostic. Though the Christian notion of God was also prevalent, it was confined to a small region, that of Kerala.

Once the Islamic traders came along, the notion of Allah, who created all human beings as equal (irrespective of caste, tribe and race), spread across the Indian subcontinent.

Though this was followed by the invasion of Muslim rulers, the Sufi movement began and started acquiring a pan-India character by the end of the 11th century itself. It was mainly from the Muslims and the Sufi movement that the Hindu notion of spiritual exclusion, which was based on caste, tribe and race, got challenged. Perhaps this caused enormous exodus of lower castes into Islam and the plural but unequal castes began to be homogenised within Indian Islam. At that stage, in the land of caste (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and so on), Islam became a massive agent of inclusiveness and oneness.

This new practice of homogenising hierarchal and unequal castes was seen as a blasphemous act by the native Hindu spiritual pundits. This must have resulted in enormous violence and counter violence in the subcontinent.

Islam in the process achieved what was difficult for even the Buddhists. As we know, by 1947 about 31 per cent of Indians (mostly lower castes) embraced Islam and thus the present Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh emerged as Muslim nations. This happened merely because of the inclusive spiritual policy of Islam in general and of the Sufi saints in particular.

Let us not forget that the inclusive Muslim trade even in the villages played a key role in expanding Islam. In fact, it seems to have broken what Karl Marx called "the self-sufficient (but under developed) village economy".

Today the practice of untouchability exists in Hinduism, Christianity and Sikhism because of their notions of "blasphemy".

The Christian world, which is attacking the Islamic blasphemy laws as medieval, should know that the Indian church — particularly the Catholic Church — still practices untouchability and casteism through a different mode of blasphemy laws that are borrowed from the Hindu system.

We do not have any statistical data on how many dalits and lower castes were punished or even killed in places such as Kerala by Syrians and Marthomas for engaging in social intercourse with upper castes — the character Velutha in Arundhati Roy's novel The God of Small Things is a good example.

Now one central argument around "Islam as a global religion" is that it homogenises its civil societal order so much so that it does not allow any contending pluralities to exist.

Such a trend from within stagnates its civil societal transformation, for transformation requires pluralities to operate at least vertically. Blasphemy laws work as instruments against change and transformation.

Islam seems to have worked out the theory of blasphemy that makes it tightly inclusive. But this very tightly inclusive spiritual policy evolved through the Islamic history also made the expansion of Islam into caste society possible.

The caste culture worked out a theory and practice of blasphemy to establish strictly exclusivist social units. God in that society is not seen as a social unifier but as a divider. The strength of Islam and also the language of Urdu — perhaps after the decline of Pali — was unification through a spiritual discourse of inclusion and oneness of soul, body and the social organism.

What the Christian West has not noticed is that Indian Islam succeeded in abolishing untouchability from its social fold totally, though caste exists in some form.

Pakistan came into existence as an aggressive Islamic state. The Christian world has to understand its trauma and it must also ponder why it has failed to abolish untouchability within the fold of Indian Christianity.

Thus, the notion of blasphemy should not only be understood in terms of attack on one particular belief of God or a Prophet, but should also be understood as abusing a human being's rights against the other in relation to God. This is where the discourse around God and the multiple forms of blasphemies must expand.

- Kancha Ilaiah is director at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

DARA SINGH SENTENCE

SUPREME COURT'S REMARKS GRATUITOUS

THE Supreme Court (coram: Sathasivam and Chauhan, JJ) has not covered itself with glory. While sentencing Dara Singh to life imprisonment, the court observed: "...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 of converting poor tribals to Christianity. It is undisputed that there is no justification in 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 orderly society, which the founding fathers of our Constitution dreamt of."

With the utmost respect, these remarks were uncalled for and unjustified. Staines was working among lepers and outcastes of society in Keonjhar district of Orissa from 1991 till his death by burning on 22 January 1999.  The Wadhwa  Commission set up to inquire into the murder found the Christian population in the district had increased by just 595 during that period, which could have been by natural growth. A civil society group, which visited Manoharpur under the leadership of Swami Agnivesh soon after the murder, could not find a single person whom Staines had converted. KR Narayanan, then President of India, 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 learned judges' rejection of the CBI's plea to enhance the sentence of Dara Singh and his accomplices to death and upholding the Orissa High Court's verdict of life imprisonment was welcomed by the Christian community which stood for life and not death.  Even Gladys Staines, widow of Graham Staines, expressed satisfaction that Dara Singh's life was spared by the Supreme Court. But the gratuitous observation on conversion has raised serious doubts for it is unfortunate the Supreme Court should appear to suggest  Christian missionaries need to be "taught a lesson".  By upholding the High Court's reasoning  that "the intention (of Dara Singh) was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity," the court, in effect, has struck at the constitutionally guaranteed right to propagate one's religion.

ANNUAL HEARTACHE

MEMORIAL PLANS JUST A MEMORY?

 

EXAGGERATION it would be to contend that members of the defence services forces go into ecstasy over their participation in the Republic Day parade. It is their sense of professional pride that causes them to put on such a spectacular show. It would, however, be perfectly accurate to aver that a substantial section of the military community ~ those who lay stress on the sentiments and traditions that serve as life-blood for the unique Indian forces ~ agonise a little before the parade "rolls". For while they appreciate the Prime Minister leading the nation in paying homage to the fallen soldier, it is with a heartache that they note the ceremony is conducted at what is essentially a makeshift memorial. That heartache has persisted for just under four decades.
   Leaders of successive governments have accepted that the Amar Jawan structure at India Gate is a poor alternative to a National War Memorial, but have done little to give our military martyrs their due: their names preserved for eternity at an edifice of honour. Republic Day is a celebration of the gains of freedom having reached fruition, but it is so obvious that little "recognition" is extended to those who laid down their lives defending all that was promised of the India of 1947-1950. Who can deny that the Amar Jawan was a well-executed but essentially a "rush job" after the victory in December 1971. Without reopening the debate on whether the homage ceremony was Indira Gandhi's bid to upstage the President, it is worth recalling that a formal proposal for a National War Memorial & Museum was initiated soon thereafter.

 

Only some shunting of the files through the corridors of power has followed: dearth of land in the vicinity was one "difficulty" cited (yet sites where military residential complexes existed were re-developed for an arts centre and the external affairs ministry headquarters), then came talk of a memorial not fitting in with the ambience of the area. The military eventually opted for a memorial near India Gate and a museum in the cantonment. But the urban development ministry showed limited interest and the defence ministry never really "pushed" the case. When queries are raised a stock "under consideration" response is offered, and now it would appear that plans for a memorial have been relegated to a memory. Hence the homage on Republic Day remains half-hearted.


MASSACRE IN MOSCOW

NORTH CAUCASUS DEFIES A SETTLEMENT

IN less than a year, the suicide bomber has taken the fight for an Islamic state to the Russian capital. Though no group has as yet claimed responsibility for Monday's outrage at Moscow's  international airport, the nature of the strike reaffirms once again the challenge to the State, pre-eminently the Putin-Medvedev dispensation.  Authorities have already blamed the militants of the North Caucasus region where even a faint stirring of rebellion is readily suppressed. Over time, it has emerged as the singular threat to Russia's security; the movement is aimed at creating an Islamic state in the country's restive regions. The President has only laboured the very obvious by informing the media that "it was a terror attack". Indeed, state power was shaken to its foundations when Chechen women ~ the Black Widows ~ killed 40 commuters in an attack on the Moscow Underground a year ago, and symbolically enough in the periphery of the Kremlin. From the Underground to Domodedovo airport, the fidayeen has buttressed the demand for an Islamist  state through another bout of fantastic, fanatical fury. The militants would seem to be working according to a plan, specifically to target Moscow and its transport and economic sectors. This apparently is the sinister strand that links the Underground to the airport.

For close to two decades, the Russian leadership has grappled with this forbidding challenge to quell the Islamist sub-nationalism that aims at converting the North Caucasus ~ very much within Russia ~ to a Caliphate. Palpably, Vladimir Putin's war in 1999 to topple a breakaway government in Chechnya hasn't paid off. Even the control of the Kremlin-friendly Ramzan Kadyrov over the region has been fragile, almost ineffectual. The movement is spreading to the neighbouring regions of Ingushetia and Dagestan and now, as it turns out, to the centre of the State. Putin has not succeeded in keeping his promise to "waste" terrorists in the "outhouse"... whatever that might entail. North Caucasus defies a settlement; the successive massacres in Moscow are a chilling testimony.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

PORTENTS ON R-DAY

THE DEATH OF CONSTITUTIONALISM

FAIZAN MUSTAFA


When the Independence Bill was debated in the British Parliament, Winston Churchill had angrily remarked, "Power will go into the hands of rascals, rogues and freebooters. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread shall escape taxation; only the air will be free and the blood of these hungry millions will be on the head of Atlee". Sixty years after the adoption of our Constitution, many Indians are shockingly convinced that the prophetic observations of our worst critic have come true.


In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the greatest difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next plase oblige it to control itself. Considerable thought and political inventiveness has gone into an attempt to create political systems that will allow governments and its organs to exercise all the power that is essential to attain the collective ends of society without at the same time either compromising or destroying the liberties of its individual members. An attempt to institutionalize such a social condition is termed as constitutionalism, the concept of limited government.


Constitutionalism is like religion. It is aimed at bringing coherence to seeming chaos, providing a set of beliefs that seek to canalize human conduct. If constitutionalism is to be defined fully and accurately, we should view it sociologically or look at it in action particularly from the perspective of its social purpose. Most commentators define the terms normatively. The fundamental value that constitutionalism protects is human dignity.
Prof. Murphy differentiates "two quite different political theories ~ democracy and constitutionalism. The democratic genes stress popular rule and processes to effectuate that rule. The constitutional genes emphasize individual liberty and limitations on government power, even when it is responding to public opinion."
That distinction need not be accepted. Murphy's view is too narrow. Constitutions refer to ways that identifiable humans order their affairs; the word also has substantive content beyond the organizational, but not for any specific set of values. "It is ironic," Professor Sanford Levinson asserts, "that a culture which has experienced a centuries-long 'melancholy, long-withdrawing roar' from religious faith can believe so blithely in the continuing reality of citizens organized around a constitutional faith. The 'death of constitutionalism' may be the central event of our time just as the 'death of God' was that of the past century." There can be little question that the Constitution of the United States is tilting towards authoritarianism, and thus is undercutting constitutionalism as a limitation on government.


Professor John Griffith of the London School of Economics contends: "Societies are by nature authoritarian. Governments even more so." The widely-held belief that sovereignty resides in "the people" who delegate it to the politicians to hold in trust for them is, for Griffith, a "bit of nonsense" ~  a "cover-up for authoritarianism."
Today, constitutionalism is dead only in the sense that authority, the faith in the benevolence of which is essential to the workings of a liberal democracy, is being replaced, slowly but surely, by a form of authoritarianism.


Moreover most Constitutions, including that of the United States, are only ostensibly those of rights and limitations; in fact, they are about powers and of control. Government, as Franz Neumann cogently pointed out, has always been precisely as strong as conditions of succeeding generations of Americans required. No society in recorded history has ever been able to dispense with political power. This is as true of liberalism as of absolutism, as true of laissez-faire as of an interventionist state. Such perceptions of constitutionalism clearly demonstrate that the essence is the concept of limited government. Constitutionalism is the anti-thesis of authoritarianism. It achieves this by restricting governmental powers through various means such as division of powers, separation of powers, judicial review, governmental accountability, popular sovereignty and recognition of some universal, inalienable, indivisible basic human rights which operate as negative restrictions on the power of the State.


The main purpose of drafting a Constitution is thus to limit or restrict the power of government and its three organs.  Men had not surrendered basic human rights to the 'State' even at the time of  'social contract' which brought the 'State' into existence. In fact the brutish, nasty, selfish humanity of so-called 'state of nature' created the 'state' for protection and preservation of these rights. Fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution thus perform the sacred function of denying or limiting the power of the 'State' from where the greatest threat to such right comes. The framers of our Constitution established both the nation's ideals and the institutions and processes for achieving them. But today when the nation is celebrating yet another Republic day, "we, the people  of India", the  real "sovereign masters" of this great country are at a loss to see the death of the ideals, particularly constitutionalism.


But then if our constitutional democracy has failed to meet our aspirations and is seen today to be plagued with grave maladies, it is not so much the fault of the Constitution as the people operating the system. As a matter of fact Constitutions do not 'work', they are inert, dependent upon being 'worked' by citizens and political leaders. It is not the Constitution, which has failed us rather we have failed the constitution. We indeed have one of the best Constitutions in the world. Most Asian and African Constitutions which were drafted over the last six decades have heavily borrowed from our model. The Indian Constitution basically deals with four Ds ~ it defines power (Preamble), distributes power (between Centre and States), denies power (Fundamental Rights) and directs power (Directive Principles).  The purpose of these four Ds is nothing but the cherished goal of constitutionalism. No organ or entity should have power without restrictions. Each one must be accountable for the exercise of power.


The standard of governance is shocking. Rampant corruption, reckless criminalization and total debasement of all the values of the freedom movement have become the hallmark of the Indian polity. The political masters have indeed ganged up against the people, the so-called "sovereign masters" of this country. 2010 will indeed be remembered as a year of corruption in India. Even the image of an honest Prime Minister has suffered a major setback. The BJP's shielding of their Karnataka Chief Minister is not only shameful but shows the party's weak stand against corruption. Criticism of the government or party in power is misconstrued as sedition or treason. Even the army's corruption and scandals have become routine. If people write or speak against  Parliament or State legislatures, they are hauled up for breach of legislative privileges. Similarly, if we criticize a decision of the court, we are liable to be hauled up for  contempt of  court. The allegations against Justice KG Balakrishnanan, Justice Dinakaran and other judges have eroded our confidence in the judicial system. The Law ministry's initiative to amend the Contempt Act will indeed go a long way in restoring constitutionalism. The bureaucracy cannot be called to account because we need governmental permission for their prosecution. All of them have collectively joined hands to violate our civil liberties and destroy the ideals.  The working of a Constitution is judged not by its wording but the use to which these are put. Our constitutional institutions are breaking up. 


As Thomas Carlyle had observed: "A nation should be governed by its best elements or it will perish".  The portents are alarming.  No silver lining is yet visible in the dark and thickening clouds over our Republic in 2011.


The writer is Vice-Chancellor National Law University, Orissa

 

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THE STATESMAN

SHE COULD MAKE HISTORY

PRESIDENT PRATIBHA PATIL CAN TAKE A STAND INDEPENDENT OF THE CABINET ON RECALLING KARNATAKA GOVERNOR HR BHARDWAJ. IF SHE DOES THAT, A FIRST STEP TOWARDS REFORM COULD BE TAKEN, WRITES RAJINDER PURI

The BJP leaders met President Pratibha Patil urging her to recall Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj. The Governor sanctioned prosecution of the chief minister for alleged corruption in response to a petition filed before him by two lawyers. The BJP has accused the Governor of being partisan and motivated. The Governor claims his right to sanction prosecution in what he considers a fit case of corruption.

The Governor is morally correct. He has the right to sanction prosecution. The case against the chief minister does raise serious questions of propriety. The CM used his discretionary quota to allot land to his sons. After a public outcry, the allotments were cancelled. The BJP considers this impropriety miniscule compared to the mega corruption of Central ministers. The BJP is right. But the Governor is not bound to take a decision in the light of the overall political context. He has to exercise his right on the merits of the petition before him.
However the Governor may be legally improper. He has erred on procedure. The charges levelled in the petition against the CM are already being investigated by the Lok Ayukta as well as by a judicial commission. Propriety demanded the Governor to have urged the Lok Ayukta and the judicial commission to hasten their respective inquiries. He could have even forwarded the petition to both parties. To sanction prosecution without awaiting the results of ongoing investigation smacked of motivation. It cast an avoidable shadow on the Governor's impartiality.

Now the issue is before President Patil. What can she do? She can in fact take the first step that could usher a long overdue reform of the system. She can decide the issue herself and direct the Governor to act accordingly. With regard to questions related to the Governor's role, the President is in no way bound by the advice of the Cabinet. Article 74 (1) of the Constitution states: 'There shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with this advice." The President must follow this directive on subjects that come within the Cabinet's purview.
However, the Governor's functioning does not come under the Cabinet's purview. In the Dr Raghulal Tilak case (1979) the Supreme Court ruled that in no manner was the Governor "subordinate or subservient" to the Union government. The Governor cannot be considered a sovereign entity. The Governor's decisions therefore are accountable to the President. President Patil therefore can decide the issue independently of the Cabinet's advice. The President can direct the Governor to stay his sanction to prosecute the CM. The President can urge the Governor to await the early disposal of the pending investigations of the CM's alleged corruption. In an extreme case the President can order recall of the Governor.

It is up to the President to decide the issue and act independently of the Union Cabinet. If that were done the wrong interpretation of the Constitution and its misuse might not be undone overnight. Pratibha Patil herself might not emerge overnight as the President exercising the powers granted to her office by the Constitution. The system may not reform overnight. But a first step towards reform would have been taken. As Mao Zedong said: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a step."   

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

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THE STATESMAN

BETTER TO BE FRIENDS THAN FOES

CHINA AND JAPAN SHOULD SEEK STRATEGIC TRUST TO CAPITALISE ON THE MUTUAL BENEFITS OFFERED BY FURTHER COOPERATION, WRITES LI WEI 

Last year was a difficult one for Sino-Japanese relations. The strategic framework in East Asia developed two increasingly distinct features ~ China's peaceful rise and the USA's "return to Asia" ~ that, to a large extent, led to a shift in the Democratic Party of Japan's China policy.

By holding joint military exercises with the US, Prime Minister Mr Naoto Kan's government focused attention on the US-Japan alliance. Japan wants to assert a high-profile role in East Asia by virtue of the US presence.
The USA plays a significant role in shaping China-Japan ties because of the existence of the US-Japan alliance. The nub of the problem between US and Japan is whether their alliance should continue, and if it does, how it should be maintained.

Japan's strategic misgivings toward China not only play a negative role in stabilizing bilateral relations, but also prove that Japan does not believe in China's commitment to peaceful development. Japan's new "National Defense Program Outline", adopted in December 2010, and its medium-term defense plan reveal its wariness of China.

However, Japan still has the edge over China in terms of maritime strength, not least high-tech naval vessels and aircraft carrier manufacturing capabilities. Unduly exaggerating China's military power and playing up China as a potential threat only distorts China-Japan relations.

Whether China's rise presents any military threat also depends on whether China has the will and the capability. Well, the answer is clear cut ~ China has neither the will nor sufficient strength. Peace and development are China's principles and strategic objectives. China's efforts are concentrated on economic construction and social development.

Although China's GDP is the world's second largest, its huge economic size doesn't mean competitiveness or military might. China still lags far behind the US in its economy, military and soft power. Compared to Japan's 42-year run as the world's second largest economy, China has yet to stand the test of endurance.
Undeniably, a major problem facing China's diplomacy is how to balance its rising economic influence with strategic planning. China should maintain sufficient military strength so as to guarantee domestic economic development and external trade security. Since military "isolation" is prone to arouse suspicion and mistrust from the outside world, China should establish two-way military openness and strategic trust with neighbouring countries. So the crux of the matter is which kind of bilateral relationship do China and Japan want to forge, antagonistic or cooperative? Bilateral mutual strategic trust is the basis for mutually beneficial relations. As close neighbours, neither China nor Japan can ignore each other and the development of both needs a stable surrounding environment. But the increasingly close economic ties have not yet brought deepened mutual trust.
Any issues or disputes that arise should be properly handled in a timely manner through mature diplomatic channels to prevent them being overwhelmed or distorted by public sentiments. Political leaders in particular should be discreet in both word and deed. Both countries should conduct swift dialogue and consultation in case of emergencies concerning the disputed Diaoyu Islands and maritime delimitation.

Meanwhile, the two sides should establish communication and crisis management mechanisms to respond to emergencies and ensure the normal operation of these mechanisms.

Japan should pay more attention to the opportunities that China can provide during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015). So far, no country in history has sustained non-stop high-speed growth. China cannot enjoy its current economic momentum forever, so Japan should seize the opportunity of China's market demand.
Compared to the effects of Japan's rapid growth, China still has a lot to do. After getting rich, Japan's economic growth slowed down and its population grew old. Most of Japan's wealth is in the hands of its people, and its overseas net assets exceed 50 per cent of its GDP. Though growing slowly, Japan's environmentally friendly growth model is worth learning.

The environmental cost of China's rapid GDP growth is enormous and fast growth is not everything. What Japan has lost is not capability, but direction and dynamic. Increased cooperation between China and Japan has great potential and could result in real benefits for both countries.


The author is director of the Institute of Japanese Studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Science

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THE STATESMAN

ISOLATED THAI PM MAY STILL SURVIVE DUAL ATTACKS

 

Thailand is enjoying a break from political upheaval, but with reds and yellows both calling for the Prime Minister's head, how long will this fragile peace last? Thailand's Democrat Party is looking strangely isolated. For the first time in its term, the largest party in the coalition government is facing back-to-back protests by the reds ~ backers of ousted graft-ridden Thai PM Mr Thaksin Shinawatra  and yellow shirts ~ opposed to Mr Thaksin. To add to that, the ongoing tussle over charter amendment proposals with the coalition allies means that current Prime Minister Mr Abhisit Vejjajiva's party cannot boast a government in "harmony" going into an imminent censure debate with the Opposition Pheu Thai Party.


In the old days, all these factors taken together would have constituted a big "crisis", but this is new politics and this is a Prime Minister who has survived political bloodbaths and potentially crippling court cases in the same year. However, rally by the red shirts, protest by the yellow shirts, the impasse over amending the Thai Charter and the looming no-confidence showdown with the Opposition are not a walk in the park. For one thing, while enemies and detractors of the government may share some common goals, they are still not advocating the same causes. Whether this will benefit Mr Abhisit or make things worse for him remains to be seen.

 

Both the yellow and red shirts now want the Prime Minister to go. The red shirts are citing the casualties of last year's political bloodshed as the key reason. The yellow shirts have been upset by the government's Cambodia-related policies, which ironically have more to do with some messy issues left by pro-red governments.

 

Optimists see the violent street politics of last year evolving into something more manageable democratically. The red shirts are unlikely to go back to the extremism that could give the Prime Minister an excuse to reverse his "early election" promise. The yellow shirts ~ who have denounced the red-shirts' tactics for causing disruption to peace and order ~ are unlikely to swallow their words, at least not too soon.

 

The upcoming parliamentary censure (no-confidence) debate is expected to be aimed at the entire Cabinet. That will be a tactical approach because ministers and deputy ministers who are MPs will not be allowed to "vote for themselves". With the number of coalition members and Opposition MPs eligible to vote in the censure not so different, political undercurrents can transform into big waves at the time of voting.


But before the censure can happen, the Prime Minister and the Democrat Party must first sort out problems with their coalition allies regarding the proposed charter amendment. Serious conflicts seemingly remain unsolved, but observers believe that when push comes to shove, the coalition partners will prefer to toe the Democrats' line than gang up with Pheu Thai ~ the party founded by Mr Thaksin ~ and have their way.

 

Therefore, isolated as he seems, Mr Abhisit is not yet in a back-to-the-wall situation. Much will depend on how strong the yellow shirts' momentum will carry forward. The movement has been weakened by internal strife and the disillusionment of peripheral sympathisers. As for the red shirts, their street campaigns have looked more like election war drumming than an "Abhisit-out-at-all-costs" agenda.

 

Is Thai politics in the process of healing itself? That may be wishful thinking too soon. If this is just a break before a new round of turmoil, we can only hope there won't be repetition of the violence of last year. The yellow shirts, led by a former Thaksin Shinawatra ally who turned against him, are representing the uncertainty and unpredictability of politics. Can they combine with the pro-Thaksin red shirts to overthrow Mr Abhisit? All we know is that yellow shirt champion media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul was once Mr Thaksin's most vocal and influential cheerleader, and foreign minister Mr Kasit Piromya was not so long ago the yellow shirts' darling.
 As Thailand enjoys a peaceful break politically, it's up to all the key players to keep things this way. In fact, Mr Abhisit, the Thai military, and the red-shirt and yellow-shirt leaders all owe the neutral Thai public a peaceful return to real democracy. They have been playing reasonably fair so far, and long may that continue.

the nation/ann

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

UNHAPPY STATE

Age is associated with maturity in wines and humans. But in some bizarre cases, this generalization does not hold true. The Indian republic is one year older today but no one will claim that it is more mature and robust than what it was say a few decades ago. The Indian republic faces too many problems, and what is most alarming is that no one has the foggiest idea about how to tackle these problems and to take India forward. The republic is running on inertia. It would be facile to suggest that this state of affairs is a function of India being ruled by a coalition government. No political party has any solution to the problems facing the country, since they may be one of the problems. The Opposition parties have found nothing better to do than to bring Parliament to a complete standstill. The government, tainted by scandals and scams and faced with soaring inflation, has taken no major decisions save a cosmetic change of the Union cabinet. The prime minister, always reticent, appears to have retreated into a shell. The Congress president can offer only pious platitudes to the nation and to her own partymen who are beleaguered in practically every province.

But these phenomena are only the surface waves of a powerful and dangerous undertow. India's outstanding economic performance has created an insuperable gap between the rich and the poor. The poverty has inevitably led to social unrest and this is visible not only in the vast tracts infected by Maoist violence but in other areas as well. Jammu and Kashmir in the far north and most of the north-eastern states are fighting their own battles against the Indian State. Only the use of State violence stops the republic from being torn asunder. In foreign relations, the euphoria over the visits of Barack Obama and other heads of state/government has evaporated under the impact of events in Pakistan and the failure to establish a modicum of trust between India and Pakistan. Under the alibi of national security, the rights of individuals are being tampered with and dissent is being criminalized. The outlook is one of unmitigated gloom. The pomp of the Republic Day parade will not remove it. Indeed, it will deepen the irony of a republic incapable of living up to the vision of its founding fathers.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE SONG INSIDE US

BHIMSEN JOSHI IS AS MODERN AS INDIA THE THIN EDGE - RUCHIR JOSHI

When my father played his Hindustani vocal records on the radiogramme, I would cover my ears. As an eleven-year-old rebelling against almost everything his parents loved, I took relish in calling the noise "classical gargling" or "after-Colgate music". At that point, I had recently discovered the wheel and it was called Rock n' Roll. That wheel rolled me to the Blues, while the tyres of life sent me bumping along to a boarding-school where most of the other boys shared my contempt for the Great Indian Gargle. Two things happened between school in Rajasthan and holidays in Calcutta. First, whenever they played some scratchy raag by Omkarnath Thakur on the gramophone in the morning assembly, I felt intensely homesick, connecting that sound to the records that woke me up in Calcutta; gradually, I began looking forward to that spasm of aural pain because it transported me back home for a few minutes. Second, in my early teens I began to listen to more and more jazz. It was sexy and sweet, while Indian classical was like someone reciting Hindi arithmetic sums very fast. It took me till I was almost seventeen to connect some wires between the two traditions.

My father had bought a new album with one of those horrible HMV covers — some old guy's face, still-black hair clearly slicked back with oil, the photograph overlit, the colours of the skin and the background an evil combo of brown and pink, like the waiting room of some cheap dentist. What made me vaguely curious was that the guy had the same surname as ours. As I placed the record on my new turntable, I sarcastically called out to my father, asking if this was some uncle I'd never heard of. "Yes," replied my father, "he is your greatest Uncle." I watched with trepidation as the needle rode the waves to the first groove of this crude-looking local vinyl.

The raag was Miyan ki Todi. It was a winter morning in Calcutta. I was wearing my late grandmother's grey shawl. My mother was drinking tea and my father was reading The Statesman.

I don't know about all the various ideas of 'India' but, sometimes, thinking of this thing called 'our country', I imagine variations of this moment unfolding in hundreds of thousands of households across the land, over the second and third decades of Independence and even later: some kid, some girl or boy, hearing Bhimsen Joshi properly for the first time — on the radio, on a record, on YouTube, or perhaps even live — and being transformed.

That slow, sonorous thunderclap of an alaap would have washed across the sound-landscape, a mid-tempo bandish cutting through the traffic snarls and the cawing of crows, the quarrelling neighbours and the cricket commentary; the higher edges of that voice in a taan would also have cut through the brilliance of Lata, Rafi, Asha, Kishore and RD, through all the Bappi-mediocrities at one end and the AR-geniuses at the other; would have cut through the Hindi film songs, the disco tracks, both imports and exports, the rock, the pop, the rap and also the treasure of a hundred different kinds of folk and traditional music.

No stretch of imagination can put me in any cognoscenti club of Hindustani or Carnatic classical music. But there is an alchemy that happens, even between someone who is massively challenged by raag-recognition and a singer like Bhimsen Joshi. A couple of years after I began to listen to Bhimsen, I managed to scratch my right cornea while wearing hard contact lenses. This happened at night and the pain was the worst I've known. Doctors were asleep, unavailable, and several painkiller tablets had almost no effect. I had every kind of music available in my collection, rock, Coltrane, Miles, John Lee Hooker, but I finally managed to rest, if not sleep, by playing the Miyan ki Todi record over and over again. A little over a decade later, I managed to misplace my driving companions while bringing back a Fiat Padmini from Ahmedabad to Bombay at night. Not having driven much on highways, and never before alone, I was nervous. But the car had a stereo, and among my cassettes was Bhimsen's Megh Malhar. I rode that tape all the way to dawn in Goregaon. While there was no direct connection, the Miyan ki Todi gave me sanctuary and helped me close my eyes, the Megh Malhar gave me courage and helped my eyes stay open and sharp. Later, when I came to know of Bhimsen's obsession with driving, I had a thought: I might have been driving a thin and unstable rattletrap but the man was inside me, with his wide, powerful, rock-steady Mercedes of a voice. I'm sure there are many who have similar stories.

Not being a puritan, seeing the master live was almost a bonus, jam on the toast, and not central to the experience of listening to him or imbibing his music. I saw BSJ perform, maybe three or four times, watched the notes exploding out of him, his face twisting, his eyeballs as crazy as that of any contemporary fast bowler after delivering an unplayable ball. But this had little to do with the constant companionship he has given me across my adult life. I'm certain I'm far from the only one who feels this, such is the power of modern music reproduction systems.

There are many contradictory things people say about Bhimsen: he was always completely lost in his music and didn't care a fig about his listeners; he shamelessly played to the audience, that he was one of the first ones to 'misuse' the modern microphone in that he would do things that only a mike could catch and project, unlike older masters who, no matter where they were, would only sing as they would in an intimate baithak; he became predictable in the 1980s, endlessly serving up perfect but soul-less variations of Puriya Kalyan/Puriya Dhanasree; he had a mind-boggling repertoire, magpied from the gharanas of Jaipur, Agra, Gwalior, Benaras and elsewhere, which he effortlessly inserted into his base hard-wiring of Kirana; where others were subtle, Bhimsen would use the enormous physical force of his voice and sheer will to 'bend crowbars'; he had the most supple and nuanced of voices ever gifted to a singer; he was prone to huge over-dramatization; when he was young, he had perfect enunciation; for the last thirty years of his singing, he was a 'mangler', flinging the shabd of a composition into the blender of his voice and churning up a frappe of sound where the notes were everything, the words nothing; he had great arrogance and a deadly temper to go with it; he was a kind, loving and humble man; he was a spectacular drunkard; he was an ascetic; some purists faulted his raagdari; he is the greatest bridge that spans the classical tradition from before the 19th century to the 21st; he was never a great teacher; he taught everybody who sings seriously in this land.

None of this is surprising for anyone who has practised their art for sixty-five years.

Of all the things people have said about him the one I like best is what someone told me many years after I'd begun listening to him: "Bhimsen is like an elephant bathing in the river of sur. He stands deep in the river, sucks the notes up in his trunk and inundates himself, dancing in the flood of melody."

The thing is, this particular elephant organically changed the course of the river in which he chose to bathe. Bhimsen Joshi is as modern as India. Because he lasted far longer than the others, we forget that he was at the centre of that first, new navratna of iconic artists that formed to take a young India away from colonialism and towards its own destiny: Amir Khan, Satyajit Ray, Balasaraswati, Subbalakshmi, M.F. Husain, just to mention a few of the best known.

There is really nothing to mourn in witnessing the ending notes of a great raag. Maybe I over-dramatize myself, but, unlike Ray and the others, Bhimsen helped form me, he instilled part of the marrow in my bones, like the food my parents put inside me. Whatever kind of person or artist I am, good or ordinary, his song helps constitute the best of what I can offer and pass on. And the thing is, there are thousands like me who would happily acknowledge the same debt.

Confronted by the enormity of the universe and the barbed webbing of earthly life, a man discovers a navigation instrument to see him through. Actually, two connected instruments. One is his faith and the other is the contraption formed by his diaphragm, lungs, throat and mouth. Through those joint instruments, he helps us navigate our lives and our times, helps everyone, from the hard-core atheists to the deep believers, and to all those of us who are in between. Without ever getting up on his feet himself, the man rocks us. For this, the only serious gratitude we can have is for each of us to find our own true song and to sing it as purely and powerfully as we can.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

LAST NOTE

It is commonplace to bemoan the passing of great musicians as events that usher in the end of an era. In the case of Bhimsen Joshi, who died on Monday, this statement rings true for more reasons than one. For Joshi was not only an excellent artist in his own right but also probably the last among a line of musicians who gave a new direction to the history of Indian classical music in the 20th century. A disciple of Sawai Gandharva, one of the pioneers of the Kirana gharana, Joshi was that rare artist who had the privilege of experiencing the golden era of Indian classical music at first hand. And yet, in spite of his worldwide fame and towering influence on several generations of vocalists, Joshi never quite managed to earn a place among the league of such illustrious performers as Abdul Karim Khan, Faiyaz Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan whose originality, erudition and appeal remain unsurpassed. So it is worth considering, albeit briefly, the state of classical music in India in the light of the legacy Joshi has left behind.

It is deeply unfortunate, but no less telling, that Joshi, although a formidably learned guru himself, did not leave behind many prominent disciples. He is believed to have attributed this failure to the lack of devotion and discipline that he noted among the current breed of learners. Indeed, it may not be entirely unfair to read into this symptom the signs of a trend that has, over the last few decades, gradually exerted a stronghold over cultural life in India. The decline of a robust classical tradition of learning, especially in the arts, has finally come a full circle in this country. One of the effects of such a phenomenon is perceived in the palpable waning of standards of excellence in the performing arts. It is unlikely that anyone among the current or aspiring artists would ever be able to scale the sublime heights that the doyens of the past managed to do with their incredible breadth of learning and expertise. With the globalization of music and its entry into the market, the stress has inevitably shifted from the need to acquire, preserve and develop a knowledge base, handed down by the great masters of the past, to attractive packaging and gimmickry. Now, with Joshi's demise, the flickering embers of that tradition of classical music have been finally extinguished.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

BREAK THROUGH

SUMANTA SEN

One has two Bihari neighbours, both of whom were recently in their native places in Siwan and Samastipur. Since their return, they have been talking of nothing but of how things have changed dramatically for the better in the state, with the man from Samastipur even going to the extent of forecasting that the days of lawlessness will never again return. Tall claims, but then the country's media are also holding up Nitish Kumar as a model for all chief ministers. Thus, the euphoria since the state assembly election continues and Kumar remains the flavour of the month. Yet the time certainly has come to take a more sober look at the scenario and discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Meeting these will not be easy as the problems are rooted in Bihar's socio-economic structure and cannot be solved just by a fair degree of good governance or by cycles for girl students — the neighbour from Siwan keeps on speaking of this.

In an almost entirely agricultural state where feudal land relations still reign supreme, land reforms are of primary importance, both in terms of development and in consolidating the political hold over the rural masses. That Kumar is fully aware of this became evident when, before the polls, he had spoken of the need to implement the recommendations of the D. Bandyopadhyay commission on the subject. What he perhaps was unaware of was the hostility within his own party and also of the coalition partner towards such basic change.

The land-owning class in Bihar calls the shots in the state's bureaucracy as well as in the political class, irrespective of party colours. This class is still not prepared to accept government interference in the pattern of landholding, that, by and large, is the same all over the Hindi belt. Taken aback by the hostility, Kumar had to beat a hasty retreat, as otherwise there might have been a rebellion within his own ranks. Even after his resounding victory, he has maintained silence on the subject, clearly wary of striking at the hornets' nest.

Leadership test

Yet steps have to be taken in that direction if a new Bihar is to be built — something which Kumar's admirers claim he is all set to do. Not only are land reforms a must for easing economic inequalities, they are also a much-needed weapon in dealing with the scourge of casteism. In the last assembly elections, Bihar's masses have amply demonstrated that they are prepared to see beyond caste. But the masses need leadership, preferably from the government, but that leadership will continue to elude them if the ruling forces, as also the Opposition, refuse to have anything to do with whatever that may lead to a social churning.

Right now, Kumar is in a position to start a campaign for initiating reforms, and it has to be seen whether he has the courage to come out of the status quo. Socialists, in general, are not interested in going beyond cosmetic changes. Will Kumar prove to be different? Will he be able to brush aside the dissenters? If he does so, only then will the current euphoria be seen as justified. It is not just a matter of getting some legislation passed — even Bihar has good laws that are gathering dust in the secretariat. More important is to build up a campaign. One's own experience says that a fair number of younger people — even in the administration — will be happy to join in if the chief minister gives the lead.

The political class will, of course, not be happy, as the people from whom it draws material support will not be happy. But to be able to go against the grain is the true test of a leader, and Kumar would like the world to believe that he is more than just another chief minister. The need of the hour is not the maintenance of a semblance of administration on a day-to-day basis but to break through.

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

EDITORIAL

BREATHE NEW LIFE

''IT'S HARD TO IGNORE THE FAILING HEALTH OF DEMOCRACY.''


Sixty-one years ago today, India's constitution came into effect — a proud achievement for a country that had only just emerged independent. Under that constitution India became a sovereign, secular democracy. That important milestone has been marked annually with pride as Republic Day. But 61 years after the adoption of the constitution, the founding principles of this country and the idea of a plural India seem to be under serious threat. India's democracy is now a hollow shell of what its founding fathers hoped it would be. No doubt, elections are held periodically, assuring Indians that they continue to hold the right to determine who will represent them in parliament and state Assemblies. And yet, it is hard to ignore the failing health of this democracy. Parliament barely functioned during the just-concluded winter session, paralysed by an intransigent and unaccommodating government and an irresponsible opposition. There is not a single institution in the country that has not been corroded by corruption. The stature of every democratic institution has fallen precipitously in recent years. Scams have resulted in a brazen looting of the country's resources, eating into implementation of socio-economic programmes. Scoring points through inciting unrest as the BJP is seeking to in Srinagar today has become the hallmark of our political parties, when fighting issues like poverty, hunger and illiteracy should top their agendas.


Violence targeting minorities is eroding the idea of a plural, inclusive India. Linguistic chauvinism and religious intolerance are growing by the day, actively fuelled by political parties. Non-violence and dialogue were the 'arsenal' with which India's founding fathers waged their 'war' for India's liberation from colonial rule. But free India has abandoned its commitment to the principles of non-violence and the politics of accommodation. The Indian state's growing intolerance of dissent, its coldness to non-violent dialogue and its excessive use of coercive force to quell protest is reason for serious concern. India has become a shadow of what we promised ourselves on 26 January, 1950.


And yet all is not lost. India's people have the potential to bring the change they want to see. Under the preamble to the constitution, we, the people of India, pledged to uphold the principles of the constitution and to secure to ourselves, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. We need to fulfil that promise. India's 62nd Republic Day is an apt occasion for us to start breathing new life into our secular democracy.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

RESET RELATIONS

''US AND CHINA HAVE TO OVER-COME YEARS OF DISTRUST.''


Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the US has concluded with both sides being able to claim to their domestic constituents that the summit was successful. President Barack Obama can trumpet as an achievement the $45billion business deals that were signed during Hu's visit which are expected to support 2,35,000 US jobs. Besides, he can hope to score some points with anti-China hardliners in the US, who would have warmed to his putting human rights concerns on the table. As for Hu, the state visit to the US will be seen back home as having cemented China's rise as a global power. However, on the many issues that saw Sino-US relations turn particularly acrimonious over the past year, such as US arms sales to Taiwan, trade disputes, concerns over cyber security and internet freedom, spiralling tension in East Asia and so on, there were no breakthroughs during the Chinese president's visit. Yet, the fact that for the first time China joined the US in expressing concern over North Korea's uranium enrichment programme provides an important starting point for the two countries to adopt a co-operative approach in East Asia.


Many US commentators have raised questions over what the US got from engaging Hu. This stems from their refusal to accept that China is rising and that this rise is inevitable.


They must wake up to fact that there is much to be gained in engaging a rising China through co-operation. In fact, they stand to lose by not participating in China's stunning economic growth. This is a reality that Indian hardliners opposed to co-operation with China must wake up to, as well.


During Hu's visit to the US, Beijing and Washington spoke of a 'co-operative partnership' that will benefit the world. Was this mere rhetoric aimed at providing the summit with the right sound bites? Or does it signal the start of a new era? Hu and Obama have powerful sections back home that are opposed to a co-operative relationship. American hawks favour containing China. Chinese hardliners view the US and other rising powers with suspicion. Hu and Obama will have to overcoming decades of mutual distrust and suspicion as they seek to chart a different future. Opportunity to reset relations beckons Hu and Obama. Are they up to the challenge?

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

WOOING JAKARTA

HARSH V PANT


The changing strategic landscape of Asia in the post cold war era has broadened the canvas of India's engagement with Indonesia.


In a sign of the new significance that India is attaching to its ties with Southeast Asia, India will be hosting the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at its Republic Day celebrations this week. It was 60 years back that then Indonesian President Sukarno was the chief guest at the first Republic Day celebrations 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. Prime minister 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.


The basis of India-Indonesia partnership dates back to the founding fathers of these two nations — Jawaharlal Nehru and Sukarno — who offered a distinct foreign policy world view that drew on their shared colonial experiences. They visualised an Asian region that could challenge the cold war threat perceptions of the two superpowers. Nehru and Sukarno were among the founder members of the Non Aligned Movement.

In the contemporary context, the rise of China has drawn the two states closer. The last few years have witnessed a new phase in this relationship where the two states have pushed their ties to a historic high with strong emphasis on economic and security issues. India has decided to substantially enhance its presence in the region while Indonesia took the lead in bringing India closer to the Asean.


The changing strategic landscape of Asia during the post cold war era has broadened the canvas of India's engagement with Indonesia. Both want to seize the opportunities being offered by the landmark economic growth being witnessed by the Asian region.


Economic engagement between the two is growing rapidly and will gain further momentum with the signing of the India-Asean free trade agreement last year. Indonesia is an important source of energy and raw materials for India. Bilateral trade exceeded the target set by the two states in 2010 of $10 billion.


Major Indian companies, including the Birla group, the Tatas, Essar, Jindal Steel, Bajaj Motors, are now operating in Indonesia. Indian investment is spread across a range of areas including banking, mining, oil and gas, iron and steel, aluminium, IT, textiles and telecommunications.


In 2005 the two signed the strategic partnership agreement. In 2006 a defence cooperation agreement was announced. Negotiations on a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement have already begun. Several other treaties including an extradition treaty and mutual legal assistance treaty will be signed during the Indonesian president's visit.


Safety of SLoCs

Being the most formidable military power in Southeast Asia, Indonesia can effectively work with India in ensuring safety of the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLoCs) and tackle non-traditional security challenges in the Indian Ocean. Both have a vested interest in ensuring that China's hegemony in the region does not go uncontested.

Their location makes then crucial in the emerging maritime calculus in the region as they together control the entry point from the Indian Ocean to the Bay of Bengal in the north and Malacca Straits to the east. Viewing Indian maritime presence as largely benign, Indonesia has openly invited India to help the littoral states in the region in maintaining security in the Malacca Strait.


Jakarta now also views India as a major source of military hardware. Joint naval exercises and patrols as well as regular port calls by their respective navies have been a regular feature of India-Indonesian naval cooperation for some time now.


Cultural links between the two nations have always been significant and they are flourishing. After all, Indonesia's name is derived from the Latin word 'Indus,' meaning India. As the most populous Islamic nation committed to pluralism and democracy, India has huge stakes in the political and economic success of Indonesia.

Indonesia's role has been and will remain critical in supporting India's engagement with its Southeast Asian neighbours. And as the US tries to project Indonesia as a bastion of moderate Islam and political stability, India will only reinvigorate its ties with Jakarta.


India has made a strong case for its growing relevance in the East Asian regional security and economic architecture in recent years. India's free-trade agreement with Asean, signed last year, commits New Delhi to cut import tariffs on 80 per cent of the commodities it trades with Asean, with the goal of reversing India's marginalisation in the world's most economically dynamic region.


Having signed a free-trade pact for goods last year, 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.


New Delhi's ambitious policy in East and Southeast Asia is aimed at significantly increasing its regional profile. Smaller states in the region are now looking to India to act as a balancer in view of China's growing influence while larger states see it as an attractive engine for regional growth. It remains to be seen if India can indeed live up to its full potential, as well as to the region's expectations. But with the wooing of Indonesia, India is signalling that it is indeed serious about its presence in Southeast Asia.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

TUNISIAN REVOLT: AN EYE-OPENER

 MICHAEL JANSEN


Of late, citizens in the Arab world have been commiting self-immolation to protest against their govts.
Tunisian university graduate Muhammad Bouazizi never dreamt he could provoke a revolt in his country when he set himself alight on December 17 last year to protest the lack of jobs and confiscation of the vegetable cart that provided him with a subsistence. Never in his wildest imagination could he have foreseen that his personal protest, which turned him into an Arab hero, would also threaten other deeply entrenched Arab regimes.

Since the Jan 14 overthrow of Tunisia's President Zine al-Abdin Ben Ali, at least a dozen other men have followed Bouazizi's example. They have committed self-immolation in Egypt, Algeria, Uriania, and, even, Saudi Arabia to protest their governments' lack of commitment to the well being of the citizens. Their choice of suicide by incineration, rare in the Arab world, demonstrates the depth of desperation for reform in countries where any hint of dissent is routinely crushed.


The two incidents in Saudi Arabia were particularly significant because the monarchy has been backed since the 1930s by the conservative Sunni Muslim Wahhabi religious establishment and the tribes. Therefore, the monarch has, in the view of many Saudis, God's sanction.


The US' hypocrisy

It was hypocritical of US President Barack Obama to praise the Tunisian people for their "brave and determined struggle for the universal rights that we must all uphold" because Ben Ali's internal security agencies had close connections with its US counterparts.


Thanks to security assistance from the US and other western powers, these agencies kept Ben Ali and his predecessor Habib Bourguiba in power since Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956.


The Tunisian story continues to be written. Mass protests, supported by trade unionists, are taking place against the figures who have assumed power until elections can be held, notably interim Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi and President Fouad Mebazza, the speaker of parliament who was elevated in accordance with the constitution. Tunisians not only want to topple all the senior figures in the Ben Ali regime but also to sweep from the scene the ruling Rally for Constitutional Democracy.


So far Palestinians have remained calm and quiet in the wake of the Tunisian evolution. But there could be demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority which administers enclaves in the West Bank following the revelation by al-Jazeera satellite television that the Palestinian leadership had agreed to cede to Israeli control of most of East Jerusalem, occupied in 1967, as well as to token repatriation of Palestinian refugees.


The Palestinian Authority is widely condemned for mismanagement and corruption. But there is the more important national dimension, the struggle against Israeli occupation.


The Palestinian leadership cannot be seen as conniving in the continuation of the occupation which has deprived Palestinians of self-determination, national expression, economic and political development, and the basic freedoms most other Arabs enjoy.


Demonstrations emulating the Tunisian protests have been held in Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, and Libya. In response, the governments have been scrambling to mollify their citizens/subjects by offering them economic sops. Jordan, which gained independence under a British installed king in 1956, has announced a $125 million package of measures to offset rising prices and boost salaries. Kuwait, independent in 1961 under an emir, has offered citizens a payment of $4,000 and free food. Syria, ruled by the Assad family since 1970, has backed off the imposition of austerity measures.


Egypt promises reforms and the introduction of accountability in government. Yemenis, the poorest people in the Arab world, have focused on the arrest of a female activist from a Muslim fundamentalist party. But there protests arise from worsening economic conditions, a tribal revolt in the north, and a secessionist struggle in the south.

An economic summit of Arab leaders held at Sharm el-Shaikh last weekend came up with $2 billion to provide aid to challenged Arab regimes but this injection of funds could be too little too late. Some 40 per cent of Arabs live below the poverty line of $2 per day while their rulers dwell in marble palaces with gold taps in the bathrooms.

Until Arab rulers begin to take into account their subjects' needs and demands they could be vulnerable to sparks igniting people's power revolutions. No one can predict if, when and where revolts could happen and no force — particularly security forces trained and funded by the US, seen by many Arabs as their enemy — can ultimately contain people's power if the people are prepared to demonstrate and die.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

BETTING SAFE

A N SURYANARAYANAN


After a while, my friends nudged me to play for low stakes but I invariably lost.

I don't believe in betting... with my money, that is! Still, gambling (tombola, cards, golf, horse racing and casino) and I have been getting along fine for 69 years!


In tombola, I used to be a 'caller'. However, when not calling and a friend bought ticket (s) for me, I would win invariably. It happens even today. As a commanding officer, I laid down only one convention in bridge: 'CO doesn't lose'; no Goren, no Culbertson! Do I need to say more? Now friends 'cover' for me and we always win; so minimal stakes from me are suggested. I try but invariably lose when my money is at stake.


In golf, my buddies knew I wouldn't play for stakes. After a while, they nudged me for low stakes but I invariably lost. Without stakes, I used to win; so, they argued that with stakes, I could have made money. Just like bridge, when a partner 'covered' for me, we won.


In 1976, in Pune, when a couple insisted on taking me to the races, I refused politely, knowing they had pawned/sold their jewels, also recalling my dad's words: "Don't ever tie your money on a horse's tail; it is sure ruin you." (Later I understood, why: my grandfather had lost all his monies in cards and horse-racing). The couple wouldn't budge and suggested they would fund me. Wow, I won a Trifecta by predicting the first three finishers in a single race. I got Rs 250 against Rs 50. They kept losing; still gave me another Rs 100 to bet for picking three horses as winners in 3 different races. My guess was correct and I got Rs 750. Not only they were losing, but were also giving me money to play. So, begging excuse, I handed over the winnings; but they wouldn't touch it. I forced it, but they thrust Rs 500 back in my hand for my effort, as if I had run the race!
Similar thing happened in Dec 2008 at a casino, in Melbourne. A platinum club member there and a dollar-millionaire-friend insisted I play roulette. My rule was the same, not my money! So, he kept withdrawing from the ATM in the next room to invest but kept losing.


He taught me the nuances of the game and gave me 50 dollars; I won 450 dollars. Another 50 and I got 500 dollars. We continued from afternoon till late night. I gave him the winnings; he wouldn't take it saying, I had 'used my brains'; so it was mine! I pretended I needed a break and could return. The expert in him said, when luck is favouring, don't leave. But I insisted. Once we returned, luck deserted me, as I invested what was now my money!


Recently, at the end of a dance show, the compere asked us to look for a tiny red ribbon on a seat, which would fetch a gift to the finder. Guess who got it? Yours truly! Do you know who bought the ticket for the above dance show? My daughter; so, it wasn't my money!

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

A DEFICIT IN GOVERNANCE


We constantly hear about the fiscal deficit and how it can derail this country's progress. But what about the deficit in governance? At the centre and in the state, there seems to be a kind of paralysis in the governments that rule us. Scam are unlimited. But far from catching those responsible, the governments seem to be straining every sinew to ensure that the culprits get away.


We have said this before, in these very columns. But on Monday, Chief Minister Digambar Kamat heard it from Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily: "People do not have faith in the justice system of India, thereby leading people to take up insurgency and Naxalism." He was speaking at the inauguration of the International Arbitration Centre (IAC). "If you do not have faith in law, then our democracy is in peril. People are thirsty for justice," Mr Moily said.


The previous Tuesday, a letter by a range of prominent people was published by many of the national English-language dailies. Powerful business people including Deepak Parekh, Dr Ashok Ganguly, Jamshyd Godrej, Anu Aga, Keshub Mahindra and Azim Premji; former judges Justice B N Srikrishna and Justice Sam Variava; ex-Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Bimal Jalan; eminent banker N Vaghul; as well as top bureaucrats and academics like Prof M Narasimham, Yezdi Malegam, Dr A Vaidyanathan and Nachiket Mor, made an urgent call for governance in the country to improve rapidly.


The 'open letter to our leaders' said the country has "witnessed eruption of a number of egregious events". It went on: "What we are deeply worried about is not to allow India's huge growth potential and poverty alleviation challenges to be diluted or digressed from… which would be a great loss, especially to the poor and the dispossessed."


These are not opposition politicians or Naxalites. Those who have signed the letter are very much a part of the establishment. They are Davos attendees, heads of international business committees – highly 'connected' citizens all. And they usually prefer to keep quiet and get their work done by persuasion and lobbying in the corridors of power, not on the streets of New Delhi or in the jungles of central India. They are a part of the 'ruling class', not the 'aam admi'. And if they are upset enough to write an open letter to newspapers in India, it is time the central government sat up and took notice.


Similarly, the Goa government must pay very close attention to the complaint of the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI). When those who prefer to make appeals on taxes, duties and subsidies take time off and digress from their annual budget representation to the state government to write a strong expression of concern at the rapidly deteriorating infrastructure as well as the law and order situation in the state, it is something for the government to be deeply concerned about.


When a union minister can openly debunk the findings of the Comptroller and Accountant General (CAG) on mega-scams in the interest of petty coalition politics; when a chief minister of a state can publicly defend discretionary out-of-turn allotments of prime land to nearly a dozen members of his extended family, when former chiefs of the Indian Army can get flats in an building supposedly built for widows of war martyrs, when the family members of a former chief justice of India amass hundreds of crores of rupees in assets within a few years, exactly which institution in this country can be said to be free of the rot of corruption and nepotism?
The government needs to clean its own house, urgently. Otherwise, more and more Indians will start looking at the Naxalites with hope.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

REPLACING PRIMARY LANGUAGES WITH MOTHER-TONGUES

SPEAKING IN ENGLISH, WAS A SIGN OF BETRAYAL TO ONE'S MOTHERLAND, SAYS KALIDAS SAWKAR


Change of mindsets, a global requirement:

If, with Konkani as their mother tongue, Goans have kept their identity alive through tumultuous five centuries as a Portuguese colony and later during the period 1961-1985, when its viability as an independent state was at stake, it has been another debate. This outlines the struggle between emerging futuristic aspirations of a vibrant society and rooting for identity in a chaotic globalisation, springing up not just in case of Konkani, but among all other Indian languages, too.


This is a larger issue of opening avenues of progress with wider horizons, where English rules supreme; diverse socio-economics, two world wars and the post war meteoric progress in science and technology have resulted in this situation. Britain itself might have never planned or visualised such a turn of events. Even in Balkan countries such as Sweden, which has never been under the British  crown, English or French are compulsory second languages. However, most students choose English. This is remarkable because the European Union, as such, has been formally announced only 10 years ago.


An argument often forwarded in India, in defence of education in mother tongue, has been of China, Japan and Russia amongst others who educate their children in their own Languages. But all these countries have been following this practice since early times, especially much before the Second World War. This period of mid-twentieth century has become crucial, not purely because of the war itself, but, during this era there was another explosion with far reaching ramifications, than a nuclear bomb. It is primarily in the field of information technology, and added to it are the developments in science and technology, economic implements and global societal developments, as never before, in the history of mankind. All these avenues function through English.
Freedom and aspirations:


These developments have been decisive to native world languages because soon after the WW-II, old European colonies attained self rule and hundreds of millions of impoverished and illiterate people in these societies suddenly had to fend for themselves, from governing their fledgling nations, feeding their hungry poor and educating them. With prima facie social security, and food in the stomach, aspirations, in no time, started waking up in the mind of the ambitious modern man. This is exactly what freedom is all about!
To manage the issues involved, the United Nations, established after the WW-II, assumed the moral responsibilities of guiding these vulnerable democracies through their nascent days. Even though the Allies during the war, mainly the US and UK, were English speaking countries, to provide education in English to hundreds of millions, was beyond the infrastructural capabilities of UN, which itself was quite unsteady at that time. Besides, selection of mother tongue, as a medium of instruction, was a matter of common sense and a readymade workforce, for imparting education, was available in almost all these countries. An offshoot of freedom in most colonies has been a surging sense of patriotism, almost as a delayed passive response against the just overthrown colonial suppression.


And what could be a better way than through one's own mother tongue, which is intrinsic to human communication. The mother tongue protagonists appeared on national scenes in every region, especially in a country such as India, which was culturally more advanced than many other newly formed nations. To support or speak in colonial languages, such as English, became a sign of betrayal to ones mother land and its freedom fighters.

In Goa, similar to the rest of India, this tussle has predictably evolved into a fight, between mother tongue protagonists versus parents of young children, who demand the choice of 'sky is the limit' prospects, for their wards. Unfortunately, for children, the parents do not have an organisation to put their cases across, whereas the language groups are well-organised and can pressurise governments. However, if the language groups and governments insist upon education through mother tongue, almost each one of their leaders and anybody else who can send their own children to English medium schools, does so. Even during the peak of the Marathi vs Konkani strife, and throughout the 70s and 80s, Maharashtrians, in Goa, sent their children to English medium schools, when excellent Marathi medium schools were being run in all towns of Goa. This exposes the hypocrisy of mother tongue lovers.


As India's Supreme Court (SC) has said on July 21, 2009, it is the parent's right to decide on the medium of education and not any language protagonist. SC said if mother tongue is sought to be imposed on the students, it would only further aggravate the problems of those studying in villages. "Otherwise, students from villages can't compete with their peers in urban areas," the Bench observed.


The phrase 'mother tongue' gets flaunted, very carelessly, but without any rigorous definition. Dictionaries all agree on one point, the language is spoken since childhood, and not necessarily from mother tongue. The matter is best resolved by science.


Brain research to help:


Typically, science does not use the arguable word mother tongue, but mentions it as 'early languages' or better still, 'primary' languages'. These are languages learnt before the age of around seven, in whichever environment, in family, school or neighbourhood, but for all of them human brain forms a primary language centre.
   The later languages learnt at the age of ten or upwards, have a separate secondary language centre formed in our brains. Science does not make an issue of the number of languages, but says there could be even four or five primary languages (read mother tongues). These researches were done with a state-of-the art tool very popular with modern brain scientists and called functional MRI or f-MRI. Nature (vol. 388, p 171). The results cast doubts on the very concept of mother tongue as a single holy language. Besides the work in science and technology and its well accepted perception of primary and secondary languages, a simple observation around will guarantee that people who knew number of languages since childhood owing to transfer of their parents, or else, have done excellently in a very different language, in higher education. In the end, what is the number and diversity of vocabulary offered by each of the varied mother tongues in India? The crux of the matter is not to limit your child to only one language, even in school. Reading books in the language, is many times more important than simply learning it on a mother's lap.


A mother tongue is an emotional issue embedded in human psyche. Working in a truly multi linguistic, multi caste-religious organisation I was surprised to observe that mother tongue transcends caste and religious boundaries even within varying rungs of professional hierarchy. To communicate is an inborn need of all life forms at their own levels of evolution but most clearly it has been of humans, who may proficiently converse in many different languages with equal fluency.


Identity, aspirations and education:


Keep up the identity, but­ let education be according to parent's choice and child's talents.

 

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

TALKS WITH ULFA  

 

Ever since the top ULFA leaders, incarcerated for months after being handed over to Indian authorities by Bangladesh, were granted bail and the freedom to move about in Assam, the prospects of purposeful talks between the government and the ULFA have undergone a change. It all started with ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa being granted bail and being permitted to meet his mother and the mother of Paresh Baruah. The Assam Government suddenly discovered that Arabinda Rajkhowa enjoyed a great deal of popularity with the masses despite the fact the ULFA was a banned organization and despite the government's periodic statements to the effect that the ULFA was a spent force after the incarceration of its top leaders and the emergence of the pro-talks faction within the outfit. In fact, the government was even emboldened to issue statements to the effect that the anti-talks faction of the ULFA under Paresh Baruah was completely marginalized after the imprisonment of chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and his aides. The government was even able to plan for peace talk without the participation of Paresh Baruah. Rajkhowa's visit to his mother was followed by the ULFA leaders making a trip to Nalbari and holding secret talks. Those present at the talks were Arabinda Rajkhowa, vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, cultural secretary Pranati Deka, ULFA's deputy c-in-c Raju Baruah, publicity secretary Mithinga Daimari and foreign secretary Sasha Chaudhury (the last three who are executive members of the ULFA belong to Nalbari district). The talks led to the decision to hold an executive meeting of the ULFA in Nalbari in the near future before the talks with the government are held. Around this time, Arunodoi Dohotia, commander of the central publicity wing of the ULFA hardliners, sent an e-mail message to newspapers of the State to the effect that it was futile to dictate to the ULFA to compromise. "Come and kill us; you can't kill our spirit and motto," the message added. Dohotia said the ULFA would continue its uncompromising struggle till it achieved the goal of "sovereign Assam, a birthright of the indigenous Assamese people." … "We will live to see a sovereign Assam or die in martyrdom," the e-mail message said. Around the same time, the anti-talks faction of the ULFA sent out a photograph of ULFA c-in-c Paresh Baruah participating in a Bihu dance with ULFA cadres. It also sent out information about fresh recruitment to the ULFA and reiterations about sovereignty being the sole determining factor at the proposed talks with the government.

 

It should be abundantly clear now that the government can neither write off Paresh Baruah as being superfluous for the talks nor claim that the anti-talks faction of the ULFA has been totally marginalized. And as we said earlier, it would be meaningless to hold peace talks with the ULFA without Paresh Baruah as an active participant because it is he who controls the arsenal of the ULFA and much of money that the outfit manages to extort. And even if the pro-talks group of the ULFA that had surrendered in 2008 called upon the central executive of ULFA to expel Paresh Baruah on Sunday, ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa maintains that there is no split in the outfit. It is, therefore, strange that Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi should suddenly wake up to the realization that ULFA c-in-c Paresh Baruah is a "foreign agent". Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has watched the career graph of Paresh Baruah ever since the ULFA got started in 1979. How is it that Paresh Baruah becomes a foreign agent only about three decades later when he would seem to be creating obstacles to a peaceful settlement with ULFA so desperately needed by the Congress in Assam just before the Assembly elections? Tarun Gogoi now has the responsibility of telling us precisely when Paresh Baruah became a 'foreign agent'. Otherwise, he would be lowering himself to the level of the ULFA itself that dubs every adversary as a foreign agent or an agent of the RAW. The Chief Minister must appreciate that it will not do to emulate ULFA tactics merely to garner electoral benefits.

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

DOMESTIC HELP HAZARD  

What was a major hazard in Delhi (especially for senior citizens) is now a security risk all over the country. Domestic servants have turned out to be killers in an increasing number of cases all over India. The National Crime Records Bureau's (NCRB) Crime of India Report 2008 lists 77,247 crimes committed in residential premises. While the rate of these crimes has hovered around the 70,000-plus range since 2004, there has been a steady increase every year. The number of cases registered has also shown a steady rise from 192,363 in 2004 to 196,729 in 2008. What stands out in the list of such crimes by domestic help is that old and infirm people are the prime targets. Domestic servants sometimes kill their old employers and decamp with all the valuables. Quite often the crime and the dead bodies are discovered days after the cold-blooded killings. However, it is not just old and infirm people who are vulnerable. Young people who repose far too much trust on their domestic help also make their families vulnerable. There have been quite a few instances of domestic servants killing the lady of the house along with the children in the absence of the man of the house. People all over the country would do well to register the names of newly appointed domestic help (along with a photograph) at the nearest police station to reduce the possibilities of such crimes. In any case, it is a legal necessity to do this nowadays. The police too would do well to visit private dwellings in the neighbourhood to meet newly appointed domestic help.

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THE SENTINEL

EDITORIAL

THE UNEVEN PROGRESS OF THE REPUBLIC  

THE POINT TO WORRY ABOUT IS THAT THE ECONOMIC GROWTH IS NOT UNIFORM AND DISPENSATION OF JUSTICE, PROMISED BY THE CONSTITUTION, IS LACKING IN SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL FIELDS. A POLITICAL FREEDOM, WITHOUT SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC FREEDOM, HAS DISILLUSIONED THE NATION

BETWEEN THE LINES

I look back with nostalgia on the days leading to the foundation of the Indian Republic 61 years ago. Although the Constitution was adopted in the end of November 1949, its operation came into being on January 26, 1950, consecrating India's declaration some 20 years earlier on the bank of Ravi that its goal was full freedom, not the dominion status. The Constitution, as the Preamble says, gives people a sovereign democratic republic. The word, secular, was added during the infamous days of the Emergency.

We held our first election in 1951, 60 years ago. There was adult franchise, with no educational bar. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru probably had the disadvantaged people in mind, hoping that some day they may join hands — they are in a majority in the country — and rule over India.

I never imagined this could be possible. But when Mayawati, a Dalit, won a majority in the most populated State of UP and became the Chief Minister, I began to believe that Nehru's hope might come true one day. The disadvantaged and the minorities might get together and form the government at New Delhi.

However, after the first election, the Western correspondents accredited to India predicted doom and wrote that the first election was India's last one. They mistook the assertion of caste, if not creed, at the polls as a sign of country's disintegration. Naville Maxwell, The Times, London, representative wrote that the turmoil which was seen at the time of election would tear the country apart. I, a stringer of The Times for 25 years, strongly differed with him. But he maintained the election held was the last one. Today he is eating his words and I stand vindicated.

Another American correspondent of The Washington Post, Salig Harrison, wrote a book, The Dangerous Decade, to predict India would disintegrate by the end of the 50s. I joined issue with him as well. He admitted his mistake but not Maxwell. I think the West still does not understand, much less appreciate, the idea of India. It cannot stay united if it is not democratic, secular and open. There is a sense of unity in the country, not based on any dogma. Its diversity is its strength and its spirit of accommodation, reflected in secularism, keeps the people from different regions and religions together.

The point to worry about is that the economic growth is not uniform and dispensation of justice, promised by the Constitution, is lacking in social, economic and political fields. A political freedom, without social and economic freedom, has disillusioned the nation. The Maoists with the gun have become relevant, although they are a problem, not the solution.

No doubt, people can exercise their option to elect their rulers freely and regularly. But there is only one opportunity in five years. For the rest of the period it is the say of the classes, the elite. How do we make the legislators answerable for the period between one election and the other? Some countries have given their subjects the right to recall if one-third of voters ask for it. But India is too large a country where one parliamentary constituency commands more than one million voters. One third is too big a number.

Then how do we ensure that power stays with the people? Decentralization is the only way out, the transfer of power from Delhi to the State capital and from the State capital to villages. The panchayati raj, one of the few good things that Rajiv Gandhi did, has become a hostage to moneybags. The government has not been able to keep out either political parties or the rich. And as you go to higher tiers — for example, zilla parishad at the district level — you find that money and politics have reduced elections to a mockery. When the election to Parliament costs more than Rs 10 crore and to the panchayat some Rs 50,000, the democratic polity is of the rich, for the rich and by the rich.

I never dreamt that India would be one of the most corrupt countries. Jawaharlal Nehru made his colleague, KD Malviya, Petroleum Minister, resign for accepting money from a businessman in the name of Congress and not rendering any account. At that time, the corrupt, both in public life and the government, could be counted on fingers. Today, it is the other way round — the honest can be counted on fingers.

And the amount of corruption is mind-boggling. Even in my wild guess, I could not have estimated in the early fifties that one scam alone, like 2G spectrum relating to mobiles, would reach a whopping figure of Rs 1.75 lakh crore. In fact, the sum of corruption of Rs 100 crore is considered peanuts.

In our time the corrupt and the black marketeers were kept at a distance because nobody wanted to spoil one's reputation by rubbing shoulders with them. Nehru had issued instructions to senior officials not to attend the party given by a diplomat who was not equal in rank or status. Today, the secretaries to the government are seen at the reception by a third secretary in the embassy because booze is available in plenty.

What I miss the most is austerity. Now a car has to be big, the house palatial and the dress of foreign brand. Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto at least introduced in Pakistan the awami dress, salwar and kameez. Not many bureaucrats wear that dress. Western suits are preferred by the officialdom in South Asia. At Mumbai, an industrialist has built a multistorey house costing some Rs 2,000 crore. Compare this to a small cottage in which Mahatma Gandhi lived all his life and won us independence, not the West-oriented doctors or academicians who were on the side of the British.

Violence has now become an order of the day in India. There is hardly any State which has escaped it. People are today as much a victim of State terrorism as they are of militants. The Maoist gun is reprehensible. So is the gun of the state which suppresses people's peaceful protest.

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

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

Kuldip Nayar 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

OWN WRITE: EMOTIONAL OVERLOAD

A CALM APPRAISAL OF ANOTHER'S SITUATION, WITH SOME EMOTIONAL DISTANCE KEPT BETWEEN HELPER AND SUFFERER, IS FAR MORE BENEFICIAL FOR BOTH SIDES.

TALKBACKS (1)

Hurrying to meet a friend for brunch on Monday, I barely had time to glance at the headlines in the newspaper. "Did you see the story about the young Ra'anana woman who died last week sitting behind the driver of a motorcycle?" my friend said, as we waited for our order.


"Aliza Goldenberg was her name. What an attractive young woman – and she wasn't even 21."

"A tragedy," I responded, even as he told me that she had carried an ADI donor card and saved the lives of four people.

A minute later, we were eating and talking about something else, laughing and joking as we normally do.

I might have lingered longer on the accident had it prompted a recollection of my daughter's 2009 travels in Thailand, which were done (I found out later) mainly on the back of a motorcycle; or a much older memory of my youthful self on holiday in Switzerland, riding helmetless down a mountain behind a boy on a bicycle.


As it was, my empathy with someone cut down cruelly, barely out of girlhood, came and went in a flash; while the suffering of those closest to her was just beginning. That's just the way it is.


DURING that awful time in the 2000s when buses and people were being blown up here on a regular basis, I have a clear memory of one afternoon when I was out shopping for clothes, and news came over the radio of yet another terrorist suicide bombing in Jerusalem, leaving many dead and wounded.


I remember standing frozen in the store, unable to either carry on with what I was doing, or leave.

On the one hand, we needed to show "them," and ourselves, that we could not easily be defeated, that we would carry on with our lives, regardless. But, on the other hand, how in heaven's name could one do anything as frivolous as shop for a new skirt while fellow Israelis were bleeding and dying? Either way, I felt weighed down with guilt.


This was a period when the issue of how we react – how to react – while other people are suffering nearby intruded itself painfully often, without any satisfactory answer being provided.


We were, indeed, living in an abnormal reality.


AN unscheduled event at the Jerusalem Scrabble Club some two decades ago astonishes me still because of the way in which extreme suffering and "carrying on as usual" were, by simple circumstance, closely juxtaposed.

It happened back when the club was meeting weekly at the International Cultural Center for Youth in Emek Refaim.

A man died in the middle of a game. That is, he didn't exactly die; he had a massive heart attack – apparently after putting down a bingo – and laid his head on the Scrabble board.


Despite efforts to resuscitate him, he expired in hospital.


As I picture it now, it was like a scene in a movie: While this longtime friend to many club members, seated at one end of the long room, was drawing his last breaths, people at the other end – there were perhaps 40 players sitting in pairs at small tables – went on placidly with their games, oblivious to the fact that their fellow member was playing out his endgame.


How, I wonder, did they feel on learning about their unknowing proximity to tragedy occurring close by? The reality of intense suffering coexisting alongside the mundane inspired the poet W.H. Auden.


About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters; how well they understood Its human position; how it takes place while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along...

– Musee des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden (1907 –1973) IT isn't often that we can visualize almost exactly the way in which a poem came to be written. That's why "Musee des Beaux Arts," besides highlighting with supreme elegance an existential truth about suffering, is so powerful.


In 1938, Wystan Hugh Auden visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, where his attention was caught by Peter Breughel the Elder's painting of the Fall of Icarus.


In this story of an unfortunate boy of Greek mythology, Icarus and his father, Daedalus, are stuck in Crete, on order of the king. So Daedalus fashions wings for each of them and instructs the youth: Don't fly too close to the sea, or to the sun. In time-honored fashion, the paternal warning goes unheeded, with catastrophic result: Icarus flies near the sun, melts the wax that holds the wings to his body, crashes into the sea, and drowns.

So much for ignoring your parents.


WHAT struck Auden about the famous 16th-century painting was the way everything "turns away quite leisurely from the disaster."


The ploughman, who must have heard the splash in the water and Icarus's cry, went on plowing; the sun went on shining; even the nearby ship "that must have seen / Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."


Impressed by Breughel's depiction of the "human position" – in which great suffering occurs side by side with dull routine, even indifference – Auden went on to write his wonderful poem.


HOW to react sanely to the human suffering that is continuously and relentlessly thrust at us in the guise of "news"? This question is far more relevant to us who live in the global village than it was in Breughel's, or even in Auden's time.


Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, floods, bombings, murder, mayhem and every variety of human mischief scream at us 24/7 from our ever-evolving mass communication networks. It's hard to escape.

The danger of such continuous bombardment is that we become desensitized to the human suffering going on, treating it no differently from the "entertainment" offered on our TV screens.


There's also the problem of numbers: One may empathize with a single victim, or even with several; but how to feel for thousands, or hundreds of thousands, swept away in a natural disaster? They become faceless, "live from the scene" reports notwithstanding.


This issue of mass victimhood, of course, is just one of the troubling aspects of mourning the Six Million lost in the Holocaust. Which is why Yad Vashem has emphasized the importance of giving every victim a name.

WE obviously can't – nor should we – fully identify with every suffering victim we hear about, or even get to meet. If we could, we'd be instant candidates for straitjackets and padded cells. The amazing toolbox that houses the human psyche contains a valve that protects our innermost selves from such dangerous emotional overload.

What we need to do, especially in Israel – where every experience seems heightened – is bear in mind that emotional involvement in others' suffering necessarily has its limits and that, like in a swimming pool, we should wade out only to a depth that is safe.


Anyway, untramelled emotion is really not the best path to healthy involvement, nor to genuine help.

Ask any experienced psychologist, physician, lawyer, counselor or detective.


A calm appraisal of another's situation, with some emotional distance kept between helper and sufferer, is far more beneficial for both sides.


IT appears that we're unable to internalize too much suffering on the part of others and stay sane. But, strangely enough, where happiness is concerned, emotional overload seems much less of a problem.


No one I know of ever had a breakdown from hearing too much good news.


That being the case, bring it on!

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

INCOGNITA: HEBRONITES AT THE GATE

BY SETH FRANTZMAN 

Scholars and writers tend to ignore the fact that most of Arab Jerusalem is not one homogeneous society, is in fact partly composed of people from Hebron.

Talkbacks (1)

Hebron, then, produces a favorable impression on the whole. It is green and living, its hills are clad with vines, with plantations of olives, pomegranates, figs, quinces and apricots."

So Israel Abrahams, a distinguished English Jewish scholar, wrote in 1911. Today's visitor to Israel would be deviating greatly from the norm if he could tell of a trip to Hebron; it is a city seldom seen by tourists.

Hebron always had a negative reputation in traveler's accounts. This although it contains the second holiest site in Judaism – the burial place of the patriarchs and their wives (the Cave of Machpela). For a city whose name in Hebrew and Arabic comes from the word for friend, it has been decidedly unfriendly. The Byzantines built a church atop the Jewish tomb, and the Persians destroyed that church in 614. In 637 a mosque was built at the site. The Crusaders threw out the Muslims in 1100 and turned the place into a church. The Mamluk Sultan Baibars forbade Jews and Christians from entering the holy site in 1260.

Up until the 19th century the city enjoyed a reputation as a place full of people ill disposed toward foreigners, especially Christians and to a lesser extent Jews.

Sir Moses Montefiore was confronted by a mob when he attempted to enter Hebron in 1838. Abrahams wrote that "the children throw stones at you, but they take good care not to hit [you]." In 1929 the city was the scene of a massacre of Jews, and in 1936 the last Jewish families were evacuated by the British, not to return until after 1967.

 BUT WHAT is interesting is not merely the return of Jewish life to Hebron but the fact that since the 1930s, there has been a rigorous Hebronite Arab immigration to Jerusalem. Some Arab writers see the immigration not as a natural demographic phenomenon but a political one. With the rise of Zionism the Hebronites, according to a writer known as S. Rami at Jerusalemites.org, came to Jerusalem to strengthen it as a Muslim city; "Palestinians started moving to Jerusalem – mainly from Hebron – to protect the city from Zionist designs... [it] was a step in the right direction for enhancing the place of the city as a proud Muslim one."

The reason that Hebronites should be so good at bringing more Muslim character to Jerusalem is that they have a reputation for being pious. David Roberts, the 19th-century English traveler, characterized them as "among the most violent bigots even of Mahometanism." The Palestine Post reported that in 1935 they came in great numbers to Jerusalem as part of the Nebi Musa parade (once an annual Muslim pilgrimage to the alleged grave of Moses in the Judean Desert), and that "anti-Jewish cries" were heard. A 1934 article noted that Hebronites in Jerusalem had founded a youth club, and in October 1947 they founded another "club of their own."

The aim of this Arab Reformation Club was to "educate the Hebronites not to start quarrels with Jerusalemites" for fear of blood feuds. A 1944 article noted that a gang of thieves from Hebron was operating in the city.

During the 1948 War of Independence, several Hebronites were killed in battles in Jerusalem, and many more took refuge in their native city. However, even in this period they had begun to acquire property in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Rami, who lauds their contribution to the demographics of Jerusalem, claims that the majority of the city's 230,000 Arabs have their origins in Hebron. Danny Rubinstein, the Haaretz writer on Arab affairs, noted in 2001 that "Arab Hebronites who came to Jerusalem after 1948 dominate Jerusalem Arab society."

There is an apocryphal story, from the last days of the Mandate, of one prominent Jerusalemite saying to the mufti, Haj Amin al- Husseini: "What can I tell you? From the original Jerusalem families there is still your family and mine."

The claim is not entirely true; there are still a handful of representatives of the old Jerusalemite families.

Immigrants from Hebron dominate most of the middle and bottom part of that society. This is because the immigrants, apart from being very pious, were also industrious. They purchased or rented businesses especially in the Old City and just outside its walls, such as along Rehov Salah a-Din.

When large numbers of Christians left Jerusalem in 1948 and after, due to its transformation into a provincial backwater of Jordan's mini-empire, Hebronites took over commerce in areas bordering the Christian Quarter. They drifted into government as well, taking over low-level civil service jobs. They even mastered the art of making good imitation Armenian ceramics. Neshan Balian, who comes from a family of Armenian ceramic makers, recalled in 2004: "They already had the kilns and technology... My father told me that Hebron workers before 1967 used to stand by the gate when some workers came out and offer them money to learn how to make the glazes, color, clay."

THE HEBRONITES now in east Jerusalem are not all pious. Like other successful immigrant groups, they have gone through social transformations, with first generations working long hours, second generations establishing businesses and third generations enjoying the good life. Some even became communists – pretty much the furthest a Muslim Hebronite could go from his heritage. Others became academics and others, reputedly, have excelled in less-legal activities. Today east Jerusalem is partly a Hebronite city with some neighborhoods, such as Wadi Joz, being almost completely composed of people from that holy city.

Scholars and writers on Arab Jerusalem tend to ignore this process of immigration and change. For whatever reason, most foreign writers tend to be oblivious to the fact that most of Arab Jerusalem is not one homogeneous society, and those "in the know" tend to spend a lot of time researching the notable old Muslim families, such as the Dajanis, Khalidis, Alamis and Jarallahs. Those families, and most of the Christian Arabs, have abandoned Jerusalem. The secular Jewish public complains that the city is being taken over by the haredim, but they might be surprised to know the same thing happened in the Arab sector.

The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

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THE JERUSALEM POST

COLUMN

INDELIBLY CARVED IN JEWISH COLLECTIVE MEMORY

BY GREER FAY CASHMAN 

 

MUSICAL REMINDERS OF THE HOLOCAUST, YOSSI PELED CELEBRATES HIS 70TH, THE ISRAEL-CZECH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IS LAUNCHED.

THURSDAY IS International Holocaust Remembrance Day as designated by the UN in November 2005. This day was chosen because it is the date on which the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated by the Red Army. There will be various commemorations here; the most important will be a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial in the very building in Jerusalem in which it was held. There is much to remind us of the Holocaust, but there is also much that is fading as Holocaust survivors die out and take with them the traditions of European Jewish communities.

Among those who are trying to preserve something of those traditions is Chilik Frank, a hassidic musician who has a klezmer band and is widely recognized as a leading clarinetist. His repertoire and his many CDs include melodies of all the old hassidic courts. He is currently working to revive the songs sung by Jews during the Holocaust. Among these is the melody most commonly sung today to "Ani Ma'amin" (I believe), composed on the train en route to Treblinka by Rabbi Azriel David Fastag, a Modzitz hassid.

Before the war, Fastag, who had an exceptional voice, was known far and wide. People came from all over Warsaw to hear him sing. On the High Holy Days when his brothers would join him, he sang in the synagogue of Modzitzer Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar. With the Nazi invasion, Fastag, like so many other Jews in Warsaw, was rounded up and put in a cattle car going to Treblinka. He began to sing as the train rumbled toward its fateful destination.

 Initially there was silence, but as he repeated the melody over and over, it reached the hearts of the people on the train, nearly all of whom knew the words that were a testament of faith in the coming of the messiah. The melody went from cattle car to cattle car. Fastag, who had initially been oblivious to the chorus around him, cried out that he would give half of his portion of the world to come to anyone who could take the melody to the Modzitzer Rebbe, whose disciples had succeeded in getting him out of Poland to Lithuania, and then via Russia and Shanghai to America. The rebbe had always loved Fastag's voice and his music, and it was important to Fastag that this last melody should reach his ears.

Two young men took the mission upon themselves and jumped from the train. One was killed instantly. The other survived and eventually came here. Throughout his difficult journey he had sung the melody over and over so as not to forget it. The notes were transcribed and sent to the rebbe in New York. He sang it in the synagogue on Yom Kippur in memory of the 6 million Jews who had been murdered. Congregants wept as he explained the origin of the tune. With this tune, he said, the Jews went to the gas chambers, and with this tune they will greet the messiah.

■ ALSO PERPETUATING the melodies of the Holocaust are members of the Ramat Gan Children's Harmonica Orchestra founded by Shmuel Gogol, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz. Gogol had been one of the children cared for in the famous orphanage run by educator Janusz Korczak, who could have saved himself but opted to stay with the children. Korczak found all sorts of reasons for giving children rewards. He gave Gogol a harmonica which proved to be the instrument that saved his life. A talented young musician, Gogol was chosen to play in the Auschwitz orchestra.

In 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin went to Poland for the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he was accompanied by a large delegation of Holocaust survivors that included Gogol. Rabin had a special reason for taking Gogol with him. He wanted him to play the harmonica in Auschwitz again – but this time not as a persecuted Polish Jew, but as a proud Israeli. Gogol stood in that fearful place and played "Hatikva." It was not only his anthem but his song of triumph over the Nazis. He died only a few weeks later.

■ HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Joseph Bau used another art form in which to convey his experiences. A graphic artist and animator, poet, author and playwright, Bau for many years used his talents to tell his story. Part of his story was also told in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award winning film Schindler's List. It was at the Plaszow concentration camp that Bau met and secretly married Rebecca Tennenbaum. Their marriage was featured in the film. Bau was subsequently transferred to the Gross Rosen concentration camp and from there to Oskar Schindler's camp, where he stayed till the end of the war. Rebecca was sent to Auschwitz, where three times she managed to evade the gas chambers.

After the war, the two were reunited and in 1950 they came here with an infant daughter. Another daughter was born to them. After Bau died in 2002, his daughters Cilla and Hadassa turned his apartment at 9 Rehov Berdichevski, Tel Aviv, into a museum. Last week, someone broke in, threw many of the exhibits onto the floor and stole two cameras used for animation. Bau had built them himself 60 years earlier. The cameras, of course, have historic value, but beyond that have nostalgic and emotional value for Bau's daughters who travel the world to tell his story. They are hoping that the thief will feel some kind of remorse and restore the stolen items.

■ AMONG THE youngest of Holocaust survivors is Minister without Portfolio Yossi Peled who was born in Belgium during the war and together with his sister was adopted by a Christian family with whom he lived until he was six. His father and many other relatives were murdered in Auschwitz. His mother survived the war, reclaimed her children and brought them here. Peled had a distinguished army career from which he retired in 1991 with the rank of major-general. He celebrated his 70th birthday on January 18. Some 450 people came to the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds to wish him well.

Among them were political adversaries from the Labor Party such as Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Isaac Herzog and Avishay Braverman and members of Ehud Barak's Independence faction. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was also there, along with Dalia Itzik, and the Likud was very well represented by both ministers and MKs. The party, organized by Peled's son Or, was initially intended as a surprise, but it's very hard to keep a secret here under any circumstances, and certainly, with so large an invitation list, there was bound to be a leak – and there was.

Peled, who was a director of several companies prior to becoming an MK, retained the friendships he had made in those circles and there were also a lot of business people present. In an emotional address, Peled referred to Auschwitz, where last year he had accompanied Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the 65th anniversary commemoration of liberation, and spoke of his father who had perished there.

■ THE GUEST list from the Czech Republic for the launch of the Israel-Czech Chamber of Commerce was headed by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg (who is also a child Holocaust survivor, albeit not Jewish), and Pavel Smutny, president of the Prague-headquartered chamber. And of course Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar, who was roundly praised for his help in getting the new chamber up and running, was also present. Among the Israeli guests were Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and representatives of leading industries that do business with the Czech Republic, including some like Osem, Tivol and Teva which also have factory plants there.

Several of the Israelis were either born in the Czech Republic or were born to parents who came from Czechoslovakia. The only thing that marred the event at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv was the absence of Becherovka, the traditional Czech liqueur, with which to toast the new venture. An attempt was made to bring it into the hotel, said ICCC chairman David Hercky, but the kashrut supervisor would not allow it, even though the organizers offered to bring in plastic cups from which to drink. Instead, the toast was made with Israeli wine.

For Smutny the event was particularly emotional, because ever since his own chamber was established 15 years ago, he had been dreaming of a sister chamber in Israel – and at last the dream had come true. Both Schwarzenberg and the new chamber's honorary president Dan Propper spoke of the long and warm relationship the country has had with Czech leaders and the Czech people since long before the establishment of the state. Propper recalled that it had been the Czechs who supplied arms during the War of Independence, and Schwarzenberg noted the friendship demonstrated by Czech president Tomas Masaryk toward the Jewish people and the Zionist enterprise. As for the new venture, he saw it as a bridge that would enable the expansion of both economic and cultural relations.

Ayalon praised the friendship, morality and decency of Schwarzenberg and the Czech people. "In a world of uncertainties, countries like the Czech Republic and Israel can trust each other." Commenting on Schwarzenberg's integrity, Ayalon said that he was a man who speaks his mind and is not afraid to go against the majority. In historical terms, Ayalon characterized Czech-Jewish relations as "a beacon of hope and a compass of morality." As for economic relations, Skoda cars are doing very well here and many government ministers use them. Bilateral trade is in the realm of $400 million. Ayalon was confident that under the leadership of Propper and others involved in the new chamber, the figure will rise to $1 billion within the next decade.

■ IT SEEMS to have been Propper's week. Only a few days earlier, he had given a riveting address at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange to the Israel Britain and the Commonwealth Association. He was speaking in his capacity as chairman of Osem Foods, of which his late father had been one of the founders. The event was held in conjunction with the Tel Aviv International Salon Club. Although it took place at mid-morning on what used to be the trading floor of the TASE before trading became computerized, it attracted a full house.

One of the eye-catching items in the room is a statue of a white bull with blue markings and the logos of many of the companies that are listed on the TASE. There are also illuminated boards on facing walls showing real time trading fluctuations of the 10 leading companies, with rising share prices in green and declining ones in red.

Propper was not in the room during introductory remarks by IBCA chairman Austen Science, TASE CEO Esther Levanon and TASE head of research Kobi Avramov, and explained that he'd been watching a board outside and was pleased to see that Osem shares were up by 0.9 percent. After that everyone else's eyes were fixed on the boards to monitor Osem's progress. At one stage it was up by 1.34%, but by the time Propper finished his fascinating account of company history and policy, it had disappeared from the board. Propper was unperturbed, knowing from experience that it would rise again.

This year will mark the 60th anniversary of IBCA, which was established at a time when relations between Britain and Israel were not good, said Science. The principal objective at that time was to improve those relations.

Although the TASE was not established until 1953, said Avramov, trading actually started in 1935, and was conducted by the Anglo-Palestine Bank. Today, there are 600 companies traded. Levanon was very proud of the fact that the TASE has signed memorandums of understanding with the London Stock Exchange, New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Shanghai Stock Exchange which all have Israeli companies among their listings.

"The Israeli story as reflected by TASE is a very convincing story," she said. This was endorsed by Avramov who stated that the investment environment is very transparent and that trading is supervised in real time by the Securities Authority.

Osem was established in 1942 "under the Union Jack," said Propper. It was founded by seven families that ran three pasta workshops. Over the years it kept developing new food products and introduced savory snacks here. It went public in 1990, and over a time 53.5% of its stock was acquired by Nestle, which according to Propper is happy with the status quo and has no intention of taking over the whole operation. The volume of sales is $1 billion. The company has 4,800 employees and 11 factories, with nine here, one in the Czech Republic and one in the US.

Propper attributed Osem's success to its human resource policy. Its efficiency programs are not aimed at laying off people, and its employees know that as long as they contribute properly, their jobs are assured. "It's not a union agreement, but an understanding that we have with the workers," said Propper, adding that the workers have such confidence in management that they contribute to efficiency.

He cited as an example the company's Sderot plant, where three women who are good friends were operating the same machine. They realized that only two people were needed for the task, so they came to the manager and asked him to decide which of them should be moved to another station. "This happens in different ways in other parts of the company," said Propper. The Sderot plant employs 500 people. Other plants are in other peripheral areas with the aim of providing employment for the local population. Propper has always lived by his father's maxim: "Work hard during the day so you can sleep well at night."

■ THE HEAD of the Jewish Leadership faction within the Likud, Moshe Feiglin, is the nemesis of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who succeeded in keeping him off the Knesset list. Nonetheless, Feiglin, a religious nationalist, is gaining an increasing number of followers, as witnessed at his annual gala dinner held last week at the Leonardo Hotel in Ramat Gan, which was attended by more than 500 people who paid NIS 400 each.

The musical fanfare and cheers that went up when Feiglin approached the stage prompted him to say that he felt as if he was the new coach for the Betar Jerusalem soccer team. He commented that of all the dinners that his faction has had to date, this was the largest. He also referred to what he called "the collapse of the Labor Party," asking the audience not to applaud.

■ ONE OF the major benefits of being a high-ranking civil servant is that one gets to know a lot of people who can be of help when one decides to join the business world. That's what happened to Rafi Farber, 62, a former director-general of the Tourism Ministry and subsequently head of its North American office. He obviously made so good an impression that after returning and going into the hotel business, he kept getting reelected to the executive of the Hotels Association. He now owns two hotels in Jerusalem and one in Tiberias. All three attract large numbers of Christian pilgrims.

Of the 11 directors-general who have served in the Tourism Ministry over the years, Farber is the only one who actually became a hotel owner, though others became active in the Hotels Association in one capacity or another. Farber and president Ami Federmann, of the Dan Hotel chain, are going to have quite a battle on their hands this year, fighting government and municipal authorities on matters such as compensation for devaluation of the dollar, reductions on municipal taxes and on water rates, promoting fewer insulting security checks on pilgrim groups and easing the process for hotel investors to get a business license.

With the growth of tourism this year, despite the economic crisis, there has been a dearth of hotel rooms, especially in Jerusalem, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. There is a crying need for more hotels in the capital, says Farber, and the association will work toward attracting more investment in hotel construction.

■ FOR MORE than three decades, he's been known as "our correspondent in the North," but now Menahem Horowitz is returning to the center. Born in Ramat Gan to a rabbinical family, Horowitz, 54, did his army service in Kiryat Shmona, arriving there in 1978. At the time, he was focused on a pedagogic career, and recognizing the need for good teachers there, decided to stay. He became a teacher in the state religious school, and was frequently interviewed by the media following Katyusha rocket attacks. His descriptions were so fluent, graphic and accurate that he was offered a job with Army Radio. He subsequently became a print media reporter as well, reporting from all over the North for Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post and the now defunct Hadashot and Hatzofeh. In 1994, Channel 2 news appointed him as its man in the North. One memorable production was when he took the totally irreligious (and sometimes anti-religious) Tommy Lapid on a Jewish roots tour of the Galilee that included meals in kosher eateries, with Lapid good-humoredly chiding Horowitz on the gourmet delights he was missing because he observed kashrut. Horowitz will have his formal farewell to the North not in the North, but at the Leonardo Hotel in Ramat Gan on February 5.

Rumor has it that he can't bring himself to sell his home in Kiryat Shmona. In other words, he's not burning his bridges.

greerfc@gmail.com

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THE JERUSALEM POST

OPED

SALAM FAYYAD, SOUTH AFRICA AND PROSPECTS FOR PEACE

BY PETER HILSENRATH 

 

IN SPITE OF IMPORTANT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ISRAEL AND SOUTH AFRICA, THERE IS A PARALLEL IN THE RELUCTANCE TO MAKE THAT LEAP OF FAITH TO A NEW ORDER.

TALKBACKS (4)

Iam an American and son of German Holocaust survivors. For most of my life, the narrative of Israel was that of a beleaguered nation seeking acceptance by hostile neighbors. The Six Day War did nothing to change this. Israel held the moral high ground, in spite of the widespread displacement of Arabs. There was speculation that it would trade land for peace.

Jordan's relinquishing of the West Bank was a watershed event, and focused attention on the lack of suitable Palestinian governance that would enable Israel to forge a lasting peace. That it sought accommodation with Yasser Arafat in spite of his less-than-enlightened leadership is testament to its deep desire for peace. Frustration over a seeming lack of progress in the wake of negotiations and territorial withdrawal is understandable.

But Palestinian institutions have changed, and now display much greater levels of security and prosperity than in the past. Resistance to Israel is more peaceful, and this has yielded dividends in international legitimacy.

 MUCH OF this change is the result of new Palestinian leadership. I have known Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for many years. We met as graduate students in Austin, Texas in 1980.

Fayyad showed sensitivity to the Jewish experience, including the Holocaust. He looked forward to the day Israelis and Palestinians could prosper together, but also recognized the need to develop Palestinian governance.

At that time, the economics department of the University of Texas was known for its emphasis on institutions and their importance for political and economic development. These ideas had been falling out of favor after the
Reagan revolution, with its more hard-nosed embrace of markets and individual responsibility. Unimpressive Israeli and American economic performance was a backdrop to that time, and Fayyad was drawn to the more market- oriented approaches to economic policy. He went on to work for the relatively conservative International Monetary Fund in Washington before returning to the Middle East.

Some institutional economists in Austin in the 1980s were at pains to emphasize the importance of fairness. Social, political and economic progress is jeopardized if fundamental tenets of fairness are not evident. The old institutional school had its roots in the American progressive movement and its many efforts to improve welfare for lower- and working-class Americans. Social justice is not always easy to define, and may be especially problematic to establish when two parties in conflict – such as Jews and Palestinians – have been victimized. It helps if both sides have a vision for social justice.

The Palestinian Authority accepts a two-state solution. This helps ensure the long-term survival of Israel with a Jewish character as long as there is a limited right of return. The PA has also shown some flexibility on final borders. But there is no clear idea of what Israel proposes as a fair dispensation, and patience on this matter is dissipating in the international community. Some fear the 43-year occupation will be extended indefinitely.

Former president Jimmy Carter and others have compared Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory to apartheid. It is not. I lived and taught in Johannesburg in the mid-1980s, and there are important differences. South Africa was never about two peoples and one land, as with Israelis and Palestinians.

It was about one national identity, South African, with an unjust social dispensation. It is unfortunate that many critics of Israel fail to see this fundamental difference.

South African whites realized that apartheid was untenable in the long run. They also knew it was unethical. But many whites were convinced the alternative was worse. Real democracy, it was thought, would bring one man, one vote. So far the transition away from apartheid has been relatively benign, and many fears have not materialized, although Zimbabwe is another story.

IN SPITE of important differences between Israel and South Africa, there is a parallel in the reluctance to make that leap of faith to a new order. Israelis are asked to trade threats they know for ones that are more uncertain. Some say Israel is more committed to settlements than peace, but this is not clear. Borders and Jerusalem are real issues, and not to be minimized. But the most important stumbling blocks on the road to peace may now be the Israeli political structure and social psychology, instead of Palestinian institutions or the lack thereof. Israel has been unable to show leadership in the drive toward peace. It is not obvious what will break the logjam, but for now my attention has turned from Palestinian to Israeli institutions and policies.

The writer is Joseph M. Long Chair in Health Care Management and professor of economics at the Eberhardt School of Business and Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at the University of the Pacific in California.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

DANGER: SUMMARY DETENTIONS

 

The options for releasing suspects on bail immediately upon arrest should be expanded, and detention hearings should be given due attention, despite the time pressures of the courts. Human lives and the character of Israel's rule of law hang in the balance.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is to deliberate today on the findings of a study by Mutagim Consulting, according to which the average duration of a detention hearing is six minutes. The findings, which were published in yesterday's Haaretz, expose the unbearable lightness and haste with which citizens are jailed in Israel.

Of all police arrest requests, 79 percent are granted. Of about 3,000 detention hearings that were reviewed for the study, 351 took just two minutes, in only 6 percent of cases was an alternative to custody granted, and in fewer than 15 percent of cases was the suspect released on bail. These figures should disturb anyone who cares about the law and human rights in Israel. They paint a sad picture of the justice system, which in many cases is a rubber stamp for the police. Its deliberations are a kind of conveyor belt, at the end of which too many people find themselves behind lock and key.

Arrest, which often turns into a traumatic event, should be the last option, imposed only after careful consideration. Courthouse case backlogs cannot justify taking such harsh measures. It is convenient for the police to lock up suspects, whether for purposes of interrogation or of punishment and deterrence, but the justice system should serve as a curb to that impulse.

Instead, it responds with perfunctory deliberations - how can a two-minute hearing be anything else? - and with near-automatic approval of police detention requests.

Many defense lawyers complain that judges do not have the time needed to properly review the case file of the suspect before them. According to Israel's Deputy Chief Public Defender, Dr. Yoav Sapir, about a third of all detentions would be eliminated by permitting suspects to be released at the police station rather than being forced to spend a night in jail. The following day they are brought to court for a hasty bail hearing that could have been conducted before, and without, the overnight arrest.

The findings of this study should bring about a change. The options for releasing suspects on bail immediately upon arrest should be expanded, and detention hearings should be given due attention, despite the time pressures of the courts. Human lives and the character of Israel's rule of law hang in the balance.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NEITHER PUBLIC NOR HOUSING

THE ISSUE IS NOT MINIMAL INTERVENTION, BUT CROOKED AND BRAZEN INTERVENTION THAT COMBINES THE ILLS OF OVER-CENTRALIZATION WITH THOSE OF UNREGULATED PRIVATIZATION.

BY AVIRAMA GOLAN

The investigative report on public housing published in the latest Haaretz weekly magazine (21.1 ) describes a typical outcome of government policy since the 1980s, a policy that has continued - with a short break at the time of the Rabin government - to this very day, with even more detrimental effects since 1996. It purportedly provides for minimal intervention in the market and privatizing every public service possible with the aim of streamlining, reducing spending, and letting money flow freely for the benefit and satisfaction of all citizens of Israel.

This socio-economic theory can be challenged in its purist form, but the case of public housing proves that any similarity between the theory and its realization in practice is purely coincidental. The issue is not minimal intervention, but crooked and brazen intervention that combines the ills of over-centralization with those of unregulated privatization.

Public housing is a complicated issue. Various solutions were found in Western welfare states. In France, whole neighborhoods were built for subsidized rental. In the Netherlands, cities rent private apartments to the needy at prices lower than the market rate and compensate the landlords.

Today, the trend in Europe is to create more "affordable housing," with subsidized apartments integrated into areas of high demand to moderate the rise in real estate prices.

In the lastest OECD report on the economic effects of housing market policy, Israel ranks second to last place when it comes to rent controls and very low on the list when it comes to increasing the housing supply.

Israel did not always follow a policy of neglect. Public housing came into existence as a solution to the housing shortage of the 1950s. Today, the public housing sector encompasses roughly 100,000 apartments. It was based on a good idea, embraced then by all political persuasions, that housing, like education and health, is a basic right. But it ended up giving rise to low-level housing in poor areas, and the housing companies, the long arm of the government, became hothouses for political appointments, and like many other bodies, grew clumsy and corrupt.

This process culminated in the early 1990s, when Infrastructure Minister Ariel Sharon persuaded the government and the public that the great wave of immigration required bold action. The result: trailer parks and massive, hastily created construction in peripheral communities (the strong center of the country adamantly refused to be part of this ). Sderot, for example, absorbed 9,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union, without the appropriate physical and social infrastructure.

Who benefited? The importers and contractors. Who lost out? The public coffers and the weak citizens who had to absorb immigrants weaker than themselves. A report published by the state comptroller proved that there had been no housing shortage at the time and that the project was far too expensive, but by then, it was too late.

The unnecessary intervention of the government - which already back then shirked its responsibility to build apartments at reasonable cost and subsidize mortgages for those born here - caused further damage to the housing market. In an effort to put a band-aid on a broken leg, MK Ran Cohen of Meretz initiated the public housing bill, which offered tenants the possibility of buying their modest apartments at a huge discount. Benjamin Netanyahu, who feared the bill, made his usual pincer movement: He made sure it was immediately frozen and decided to privatize the housing companies. But since he didn't want to hurt the soft underbelly of Likud voters, and the privatization effort anyway didn't succeed, he got the cabinet to pass a decision that enabled tenants to buy apartments, and then he raised rents. Now public housing is entrusted to government companies that act as profit centers "in the free-market spirit," neglect the apartments and abuse the tenants, and the billions earned through the sale of apartments and rent paid on them fill the holes opened by the crooked political economics of the government. Obviously, the funds could have been used for subsidized constructed that would have affected real change in the housing market, but such government intervention is only possible under a different type of system, the opposite of the one Netanyahu has imposed on us here. Here, then, is a challenge for the party of the left, if and when it rises from the ruins of Labor.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE REAL PALESTINIAN CONCESSION

BOTH PALESTINIAN RIVALS KNOW HOW TO USE THE RESILIENCE AND CREATIVITY OF THEIR PEOPLE IN THE FACE OF THE DAILY TORTURE THAT IS FOREIGN RULE. BUT THEY DO NOT HELP TRANSLATE THIS PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE STAMINA INTO A STRATEGY OF UNARMED POPULAR STRUGGLE.

BY AMIRA HASS

The real concession of the Palestinian leadership is on its occupied people as an active force in the struggle for independence. For this, there is no need for leaked documents.

Indeed, the "Palestine Papers" confirm an open secret: Contrary to the declarations recited in public, the leadership of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority is prepared for far-reaching concessions on the holy grail of the traditional Palestinian position: the right of return of refugees from the Palestinian "nakba" of 1948.

"When we demand a two-state solution, we do not mean two Palestinian states," a senior Fatah official told me with regard to the question of the return of the refugees to pre-1967 Israel. Had the PLO leadership respected its people, it would not be speaking out of both sides of its mouth, but conducting an open debate about this demand. It would have shared its conclusions with its public (at home and in exile ): The dreamed-of right of return is not attainable, at least not at this stage in history, and that it is not fair to continue to keep four million people hostage under the boot of the occupation for its sake. Others would have replied that under cover of the negotiations, and despite the Palestinian concessions, Israel simply expanded its settlements anyway.

It is not technical problems that are preventing such a democratic debate, but the failure to see the people as an agent of change.

The PLO depends on the largess and diplomacy of Western nations who cooperate with the occupation policy. Hamas, addicted to the armed struggle and its purported achievements, is dependent on donations from its own sources, and is waiting for the toppling of the pro-western Arab regimes by radical Islamic movements.

Both Palestinian rivals know how to use the resilience and creativity of their people in the face of the daily torture that is foreign rule. But they do not help translate this personal and collective stamina into a strategy of unarmed popular struggle.

A strategy of popular struggle is a daily commitment, first and foremost by whomever presents himself as a leader. This is the only option left after the disasters caused by the amateurish negotiations in the 1990s and the use of arms, mainly against civilians, in the last decade. Israel proves every day how dangerous this option is to its occupation, otherwise it would not invest so much effort in its repression.

But a strategy of a general popular struggle, not only in five exemplary villages, does not jibe with the perks of power that the PLO and Fatah leadership have gotten used to, and which are directly dependent on travel permits from the Civil Administration and contracts with USAID.

Thus the Palestinian Authority is becoming entrenched as a channel for paying salaries and an elite disconnected from its people. Where are the members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council? Where are the members of the PLO Executive Committee? Why aren't they spreading the word of the popular struggle to other parts of the West Bank?

And when it comes to Hamas, the democratic potential of popular activities clashes with the military character developed by this movement, with the intellectual obedience that it demands, as borne out by its style of rule in Gaza.

Hamas and the PLO are in the thrall of their false status as two governments whose existence and maintenance have become a goal in itself. Had they not given up on their people as a decisive factor, the two rival forces would have listened to it, and before anything else found a way to end the dual rule.

The U.S. makes demands and sets conditions? Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood whisper instructions? Excuse me, the two-headed leadership would have said, there's a people whose opinion we have to consider.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ISRAEL'S NEWFOUND OIL IS DISTRACTING NETANYAHU

UPON HIS RETURN TO POWER, NETANYAHU EMBARKED ON MANIFESTING THIS VISION. AT THE PRESIDENTIAL CONFERENCE IN OCTOBER 2009, HE POSED A CHALLENGE - TO DO AWAY WITH GLOBAL DEPENDENCE ON OIL.

BY ALUF BENN

Benjamin Netanyahu had a vision: to free the world of dependence on oil. He believed that this was the best way to improve Israel's strategic situation. In a world without oil, the Arabs would lose their political influence and the Iranians would be unable to fund Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the magic vision of the leader of the right, in a world without oil no one would be interested in the Palestinians, and the West would stop pestering Israel with demands that it withdraw from the territories.

Upon his return to power, Netanyahu embarked on manifesting this vision. At the Presidential Conference in October 2009, he posed a challenge - to do away with global dependence on oil.

"I know that it seems impossible, but I'm telling you that it's possible," the prime minister promised. "The primary and most important issue for Israel - from a geopolitical point of view, from a security point of view, from an environmental point of view, as far as securing the future is concerned, in terms of altering the global priorities - is finding an alternative to oil."

He said it and then acted upon it: The day after the conference, Netanyahu assigned Prof. Eugene Kandel, the head of the National Economic Council, the task of transforming Israel into the leading developer of alternatives to oil. Kandel set up a committee comprised of senior officials and scientists, and embarked on finding a miraculous solution that would crush the hold of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Russia on the global energy market.

Oil controls transportation, and so the committee focused on improving the powering of vehicles with fuel produced form coal and plants, or on electric engines (whose energy is produced from various sources ). The panel members also studied the history of developing oil alternatives and discovered that the field suffers from shortness of breath. Every time the prices of fuel went up, funds were invested in finding alternatives. When the prices dropped again, the projects were neglected.

That will not happen to us, the committee promised; Israel has a serious interest in lessening global dependency on oil. And unlike countries in the West, we do not have a powerful energy industry that will try to retain the status quo.

Only a few companies in Israel are busy developing oil alternatives, if we exclude Better Place's electric car project, but the committee promised that there was nothing to worry about. The Israeli mind had proven itself in high-tech, in the defense industry and in agriculture, and with the right sort of government guidance and contributions from the Jewish Diaspora, it will succeed in beating the oil producers too. Like every bureaucratic body, the Kandel Committee also followed Parkinson's Law: Its members solved the world's problems, but found it difficult to determine which ministry would control the project - National Infrastructure or Industry, Trade and Labor.

The committee filed a report in July 2010, and in September Netanyahu brought the conclusions for government approval. Adding to the drama, he invited Military Intelligence director Amos Yadlin to the discussion, who told the ministers about oil's dangers for Israel.

Kandel meanwhile found a solution to the disagreement over the control of the project, right out of the Parkinson's Law files: increase his own empire. He proposed setting up a staff in the Prime Minister's Office, with more personnel and an annual budget of NIS 146 million. The ministers were not impressed, and the discussions continued into October without a decision being made, and with Netanyahu "considering defining the program as a national project."

In the meantime, there has been a surprising twist to the plot. While the committee is sitting around thinking, the citizens of Israel have learned about the enormous natural gas deposits discovered offshore in the Leviathan field. Overnight, Israel was transformed into the new Saudi Arabia, and the dreams of oil alternatives were replaced by fantasies of gas royalties. National interest was overturned in one fell swoop: So long as energy prices increase, more money will enter the state coffers.

And the enemies have changed, too. Instead of trying to bring down the economy of Iran, Netanyahu is fighting businessman Yitzhak Tshuva over the split in the booty from the drilling in the Mediterranean Sea.

In bringing the conclusions of the Sheshinsky Committee before the cabinet for approval - which divided the gas money between the state and the entrepreneurs - Netanyahu did not even mention his vision of doing away with oil dependency. He promised the future royalties to the largest budget consumers - defense and education - and not "the primary and most important issue" of developing alternative energy.

The beautiful vision evaporated in the bureaucratic grinders, and the prime minister fell into the very trap against which he had warned. When money flows from the ocean floor, who has time to think about correcting the world?

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HAARETZ

OPINION

GALANT'S ARROGANCE MAKES HIM PERFECT FOR IDF CHIEF

INCOMING IDF CHIEF'S HOME IS AN ARCHITECTURAL EMBODIMENT OF AN ARROGANT ATTITUDE BASED ON THE PREMISE OF SOVEREIGNTY.

BY ALON IDAN

You look at the house that Yoav Galant built and the picture is clear: He is suitable to be the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff.

The excessive size of the place, the open craving for space, the aggressiveness needed to get it done - these are precisely the basic qualifications for someone who's supposed to lead an organization whose job is to implement long-term control over occupied territory and people who oppose it.

Galant's house is, in many ways, a metaphor for the State of Israel. Take a look - at the lack of consideration for the neighbors, at the bureaucratic loopholes that allow for distasteful practices, at the obsession over expansion, at the takeover, at the facts on the ground. It's primarily a self-ignorant symbol of a megalomania, of a force that doesn't realize its ramifications.

The house that Galant built is a villa in the jungle, to borrow an Israeli metaphor used to describe what some see as Israel's position as an island of civilization in the Middle East. That villa is an architectural embodiment of an arrogant attitude based on the premise of sovereignty: I deserve it because I'm better than others. Why better than others? Maybe because I'm an "important person," a major general in the IDF, or because we're the "chosen people."

Therefore, it's self-evident that we should get what the simple folk - or the neighbor who isn't chosen - don't get.

If a single point had to be picked that holds together all the constructions of Israeli belligerence, it would be the "escape route" path paved for Galant, the land for which was appropriated using the pretext of security. The way in which the path was paved encapsulates the way in which the occupation is allowed to continue.

The chronology is the same. The entity in power has some need and a creative bureaucratic excuse is found for fulfilling the need; an official will be located to present an "expert" opinion recognizing the need, security rhetoric is used to create an aura of strength related to the need, background noise that isn't necessarily in line with the need is taken care of, and there is public indifference to the need and the ways in which it is met. Now the entity in power does exactly what it wants, without taking the surroundings into consideration.

Galant's response also embodies the typical Israeli response. It's important to maintain the right to remain silent, as befits someone who is above everybody else and doesn't owe an explanation.

Instead of acting like a good neighbor, instead of explicating the situation or starting a dialogue, it's always better to ignore people that are different, to avoid cooperating, to give preference to mechanisms that are generally characteristic of a sense of supremacy apparently rooted in guilty feelings.

From Galant's perspective, as from that of the State of Israel, a response is essential only if it will be demanded by equal or higher-ranking entities - like the state comptroller, like the United States, like the amorphous "international pressure."

When an entity further up on the hierarchy does demand a response, what should be issued should never be an actual response, but a version of what happened. In other words, it will always take into account the criminal angle, but not the underlying fundamentals. "I didn't lie - there might have been mistakes"; these are the words that are supposed to let Galant continue to move up in his career, to be appointed chief of staff, not words that are meant to represent soul-searching or the beginnings of a dialogue.

What comes of all this is that it's no surprise to learn that those close to Galant are arguing that he is being subjected to character assassination - just as the Europeans/leftists/bleeding hearts are instigating a character assassination of the State of Israel when it comes to anything related to appropriating land or being inconsiderate of our neighbors.

The state comptroller is currently looking into the matter, but his investigation is unnecessary. All we need to do is look at the villa in the jungle in order to realize that Yoav Galant is just the right pick for IDF chief of staff.

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

EDITORIAL

THE STATE OF THE UNION

This nation faces huge problems — putting millions of Americans back to work, investing to compete in a 21st-century global economy and wrestling down a long-term budget deficit that threatens everyone's future.

Ever since the 2010 campaign, we have heard precious little in the way of serious solutions — mostly just smoke-and-mirrors spending cuts from Republicans and their usual clamor for more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Tuesday night's State of the Union address was President Obama's chance to rise above that pinched vision, to help Americans understand that while government cannot do everything, it is indispensable in reviving the economy, spurring innovation, educating Americans and keeping them healthy and making the nation competitive globally.

Mr. Obama took on those issues, and the Republicans, squarely. Rebutting their single-minded focus on slashing discretionary domestic spending, Mr. Obama said we have to "stop pretending" that cutting this kind of spending "alone will be enough."

The speech was a chance for Mr. Obama to talk about the need for government investment in highways and railroads, schools and new, clean-energy industries. And we were encouraged that Mr. Obama set national goals in these areas — 85 percent of the nation's energy should come from clean energy by 2035; 80 percent of Americans should have access to high-speed rail within 25 years; and 98 percent should have access to high-speed wireless within five years.

These are grand, and expensive, ideas, and it was vital that Mr. Obama talked about the need to pay for new spending.

He proposed eliminating taxpayer subsidies for oil companies, for example, to help pay for his clean-energy initiative. "I don't know if you've noticed," the president said, "but they're doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday's energy, let's invest in tomorrow's."

Mr. Obama also is calling for extending his proposed three-year freeze on some discretionary programs to five years. The White House said that would create $400 billion in savings over 10 years — a deep cut at a bad time, but far saner than Republican calls to slash spending so deeply that it would surely cripple the recovery.

The White House said Mr. Obama needed to make some proposal like that to remain in the debate. That is likely true. But he also made clear that there is no long-term solution without cutting military spending and mandatory spending on Medicare and Social Security.

He made a strong case for ending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy when they expire in two years. "Before we take money away from our schools or scholarships away from our students, we should ask millionaires to give up their tax break," he said.

That's important, but letting high-end tax breaks expire won't raise enough revenue to pay for needed investments or reduce long-term deficits. Mr. Obama proposed to simplify both the corporate income tax and the personal income tax, but he did not call for raising other taxes. Americans may not want to hear that taxes have to go up, but until Mr. Obama and other political leaders are willing to say so, credible deficit reduction will remain out of reach.

Mr. Obama's speech offered a welcome contrast to all of the posturing that passes for business in the new Republican-controlled House. On Tuesday, House Republicans pushed through a resolution calling for reducing spending on domestic programs to 2008 levels. In a fragile economy, cutting spending on transportation, education, scientific research, food safety and childhood nutrition will do huge damage.

At times Tuesday night, Mr. Obama was genuinely inspiring with a vision for the country to move forward with confidence and sense of responsibility. Americans need to hear a lot more like that from him.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MAKE THEM WORK FOR IT

Senate Democrats now have a rare opportunity to reduce the abuse of the filibuster and increase the chances that the people's work actually gets done. Instead, they are close to an agreement on a watered-down package of changes that will have only a modest effect on the chamber's gridlock.

Over the last four years, Republicans have more than doubled the number of filibusters from the previous period, requiring 60-vote supermajorities for virtually every measure to move forward. In most, a single senator has raised an objection, bringing progress to a halt.

A group of Democratic senators — led by Tom Udall of New Mexico and Jeff Merkley of Oregon — came up with a reasonable proposal to reduce this practice while preserving the minority's right to wage a fight. It would require 10 senators to start a filibuster and then speak continuously on the floor to keep it going. If an issue is important enough to block, then senators should be willing to work for it and explain themselves to the public.

Democrats could have passed this rule change with a simple-majority vote. But Senate aides say several Democrats are afraid the new rules will put them at a disadvantage should their party fall to a minority. That misses a much more important point. The rules need to be changed not to cripple one party or the other but to improve the efficiency of the Senate no matter who is in power. There is no excuse for even routine budgets and spending bills to languish for lack of 60 votes.

The agreement being negotiated by the leadership of both parties would at least make it harder to block presidential nominations with anonymous holds and would reduce the number of positions needing Senate confirmation — welcome changes.

The two parties are also expected to reach a "handshake agreement" to cut back on filibusters and allow the minority party a greater chance to offer amendments to bills. But such agreements can easily fall apart in the chamber's charged environment.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said Tuesday that the matter would be settled shortly. That means there is still a chance for the Senate to adopt real rules, allowing majority votes to prevail in most circumstances and reserving delaying tactics for unusual cases. Without this reform, the Senate will remain dysfunctional.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A CASE FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

A court hearing this month in Manhattan turned on a subject that has mostly been missing in the legal response to former President George W. Bush's abusive detention policies: some measure of accountability.

The focus of the hearing before Judge Alvin Hellerstein of Federal District Court was not torture itself but the Central Intelligence Agency's deliberate destruction in 2005 of dozens of videotapes made three years earlier showing the brutal interrogation of high-level terrorism suspects, including the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. At the time, the agency had been ordered by Judge Hellerstein to preserve the tapes.

They were part of the evidence being sought in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act seeking details of prisoner mistreatment. Their destruction was seen as so egregious that the Bush administration felt compelled to order a special investigation when it was disclosed.

In November, the special prosecutor handling that investigation, John Durham, decided against bringing criminal charges against any C.I.A. official. No details of his decision were provided, leaving it unclear why those involved were not charged with any crime.

Now Judge Hellerstein is grappling with a way to respond with appropriate firmness to the flouting of his order. At the Jan. 14 hearing, he wondered aloud about the value and appropriateness of civil contempt sanctions. But he also expressed a desire for a resolution that recognizes the gravity of the action by C.I.A. officials and makes a recurrence less likely.

The C.I.A.'s decision to destroy the tapes — rather than submit them to the judge for a decision on whether to order their public release — was a serious affront to the court and the rule of law. A contempt order is not a perfect remedy, but it would at least provide some official acknowledgment that what the C.I.A. did was wrong. The agency's lawyer suggested the government pay the A.C.L.U.'s legal fees. That would be deeply inadequate.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A CASE FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

A court hearing this month in Manhattan turned on a subject that has mostly been missing in the legal response to former President George W. Bush's abusive detention policies: some measure of accountability.

The focus of the hearing before Judge Alvin Hellerstein of Federal District Court was not torture itself but the Central Intelligence Agency's deliberate destruction in 2005 of dozens of videotapes made three years earlier showing the brutal interrogation of high-level terrorism suspects, including the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding. At the time, the agency had been ordered by Judge Hellerstein to preserve the tapes.

They were part of the evidence being sought in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act seeking details of prisoner mistreatment. Their destruction was seen as so egregious that the Bush administration felt compelled to order a special investigation when it was disclosed.

In November, the special prosecutor handling that investigation, John Durham, decided against bringing criminal charges against any C.I.A. official. No details of his decision were provided, leaving it unclear why those involved were not charged with any crime.

Now Judge Hellerstein is grappling with a way to respond with appropriate firmness to the flouting of his order. At the Jan. 14 hearing, he wondered aloud about the value and appropriateness of civil contempt sanctions. But he also expressed a desire for a resolution that recognizes the gravity of the action by C.I.A. officials and makes a recurrence less likely.

The C.I.A.'s decision to destroy the tapes — rather than submit them to the judge for a decision on whether to order their public release — was a serious affront to the court and the rule of law. A contempt order is not a perfect remedy, but it would at least provide some official acknowledgment that what the C.I.A. did was wrong. The agency's lawyer suggested the government pay the A.C.L.U.'s legal fees. That would be deeply inadequate.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

GOOD NEWS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST (REALLY)

BY JEFFREY GOLDBERG AND HUSSEIN IBISH

Washington

IT has lately become the accepted wisdom that the Middle East peace process is dead, finished, kaput. This belief has been reinforced by Al Jazeera's release this week of some 1,600 documents that are said to describe the inside workings of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2008.

The arguments claiming that the peace process is dead come from all corners: Some contend that the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, is ineffectual or illegitimate. Some say the asymmetry of power between Israel and the Palestinians is simply too great for a genuine compromise. Some insist the conflict is driven by unabated anti-Semitic incitement on the part of the Palestinians, or by irredeemable Israeli racism.

Other arguments are more specific. Some analysts feel that the real problem is that the Palestine Liberation Organization has become trapped by the Obama administration's quest for a settlement freeze, which has prevented direct negotiations with Israel. Still another argument points out that Gaza, which has no future independent of the rest of Palestine, remains under the boot of the brutal fundamentalists of Hamas, rendering the P.L.O. incapable of delivering a final status agreement for the whole of the Palestinian people.

It is also argued that the threat of a nuclear Iran, and the support to Hamas and other extremists provided by Tehran, makes a deal impossible. And many observers have noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, perched atop a governing coalition that is both internally argumentative and habitually intransigent, has not provided much confidence in the chances of even a provisional compromise, especially as settlers continue to build in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

There are large elements of truth to many of these observations. Yet there are other, more heartening, trends that have gone largely unnoticed. And there are indeed palatable steps that both the Israelis and the Palestinians could take, separately but simultaneously — call it joint unilateralism — that could help revive the peace process.

We tend to forget, amid the welter of commentary about Palestinian incitement and Israeli belligerence, that we have recently seen startling shifts in both Israeli and Palestinian attitudes on the need for compromise. The Palestinian Authority government, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, two of the most conscientious and sober-minded leaders the Palestinian people have had, continues to push forward a remarkable state-building program, and has been innovative in working against violence and incitement.

In Israel, the shift is also startling. Prime Minister Netanyahu — the leader of the Likud Party, which was previously the guardian of the ideology of territorial maximalism — has openly endorsed the creation of an independent Palestine. A majority of Knesset members plainly realize the necessity of a two-state solution. (Even Israel's truculent foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has said that he was "ready to quit my settlement home to make peace.")

Mr. Netanyahu, in a quiet way, has also encouraged a greater normalization of life on the West Bank. On his watch, the overall pace of settlement growth has slowed, especially when compared with previous Labor Party-led governments during the years of the Oslo peace process. He allowed the Palestinian flag to be raised in his private residence during a formal meeting with Mr. Abbas, and now employs the diplomatic term "West Bank" instead of the biblical term "Judea and Samaria." He has also condemned an initiative offered by a group of Orthodox rabbis that sought to forbid Jews from selling or renting homes to non-Jews.

But it is on the Palestinian side that change has been the most notable. Gaza, of course, remains an intractable problem, since no peace treaty will end the conflict so long as Hamas is in power and loyal to the uncompromising Muslim Brotherhood ideology it espouses.

The West Bank, however, has lately been the scene of undeniably impressive developments. The new, highly professional Palestinian Authority security forces have restored order in formerly anarchic cities like Jenin and Nablus. The resulting calm has spurred a high level of investment and improved the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. It is almost impossible for those of us who saw firsthand the violence and chaos of the intifada that began in 2000 to quite believe the extent of positive change in the cities of the West Bank.

It is, in part, the high level of Palestinian security cooperation with Israel — involving intelligence sharing and on-the-ground measures — that has reduced violence so significantly. According to Israel's internal security agency, the Shin Bet, 2010 was Israel's most terror-free year in a decade. This has prompted Israel to remove many checkpoints from roads used by Palestinians, allowing for greater mobility, which also encourages economic growth. (The calm has also helped spur Israel's economy to new heights.) Still, Israeli incursions into Palestinian Authority-controlled territory have been damaging to the authority, and should be carried out only for essential security reasons, not political ones.

The Palestinian Authority in the last three years has completed more than 1,700 community development programs across the West Bank, and built 120 schools, three hospitals and 50 health clinics. Prime Minister Fayyad has created what is probably the most transparent public finance system in the Arab world. The court system is being reformed (though it is still susceptible to corruption) and it has seen a jump in the number of criminal prosecutions. Around 1,000 miles of roads have been paved and 850 miles of water pipes have been installed. The Palestinians of the West Bank are finally beginning to build their state.

But this project is as fragile as it is vital for the international community, and especially for Israel. Its future as a Jewish democratic state depends on the creation of a peaceful, democratic and stable Palestinian state by its side.

There are a number of steps that Israel could take to help Palestinian moderates. They are, in the main, not overly onerous, and not irreversible should Israel's security be newly threatened. But they could have a galvanizing effect on the attitudes of Palestinians who doubt the possibility of reaching a two-state solution.

Mr. Netanyahu, who acknowledges the effectiveness of the Palestinian security forces, could allow these forces to develop advanced counterterrorism capacities, which they do not now possess. This would carry some obvious risks, but also some obvious benefits: the sine qua non of governance is the provision of basic security, and meaningful security cooperation is the most powerful argument against the idea that an independent Palestinian state would be a threat to Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu could also cede control of more West Bank land to the Palestinian Authority. It is crucial that the Palestinian government be allowed to rule in areas that are generally understood to be part of the future Palestinian state.

And though Mr. Netanyahu's interest in Palestinian economic development is commendable, the notion that "economic peace," as he terms it, is a substitute for a comprehensive, negotiated agreement is wrongheaded. This is a political conflict, and a political conflict requires a political solution. The term "economic peace" also suggests to Palestinians that Israel is set on depriving them of their right to national self-determination, and has caused some Palestinians to misread the authority's state-building program as an instrument of Israeli government manipulation and control.

Of course, no Palestinian state will emerge on a West Bank blanketed with settlements, and the future of the larger, more far-flung settlements must ultimately be decided by a negotiated agreement. However, a modified and limited, but very public and systematic, withdrawal of settlers from remote or particularly confrontational settlements, especially from the so-called outposts that even Israel considers illegal, would have a powerful effect on Palestinian perceptions about Israel's long-term intentions.

WE do not expect Israel to unilaterally withdraw both its military and the settlers from the West Bank, particularly given the consequences of Ariel Sharon's flawed unilateral disengagement from Gaza, which ultimately led to the rise of Hamas. No doubt Israeli troops will remain in control of settlements until there is a negotiated withdrawal, whether it occurs in one stroke or in stages. But we believe even a modest effort by Israel to reverse the pattern of settlement growth could strongly improve conditions for negotiations — and improve Israel's sinking image.

It should also go without saying that the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for settlers simply cannot continue. Mr. Sharon's Gaza plan was flawed, but the insight that brought it about (one shared by his successor, Ehud Olmert) was acute: Israel has no future as the occupier of Palestinians who don't agree to be occupied. One hopes that Mr. Netanyahu shares that insight, although one must also recognize that politically he has every incentive to remain ambiguous.

There are important steps the Palestinians can take, as well, that would create a more positive atmosphere for negotiations. Last August, Prime Minister Fayyad pledged, in a widely broadcast speech, to use the West Bank's public education system to combat religious and political fanaticism. And while many Hamas-influenced imams and schoolteachers in the West Bank have been removed from the state payroll, incitement and indoctrination continue. The Palestinian Authority should follow through on Mr. Fayyad's promise, and the rest of the world should support this with as much financial and technical assistance as possible.

Things have been further complicated in recent weeks as several Latin American states have recognized the Palestinians and upgraded the diplomatic status of their missions. Many Israelis are discomfited by this. The P.L.O. should be as clear as possible that these efforts do not constitute an end-run around an American-brokered negotiated agreement, but are an adjunct to both negotiations and the state-building program.

The best Israeli response to these initiatives would be to institute confidence-building measures that demonstrate that the key to Palestinian independence does not lie with Chile and Bolivia, but with Israel and the United States. Palestinians understand, of course, that at the end of the day, their independence depends on one country, Israel, more than any other, since it is Israel that controls the land that would comprise their state.

THERE are, however, Palestinian initiatives that are completely counterproductive. Continued threats to unilaterally declare independence are pointless and provocative. Support for boycotts against all Israeli products and companies also serve only to convince Israel and its supporters that the Palestinians seek its elimination. Israel is a member of the United Nations and must not be delegitimized. It is understandable that Palestinians are supporting boycotts of products made in settlements, however, since the settlements are illegitimate and must not be legitimized.

There are two other steps that the Israelis and Palestinians could take that could reignite hope. The first would see the end of obfuscation about long-term intentions. Both sides need to emphasize their commitment to a genuine two-state solution with an independent, sovereign Palestine living alongside Israel in peace and security. Ambiguity on this point for cynical political purposes is destroying confidence on both sides in the capacity of the other to compromise. At least since the Camp David talks of 2000, both parties have argued one line in public and another behind closed doors, an unhappy tactic that has been underscored by Al Jazeera's release of the alleged diplomatic documents.

Polls show that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians say they both want a two-state solution, but also say they believe the other side is lying. Peace will not come if politicians refuse to prepare their citizens for it through clear and consistent language. Officially produced Israeli and Palestinian advertisements and maps that depict Israel as Palestine and vice versa must also be put to an end.

The other step is even more difficult to achieve, because it requires the softening of hearts. In 1997, a Jordanian soldier murdered seven Israel schoolgirls who were on an outing on an island in the Jordan River. King Hussein of Jordan crossed the border and visited the families of the girls to apologize for their deaths. In Israeli eyes, this simple act of compassion transformed the king from an enemy into a hero.

Imagine, then, what would happen if Mahmoud Abbas were to visit Israel and tell Israelis he acknowledges that they have national and historical rights on the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and that he understands their suffering. And imagine what would happen if Benjamin Netanyahu were to visit Ramallah, acknowledge Palestinian suffering and also Palestinian national and historical rights, particularly to a country of their own, on their native land.

The two of us have been following the Middle East peace talks for years, and we are not naïve about the chances for peace. We disagree on a dozen aspects of this conflict, which is not surprising for an Arab and a Jew. But we also know that giving up or walking away is not an option, because the alternative to compromise is the abyss.

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent of The Atlantic. Hussein Ibish is a senior research fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

A PRESIDENT'S MIDPOINT POLLS CAN BE DECEIVING

 

A president's second State of the Union address is seen as a kick-off of sorts for his re-election bid, or at least the handicapping of it by pundits. It comes at the midpoint of his term, providing an excuse to evaluate his first two years. And it comes at a time when potential opponents are at least preparing to announce their candidacies.

For President Obama, this moment provides a particular abundance of political talking points. He has gone from a decisive victory for himself in 2008 to a humiliating defeat for his party in 2010. He faces a hostile audience among resurgent Republicans. And his approval ratings dropped from 69% in early 2009 to the low 40s last year, before partially recovering to 50% recently as he moved toward the center after November's "shellacking."

 

So what does it all mean?

 

Not much, at least as far as the ability to predict the future is concerned. In the past six administrations, a president's standing in the polls after two years has been almost inversely related to how he fared in his re-election efforts.

 

The president with the best poll numbers at the two-year mark, according to Gallup, was the first President Bush, who had a sky-high approval of 82% as U.S. military forces prepared to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.

 

Bush's State of the Union address in 1991 was about confronting tyranny. Six weeks later, he would return for another speech to Congress, this one jubilantly announcing the success of Operation Desert Storm and proclaiming what he called a "New World Order."

 

But soon the economy would fall into recession. And New World Order or not, Bush would lose his re-election bid to Bill Clinton.

 

Conversely, the president with the lowest approval rating after his first two years in office — just 37% and falling — was Ronald Reagan.

 

As he approached his second State of the Union address, in 1983, Reagan's presidency was widely viewed as troubled. Economists and business leaders fretted about the economy and the deficit, and they were wary of a tax increase — that's right, increase!— that Reagan was proposing to close the deficit.

 

Former Republican speechwriter, turned columnist, William Safire declared a "midterm crisis." Democrats, for their part, smelled victory in 1984. Party Chairman Charles Manatt predicted that his party would recapture the White House.

 

That's not exactly the way things turned out. Reagan was re-elected in a landslide, and today — 30 years after his inauguration and 100 years after his birth — he is widely regarded to have been a successful and consequential president.

 

With his recent rebound, Obama polls about in the middle of the pack among recent presidents at the midpoint of their first terms. What's more, the next presidential election is an eternity away in political time.

 

That's a good reason to keep the discussion of Obama and his critics where it should be for some time to come — on the substance of their proposals and counterproposals. The polls make for interesting snapshots in time, but they are lousy crystal balls.

 

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USA TODAY

EDITORIAL

OUR VIEW ON KIDS: WHEN UNWED BIRTHS HIT 41%, IT'S JUST NOT RIGHT

 

What's the matter with kids today? A great deal more than you might realize.

 

One-third are overweight or obese. Nearly a third drop out or can't finish high school in four years. All told, 75% are in such a poor state that they are ineligible for military service for reasons ranging from health to drugs to criminal records to lack of education.

 

Last month came bad news about the rest: 23% of those who try to enlist fail the basic entrance exam.

 

Dismayed military leaders and education reformers are quick to blame failing schools, and they're right. But there's a deeper issue in play as well — one that gets far too little attention.

 

In 2009, 41% of children born in the USA were born to unmarried mothers (up from 5% a half-century ago). That includes 73% of non-Hispanic black children, 53% of Hispanic children and 29% of non-Hispanic white children. Those are not misprints.

 

Some children of unmarried parents, of course, turn out just fine, particularly if the parents are economically secure or in committed, long-term relationships, or if the single parent is particularly strong and motivated. And as married parents will tell you, wedlock does not guarantee untroubled kids.

 

Even so, evidence is overwhelming that children of single mothers — particularly teen mothers — suffer disproportionately high poverty rates, impaired development and low school performance.

 

A long-term study by researchers from Princeton and Columbia universities who've followed the lives of 5,000 children, born to married and never-married mothers in 20 urban centers, is the latest to reach that conclusion, and it sheds light on the reasons.

 

A large majority of the never-married mothers had close relationships with a partner when their child was born. But by the time the child was 5, most of the fathers were gone and the child had little contact with him. As many of the mothers went on to new relationships, the children were hampered by repeated transitions that did more harm to their development.

 

These " fragile families" are not a new phenomenon. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Labor Department official and later a prominent senator, rang alarm bells when unmarried births in the black community were nearing 24%. (The rate among white mothers was about 3% then.) But his paper on the subject ignited a furor, particularly among fellow liberals and civil rights leaders, who charged him with racism and blaming the victim.

 

Today, the 1965 numbers look quaint. Yet despite the soaring statistics, the problem never gets the profile it deserves.

 

Many on the right focus on marriage as the answer, and surely that is a big part of it. Single-parent success stories aside, reduced commitment is no virtue. On the left, the tendency is to see poverty as the villain, and just as surely, fighting its causes is also part of the answer. So is improving schools.

 

 

But so far, no one's answers seem to be working. Even as school programs have cut into teen pregnancy rates, more babies are being born to unmarried women in their 20s. In 2009, for the first time since the Census began tallying marriages, the proportion of never-married Americans ages 25 through 34 exceeded those who had been married.

 

There are no easy ways to reverse these trends. Anything that promotes stability in children's lives can help. But this much is clear: When 41% of babies born in the USA have unwed parents and most children reach adulthood with serious problems, more attention must be paid.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

STATES, CITIES SEE THE LURE OF CHINA

BY TED C. FISHMAN

 

This year, cameras and commentators at the State of the Union address focused on Washington's political combatants who have made Washington a center of standoff and division. If sclerosis is the state of our nation's capital, however, it is not the state of our nation. The divide was highlighted last week, by, of all people, Hu Jintao, the president of China. When Hu and party wended their way from the nation's capital to Chicago, the contrast between D.C. inaction on one hand and the pragmatic, charge ahead, get-to-work ethos outside the capital could not have been on better display.

 

In Washington, President Obama and his economic team offered hollow rebukes to the Chinese visitors over trade and China's undervalued currency. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to attend the state dinner for Hu. Reid also referred to Hu as a "dictator," which, although China remains a one-party, undemocratic state, misunderstands the Chinese presidency and insults a guest we are urging to be a partner. Hu mostly tolerated the barbs. He knew that outside Washington, the reception awaiting him in Chicago would be far more welcoming.

 

The ceaseless parade of U.S. mayors, heads of chambers of commerce and economic development officials who travel to China, and who receive delegations here, offers a message of unalloyed cooperation. The local officials share Washington's concerns on trade, but they cannot count on Washington to act. The dozens of bills in Congress that challenge China's economic practices routinely go nowhere. The locals, however, want partnerships in China that give their local companies access now. They know that grandstanding on human rights and China's World Trade Organization commitments has not delivered those.

 

Rolling out red carpet to investment

 

The U.S. delegations also want China to invest mightily in their communities. America already hosts industrial and other business investors from Europe, Japan and Latin America, who have hundreds of billions invested in the U.S. China is a new investor in America and its current position is small. In Chicago, Chinese officials promised, to great applause, that this will change. China has nearly $3 trillion in foreign currency reserves it needs to invest somewhere, and it has a sovereign wealth fund with around $300 billion worth of Chinese government funds slated for foreign investment. China also has its own growing group of firms that are beginning to shop for places to expand abroad.

 

President Hu came to Chicago with a huge delegation, reportedly including 400 Chinese business people. Last Friday, one of the city's largest convention ballrooms filled with more than 1,000 Chinese and American business people for a "networking" forum. Over the past decade, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has been working to cement relations between the Midwest and the Middle Kingdom. Through repeated and reciprocal visits, business and cultural exchanges and sister city relationships with Shanghai and Shenyang, the mayor and a network of local civic and business groups have kept the channels to China as open as they could manage.

 

The meeting in Chicago was both the dénouement of the efforts and the beginning of a new stage. Daley said it would prove to all that Chicago is the "most China-friendly city in the United States." Chicago, as a regional center, sees the sense in thinking beyond its borders. The state dinner hosted by the mayor included officials from other Midwest cities, too. The Chinese minister of commerce came with billions worth in deals for Midwestern firms, each one announced dramatically at the big forum. The minister also announced an official study group to explore further how Chicago could be made the gateway to Chinese businesses to invest in the U.S. The appeal: The region has the industrial and agricultural mix that complements the Chinese economy, and it has a welcoming attitude that insulates China from U.S. politics.

 

So the Chinese have learned, along with most Americans, that the rhetoric in Washington often has little to do with work-a-day life of America.

 

Certainly, if China's local connections in the U.S. create American jobs and expand trade, they will be welcome relief from the pressures the Chinese economy has put on U.S. businesses and workers in the past. Yet, over-enthusiasm for Chinese investment has some dangers, too. If Chinese money seeps into the heart of industrial America in search of firms with valuable technology and processes the Chinese can ship home and copy, or if the economic links grow so strong that the Chinese rule-makers become overseers of companies with large numbers of employees in the U.S., they could weaken our country's economic negotiating power with China.

 

A warning shot?

 

In one, perhaps inadvertently chilly warning, offered in Chicago by China's minister of commerce, he told the audience that China would expect that its firms not bear the "inefficiencies" of the U.S. workforce, if they made American companies less competitive than those on other shores.

 

To me, this sounded like code for China's unwillingness to pay the kinds of insurance and benefits American workers often get. Chinese firms already win by not bearing those costs in China, and they don't want them to burden their foreign operations, either. If the pressure to change the workplace to fit Chinese expectations proffers too much change, then China's local friends might join the griping choruses in Washington.

 

Ted C. Fishman is the author of the new book Shock of Gray. He also is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

 

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USA TODAY

OPINION

ON EDUCATION REFORM, SAFE IS FOR LOSERS

BY RICHARD WHITMIRE

 

Timing is everything, and the timing for Barack Obama to use Tuesday's State of Union to declare himself the education president was, well, not ideal. The U.S. Department of Education released the Nation's Report Card on science Tuesday, and nobody came out looking good.

 

On this round of the trusted National Assessment of Educational Progress, only one in five high school seniors scored proficient in science. Worse, only a handful scored at the advanced level — not an encouraging sign as the nation faces international economic competition based more on brains than brawn. The conventional logic that American students' creativity and critical thinking skills will trump the rote rigor of kids raised by "tiger moms" in Shanghai and Mumbai crumbles when you see that only our smartest kids can figure out the basics of plant life and earth rotation.

 

At the bottom end of the score spectrum, the news only worsens. Among 12th-graders, those about to enter a world where some higher education is required even for many blue-collar jobs, four in 10 were "below basic" in science skills.

 

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was appropriately dismayed: "The results released today show that our nation's students aren't learning at a rate that will maintain America's role as an international leader in the sciences," he said. "When only 1 or 2% of children score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors and engineers."

 

President Obama has been appropriately aggressive in pushing for improvements in the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, a law about to be renamed and refreshed. Among the changes he suggests is allowing states to include science in their calculations of whether schools are improving. Obama can also tout some real education achievements under Duncan, such as getting more states to sign onto uniform (and improved) national Common Core learning standards, including science. Also praiseworthy are the Race to the Top grants that nudged more states into trying realistic evaluations of teachers.

 

What's worrisome, however, is that Obama is likely to end up just another "education president" who barely makes a dent. President George W. Bush gave us No Child Left Behind, the law that nearly everyone agrees was nobly written and ignobly implemented. President Clinton pioneered the small-bore approach to education, promoting everything from Internet connections to school uniforms. Great politics, but not much beyond that. President George H.W. Bush launched the national school accountability movement.

 

What have these efforts come to? Look at California, which has some of the highest learning standards in the country: More than half of its eighth-graders just scored below basic in science skills.

 

So if California has what Obama and Duncan are praising, what's left?

 

In researching a book about Michelle Rhee's turbulent tenure as a reform-minded schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., I got a sense of what it takes to boost learning among the nation's neediest students. The answer is something more radical than anything Duncan and Obama are offering up.

 

The key difference between the U.S. and top scoring countries is that those countries draw their teachers from top college graduates, and we don't. The results, especially in our urban schools, are striking, whether measured by high school graduation rates, the number of students entering college in need of remediation or the number of military recruits unable to pass screening tests.

 

Rhee — and Adrian Fenty, the mayor who appointed her — took steps to reverse the damage. The mayor lost his re-election bid, mostly over education reforms, and Rhee had to step down. No wonder Duncan and Obama hew to the politically safe.

 

Safe, however, won't reverse those embarrassing science numbers.

 

Richard Whitmire, a former editorial writer for USA TODAY, is author of The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes on the Nation's Worst School District.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S ADDRESS

 

With bitter war in Afghanistan and continuing costs for our effort in Iraq, with a $14 trillion national debt, with annual budget deficits of about $1.4 trillion adding up, and with unemployment 9.4 percent, President Barack Obama tried to be optimistic in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

 

"[W]e are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea, the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny ...," the president said. "The future is ours to win. ... Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation."

 

But obviously, our country is taxing too much, and spending too much more. So it was more than welcome when he declared: "I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president."

 

Fine. But the trouble is that while Obama says he wants to reduce the deficit "$400 billion over the next decade," he and Congress are adding more than three times that much to the deficit in just the next year.

 

Obama admitted, "This freeze will require painful cuts."

 

He noted that "most of the cuts and savings I've proposed only address annual domestic spending" -- a little over 12 percent of the budget.

 

That led him to mention a very sensitive matter: "reducing health care costs, including ... Medicare and Medicaid." He said Social Security must be put on "solid ground" for future generations.

 

But he could not resist class warfare rhetoric, saying we "simply cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans" -- who, along with many of the rest of us, are already taxed too much.

 

He much more wisely said we must reduce the corporate tax rate for the first time in a quarter of a century -- but "without adding to the deficit."

 

We need more jobs, an increase in productivity and rising exports, he correctly noted. And he encouragingly declared, "I've ordered a review of government regulations" -- many of which are holding down economic growth.

 

We need to assure good health care, but the president unfortunately maintained his defense of costly, complex ObamaCare socialized medicine.

 

Obama was surely right in saying that we need to simplify the confusing tax code.

 

He addressed Iraq, Afghanistan, al-Qaida and Pakistan, the problems of warfare and the havens of our enemies. He noted that "nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left (Iraq) with their heads held high." But many are still there, with high costs continuing.

 

He urged more and better education, asking Congress to make permanent a $10,000 tax credit for a student for four years of college.

 

He spoke of rebuilding crumbling roads and bridges, and expanding high-speed wireless Internet coverage.

 

He addressed curbing the massive wave of illegal immigration -- but also hinted at amnesty for millions of illegals already here.

 

He had some good points, but none of his plans will be cheap -- and some are not even constitutional.

 

Obama's State of the Union address expressed hope, but it was short of electrifying and inspiring. We, he and Congress will need tax reform, spending cuts, regulation cuts -- and more free-enterprise activity -- if we want results.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SOME 'STATE OF THE UNION' HISTORY

 

Our Constitution of the United States of America, adopted Sept. 17, 1787, says in Article II, Section 3, that the president "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

 

So our first president, George Washington, on Jan. 8, 1790, personally delivered the first "State of the Union" address to Congress.

 

The message was printed widely in American newspapers.

 

President Thomas Jefferson reportedly felt an address to a joint session of Congress was too "kingly" -- the new United States had only recently gotten rid of obeisance to the British king. So President Jefferson followed the Constitution's direction by writing notes to the House of Representatives and Senate. His successors generally followed his example.

 

It was not till 1913 that President Woodrow Wilson reinstituted a spoken State of the Union report to Congress. His example has become a custom for most of our presidents ever since.

 

There was no "personal" report to the people of the nation until 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge's State of the Union speech was broadcast on radio.

 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president formally to "name" the president's annual report the "State of the Union" address, using the words from the Constitution -- presenting it personally to Congress, as well as on radio.

 

His successor, President Harry S Truman (remember, he sometimes didn't use a period after his middle initial, but sometimes did) was the first president to deliver a State of the Union address not only to Congress but also on television, as well as on radio.

 

Last night, we had the full text of President Barack Obama's "State of the Union" report delivered in accord with the Constitution to Congress -- and projected throughout the world by newspapers, radio, Internet and television, so all could receive our president's view of the State of the Union.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

JUSTICE THOMAS' PROBLEM

 

Clarence Thomas, having grown up poor in Georgia, may have seemed an unlikely choice for appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States by President George H.W. Bush. Thomas had big trouble being confirmed. But he was confirmed and now he's a member of our nation's highest court.

 

Unfortunately, however, he is "in the news" these days concerning his wife's income -- not his judicial service.

 

Justice Thomas has a conservative wife, Virginia, who had significant income for her work with a conservative policy "think tank," the Heritage Foundation.

 

Now, a very liberal organization called Common Cause has raised an income tax question: Common Cause says Mrs. Thomas was paid $686,589 between 2003 and 2007 for her service to The Heritage Foundation -- but that Justice Thomas did not note her income on his financial disclosure forms during those years. He reportedly said "none" where "spousal non-investment income" usually is listed.

 

It would not ordinarily seem to be the business of the public to know the private financial situation of Mrs. Thomas. But there are legal obligations for us all, including federal judges, when it comes to our families and our tax reports.

 

It is disquieting when any question is raised about any personal, financial or other issue concerning a Supreme Court justice. We want our Supreme Court justices and all other judges to be capable, knowledgeable and impartial, upholding the Constitution and the law -- without any disturbing or controversial issue about themselves personally and their families.

 

Justice Thomas now says that he erred in his tax filings, but it is unfortunate that his situation has not yet been explained in a way to justify public confidence that all is legal, proper and beyond any legitimate question.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WE'VE GOT (NON-JUNK) MAIL FROM THE EU CHIEF NEGOTIATOR!

BURAK BEKDİL

Like many other e-mail users, I have the habit of checking my junk e-mail box in case some non-junk mail may have erroneously fallen into this folder. I was right! On Monday I found a (non-private) letter from European Union Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış in my junk e-mail box. 

Minister Bağış's "Agenda" contained a letter he wrote on the second anniversary of his appointment as chief negotiator with the EU. Minister Bağış complains that "despite those very concrete facts, we still face bitter criticism both in Europe and at home." He then "briefly lists the work we have completed in the last two years in the EU accession process."

For instance, the minister talks about "making the Secretariat-General for EU Affairs, or ABGS, a more effective and stronger institution." The minister is right. In the last 10 months we have not heard of an incident like the one that was in the press last March. That, itself, is a major progress in our accession efforts.

Refreshing memories with entertaining events is always fun: It was in the papers that an anonymous informer, who had apparently intercepted the private e-mail messages of some ABGS personnel, wrote a letter to the ABGS to complain about these civil servants because, as the informer informed, (a) these ABGS officials had the habit of sending each other newspaper articles which our informer deemed "anti-Justice and Development Party [AKP];" (b) the same people sent each other a newspaper clipping reporting amputation as a means of legal punishment in Iran, therefore revealing their anti-Sharia worldview; and (c) they celebrated New Year's Eve at a party where alcohol was served. So, the informer concluded, all those people were "Ergenekoncu," or supporters of the Ergenekon gang.

But the contents of a "correction from the ABGS" were in fact more entertaining than the story itself. The correction said that a) the events mentioned in the story had in fact happened in 2006-2008; b) a commission was set up to investigate the claims and a technical examination was carried out; and c) the news story aimed at battering Minister Bağış and the ABGS. EU candidate Turkey's headquarters for EU accession had in fact investigated whether some of its personnel were "Ergenekoncu" because they had privately exchanged anti-AKP, anti-Sharia material and drank alcohol at a party!

That's where I see truth in Minister Bağış's claim that the ABGS had been made a more effective and stronger institution. As far as we know, no such investigation has been carried out recently. And that's progress! Unless we count the little nasty incident last week.

After thousands of Galatasaray football fans protested Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the curtain-raising game for their club's new stadium, prosecutors launched an investigation into "the incident." Through over 200 security cameras, the police and prosecutors are now vigorously working to spot and indict protestors. While the "How-Dare-You-Whistle-in-Protest-of-Our-Glorious-Prime Minister" investigation drags on, one of Minister Bağış's official advisors chose a different method "to indict" Ergenekon's football branch. He wrote a Tweet in his Twitter account and declared the "ungrateful" Galatasaray fans as "ignoble idiots."

If we don't count the fact that such a refined gentleman advises Minister Bağış on Turkey's EU affairs, and the "Chief Negotiator vs. Student Protestors" case – in which the EU minister is demanding prison sentences of up to two years for students who threw eggs at him – we can easily conclude that all is well on the western front. Hence the pride in Minister Bağış's letter that we have successfully opened three chapters in accession talks in the last two years (but have not yet finished any of them)!

But there is more good news in Mr. Bağış's "we've done all that" list for EU entry, including: a new logo for the AGBS and the fact that "we attended the celebration of Rumi's birth in Konya; watched the Troy show together; went to Van to attend the Fekiye Teyran Festival; had EU ambassadors participate for the first time in the funerals of our martyrs who lost their lives in terrorist attacks; held a bicycle tour with the participation of our citizens in Ankara; had stamps and national lottery tickets printed on the occasion of Europe Day; sent text messages to GSM subscribers; and even held a puppet show called the EU Lecture of Karagöz.

But the minister's list would have been incomplete without mentioning that Turkey eventually held its first-ever camel beauty contest! 

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ISLAMIC TRADITIONALISTS, ISLAMIC MODERNISTS

MUSTAFA AKYOL

About two weeks ago, Hayrettin Karaman, a retired professor of Islamic law, wrote a piece titled "Secularization and Degeneration" in his regular column in daily Yeni Şafak. What he said there turned out to be interesting for more than his usual religious audience, as secular-minded columnists of daily Hürriyet, Mehmet Y. Yılmaz and Cüneyt Ülsever, also wrote pieces discussing Karaman's views. Ülsever's three subsequent columns on this topic were printed in these pages as well, under the titles; "Islam and liberal democracy," "How democratic are our Muslims?" and "Government stuck between Islamic traditionalists and Islamic modernists."

What made Professor Karaman's piece so stimulating was a simplifying yet helpful classification he made with regard to contemporary Islamic thought. There are, he said, two main trends. The first was the Islamic traditionalists, who believe that Islam has its own ways of political and social organization. The second trend was the Islamic modernists, who rather believe that Islam is "nothing but faith, religious practices and ethics."

Man-made tradition

As Professor Karaman also explained, this theological difference had political consequences as well. Islamic modernists would have no problem in embracing liberal democracy. The other camp, however, would know that Islam and liberal democracy are "not fully compatible," for implementing some of the rules of classical Islam is not possible in a secular state. Defining himself as one of those traditionalists, Professor Karaman made a practical suggestion to the likeminded: "Maintain their faith and viewpoint and… do practices within the bounds of possibility."

Personally speaking, and using Professor Karaman's classification, I would define myself as a modernist rather than a traditionalist. This is not because that I see modernity as a great blessing that we should all joyfully celebrate. (Like every other stage in human history, modernity has its bright and dark sides.) The real reason is that I believe that much of the Islamic tradition is "man-made" – and made according to its time and milieu. As the world changes, for better or worse, Muslim thinking needs to change as well. 

Here is an example: Classical Islamic scholars divided the world into two major categories: "The Abode of War" versus "The Abode of Islam." The latter referred to territories under Muslim rule, whereas the latter defined the lands of the enemy. (Some added "The Abode of Treaty" as a middle ground, referring to non-Muslim states which made peace treaties with their Muslim counterparts.) That classification made sense in the medieval world, for non-Muslim lands, such as Christian Europe, were really unsafe and un-free for Muslims.

But today's world is much different, because there are new concepts such as human rights, citizenship and international law – and Europe (or North America) is quite safe and free for Muslim believers. In fact, many Muslims have fled from their own countries to such Western ones to escape from dictatorship and find solace in liberal democracy. This dramatic change in the context necessitates a change in Islam's political texts as well.

Where to now?

Most other aspects of Islamic law can be reinterpreted via such "contextualization." There is a whole "modernist" Islamic literature dealing with these issues.

The more temporal question, of course, is how many Muslims accept these reinterpretations and thus tend to think more favorably of liberal democracy. Karaman wrote that both trends – traditionalists and modernists – exist in today's Turkey. Ülsever argued that the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government is "stuck" between the two, preferring the "modernist" image, yet trying to maintain its base among the traditionalists, who "set the majority among conservatives."

I agree. But I also think that there is a silent shift within Turkey's Islamic camp toward "modernist" thinking. The latter was almost heresy 20 years ago: It is more acceptable today as an alternative way to understand Islam. Hadiths, the sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammed, were untouchable in the 1980s. But today, those who question the authenticity of these hadiths, which constitute the bulk of the sharia, find more of an audience and less hostility.

That's why, while the secularists are constantly ranting about the "Islamization" of Turkey, the traditional Islamists are complaining about the "modernization" of their fellow believers – a process that they see as corruption and degeneration.

And the main reason for this shift is just life itself. As Turkey integrated into free-market capitalism, the Islamic camp, which used to live in a cultural cocoon, opened up, started to make money and experience the benefits of modernity. As mundane as it might sound, this change in context really influenced the way people look at their sacred texts.

This is no accident: The psychology of the believer is always influential in his opting for this or that interpretation of his belief. That's why radical Islam grows in maltreated countries or ghettoized communities. And that's why Turkey, with its evolving middle-class Muslim culture, is a case that has value beyond itself. 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS OF TURKEY'S FOREIGN POLICY

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

I wrote yesterday that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu keeps saying the government is following a "zero problems with neighbors" foreign policy. And I insist on making concrete, realistic cost-benefit analyses, what I call the "result-oriented foreign policy" concept.

What they have in their heart is a wish to create a commonwealth led by Turkey in the Middle East, the Balkans and Central Asia, similar to what Britain had with its former colonies. The neo Ottoman!

The benefit (+) part of the cost-benefit analysis:

1) Visa liberation with some regional countries. Lifting visa barriers will of course contribute to trade relations with neighboring countries.

2) Moves made outside the Middle East and in Africa would also contribute to our economy in the future.

If we look at the cost (-) part of the analysis, we see:

1) Turkey signed two protocols with Armenia in 2009 in order to prevent United States President Barack Obama from uttering the word "genocide." Azerbaijan was offended along the way. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rushed to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku and tried to please the Azerbaijanis. When he realized that opposition inside also reacted fiercely to the protocols they were swept under the rug.

2) Turkey prepared for a brokerage between Syria and Israel. Turkish-Israeli relations have deteriorated so seriously that our name is not even uttered in any real mediation attempts between Syria and Israel. Egypt is now taking the lead.

3) Turkey embarked upon mediation between the United States, or the West, and Iran. As the United Nations Security Council was preparing to apply sanctions against Iran, Turkey signed the Tehran Declaration with Brazil in the way Iran desired. The West has not approached the declaration positively. After that, Turkey has become a country whose alliance has been questioned in the U.S. Congress as it voted against the sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. Brazil made a u-turn but Turkey provided a case in the West that the political axis of the country is changing, in favor of an idealist foreign policy. Since then, we have had sour relations with the U.S.

4) With the uprising in Lebanon, Turkey adopted a very active attitude. Davutoğlu met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a secret place. As Hezbollah published the photos of the meeting to the world, it gained legitimacy in the world yet Davutoğlu's position was seriously questioned. Hezbollah acted freely.

I have given just a few examples above. Here is the conclusion:

1) The result of government initiatives in the region to create a commonwealth of nations is zero.

2) Moreover, the fame and name Turkey gains in the Arab streets as it challenges Israel disturb Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

3) Sunni countries are awfully anxious about the momentum Shiite Iran has reached with Turkey's assistance. These countries see even Israel as an ally against Iran.

4) The Syrian government openly questioned Turkey's "neo-Ottoman" aspiration.

All right, but are there any beneficiaries of such initiatives? Of course there are!

1) The West and the U.S. maintain contact with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas via Turkey because they do not want to have direct relations with them.

2) Hezbollah and Hamas act freely and gain legitimacy in the West with Turkey's aid.

3) Iran is buying time to produce nuclear weapons, keeping the West busy with the aid of Turkey.

4) Syria, stuck between Iran and the U.S., acts more comfortably.

I think this is a roughly accurate cost-benefit analysis of current Turkish foreign policy.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ISRAEL AND THE AKP'S EMPIRE OF FEAR

YUSUF KANLI

Tuesday morning, at a five-star hotel in Ankara, I was having a "working breakfast" with an old-time friend from across the Atlantic, yet with very strong Middle Eastern background.

It was a lively discussion between two old friends with sharp differences of opinions on some core issues ranging from Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkish-U.S. relations and of course the nasty alliance in tatters, Turkish-Israeli relations. I must admit, at one point, I shivered. I felt as if some people were gazing at us. It is so sad that even though Turkey has not yet become a full police state, many people have started feeling as if they are living in an empire of fear. With widespread wiretapping, circumstantial listening, people sent behind bars by forged documents apparently provided by the Excellence in Forgery Department, indictments turning into thrillers and terrorists becoming friends while top generals – besides the routine "plotting to overthrow government" charge – are accused of murders and terrorist acts, can anyone say s/he can talk on any subject, particularly with a foreigner, in comfort? As the saying goes, what has been done so far is the guarantee of what will be done tomorrow.

Naturally, the discussion eventually moved on to the just-released comic report of the Israeli inquiry that cleared the Israeli military and government of any wrongdoing in the May 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound international humanitarian aid flotilla. What would one expect other than an "Israel and Israelis did nothing bad" conclusion from an Israeli inquiry probing an Israeli act of high-seas piracy that resulted with the death of nine Turkish nationals, one of them also a U.S. citizen? Without a doubt, as many Jewish colleagues have been stressing as well, the worst enemy Israel has ever had might be the current Israeli government, particularly ultranationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who with some cute help from the Islamist-conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government in Ankara has successfully devastated the allied relations between Israel and Turkey.

Why did the Turkish government not do anything further than advising ruling party deputies not to join the May 2010 aid flotilla organized by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH? Why did the Turkish government not advise the group not to engage in such a mission, which Israel repeatedly declared it would consider as a provocation and would stop by all means? Could Israel-bashing – which has become so popular a game in Turkish politics for the past few years – or exposure of Israeli "barbarism" or "shedding of Turkish blood by Israel" be wanted in order to consolidate public support? Anyhow, it is obvious that in the Mavi Marmara or aid flotilla disaster that resulted with the Israeli murder of nine Turkish nationals, the responsibility of the Turkish government cannot be brushed aside by putting the whole blame on Israel as the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister have been trying to do.

The reality is that this country has been undergoing a radical and systematic transformation. This transformation, though disguised behind "We shall create a civilian and democratic Turkey" rhetoric, is indeed one making Turkey more Islamist, more conservative and more nationalist. Naturally, as long as there is a working checks and balances system, perhaps the presidential system would fit better to the expectations of the Turkish society. Yet parliamentary democracy has become dysfunctional not only by the interference of non-political elements like the military or judiciary in politics but more so with "reforms" that "domesticated" the judiciary and the anti-democratic laws covering political parties and elections devastated the checks and balances and turned the system into a de-facto autocracy of party leaders. In a presidential system, the autocracy of party leaders might turn into a dictatorship of the elected president, particularly in the absence of a credible checks and balances system.

Israel-bashing, which has become a fundamental tool of the "domestic politics" of the ruling AKP, is not of course without a reason. Nor is the nationalist tone, with which the prime minister has replaced his most controversial Kurdish opening rhetoric, without a reason. The prime minister wants his party reelected in June with over 50 percent of the vote and with more than enough seats to write on his own a new constitution for the presidential Turkey he hopes to usher Turkey in once the term of Abdullah Gül at the presidency is completed? When? That is still ambiguous.

What's obvious, however, is the fact that Turkey is marching somewhere bleak.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

HOW DOES THE US EMBASSY MONITOR US?

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

WikiLeaks documents have instigated a very important period as far as international relations are concerned. For the first time we have obtained hints at how the United States' State Department and the brains that turn the wheels work.

The said documents are thought to have been stolen by an American soldier form the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and include telegraphs from capital cities around the world sent to Washington and those sent from headquarters to Baghdad. Of course, there were also abundant telegraphs sent from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara.

Thousands of telegraphs are sent from Ankara to Washington each year. Until now the number of telegraphs leaked by WikiLeaks is still very low – we may say we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. But still, this much has been enough to give us an idea about how U.S. diplomats examine and evaluate us.

How much do Americans know about the Turkish Armed Forces?

What stunned me most was that U.S. authorities do not seem to know the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, as well as we thought it would.

We thought the TSK and the Pentagon worked closely. We were told that the driving force behind each coup in our history was Washington and that Washington would "instruct" the TSK. Conspiracy theorists would represent the TSK as being at the Pentagon's command.

But that wasn't so.

The period of "Our boys did it," which we heard during the Sept. 12 military coup, is long gone. This is easily seen in telegraphs leaked by WikiLeaks.

The divergence started especially in the 90s when terror from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, increased, and spread with the invasion of Iraq. And the said telegraphs sent from Ankara suggest that the anti-American attitude took on incredible dimensions in the TSK.

These documents reveal that military relations between the TSK and United States have not been based on mutual trust and solidarity as expected, and that especially the Turkish military views Americans with suspicion and concern.

'Where is Turkey headed?'

Another interesting thing is the U.S. Embassy noticing a nationalistic uprising right on time to inform Washington.

It frequently drew the headquarters' attention to this issue, did some research and went through different segments.

Research was undertaken to find out where this nationalistic uprising stirred from and how much of it was of military origin. It was questioned how this nationalistic uprising would influence Turkish-U.S. relations.

In these telegraphs not much data provision in respect to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is to be found as of yet.

It is often said that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is different and not like Turkey's former leaders, but there is also no opposing view (except for the Edelman period).

Internal arguments are reported but not in depth. And there is no mention of "sharia danger" whatsoever.

But Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is someone who is monitored closely. In the said telegraphs one of the most mentioned issues is where Turkey is headed. The issue is whether or not there is a shift in axis and whether or not Turkey is inclined to sail other waters. But warning bells do not ring as of yet.

Let me repeat: this impression is based on revealed documents, the number of which is very low. It may be deceiving. As new documents emerge we may need to make adjustments.

U.S. delegates don't do politics

When reading all general documents leaked by WikiLeaks we get a clear picture of characteristics of all U.S. diplomats spread all over the world.

We obviously see that they make up an extremely professional staff.

The following are some points I came up with:

- I may say that U.S. diplomats are mainly distinct from European diplomats in that they are not conducting politics trying to influence Washington by the said telegraphs. Of course there are ideologists but they are very low in number. The majority is taking a picture of the capital city they are located in, which they then reflect to Washington and leave it up to their headquarters to conduct politics. 

- They are careful not to reflect only one side of the medal. They certainly include opposing views in their telegraphs to project both sides.

- In telegraphs sent to Washington we also come across evaluations by ambassadors according to their world views. The approach of a Democrat versus a Republican ambassador necessarily varies but they still try to be as objective as possible.

- What we despise as "gossip" they value enough to send to Washington. They want their headquarters to be informed about the tiniest detail.

- What I consider as very important is their custom to get together with all layers of society. This does not go for European, Asian or African countries.

New ambassador good for healthy relations

The new Ambassador to Ankara Francis Joseph Ricciardone is appointed to one such embassy. His greatest advantage is his fluency in Turkish and his knowledge about Turkey. He proved this the moment he stepped off the aircraft.

Ricciardone has come to Ankara during Turkey's critical transition period of relations not only with the United States but with the Western world in general. We are lucky that someone who knows Turkey well is appointed during a time when there is no room for misunderstandings.

Let's not forget that among U.S. diplomats there are good and successful ones as well as those who are unfruitful and can't keep up the pace, thus misleading Washington. But no matter what, a knowledgeable strong ambassador can make a difference. Such a person may at least prevent possible accidents.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TRANSITION PERIOD IN THE JASMINE REVOLUTION

SAMİ KOHEN

The "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia has not been settled yet, as it enters its second week. Although President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been ousted, people expect more serious changes in the country.

The formation of a new national unity government and the inclusion of a few dissidents in the government were not found satisfactory by protesters. Since the old guard dominates the new government, we are seeing new waves of protest.

The positive aspect of what has happened so far is that Tunisia is experiencing freedom it hasn't felt for a long time. Protestors are free to scold the regime, as newspapers enjoy no censorship.

However, uncertainties and worries about the future of the country continue. Following the 23 years of the authoritarian Ben Ali regime, a political gap exists in the country. Actually, the next targets and the direction of the revolution are unclear. People from many different segments have taken to the streets. Among them are the poor, the unemployed, civil servants, working women, the secular, the pious, the religious and others… Various groups have various demands and expectations: Everyone wants to see progress in the direction of his/her own ideological tendencies and needs.

Would the military be involved?

Since the declaration of independence, Tunisia has been accustomed to stability and a certain order (secular and modern). The question of how the revolution would affect these basic characteristics remains unanswered.

For the moment, the protests and outbursts continue. Analysts are warning that an escalation of the situation would create the danger of instability and chaos. In this regard, bringing the transition period to completion without any trouble or skirmish is quite critical. Otherwise, the revolution in Tunisia would become chaotic, which might eventually invite military intervention.

Actually an important characteristic of Tunisia is that the military has chosen to remain outside politics. However, if the boiling streets do not stop and chaos continues, the military would possibly intervene. Some Tunisian intellectuals mention this with deep concern as such interference would eliminate hopes for freedom and democracy.

Who will benefit?

One of the opinions about the direction of the revolution amid uncertainties is a possible shift to an Islamic regime. As did the founder of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, Ben Ali fiercely reacted against political Islamic movements for the protection of secularism in the country. When [the largest Islamist] Ennahda movement led by Islamic thinker Rached Ghannouchi won 17 percent of votes in the 1989 elections, Ben Ali declared the party illegal and deported Ghannouchi. The 70-year-old Ghannouchi lives in London and plans a return to Tunisia and political life after the lifting of political bans.

As opposed to the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, in Algeria, Ghannouchi in Tunisia is known as a moderate Islamist against violence. Speaking to the BBC last week, his daughter said Ghannouchi was inspired by the "Turkish model" and feels close to Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

If the situation settles, it is possible to say at this point that Ghannouchi's Islamic movement will benefit from the political gap and weaknesses of secular and leftist groups in Tunisia and come to the fore.

* Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Tuesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING THE CORRUPT?

 

What can one say when the head of the country's top investigation agency is apparently himself involved with criminals? Can there, in these circumstances, be any hope of eradicating crime? Is it then any surprise that we are unable to root out corruption? Is it just a coincidence that the president of Pakistan has not even once uttered the word 'corruption' in any context during his three-year rule so far? The fact that the Supreme Court has had to order that the director general of the FIA be investigated, possibly arrested, in connection with a whopping scam of Rs5 billion in the National Insurance Company Limited shows how rotten the state of affairs has become. It is understood from the court hearings that the FIA boss had been protecting one of the principal accused, making his arrest impossible. As the court remarked, the presence of such a network of persons involved in crime is disturbing.


The network is one that reaches far and wide. Another of those arrested in the case says money was paid from the scam to Chaudhry Moonis Elahi, the son of former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The name of Moonis Elahi has figured in other cases of alleged corruption too. It is clear that we have in our country a ring of powerful people who act together to fill one another's pockets and then provide mutual protection when the law closes in on them. In these circumstances, when those whose task it is to investigate crime appear, or are perceived, to be consorting with those they are supposed to be investigating, it is difficult to see how justice is properly served. The proceedings before the Supreme Court have in many ways revealed what is a ludicrous situation, even comic were it not inherently tragic. It is after all ordinary people who suffer when huge sums of money are stolen, leaving less behind to run the affairs of the state. The dramatic intervention of the Supreme Court and the investigation and possible arrest of the DG FIA are no surprise. The existence of dishonesty within the top echelons of the investigative agencies is well established and few trust the police. So what is to be done? The arrival of a set of honest rulers who can set to right all that is amiss seems unlikely to happen; yet we must find a way from within to escape from the tightly meshed net of corruption that ensnares us. It will be up to honest individuals who can indeed be found within all departments to take a more proactive role. Perhaps the current activism by the courts will lead somewhere. This is our only hope. Otherwise we face a very difficult future indeed.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SECTARIANISM AND SECURITY

  

Any hopes that Tuesday, January 25 – the day this year of the Chehlum of Imam Hussain (RA) – would pass without people dying at the hands of terrorists disintegrated in the evening as bombs were detonated in Lahore and Karachi. Information on the Karachi blast was sketchy at the time of writing. There might be two policemen dead and 12 others injured, and the bomb was said to have been attached to a motorcycle that exploded near a police mobile unit. Access to the site of the blast was hampered by traffic and the press of people. We know more with certainty about the Lahore blast. There were probably 13 dead, 60 injured and of that number 12 were critical. Fatalities were expected to rise. Eyewitnesses spoke of the young age of the bomber, saying he was a teenager. So far, nobody is pointing fingers or shouting 'security lapse'; and both the police and the Lahore DCO were quickly on record as saying that the bomber blew himself up at the outer ring of the security cordon when he was challenged – and that that accounted for three policemen being among the dead. The Mayo Hospital medical superintendent said that the hospital was able to cope, had sufficient supplies and doctors but would welcome blood donations – a request quickly responded to by relatives of the injured present there.

Once again a phrase much beloved of our politicians – 'foolproof security' – is revealed as hollow and meaningless. The two incidents are a dreadful reminder of how deeply-rooted sectarian disharmony has become within our society. The fear of death lurks everywhere, and no one knows where the bomber may strike next. The sectarian perils we live with are many, and are not restricted to particular occasions or to special times of the year. The divide between people on the basis of sect has had a profound impact on society, and touches us all. This polarisation of society can work only to damage harmony and add to the growing issues we face as a nation. It has become almost impossible to go about one's daily life without having an awareness of what might be waiting around the next corner in the form of a suicide bomber, or a bicycle or motorbike bomb. We have all become desperately insecure, and speaking of 'foolproof security' is grossly irresponsible, if only because the suicide bomber, the thinking bomb, will always find a way through. If there is any comfort to be drawn from another dreadful day it is that the emergency response system in Lahore seemed to work better than it has in the past, and we should be thankful for small mercies.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

STRATEGIC SURRENDER

 AFIYA SHEHRBANO

 

Every time there is a political crisis, civil society activists in Karachi become conflicted over 'strategy'. Which political force best represents their liberal, progressive cause? The regrouping of progressives, to counter the fresh wave of religious extremist sentiment after Governor Taseer's murder, raises the same dilemmas once again.

Civil society is split on whether it should partner with the MQM on resisting religious extremism in Karachi, particularly after the Nizam e Adl and now, the Taseer murder. During the lawyers' movement of 2007, civil society had grouped under a resistance banner and recognising their limited street power, had carried out some protest rallies with the right-wing religious parties. The common dual-point agenda was to restore the CJ and civilian governance. The MQM was not quite so forthcoming an ally then.


However, the dynamics of activism around the lawyers' movement were very different from the current blasphemy politics. A comparison is completely unhelpful both conceptually and/or to borrow strategic parallels. The aims and politics of the lawyers' movement were clear; civil society was incidental to the lawyers' independent movement; and the issue was not related to religion or the nature of the state (directly). This resulted in very different strategic allegiances. It was old-world, pro-democracy struggle for the independence of the judiciary and to remove army from politics. The politics of adjusting the place of religion and state is a completely different and far more complex issue.


There were other conflicts of interests too. Many members of the resistance group initially supported the lawyers' movement, but abandoned it right after the PPP leadership made a deal with General Musharraf. In fact, many turned vocally anti-lawyers' movement and disagreed with the restoration of the CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry and supported the PPP appointment of Justice Dogar instead.


Today, some of the same liberal activists who abandoned the people's movement have rejoined for another democratic cause. While it was their prerogative to cut off their alliance with the people's movement then, there is a need to remember and reconcile that such decisions by liberals also redefine principles and movements.

Yes, for the 'higher' democratic cause, during the lawyers' movement there was a conscious decision that in Karachi, civil society would temporarily rally with religious parties. However, to suggest that this is comparable to rallying with the MQM in today's context is inaccurate. There are a few reasons for that; first, the MQM is part of the government – what does it signify for it to conduct oppositional strategies such as street rallies? The concern is that this party takes up issues for its own expediency not on the basis of a consistent, representative ideology.

Second, there is a repeated misconception that it represents a 'liberal, secular' politics. How does this compare with the recent MQM's massive support and rallies for Afia Siddiqi? Whatever political justifications we give it, does this not contradict civil society's rallying point, which is to resist, not support extremist politics whenever expedient?


Third, theoretically, oppression that is based on tribal and feudal political structures can be challenged, by removal of the material bases of their power and dismantling class hierarchies. What are the means of challenging the abstract but truly ominous power of urban-based parties when it is not based on class oppression but on a horizontal sharing of the benefits of a culture of violence? If leaders and cadre benefit equally from this kind of politics this amounts to class complicity with no desire for liberation. Also, while 'feudal' and tribal politics and politicians are criticised (often by name) and challenged, this is impossible in the context of Karachi.

When larger crises of state are in question, such as army rule or removal of CJs or dissolution of parliament, then temporary alliances become easier, since most democratic parties have a stake in that cause.


Other national and provincial parties are equally oppressive and even non-democratic in their constituencies, as well as in terms of internal hierarchies. However, for the purpose of civil society strategy, the only relevant factor is that the hegemony of MQM in Karachi is unrivalled by any other party or group.


In other words, to take out a rally in Raiwind, Mansoora or Dir with religious groups has very different implications to shouldering with them in Karachi. Not to suggest that this is not a precarious, troubling and moral dilemma – just that strategically, the context of resistance politics makes a lot of difference.

An additional dilemma confronting civil society today is that despite the anti-liberal policies and statements of this supposedly liberal, secular government, many in civil society are still reluctant to criticise the government, including at protests and rallies. Is this not another conflict of interest – to self-censor while demanding the right to free debate and differences of opinion?


The broader goals of civil society groups today are vague compared to the lawyers' movement. In the latter case, the CJ was to be restored and there was a conscious challenge to army rule. What is the goal here? Rule of law, change in procedures for the Blasphemy law, moderation, secularism or de-weaponisation? After one rally, what's next....continued collaboration towards this undefined vague idea of 'liberalising' Karachi? Unless this is a seriously considered project, it only qualifies as a euphemistic call for ethnic cleansing.


The politics of vigilantism is another troubling strategy proposed by liberal groups. To encourage political workers to lay vigil at mosques to monitor sermons is a bizarre suggestion. What about the right-wing's equal right to conduct vigilantism at public parties, fashion shows and study groups then?


The boundaries of extremist rhetoric, fatwas and incitement have to be dealt with through legal discourse and linked to criminal consequences. This cannot be done by arbitrary reports by political enemies accusing each other of something called extremist speech. What qualifies as 'extremist' rhetoric and who defines what may offend the moral sensibilities of liberals? This is the same strategy taken by the right when it objects to liberals' public expressions as offensive, even irreligious. No vigilantism is acceptable – only regulation and that can only be done by the state.


These are not perfect choices but when strategic allegiances are formed they should at least carry historical clarity and intellectual honesty. To pretend that the MQM is some liberal alternative to some homogenous right-wing is to self-delude. To strategise on the basis of short-term comparative politics is to fall into the trap of seeking legitimacy through street politics.


It's as futile a strategy as invoking enlightened, moderate interpretations of Islam from Al-Azhar, Saudi Arabia and even Malaysia. On the one hand, liberals object to conservative fatwas by local clergy but on the other, they welcome fatwas that fit their liberal agendas from foreign sources. This is undemocratic. And how does one counter the foreign authority on other non-progressive interpretations regarding women, minorities and other groups?

This is a political and ideological surrender to the opposition. It's also an admission of defeat that the liberal's own framework is non-representative and illegitimate. Half the battle is lost by simply taking such strategic decisions.

Perhaps a clarification of terms would help as a starting point. Rather than posing the choices as the right vs liberal/moderate, we need to identify the political divisions in Karachi as communal, as a far more accurate placement. This allows at the very minimum, an exposure of how close these two supposedly ideological poles really are, and how linked their agendas and parochial, material interests.


It may also open up an opportunity to present a meaningful liberal alternative in people's imagination, one based on liberal politics and ideas, regardless of numerical strength. At the very least, it may prevent the current strategic nightmare that sees us bouncing between two equally dangerous and illiberal political options.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

STATE OF OUR CONFUSION

 RAOOF HASAN

 

These days, one hears strange rumblings with monotonous consistency and frequency. Often, there are statements that don't quite make any sense, or demands that have little likelihood of being fulfilled, or claims that are contrary to known facts. There are ambitious plans unveiled today only to be dumped later. Is all this part of an organised and pre-meditated effort to keep adding to the state of confusion, or should one discern in these shenanigans symptoms of a much greater malaise that pervades the entire spectrum of national politics?

When an incumbent government is not able to deliver, worse still when there is not even an intention to do so, a state of confusion may come in handy. It would be even better if one were to drag this malady to such limits that it drowned all questions and concerns. Its exhaustion component could literally cause a paralytic impact on one's ability and capacity to think. The crosscurrents of emotions that it would generate could dismantle even a healthy edifice while the false hope that it may raise could break many a heart. Does one begin to make out what is being orchestrated?


Take the case of the clean-up operation in Karachi. There are no owners. The interior minister denies he ordered it. The provincial home minister complains that he was not 'on board'. He goes on to threaten that he could order the withdrawal of police powers given to the Rangers under his signatures. The chief minister of the province is unaware. The presidency and the prime minister's office are in the dark. Put your thinking cap on. Was it some alien creature descended from the outer space that was behind the operation? Does it drive you numb? Let's go a little further.

 

The decision to downsize the cabinet did not go without the customary antics. The federal information minister was to disclose the decision to the media at 'an appropriate time', preferably after the outcome of the PPP-PML-N parleys. But no, the federal law minister shows 'impatience' and announces the decision to the media. There is a plethora of statements thereafter intended to cause confusion. Some categorically deny that the decision has been made at all, while others insinuate that such a decision may be taken at the right time, but only after consultations with the allies. The extent of the proposed downsizing as well as its timing is drowned in the quagmire of semantics emanating from the highest echelons of the government. Do you get the drift? Let's have some more fun.


In the wake of utterly poor governance, becoming poorer by the day, the PMLN) leadership hands the government a 10-point charter of demands to be met within a stipulated time frame as necessary requirement to tide over the grave crisis that confronts the country. Various functionaries of the incumbent coalition seem to be at a tangent in their response to the development. Some find the charter totally unacceptable, some have objection to the 'ultimatum of a time period' while others proclaim their distaste for this kind of politics. But wait, it is that champion of the politics of compromise, the prime minister of the country, who capitulates completely and constitutes a committee to start negotiations with the PML-N leadership to finalise the mechanism for implementing the demands. Worse still, he does so knowing full well that there are demands in the charter that he cannot meet including the one about writing the dreaded letter to the Swiss court to reopen the cases against his own party leader, or honouring the SC judgement about the National Reconciliation Ordinance with regard to terminating the tainted members from his cabinet and other positions in the government.

One could go on endlessly. Quite literally, there is no end to this spate of comedy theatre that is so crudely enacted on the national stage on a daily basis. Top to bottom, every functionary with stakes in the incumbent coalition is party to this massive intrigue that is engineered and unleashed to systematically cause bewilderment among people and push them beyond the frontiers of intelligent comprehension of how and when, if at all, things are going to take shape.


Karachi has been in the grip of unrelenting fear for long. The mayhem of May 12, 2007 still haunts one's memory when over fifty innocent people were murdered in cold blood. Subsequently, some lawyers who planned to question the gory happenings of the day were burnt alive in their offices. In spite of this colossal human catastrophe that destroyed many a home, there was no enquiry conducted, no findings announced and no culprits punished. There has been only a slinging of accusations, mostly among the coalition partners, but no one has shown the courage to quit in protest, or push earnestly for a transparent probe to be ordered. To twist things further, the one who has sworn allegiance to the British throne is demanding the imposition of martial law in Punjab. There could be no graver travesty of justice in one's bid to scoring cruel political points. All ethical barometers would demand that, instead of pontificating from foreign lands, he should first come back to the country that he vows to lead to a revolution.


These are no transitory symptoms. These are no passing illusions. This is hard core strategising that is practised with its entire repertoire of Machiavellian and malevolent contents to drive the people to a nihilistic state where they would only remain capable of bringing harm to themselves leaving the perpetrators to continue enjoying their ill-gotten fruits of plunder. This country needs a change in the very manner of governance that all beneficiary parties are trying desperately to save. Words don't really mean much any longer. Things must begin to happen now.


The writer is a political analyst.

Email: raoofhasan@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

AN UNWEEDED GARDEN

MIR ADNAN AZIZ


These words of Shakespeare's Hamlet mirror our politics, politicos and system of governance of today.

Violence in Karachi has prompted an unending debate, not only in the city but across the country. It will rage and fizzle out, as it has many times before on many other burning issues. The fundamental question that will remain is the absence of rule of law and an absent state. Today the perception is that the state is doing nothing but fostering hopelessness, despair, hatred, corruption, alienation, extremism, lawlessness and discrimination. While there is no public transport worth the name in Karachi and our other cities, and especially not in the nation's capital, the country's leadership in Islamabad travels in air-conditioned stretch limousines. The occupants view the miseries from FATA to Karachi as one fleetingly glances at an accident while speeding on a freeway.

The country faces an economic meltdown. Corruption, insecurity and cronyism rule supreme. Balochistan is on the brink of civil war, and Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and its commercial and industrial centre, is inching towards a kind of civil war itself. It is already a city paralysed and ruled by fear. Many political pundits use the Taliban as a convenient bogey when they talk of the cold-blooded killings in Karachi and to explain all that ails Pakistan. There could be no greater disconnect with the truth. It is the wayward policies of successive Pakistani governments over the decades, both civilian and military, which have produced the outcome in the form of the grave countrywide crisis that we face today.


Karachi's stark reality is that it has become a battleground for political control. Since the 1980s, with the steady arrival of weapons and drugs in this once peaceful city, the level of violence has risen alarmingly, while the provincial and federal governments lacked the political will to curb it. A very uncomfortable political alliance in Sindh has proved to be a recipe for disaster. Today gunmen appear and disappear at will, leaving behind death and the scent of gunpowder, and thus emphasise the absence of the state's writ.


During one of his latest visits to Karachi, the interior minister blamed "the third hand." There was no reference to facts, and there were no details about this third hand. This kind of rhetoric in statements on crucial issues shows the prevailing frivolous mindset among our leaders and officials. The rulers fail to understand that countless hands come into play when the state's hand is in perpetual paralysis. Mr Rehman Malik's statement that the government will uphold the writ of the state makes one wonder how he manages to repeat this so often, so brazenly, as the country inches towards anarchy.


It is no wonder that, over time, we have become desensitised to the level of violence in our politics and society. What could have been unacceptable not so long ago is now a norm; what would have been horrific is now utterly mundane. The irony is that successive governments in the six decades since independence have seemingly encouraged this process of desensitisation. The tragedy is that we as a society seem to have accepted it.

Today each murder is just another statistic in the ever growing number of dead, and the state is totally clueless as to how to address the situation. All we have is political rhetoric. That is the nature of our political system; it has been throughout our history. When we start looking for solutions, we need to realise that democracy is bigger than rhetoric like "democracy is the best revenge" or the description of political expediency and self-interest as reconciliation. The present predicament feeds on poverty, corruption, injustice, lawlessness and alien servitude.

Our governments have conditioned the people to feel nothing but absolute apathy towards all matters, no matter how critical and grim. This suits them but we are the ones who, by accepting this, have desensitised ourselves and stopped caring about ourselves and the country. Today some see hope in Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution. The first few days of this year have seen more than eighty five deaths in Karachi alone. One Mohammed Bouzaizi, the vegetable seller whose suicide triggered the Tunisian revolution, is too small a sacrifice to effect a change in this totally desensitised scenario.


However, it is not the events of today that will shape the future; it is the abysmal response that will. Politics today is a charade in the name of reconciliation. Lacking the ability of self-reform, the state reels from one debacle to another, focused only on the mere possession of this unweeded garden.


Could there be anything more ridiculous than an earlier proposal by the prime minister for Islamabad plots for (shelterless) parliamentarians, or the present Parliamentary Lodges project with the subterranean passage. It is unacceptable for the state to "buy" parliamentarians when it has money, but it is obscene when it survives on handouts. Seemingly, the goal is not to mitigate sufferings but to exacerbate the misery. However, the president continues to make tall claims in his annual Garhi Khuda Baksh "funeral oration," while the prime minister extols the giant strides we have taken under his able sufi stewardship.


The "privileged" few are making phenomenal personal gains with the country retrogressing at an alarming rate. Corruption has become endemic and institutionalised and is eating into the very fabric of society. The NICL, PSM, PIA and Haj scams (to name only a few in a staggering list) and their continued cover-ups are tips of an iceberg. It reminds one of Dionysius of Syracuse who financed his exploits by plundering temples. He took a gold mantle from a statue of Zeus and replaced it with a woollen one, saying gold was too cold in winter.

We have a state run by cronies, political and contractual appointees. Today, the state and political leadership are not only perceived as thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional but also extremely complacent in affairs of state. These two ills reinforce each other in a deeply complicit relationship that holds the beleaguered masses as pawns in a despicable game of political musical chairs, neglect and economic mismanagement.


A sage says we may well soon have a reaper to tend to the garden. The Dionysius' of today and a lack of a cohesive alternative may well ensure this.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: miradnanaziz@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS