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Friday, January 28, 2011

EDITORIAL 28.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 28, edition 000741 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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































1.      GREEN TAX


3.      IT'S THE FISC










































1.      BURNT ALIVE!














































1.      AT THE STAKE






7.      100 Years Ago Today


1.      UNTAMED

















1.      HOW DEDICATED?  
















































4.      AYAZ AMIR





































































The kerosene oil mafia which thrives on a poorly-administered and corruption-ridden public distribution system and the phoney concern of politicians for the country's poor obviously believes, like all organised crime syndicates do, that the law is an ass and need not be taken seriously. There's good reason for such belief: Notwithstanding the bluff and bluster we hear regularly and the tall promises that are made periodically to root out corruption from the 'system' so that have-nots are not cheated out of their share of the welfare pie, nothing has ever been done to destroy such syndicates root and branch. Instead, cynical politicians have used them to satiate their greed for ill-gotten wealth and fund their election campaigns. As a result, what we have are elaborate networks of criminals, politicians, bureaucrats and policemen running rackets not dissimilar to those that once made Chicago a haven for racketeers. The kerosene oil mafia is but one such network. And, given the level of political patronage that this mafia enjoys, it is only to be expected that it should be absolutely ruthless in dealing with those who dare to stand up to it or threaten its illicit business empire. As much was evident in Maharashtra's Malegaon district on the eve of Republic Day when Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane, an upright officer, was burned alive for objecting to the theft of kerosene by the mafia. It was a ghastly crime that has shocked the nation but it is unlikely to either disrupt the illegal trade in kerosene or lead to a shake-up in the manner in which our public distribution system is managed. The killers know they will be protected from prosecution and punishment by their political patrons; those who run the racket know that there is too much at stake for their business to be shut down. While those who still value honesty and integrity will grieve over the grisly death of Sonawane at the hands of thugs, beneficiaries of this abominable thuggery will mock at the dead man for being foolhardy and refusing to follow the path traversed by many of his colleagues. Had our bureaucracy not been corrupt, the nation would not have come to such a sorry pass. Hence, let us not be distracted by the faux anger of babudom over the murder of Sonawane.

That the public distribution system, such as it is, has become the source of unlimited corruption is common knowledge. Subsidised essential commodities, ranging from foodgrains to kerosene, are routinely pilfered or diverted, to be sold at a premium in a thriving blackmarket. Yet, successive Governments have resolutely refused to plug the loopholes and streamline the system. This is partly because tampering with the public distribution system is considered 'bad politics' as it would be seen as an 'anti-poor measure' and largely because the intended beneficiaries are too feeble to raise their voice in protest: For most of them, something is better than nothing. The naïve would continue to believe that the public distribution system can be set right; that an 'honest' Prime Minister can undo the wrongs that exist. That's wishful thinking. A Prime Minister who is unmoved by largescale loot right under his nose cannot be expected to spend sleepless nights over the excesses of the kerosene mafia in distant Malegaon district. Nor should we expect the people to rise in revolt against a regime so denuded of integrity and probity. It's not for nothing that we are globally perceived as a thoroughly corrupt nation.






Even as the Government is busy trying to sell the 'India story' at the World Economic Forum in Davos, doyens of Indian industry participating in the annual conclave have pointed out how the inadequacy of basic infrastructure is threatening the economic growth. This should come as a wake-up call for the UPA, whose report card on infrastructure development, riddled with unfinished projects, delayed completion and low investment, shows it has failed on all counts. While infrastructure has seen a paltry 6.7 per cent growth, the shortfall in power supply has worsened from what it has been in 1992. Significantly, this is not the first time that the Government's attention has been drawn to inadequate infrastructure. Earlier, economists sounded the alarm bell, warning that failure to improve infrastructure would drag down growth. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has responded predictably, promising to ramp up infrastructure spending to 1 trillion dollars over the next five years to create new highways, airports, ports and other facilities in order to accelerate growth. But if the UPA regime's performance till now is any indication, such promises need be taken seriously. The UPA Government, which inherited a mammoth infrastructure development programme from the previous NDA regime, has lost the advantage by going slow, instead of pressing ahead. The Golden Quadrilateral is a case in point. The NDA Government had completed three-fourths of the Golden Quadrilateral — the 5,300 km-long, four-lane highway network envisaged by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to connect New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata — within its term, but the remaining one-fourth remains incomplete after more than six years of UPA rule. Although the UPA set up a committee on infrastructure development immediately after coming to power, its two-year long deliberation on preparing model agreements to govern concessions in the infrastructure sector has cost the Government dear as the global economic meltdown further reduced investments. As a result, public-private partnership projects for the 33,000 km NHDP, sanctioned in the first two years of UPA1, remain incomplete.

The sluggish pace of infrastructure growth is in essence a comment on the UPA Government's policy failure and a strange vision of growth. Mr Manmohan Singh would do well to take a leaf out of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's book. In 2001, when economic crisis due to global slowdown became imminent, Mr Vajpayee outlined a 14-pronged strategy for increased public investment in the core infrastructure sector, speedily removed hurdles in implementation of major airport projects and created an effective project-monitoring mechanism. Mr Singh not only lacks such proactive approach but reacts only when things go out of control. With huge power deficit, stalled highway and railway projects and clogged ports, Mr Singh's dream of double-digit economic growth could remain unfulfilled. In the process, the nation could suffer.









The real challenge lies in China undermining Indian industry, winning over our neighbours, obstructing us in global forums and thwarting our nuclear growth.

Thanks to our Indocentric focus, some speakers at Tuesday's day-long discussion titled "Relevance of Tibet in the Emerging Regional Situation" seemed to miss the wood for the trees. Tibet's sufferings deserve the world's attention for their own sake. India's security concerns are another matter, and arguing that China's stranglehold of Tibet merits attention because it threatens India might do a disservice to both.

This line of reasoning is not very different from the American policy of ignoring the Dalai Lama until the US needs to cock a snook at the Chinese over trade, Taiwan, human rights or some other matter that bears on American national interest. That, in turn, is rooted in 19th century Britain's practice of treating Tibet as sovereign only when it wanted to snub the Manchu Empire. China's shadow loomed even over the seminar in Delhi's India International Centre, possibly explaining the absence of some luminaries who had accepted the invitation from the Foundation for Non-violent Alternatives, the hosts, but may have had second thoughts about incurring Chinese displeasure. A speaker with an Intelligence background who castigated "pseudo-intellectuals" in the English-language media for placating China should have included the servile authors of coinages like 'Chindia'.

The emphasis on Tibet's Sino-Indian dimension was understandable since several of the panellists were military men and strategic thinkers for whom Tibet's significance lies in being a wedge or link between India and China. Five of them figure in the volume, Threat from China, a compendium of articles from the Indian Defence Review. The other aspect of the Tibet situation — the plight of six million Tibetans who remain under Chinese control or the brave efforts of nearly 200,000 members of the diaspora to create a novel global entity for themselves — received nothing like the same detailed attention even though the conference room was packed with Tibetans, including members of the administration-in-exile in Dharamsala.

The information gap about conditions inside China's borders was an obvious reason for the imbalance. Uncertainty about the exiled community's organisational future at a time when the leadership question is being discussed in muted whispers may have been another factor. Also, a latter-day version of Kipling's Great Game presents an exciting alternative to the discourse on Tibet by easily capturing the imagination. It may even have led some Tibetans into believing that they are paying a high price for rivalry between Asia's two giants.

This concept distracts attention from both the worldwide non-military aspects of Sino-Indian competition and from the dynamics of the Sino-Tibetan situation which do not directly involve India. Every Han Chinese, no matter where he lives, believes in his bones that Tibet has always been China's. Chinese Singaporeans are as convinced of this as the Taiwanese. I once asked a Taiwanese Minister if in a notional situation his Government would extend the 'one country two systems' concept to Tibet and the immediate answer was a blunt "No!" There was no need to, he added, because Tibet was already part of China.

Second, the main difference between Beijing and Lhasa over the analogy of Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Tawang as the five fingers of the Tibetan palm (which a Tibetan official mentioned) was over who the palm belonged to. Mao Tse-tung spoke of China's Tibetan palm. But independent of this and long before the Communist takeover, the Dalai Lama's Government cabled India in August 1947, asserting its claim to these territories.

Undoubtedly, China presents a clear and present challenge to India in spite of rhetoric about there being enough space for the two countries to grow together. But the militarisation of Tibet — of which retired Generals, former Ambassadors and strategists gave the meeting graphic details — is only one part of a much more comprehensive exercise. War games have changed since Kipling, and Indian strategists ought to concentrate on the more subtle economic and diplomatic ways of undermining India in the Asian leadership stakes that China has perfected.

Simplistic threat perceptions like viewing Tibet as a launching pad against India are not new. There was a time when our politicians cried themselves hoarse over a Washington-Islamabad-Beijing axis to throttle India. Then came fears of invasion by sea, which justified India's own naval expansion. Now, the talk is of encirclement by China. Several speakers at the FNA programme dwelt on the communications system that is being developed in Tibet, especially unending miles of high quality roads right down to the borders of Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh, and on weapons systems that target India from Tibet.

Of course, China will use all its assets if hostilities break out again. The border garrison of Tibet, like the Great Wall of China and its watchtowers, is one such asset. But despite the stapled visas and propaganda about Tawang's links with Drepung monastery, it is most unlikely that the Chinese will risk a nuclear conflagration by making a grab at Arunachal Pradesh.

Open confrontation has never been the Chinese style. They may say retrospectively they invaded India and Vietnam because both countries had to be taught a lesson, but the need for such instruction arises only when the adversary tries to resist insidious encroachment with overt force, as Jawaharlal Nehru's forward policy did. It may be recalled that until they could present India with a fait accompli, Mao and Zhou Enlai tried to blame the previous Guomindang regime for cartographical aggression. The Aksai Chin road was a clandestine construction. So were China's occupations of the Paracel Islands and Mischief Reef farther abroad. New Delhi might wake up one day, therefore, to find it has lost another chunk of territory as a result of the quiet changes the Chinese are making, according to one speaker, to the Line of Actual Control.

The real challenge lies in China undermining Indian manufacturing, winning over India's neighbours, obstructing India in global forums and thwarting India's nuclear growth. That calls for a multi-dimensional response. As several speakers recommended, a more positive attitude towards the Dalai Lama and his administration, and promoting the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, as a future leader, would send the message that India will not ever abandon Tibet or the Tibetans. Nothing is served by playing into China's hands by becoming exercised over psychological pinpricks like stapled visas whose purpose is to keep this country in a state of nervous apprehension.








Desperate to regain ground and rid itself of taint on account of scams and scandals, the UPA is likely to come up with a populist Budget with sops and concessions. But while these may bring relief for the masses in the short-term, they will add to our fiscal deficit and create a monster for the future

I am almost 100 per cent sure when I write this that the Budget, which Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is going to present before Parliament next month, is going to be a hugely populist one. Although nothing different from other previous Budgets — which were more of political rhetoric than anything else — this time it is different. It is more of a compulsion for the UPA, which is finding itself cornered by untamable inflation and unbeatable corruption.

Ever since coming to power in 2004, the UPA has never been in such a situation. A never-ending series of scams worth crores of rupees has not only tainted the UPA's political image but also dented its performance ratings in a big way. If the CWG scam dented the global image of the Government — where crores were siphoned off and the infrastructure promised never came to shape — then the 2G Spectrum scam broke all records of corruption.

As per conservative estimates, the CWG scam was worth more than Rs 8,000 crore and the 2G Spectrum scam was to the tune of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. And then there is WikiLeaks waiting, which is all set to declare a list of 2,000 people, global names who have stashed their cash in offshore accounts. If reports are to be believed, this exposé could put the UPA in a very tight spot.

But even before corruption charges and scams came to dominate headlines, food inflation had begun to send tremors across the nation. Prices of onions touching a historic high of Rs 100 per kg exemplifies this point. This was after a series of exorbitant price rises in commodities like sugar and wheat last year. Further, adding to the woes of the UPA, even the price of fuel has been experiencing a continuous northward trend.

The past year has been the worst as far as the performance of the UPA Government is concerned. By the end of August last year, the UPA was not even able to introduce half of the Bills which were due and for which it had made public announcements. In spite of having four parliamentary sessions, UPA2 has been able to introduce only 77 of the promised 190 Bills.

As a result, Bills like the Judges Accountability Bill didn't even reach the table. Even the over-hyped Bill on food security is yet to see the light of day. And to top it all, of the 77 Bills introduced, around 50 per cent are yet to be passed. Data collated by PRS shows that 61 Bills introduced by the UPA Government between 2004 and 2009 are still pending.

In the given scenario, and also going by precedence, the UPA Government is unlikely to leave any stone unturned to exploit its budgetary skills to refurbish its battered and tainted image. In all possibility, the Government will use the Budget to turn the tide in its favour again.

Political history bears testimony to the fact that political parties have gleefully abused Union Budgets to shower the aam admi with all possible benefits in the guise of economic and social development just to please him — not necessarily for his long-term benefit. In reality, although these policies look impressive and promising, they actually benefit none and in most cases are re-directed towards political benefits later. How can one forget the farmers' loan waiver scheme that helped a very small group of rich farmers?

There is no doubt that the UPA Budget will offer a series of unwarranted sops and subsidies. Exploiting the short-term memory of the so-called aam admi, this Budget is likely to focus on pampering the great Indian middle class. It will be the UPA's attempt to corrupt the aam admi by pleasing him and by making him a party to the national loot. This is something that the UPA has done in the past too.

What is worse is that the UPA shall do so knowing full well that a soft and populist Budget will create a fiscal monster for the future. Particularly at a point in time when India needs assertive and radical measures to consolidate its position at the global level. The Union Budget is probably the best platform for initiating these measures.

But then, who cares? As far as the UPA is concerned, it will leave behind a distorted balance sheet for its successor regime. And it shall be the task of the next Government to tackle this menace. Unfortunately in all this, it is the aam admi who will suffer the most as he will have to bear the burden of this year's folly at some point of time or the other in the future.

So Mr Mukherjee, here is hoping you deliver a Budget for the aam admi and his real future, and not just to please him at the cost of the country and the aam admi himself.

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







The presence of EU observers in Chhattisgarh HC is unacceptable

Under Mrs Indira Gandhi, the Congress was wont to blame the 'foreign hand' for instigating domestic turmoil and rebellion. Then, in the wake of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, as economic liberalisation became the party's official credo in place of socialism, and the reins of the party passed into the hands of the foreign-origin, naturalised Indian citizen Sonia Gandhi, the earlier suspicion of aliens gave way to an amenability to foreign — read western — pressure on India's affairs.

Whether this entails meekly toeing the IMF-World Bank line on economic policies, including the Bank president's recent counsel to allow international trading in agricultural produce, despite the alarming spurt in prices; half-heartedly tackling militancy in the Maoist belt, a hotbed of Christian evangelical activities; permitting plunder of public funds by foreign service providers/companies and their local agents on the pretext of staging the Commonwealth Games; or letting supposed 'experts' to meddle in Jammu & Kashmir and hobnob with separatists, the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre is dubbed by critics as the least nationalist ever.

Now, the unjustifiable presence of a team of European Union observers in the Chhattisgarh High Court during the hearing of human rights activist and physician Binayak Sen's appeal against his conviction for treason by a lower court in Raipur is a serious matter. It is inexplicable why the EU should have been permitted by Indian authorities to send a team of observers to witness judicial proceedings in a case of treason. This is a domestic issue, and entirely India's concern. The Ministry of External Affairs forwarded the EU team's request to be allowed to attend the proceedings to the Chhattisgarh Government, which referred the matter to the High Court. The eight members were from Hungary, France, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, UK, Denmark and EU. Their presence seems to suggest that India is a banana republic, in need of monitoring by western custodians of democracy; and that a grave injustice has been done to Binayak Sen and his co-accused. Sentenced to life imprisonment on December 24 last year, the People's Union for Civil Liberties national vice president is lodged in Raipur's Central Jail.

Briefly, Additional District and Sessions Judge BP Verma convicted Binayak Sen and two others of sedition and having links with Maoists. Binayak Sen was charged with acting as a courier for letters, sent by co-accused Narayan Sanyal, a Maoist ideologue, to Piyush Guha, a Kolkata businessman. His conviction for sedition occurred under Section124(A) of the IPC, and for conspiracy, under Section 120-B, IPC, along with Sections 8-(1), (2), (3) and (5) of the Chhattisgarh Vishesh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam, 2005 (Chhattisgarh Special Public Safety Act, 2005) and Section 39(2) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2004. He has appealed against the verdict in the High Court, which is hearing the matter.

Is one to presume that the EU observers are in the court in a supervisory capacity? Or merely as witnesses, to ascertain for themselves how impartial and efficient the Indian judiciary is? Whatever the reason, such trespass by a foreign delegation sets a very bad precedent, especially because Binayak Sen, presumably an Indian national, is being tried for anti-national activities. It is tantamount to letting the Devil slip a foot into the door. This allows for increasing interference by aliens in domestic matters on specious grounds, hinging on the supposed subversion of justice and democracy. And India, contrary to the rubbish peddled by Maoists and their supporters, is not a draconian regime, stifling freedom of expression and human rights. Distribution of the gains of development may be iniquitous, but that owes mainly to extreme inefficiency and corruption in the administrative setup, beginning from the top.

The support extended to the convicted activist at home and from alien climes is indeed significant as a pointer to his contacts. A host of academics, intellectuals and activists, including the American Noam Chomsky, Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, Booker Prize winner and India baiter Arundhati Roy, historian Romilla Thapar, Godhra riots litigant Teesta Setalvad, PUCL member and former Delhi High Court Chief Justice Rajinder Sacher, have come out vocally in defence of Binayak Sen. Mr Amartya Sen, in fact, by questioning the popular notion of democracy in these words, only managed to weaken the case of the convicted doctor and others, so accused: "In a democracy, we have no obligation to air only patriotic sentiments. If some people don't understand it ...this is about the foundation of democracy".

Rights activists have taken to bashing the legal system and Chhattisgarh Government with great fervour. PUCL condemned the verdict as a 'black day for the Indian judiciary'. Its Press release, issued after the verdict, stated: "The PUCL holds that Binayak Sen is a victim of the vendetta of the Chhattisgarh Government for his bold and principled opposition to state-sponsored vigilante operation, Salwa Judum, which has been held unacceptable even by the Supreme Court. His conviction is one more example of the state succeeding in securing the conviction of an innocent person on the basis of false evidence."

While anyone is free to come out in support of Binayak Sen and the others, and plead their innocence, as noted jurist and BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani has been doing in court, this does not mean that the functioning of the nation's judiciary can be made the subject of observance for EU representatives or their ilk. Will the next step in the mounting campaign to marginalise all existing administrative and legal apparatus be to foist a 'global' team of do-gooders in every state, to monitor human rights and related issues, since Indians themselves appear to jet-setting activists, seated on the moral high ground, to be incapable of decency and fair-play? Possibly.






Continued confrontation between the the Government and the Opposition can result in a drift in focus and governance deficit. Are the Congress and the BJP listening? Or is it that they don't care?

The political negativism that is prevalent today should worry the common man. For the past one year, the two national parties, namely the Congress and the BJP, have locked horns over several issues and are targeting each other. An active Opposition is important for any democracy to function properly, but when political opponents take a hardened stand against each other it hampers smooth functioning of the Government.

Significantly, since the beginning of the UPA2, the BJP has been quite aggressive and has pushed the Government to a corner on issues of corruption, price rise and 2G Spectrum loot. Why is the BJP so belligerent? The BJP leadership is still smarting over the people's rejection in the 2009 general election. Finding the Congress clearly on a backfoot, the BJP at its national executive meeting held in Guwahati last month has spelt out its line of action — that it will target both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Let us take a look at the issues the BJP has focussed on in the past few months. The spiralling food inflation gave the BJP the opportunity it has been looking for to attack the Congress-led UPA2. It took the fight to the streets and held country-wide protests against the Union Government on July 1, last year against hike in prices of petroleum products and rising inflation. Following it up with subsequent protests, it has given voice to the woes of common man.

However, the BJP was at its aggressive best on the issue of corruption bringing the Congress down on the mat on the 2G Spectrum sale, CWG swindle and Adarsh Housing scam. The Opposition tasted blood by ensuring the resignation of former Telecom Minister A Raja and Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan. Its unrelenting stand on having a JPC to probe the 2G Spectrum sale brought the Winter session of Parliament to a standstill. In fact, the Left and the Right has come together both inside and outside Parliament on issues of corruption and inflation.

As the Opposition upped the ante, the Congress sacked Mr Suresh Kalmadi from the post of Congress Parliamentary party secretary. Now that the Supreme Court has given permission to the Kerala Government to proceed against Chief Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas in the Palmoil scam, the BJP's campaign against corruption has got a further boost.

Of late, the BJP is gunning salvoes at the Prime Minister for the UPA Government's reluctance to get the list of names of people who have stashed away black money in Swiss and German banks and other tax havens. Senior BJP leader LK Advani had promised before the 2009 polls to get the list within 100 days if his party came to power. The sudden resurrection of the Bofors scam has further emboldened the BJP as it could directly link Ms Sonia Gandhi with the case.

The BJP's sudden decision to hoist the National Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar has deepened the confrontation further. While the Congress wants to show the BJP in poor light by accusing it of trying to create tension in an already sensitive State, the BJP is slamming the Government for being soft on Kashmiri separatists.

The response of the non-UPA and non-NDA parties to this political turf war is quite interesting. The Left parties, fighting for their survival in West Bengal and Kerala, cannot be seen as supporting the Congress and hence, tacitly supports the BJP — especially because the inflation is directly affecting people. Fringe parties like the AIADMK, PMK, and MDMK in Tamil Nadu would like to dent the image of the Congress before the Assembly poll because it is a DMK ally. While the Telugu Desam, Biju Janata Dal and JD(U) are not friendly to the Congress, the SP and the BSP are not ready to risk their political fortunes as Uttar Pradesh will go to polls next year.

The pertinent question is despite gaining an upper hand why is the BJP struggling to emerge as a winner. The BJP's fight against the Congress has weakened because it has no answer to the corruption charges against Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa and his nepotism. Although the BJP has taken the fight against Governor HS Bhardwaj for his permission to prosecute Mr Yeddyurappa to the streets in Karnataka, BJP president Nitin Gadkari has accepted that Mr Yeddyurappa's action has been "immoral".

With Assembly elections coming up in half-a-dozen States, the Congress has shed its defensive stance and is now taking the BJP head on. In its Burari session, the AICC has passed a hard-hitting resolution against communalism, asking the UPA Government to deal with Hindu radicalism, describing it as 'saffron terrorism'. It is relying on the alleged terror links connecting the RSS with the Samjhauta Express blast, and Malegaon and Ajmer terror attacks. It has not yielded on the JPC demand, which will be the focus of the Opposition in the Budget session. Further, it is turning the heat on the BJP through Karnataka Governor HS Bhardwaj and Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

The crux of the matter is in a democracy both the Government and the Opposition have their roles cut out. While it is the job of the Government to run the country as well as Parliament, it is the job of the Opposition to play the role of a watchdog. When confrontation between the two continues, there is a drift in focus resulting in governance deficit.







Banks should fund India's fiscal deficit in the form of Government securities as these have become critical to not only the nation's financial health but also to management of growth

It is common knowledge that good economic growth needs a deep, viable and sound financial market. India has a good functional market. The country is also ahead of many in terms of financial market. A financial market has five to six major components including the Government security market, corporate bonds market, equity market, foreign exchange market and money market.

The Government security market deserves a special attention in an 'era of scams' and when the Government is providing indirect immunity to foreign exchange holding using the logic of double taxation. The Government security market and its health may prove to be the future of many not-so-abundantly endowed families, who cannot have accounts in banks abroad.

Fortunately, the Government security market in India is not only pretty old, but very well established. The Government of India has been borrowing for a long time — a strange fate for a nation, which in pre-independence days was known to have funded the Army, which it provided to preserve the empire.

The Government component and the market component meet at some point because market borrowing helps in meeting the fiscal deficit of the Government. A longitudinal analysis of the developments that have taken place in the Government security market from the early days would show that gradually the propensity of the Government to borrow money has been on the rise.

During the early and mid-1990s, we saw the Government issuing certificates and scripts in the form of bonds. Then came the subsidiary general measure, the Demat form. In fact, the first Demat form came in the market with Government securities. However, the settlements were separate; not a delivery vs payment settlement. The current account was separate from the RBI account and more.

The 1992 scam was almost waiting to happen. This was followed by the DP system, the screen STD, the NDS. However, it was available to close-ended group of banker's mutual funds and primary operators and not to the public. Other market prospects could participate through a constituent account.

The founding of the Settlement Claim Corporation of India was an important landmark as the Government was bringing about major improvements in the Government security market. Prior to 1986-87, all Government securities were issued at the Government pre-determined rate. Pursuant to Subrat Chakravarty Committee's recommendations, the Government started borrowing at the market related rates and today, all borrowings are at the market related rates by way of option.

The abolition of tax deduction at source on the Government security has been both useful and significant. The RBI also set up the private dealer system to provide two-way coupons to the Government security to deepen the market.

The 'aam aadmi' concept is nothing new but can be linked to 'abolish poverty' concept of the 1970s. So over the years, Governments at the Centre made attempts to encourage 'little people' to participate in the financial market. The introduction of retailing of Government security in 2000 was one such step. Unfortunately, it never really picked up. The role of the RBI in such matters could have been more foresighted. Interestingly, mutual funds picked up hugely during the same time. It is huge in numbers but should one consider the total volume, it is a small segment.

The reaction to the nature of Government borrowings is, however, not uniform. There is a whole constituency, which believes that Government borrowings are very large and they have the crowding-out effect. The fluctuation in this SLR system notwithstanding, it seems somewhat intriguing that there is a strong pre-emption in India when central banks across the world do not have any pre-emption on their resources.

As the issue of the fiscal deficit looms large and appears somewhat intractable, one of the roles that banks have to play in the national development is that they should fund the fiscal deficit in the form of securities. It is, thus, the Government securities have become critical to not only the nation's financial health but also to management of growth.

However, the issue remains whether the Government should really continue to be pre-emptive on its resources or let it go the way it does in a more matured economy.







CHANGE IS seldom accepted without resistance and Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the vice- chancellor of the Darul Uloom in Deoband, has learnt this the hard way.


Mr Vastanvi — an MBA himself— appears to have had a blueprint for reform in the 145 year old seminary with his thrust on extending the curriculum to include modern subjects. Not only would this have helped the students get better jobs, it would have altered the present image of Darul Uloom as a ' Fatwa factory'. The controversy over the vice- chancellor's comments allegedly supporting Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is but a pretext being used by powerful vested interests to prevent reform in the seminary and get him removed at any cost. For, the controversy wouldn't have arisen had Mr Vastanvi's statements been considered in entirety — he had criticised the Gujarat riots as a blot that can never be erased while adding that Muslims had benefitted from the recent progress in the state.


Mr Vastanvi is not the first head of Darul Uloom to be targeted in this manner. In the 1980s, the then vice- chancellor Qari Tayyeb was unceremoniously removed by goons sponsored by a group within the Deobandi Ulema which has for long considered the seminary as its fief. There appears a similar design against Mr Vastanvi as he has been subjected to an intense campaign that even went to the extent of questioning his Muslim credentials.


The Majlis- e- Shoora of the seminary which is supposed to meet on February 20 must consider that the issue at stake is not just the continuance of Mr Vastanvi but a vision that seeks to make Darul Uloom relevant to the challenges faced by the Muslim community in the 21st century.



THE authorities may have woken up to the challenge posed by the oil mafia in the country only after an honest official has lost his life but it is just possible that the death of additional district collector of Malegaon Yashwant Sonawane will not go in vain.

The statements issued by Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy on Thursday about the marker system being re- introduced and oil tankers being equipped with GPS to prevent the pilferage of kerosene, as well as the extensive raids carried out by the police in which over 180 people have been arrested give rise to hope in this connection.


The minister has also rightly highlighted the urgent need to tackle oil pilferage in " systemic terms". However, a few of the minister's proposals could well be old wine in a new bottle as the ' markers' that are supposed to detect the presence of kerosene as an adulterant were introduced even after the murder of Indian Oil Corporation employee S Manjunath in 2005, and were found ineffective.


The government needs to address another central issue — that kerosene must reach the poor for whose sake it is subsidised in the first place.


What is most important here is for the government to continue seeing oil pilferage as a critical problem long after the outrage over Sonawane's murder has subsided.


Meet their basic need


CALL it a dangerous spin- off of wayward urban development. As the MAIL TODAY has revealed, people in urban villages of northwest Delhi have been consuming contaminated groundwater that has left them afflicted with a host of ailments, some serious in nature. A study conducted by the Delhi University has found that the groundwater in large parts of the Capital's rural zones has fluoride and nitrate levels substantially higher than World Health Organisation standards.


The Delhi government may show eagerness in regularising unauthorised settlements but it obviously does not think much of its responsibility to provide residents of the less urbane parts of the Capital potable water. Promises it has no doubt made but the villagers continue to rely on boring and untreated groundwater for their daily needs, notwithstanding the toll it is taking on their health.


It is not enough for the authorities to send a tanker or two to these villages every now and then. The Delhi Jal Board must be instructed to provide them clean drinking water regardless of the effort this may entail.








In the High Court of Judicature at Kochi 0ANo. 85/ Apl. No. 209/ 19/ 7. In the matter of granting landing rights to one Vasco da Gama, application pending since 1498 AD in court of His Lordship Justice J. C. Srinivasan. The above application comes up for hearing before Hon. Justice R. Srikant on August 7, 2012. The council for the applicant hereby petitions to postpone court appearance by three years due to unavoidable circumstances.


IF SUCH a notice were to appear in a daily newspaper, it would hardly raise an eyebrow.


Delayed, incomplete, over budget, are the standard descriptions of most public tasks. From constructing buildings, bridges, roads and rail, providing private compensation and public legal settlement, resolving political and religious disputes, signing water treaties, and any other transaction that requires more than one person, India is riddled with failure: projects left incomplete, riots and conflicts that refuse to abate, seminars and debates that lead nowhere, thoughts left unfinished, sentences with semicolons, parliaments hung…. and well… even the last solar eclipse was only a partial one.




In the 1980s, a proposal to refurbish the much revered statue of William Penn in downtown Philadelphia was put forth by the Philadelphia Arts Commission. The city government accepted the proposal, and soon enough, Penn's stone figure was surrounded by scaffolding and woodwork. A few years later, when no work had been done, and the scaffolding itself had begun to fall apart, someone suggested that funds be allocated for the refurbishment of the scaffolding.


That is the way of most public projects in India. No country pursues the twin ideals of procrastination and ineptness with such unrestrained enthusiasm. At the core of Indian administration lies the belief that the start of new work is an electoral responsibility.


Its rightful conclusion is neither in the statute books nor — after decades of practice — even public expectation.


The list is extensive. State and national road projects including the grand quadrilateral, 7- 9 years behind schedule; airport and infrastructure projects sanctioned, but incomplete; state education and health projects, foundation stones laid, pujas done, work delayed; expansion of the central rail network, 13 years behind schedule. Rural irrigation and water schemes, 16 year average delay… In a system where bureaucratic norms provide a shifting responsibility, the urge to delay and incompletion has official sanction. In charge of surface transport in one posting, culture in the next, sugar control board in another, the Indian bureaucrat is licensed to remain a floater, skimming the surfaces of different departments, studying proposals, starting up projects, and just as the first brick is laid, moving on.


It is hard to be optimistic when the daily airwaves are filled with such a deadening complacency. And it leaves you wondering how projects like the Delhi Metro, the Konkan Railway were ever completed at all.


When newly built, the faces of the riders of the Metro showed a pleasant but puzzled air of disbelief. Could this really be an Indian project? Surely there must be a foreign hand.


A side lane near my home had been alternately dug up and resurfaced many times over for several years. At first, drains were installed, then fresh cables laid, then telephone lines removed, then a new gas line sunk, then internet cabling redone, finally, water mains repaired.


So frequent were the disruptions, that after a while, a considerate junior engineer installed an Inconvenience Regretted sign smack in the centre of the road.


For three years now the road has not been dug, but the sign remains, permanently embedded in concrete. During the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, it was even lovingly repainted in bold letters along with other road signs. Today the bright yellow sign is the only inconvenience on the road. The Delhi Government has spent so much time and effort on it, that removing it would be a big burden on the Exchequer.




The air of ineptness creeps into every crevice of decision making. In the courts of Tees Hazari, my father- in- law has been fighting a case of eviction for the past nine years. A case that was inherited from his father who fought it for 18 years. So low are Indian expectations of judicial resolution that even the simplest of cases are stacked in mounting backlogs, handed down from one generation to the next, like jewellery and property.


Nowhere does the pall of delay hang in a more permanent gloom than in Delhi's corridors of political power. Faced day in and day out with mounting border disputes, religious upheavals and communal strife, government responses lie in brushing aside or convenient sidestepping. Doubtless the Kashmir issue is complex and weighed down by years of messy history, ethnic strife and cross- border recrimination. Yet no attempt is ever made to address it head on, or — after decades of two party stalemates — allow a third party to mediate. No. Kashmir is an integral part of India. Kashmir is a bilateral issue. Obama uttered the K word.


Fixated in a delirium of conventional thinking, the country goes into immediate denial, promoting instead, bus trips between the two countries, student exchanges, music festivals. On the ground, the situation changes from passive resistance to outright hostility; moderates are radicalised; stone pelters pick up guns.


Armoured curfewed cities, boxed in by repression, violent torture and intimidation, naturally make local citizens more narrow minded, more focused on liberation. Talk turns from economic stability, to autonomy, to outright secession. The growing incompetence of India makes the repressed Kashmiris talk the language of the Palestinians, the Tibetans. So shameful is the Indian impotence to act squarely, Kashmir turns even moderate non- Kashmiris into secessionists.




So too with other cases. Naxals — ordinary citizens with serious grievances — like the Kashmiris are clubbed conveniently into an anti- India column. Unable to address ideas, uneasy with reconciliation, the government retaliates with the wayward George Bush line: You are either with us, or against us. The consequences are grim, violent and final. Unable to engage, the government creates enemies of its own people, and digs a deeper well of despair, for them, for itself. All in the hope that the rewards of delay and complacency will one day be gifted to the opposition party.


Recent government actions in some of the most sensitive political battlegrounds are tinged with such hopelessness that it is hard to see a way forward. More and more, public decisions in some of the world's most malicious and repressive regimes border on serious international crime. Russia jailed Khodorkovsky, just like China jailed Liu Xiaobo, just as India, Binayak Sen. Dissidence or free speech has no place in the world's largest tyranny, nor in the world's largest democracy.


Bereft of any finality or outcome, the failure to act turns even the present into a stagnant pool of outstanding issues. Nine years after the Gujarat riots the communal situation in the state remains unsettled. 23 years after Bofors, unresolved accusations on kickbacks block debate. 26 years after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the legal talk on compensation is revived. That the recipients of the kickbacks are long since dead, as are those for the compensation is a tragedy that moves quickly from reality to satire to farce. But it leaves you wondering, that if the government is forever tackling past issues, who will address the present. Will the Commonwealth Games corruption scam of 2010 come up for debate in 2030? Will the Telangana issue disrupt parliamentary proceedings in 2020? Will Delhi's many unsolved murders remain a ghostly presence into the future? Indeed will India's unresolved past remain a festering wound perennially open to the flies and dirt of the present? In the cold grey light of winter, the rush of optimism is difficult to sustain.


The writer is a well known architect









President Obama has done it again. In his State of the Union address delivered Wednesday, he has invoked India and China in order to get Americans to sign on to his blueprint for reviving the American economy as well as outflank 'tea party' politicians on the ideological right. At one level, there can be little harm done if Obama tries to rev up America's competitive smarts by rhetorically pointing to India and China as fostering innovation and education (although it would bemuse most Indians to know that Indian education is being cited as a model for America, given the shambles that it is in). But on another level the 'Sputnik' analogy, if used loosely, has the potential to wreak much damage.

In the policy fight that Obama has with Republicans and economic conservatives, Obama wishes to spur investment in areas such as education, infrastructure, technology and innovation in order to spur the economy, while Republicans' overriding priority is to cut expenditures and balance the budget. In this debate over offering an economic stimulus it may be useful to emphasise that China is doing it too, while India has plans for ramping up its infrastructure. And perhaps summoning up scare scenarios of an external threat is psychologically more effective than trying to persuade opponents of the intrinsic merits of a policy. But rhetoric can have its own momentum, and oversimplified views give rise to damaging consequences.

In the first place India and China are easily associated in America's domestic political rhetoric, but facile equations between them are problematic. While the US trade deficit with China is a whopping $250 billion, that with India is a mere $10 billion (and India runs a deficit on its global trade). There is no justification for the argument that India is taking away jobs from the US, even if for reasons of domestic politics one were inclined to bash China on this score.

But there is an even deeper problem. The 'Sputnik' analogy fails because when the USSR sent up the Sputnik, spurring Americans to greater efforts in education and aerospace, the superpowers were in overt confrontation and any loss for one counted as a victory for the other. Given the manner in which US and Chinese economies are enmeshed, or even US and Indian economies are enmeshed, that is no longer true. If foreign nations are blamed for loss of jobs at home, that leads to escalating protectionist rhetoric whose ultimate outcome would be to place the fragile recovery that the global economy is currently undergoing in jeopardy. And that will benefit no one.







The uncertainty prevailing over Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi's continuation as the vice-chancellor of Darul Uloom Deoband, amid rising criticism, provides cause for introspection. The teaching of modern subjects like engineering, medicine and pharmacy at the Jamia Islamia Ishaatul Uloom at Akkalkuwa in Maharashtra, which Vastanvi had earlier helped set up, is an exemplary template for educating students for 21st century opportunities. However, it was his view that development in Narendra Modi's Gujarat did not leave Muslims untouched that made his position shaky. Having trumped prominent leader Arshad Madni to become the first person from outside UP to head Darul Uloom, his statement was fodder for his rivals.

Although Vastanvi never gave Modi a clean chit for the 2002 Gujarat riots, his views on development clash directly with the aims of identity politics. For, there is a tendency within the latter to look upon development as a zero-sum game. In the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, it is understandably difficult for many Muslims to reconcile Modi and Muslim empowerment in any way. But Vastanvi's comments, and the support he has elicited from a section of Darul Uloom students, prove that India's Muslim community is not a monolith, as both Hindutva hardliners and 'secular' politicians looking for a votebank tend to presume. The socio-economic experience of Muslims from Gujarat or Kerala is markedly different from those hailing from UP or Bihar. The Muslim political voice would do well to accommodate various shades of opinion. This will bring vibrancy to institutions such as the Darul Uloom. Internal democracy within the clergy and reforms linked to opportunities, combined with an effective political campaign to isolate majoritarians in the larger polity, comprise the way to greater empowerment for Indian Muslims.









Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's attendance as chief guest at this year's Republic Day celebrations was significant. The last Indonesian chief guest to attend these celebrations was President Sukarno in 1950. With the passing of the Nehru-Sukarno era, India's relationship with Southeast Asia ceased to be a priority in our diplomatic agenda. This was unfortunate.

Indonesia is a major emerging market economy like India and China, and a G20 member. Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are also important players in Asia. Vietnam is another emerging power and potential strategic partner. Reinventing India's relations with countries of the ASEAN region is a critical factor in the new global power balances that is now evolving. It lies at the heart of India's Look East policy. This recent doctrine is in fact a rediscovery of an ancient relationship - India's deep engagement with Southeast Asia well over a thousand years ago - that offers many lessons as well as opportunities for our own times.

This ancient relationship is perhaps best reflected in Angkor Wat. This remarkable temple is the national symbol of Cambodia, but it is also a Hindu temple dedicated to the worship of Vishnu. Built in the 12th century, Angkor marks the pinnacle of Khmer art and civilisation, but the origin of Khmer rule goes back to the eighth century. At its peak, this empire included not only Cambodia, but also large parts of Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia. It was ruled by Hindu god kings, and by their Buddhist descendants from the 12th century onwards. Travel further east to Vietnam, and on the shores of the Pacific you will find the ruins of the Hindu kingdom of Champa. Travel further south to Indonesia, and there you will encounter in central Java the great temple complex of Prambanan, built in the eighth century by Hindu kings of the Sanjaya dynasty.

Like Hinduism, Buddhism too had taken root in Java by the eighth century. The Buddhist Shailendra kings built grand Buddhist temples in Borobudur and also in the environs of Prambanan. Today, Buddhism is the main religion in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, while Islam predominates in Malaysia and Indonesia. Hinduism, Buddhism and later Islam, along with the cultures in which these great religions are embedded, flowed to Southeast Asia from India, led by the growth of trade. There were no Indian military campaigns or conquests, no Indian empires were built. But as trade relations grew, Indian art and iconography, its religious practices and its way of life spread across the region through a process of cultural osmosis.

These relationships were ruptured by the European colonisation of Southeast Asia. With the pendulum of economic power now swinging back from the West to the East, led by China and India, both countries seek to deepen their engagement with the region. As in the past, India's re-engagement with Southeast Asia will be led by economic interests, including trade. India's high growth requires high growth of exports. For that, India has to look to the dynamic ASEAN economies, China and South Korea, not the slow growing economies of the West. Intra-regional trade in ASEAN countries is growing much faster than their trade with the rest of the world and India needs to link itself to this growth.

However, unlike in the past, merchandise trade alone cannot drive India's deeper engagement with ASEAN. The whole world is now trading with ASEAN, and India is only one of many players. What, then, can give India a special advantage in the region compared to the competition?

India's unique advantage is the historic legacy of its shared religious and cultural ties with the region. Indian policy makers need to think outside the box on how best to leverage this asset in reinventing India's engagement with Southeast Asia. If a vastly expanded portfolio of relationship-building initiatives is to be financially sustainable, these initiatives must be designed as commercially viable activities financed and managed through public-private partnerships. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done seminal work in Angkor but this is just a beginning. India must do much more to restore and develop heritage sites throughout the region, possibly through a partnership of the ASI and the travel and hospitality industry.

Another high impact field is cinema and entertainment. Export of modern Indian cinema, conveying a flavour of contemporary India to the youth of these countries, will have a high pay-off. Some of our leading stars and songs are popular in the region even without any promotion. A third line of investment where India has an obvious advantage is IT-enabled services. Hopefully, the Indian IT industry is already exploring these opportunities.

Another field, possibly the most important for relationship-building, is specialised higher education: engineering, management, law and medicine in particular. India has many excellent institutions in these fields that enjoy global recognition. Moreover, they offer courses in English, the international language that students in ASEAN countries are aspiring to master. An offer to establish such institutions in the ASEAN region will be welcomed. Visualise a string of India-financed and jointly managed Institutes of Management or Institutes of Technology in leading cities of the region, attracting the best and brightest students in those countries. Imagine what that could do for India's prestige and goodwill in the region.

The writer is emeritus professor at the National Institute of Public Finance & Policy, New Delhi.





Bengali Director Kaushik Ganguly, who has made a film about a love story with a twist and features Rituparno Ghosh and Indraneil Sengupta, talks to Subhash K Jha:

Just Another Love Story is anything but just another story, isn't it?

Sexuality in any form, other than what we deem normal, is taboo, discussed judgmentally, despite an apparent air of openness in our conversations. Those who do not conform, are marginalised.

Which is why the term 'alternate sexuality' is commonly used. This is precisely what haunted me for years, and out of this, Just Another Love Story was born. The life of the erstwhile jatra queen, Chapal Bhaduri (Chapal Rani), was my inspiration. My film does not see any kind of sexuality as dark, or alternate. It is just another love story.

Gay love stories are still not considered mainstream cinema. How do you think audiences will react?

I wasn't focussed on making mainstream cinema when i made this film. The subject is a social crisis that had made me think, and rethink, and the film is an expression and extension of just that. My film moves according to the needs of Chapal's instincts, insecurities, questions, his vulnerability and loneliness. When i made Ushno-tar Jonyo (Longing for You) way back in 2002, i was apprehensive about audience reaction. And i must also say that our audience did not fail to surprise me. The response was overwhelming. Hopefully, this time too, my film, which takes off from the earlier film, will get my audience thinking about same-sex bonding.

There is an added responsibility for you as a filmmaker since the film also marks Rituparno's debut as an actor. Did that burden your creativity?

What is remarkable about Rituparno is that all along, he allowed the subject to rule. And he trusted me. I would say that the pressure of delivering loomed large when i had to write a screenplay that would be good enough for a brilliant script-writer like Rituparno to agree to debut in the film made out of it. Later of course, his inputs as creative director and production designer made me understand and know him more as a person. These professional and personal interactions have helped a great deal in the whole creative process.

Do you think there's a lot of dormant homosexuality in the entertainment industry?

Sexual preference is a personal matter. I feel that there is dormant homosexuality in almost any field. In most cases it lies dormant because of the fear of unacceptability. Perhaps we need to realise that each same-sex bond is also a bond of love. And that each such journey is just another love story.

Is conservative Bengal ready for the sexual revolution?

I was brought up in the campus of an extremely conservative institution, but could work on this subject for years in Bengal without any hassles or unnecessary curiosity from anyone. So why would i be wary of the Bengali audience? The conservative Bengali is perhaps much more open to change and much more tolerant than he is thought to be. Hasn't Bengal been the seat of many a revolution - political, social and religious? However, my intention in this film has not been to revolutionise the attitude towards sexuality, or promote closeted sexual preferences. So my audience is under no compulsion to accept or support the relationship that my protagonists share. My audience may feel that we are not yet ready for such films. They may hate the film. They may love the film. I cannot say now. But what i can say is that they will discuss it. And to discuss, they have to think about the film, its subject. And if they discuss, the subject will take a baby step out of the 'dark' closet. That's enough.







Bunny and i are to blame. For all the money stashed away by a variety of Indian fat cats in foreign accounts from Switzerland to the Cayman Islands. No one quite knows how much loot there is lying hidden away in the secret nooks and crannies of the financial world.The government itself is coy about it and doesn't seen even to want to discuss the issue. But according to some guesstimates which, self-admittedly, are more guesses than estimates, there could be some US$1 trillion belonging to Indians lying out there. 

I can't even begin to imagine what one trillion dollars looks like when it's at home, never mind what it looks like when it's tucked away incognito on some sunny Caribbean isle, wearing sunglasses, lying in a hammock and sipping through a straw a multi-coloured concoction in a tall glass with a little paper umbrella in it. But i'm told that a trillion - sunglasses, paper umbrella and all - is roughly the equivalent of the Indian economy, which currently is pegged at about $1.3 trillion. Which means that there is the equivalent of another India, almost, swinging in a Caribbean hammock.

What would it be like if that other India, which has detached itself from our India the way tectonic plates are said to do in the geological process known as continental drift, were to be brought back? Or, better still, if that other India had been stopped before it could leave us? Theoretically at least, everyone in our India, this India, would be twice as rich - or half as poor, if you prefer - as they are today.

But that other India did get away. And Bunny and i are to blame. As we are to blame for the case of the IAS couple, Arvind and Tinu Joshi, who between them reportedly salted away R 360 crore worth of undeclared assets, including 25 flats, 400 acres of land and over R 1 crore in hard cash. The couple deserves a medal from the IAS, the Indian Acquisitive Service, for acquiring wealth above and beyond the call of looting.

And, as i said, Bunny and i are responsible. No, we don't know anyone with boodle parked in the Cayman Islands. Nor were we trying to keep up with the Joshis. But how Bunny and i were unwitting accomplices in encouraging such plunder was by exercising the fatal attraction the two of us seem to possess for the income tax authorities. Indeed, the good folk at Ayakar Bhavan seem so partial to our company that they tend to totally ignore the Cayman Islandwallas and the Joshis of our country. If they spent a little less of their time and attention chumming up to us, and to other small-fry taxpayers like us, and sending us pressing invitations asking us to come and see them, maybe they'd have been able to do something about that missing one trillion dollars, not to mention the Joshis' R 360 crore.

But no. The authorities seem to be fixated on fixed-income, middle-class people like Bunny and me, to whom they keep issuing summonses, using a method known as 'random scrutiny'. Never has random been as scrutinised as we and some others of our acquaintance have been over the past several years. Why do they keep summoning us, i wonder. I can imagine them, sitting around in Ayakar Bhavan, twiddling their thumbs, no CWG-related raids to conduct, nothing to do, bored, time hanging heavy on their hands, and suddenly one of them brightens up and says: Hey, let's send a summon to one of the Suraiyas; maybe one of them's got a new Santa-Banta story we haven't heard as yet.

At the time of writing, Bunny's got her third - or is it the fourth? - love note of the financial year from her ITO, and it's not even Valentine's Day yet. And if it's not Bunny being summoned, maybe it'll be you. If you happen to be a middle-class, middle-income non-entity, unlike the high-falooting Joshis or the Caymanwallas, whom the IT people obviously don't give a hoot about and leave to their own devices. Why? Because Ayakar Bhavan in its magisterial and unchallenged wisdom is convinced that, never mind the money bags, it's only you, Bunny and me who've got what it tax to be noticed.








With age comes maturity. India is not exactly a greenhorn as far as democracy goes. Then why does the Indian State throw irrational tantrums every time someone disagrees with its policies? Take the example of doctor-activist Binayak Sen. While the State has the right to investigate the links that might exist between some of its citizens and the Maoists, the way things are moving for Dr Sen and his family looks more like a witchhunt than any serious probe. It has almost made Dr Sen a 'trophy' accused — a lesson and a warning for many others who deviate from the 'Stateline'. So it's not only

Dr Sen, who is now in jail after a Raipur sessions court on December 24 sentenced him to life on sedition charges over his links with Maoist ideologue Narayan Sanyal, but also his family members who are facing the music.

Even as the case against Dr Sen is fought in the Chhattisgarh high court, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on January 25 booked Dr Sen's wife Ilina Sen who works at Wardha in Maharashtra. The reason: Ms Sen did not inform the local police about the arrival of several

foreigners for a convention, the FIR claims, she organised. But the truth is the meet was organised by the Indian Association of Women's Studies and hosted by the Mahatma Gandhi Antarashtriya Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha, and Ms Sen is only an executive member of the organisation. Though the ATS chief has denied any such harassment motive, it doesn't sound too convincing.

The Binayak Sen case is in the high court and will run its own course. The government must stop wasting its energy targeting a family whose only fault is that it is related to a person against whom they are supposed to have a 'watertight case'. Dr Sen's case is being followed internationally as well

as within India. But there are plenty of cases in Chhattisgarh as well as in other Maoist-affected states of the country where tribal men and women and their families are routinely targeted because they or their relatives are suspected to be Maoist sympathisers. They don't even have the benefit of international support or the media. There are many ways of tackling the Maoist problem, this shadow boxing is surely not one of them.






The communist commissar Prakash Karat and the caped crusader J Jayalalithaa seem to have come together in yet another Sisyphean attempt to form the Third Front. And, of course, always waiting in the wings is that patriarch of the third avenue, HD Deve Gowda, former prime minister and forever-aspirant for that post again. Now we know that two is a company and three is a crowd, but we are intrigued as to why like Sisyphus, comrade Karat wants to roll the boulder up the Nilgiri hills yet again. We agree that pictures with the supremo of Poes Garden are handy for the old age album for the grandchildren, but does it make any political sense at all?

But then we are not blessed with the Karatian logic of getting on to a bandwagon, like Basanti in Sholay, that may derail at some point of time, but will roll on against capitalist offenders. Mr Karat, we feel, could be motivated by better sentiments than we give him credit for. The lady of large proportions is known for her love of the good life, the eternal Third Fronter Deve Gowda is known for his love of farming,

Mr Karat is the quintessential scholar having been schooled in Edinburgh, so here we have a holistic mix. Will it work? Well, Mr Karat would be able to tell us why it has not flowered in the past. But, to give Mr Karat credit, he has never failed to raise the Third Front prospect every time the government has been seen to falter. And more power to his elbow.

The only problem is that unlike the bouquets he hands out to prospective allies, he seems to get brickbats in return. So will the Third Front ever materialise, we ask again? We wonder, given that each of the leaders of the Front strongly believes that he or she should lead the country. We are not too good with numbers, so for the moment we are not too averse to sticking with the muddle of numbers that

make up a coalition. And if Mr Karat can get the boulder up the mountain, then, maybe, we could look at the numerical statistics all over again.







On Republic Day eve, the five top news headlines reflected the state of the nation. The first was the tragic story of the Malegaon additional district collector, Yashwant Sonawane, who was burnt alive by the oil mafia while checking kerosene theft. The second was finance minister Pranab Mukherjee claiming that the government couldn't reveal the names of those who had stashed black money abroad. The third was of the BJP's Ekta Yatra being stopped at the Jammu-Punjab border amid protests. The fourth was about Deoband chief Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi being pushed to quit for he had allegedly made pro-Narendra Modi remarks. The fifth headline was of a young student attacking the father of murdered teenager Aarushi Talwar outside a court with a cleaver. Anyone who watched the news that night would have been aware of the multiple challenges that confront the republic as it enters its 62nd year.

Take the Sonawane case. That oil mafias exist and kerosene adulteration is hugely profitable is no secret. An estimated 40% of kerosene is diverted towards adulterating diesel or petrol or for resale. Six years ago when Indian Institute of Management graduate Manjunath Shanmugam was killed by the oil mafia in Uttar Pradesh, the government promised a 'clean up'. The kerosene 'marker' system that was introduced was discontinued after it was found to be an ineffective adulteration check. The fact is that the muscle of the oil mafias has less to do with policing and more to do with flawed government policies. If petrol costs almost R60 a litre and subsidised kerosene R12 a litre, the price differential is a temptation for oil black marketers. Documentary evidence suggests that a small percentage of the subsidy on kerosene reaches the poor, exploited as it is by the middlemen. Yet, governments seem reluctant to review oil policies that result in the killing of honest and brave officers like Manjunath and Sonawane.

If flawed policies aid crime they encourage corruption too. For the first 50 years of Independence, almost entirely governed by the Congress, punitive rates of  taxation encouraged India's super-rich to not disclose their income and park it overseas instead. Tax evasion for a long time was linked to high rates of taxation and the unfriendliness of the tax administration. Draconian powers with tax officials created a system that thrived on bribery and corruption.

Mukherjee now speaks of a five-pronged strategy to deal with black money and of creating a legislative framework. He speaks of a proposal to introduce an amnesty scheme to bring back black money by setting up a task force. Good idea, but only a temporary measure if the past is any guide. What purpose will another committee really serve? Creating another bureaucratic web to tackle the problem of black money will only accentuate the problem. The truth is that there has been a marked reluctance to go after the prime beneficiaries of black money. The government says that a secrecy clause in the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Germany prevents it from naming the individuals with foreign bank accounts. But why should this secrecy clause concern a third country, in this case Liechtenstein? Unless you name and shame those who have thrived on a black money economy, a long-winded prosecution process will be no deterrent.

If corruption has stained the Congress's khadi, religious extremism has tainted the BJP's saffron. The BJP claims its Ekta Yatra was driven by a belief that unfurling the tricolour at Lal Chowk would send a firm signal to Kashmiri separatists. But it has only polarised an already scarred border state. Hoisting the tricolour, when seen through the prism of confrontational street politics, appears as a sign of political opportunism. If a message was to be sent to the separatists, it should have been done by focusing on what the BJP's own Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once described as the need for 'insaniyat' in the Valley.

While the BJP is playing with fire, so are the Deobandis who want to remove their head, Maulana Vastanvi, for his alleged support to Narendra Modi. Vastanvi reportedly said he was happy to see Muslims participate in Gujarat's growth story. If this is indeed what he said, why should it arouse such a strong reaction within the Deoband leadership? Would it prefer that the Muslims in Gujarat remain marginal and isolated? The resignation of the Maulana will feed into the worst kind of stereotype of a frozen mindset, one that breeds communal prejudice.

And then there is the story of Utsav Sharma, a fine arts graduate who seems to be in the habit of making murderous assaults outside courtrooms. Sharma may be suffering from a psychological disorder, but he is in a way symptomatic of a rising culture of mindless violence. Be it ragging, road rage or honour killing, there are many Indians out there who seem to relish the idea of taking the law into their own hands. Not the ideal way to celebrate 61 years of the Indian Constitution.

Post-script: Oh yes, the news on Republic Day eve also carried the list of Padma awardees, many of them truly accomplished and deserving. But how about an award for the aam aadmi, the average upright citizen who keeps the idea of India alive in these tough times?    

(Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network)

*The views expressed by the author are personal






When I arrived in Deoband as a student of Islam in the late 70s, I had already been living in Afghanistan and the border areas for eight years. I knew Farsi, but no Urdu. Initially, I had to communicate with the teachers of Deoband in Farsi. This immediately endeared me to the teachers in Deoband, particularly the older ones who could remember the pre-1947 years, when Afghan students used to come in great numbers to Deoband, the Mecca of Islamic studies in South Asia, to study Islam and to return to their country as great Islamic scholars.

Being set up in the wake of the 1857 Indian Mutiny by Islamic scholars who had taken part in the uprising, Deoband was also a centre of resistance to British rule. It was seen as a fortress of Islamic knowledge, a bulwark against encroachment of secular, Western ideas. Many subjects sidelined from the Deoband curriculum — history, geography, mathematics, science — had initially made strides in the Islamic world. However, learning in these disciplines had long since receded, as they had come to be associated with the West. From a point of view of Islamic scriptures — which couch Islamic teachings in surprisingly scientific terms — and Islamic history, there was no justification in this sidelining of the so-called 'secular' subjects.

The Afghan government, for its part, never allowed institutes of Islamic learning to flourish within its own border. It had adopted wholeheartedly the secular system of education championed by the West and promoted in the Muslim world by leaders such as Turkey's Kemal Ataturk. To a great degree, this is the basis of the current schism in Afghan society: on the one hand, there is a State that promotes a secular system of education; on the other, there's a population (particularly the border Pashtun population) who largely prefer religious study. Deprived of centres of religious learning within their borders, Afghans have travelled to India and then to Pakistan in their search for this knowledge.

This distrust of contemporary learning on the part of the madrasa community was sustained in the post-1947 period when the predominant destination for Afghan students of religion switched from India to Pakistan. Travel to India became too complicated, with visa requirements and two borders to be negotiated. It was also comparatively expensive for Afghan religious students to travel to far-flung centres of Islamic learning in Deoband, Delhi and Lucknow. As relations between India and Pakistan deteriorated, travel to Deoband from Afghanistan became a distant dream. Religious students from Afghanistan had to do with the centres of learning in Pakistan: Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Akora Khattak, Multan.

But the politicisation of religion implicit in the establishment of a State in the name of Islam turned to radicalisation in the 80s when it suited various governments to promote jihadist ideologies among the border Pashtun tribes — aimed as this jihad was against the Soviet Union. Religious madrasas were not able to remain immune from this politicisation, followed by radicalisation. The world is still living with the consequences of this promotion of militancy and radicalism.

The Karzai government has realised — at least on a level of lip-service — the importance of strengthening Islamic education in Afghanistan. However, in practice, little is being done (although recently the department of Islamic education within the Afghan ministry of education has been upgraded to a deputy ministry. Meanwhile, Pakistan is no longer welcoming religious students from Afghanistan. The last thing one wants is for religious students to become frustrated by not having anywhere to go to pursue their legitimate thirst for Islamic knowledge.

The havens of Islamic learning in India are still intact. They are vibrant, not politicised or radicalised. Some of them are admirably progressive, shunning the traditional abhorrence of secular subjects and incorporating them into their curriculum. Not only would students from Afghanistan be exposed to a progressive strain of Islamic learning if they were allowed to come to India for their religious studies, but they would also see religious education as it once was: learning not to fulfil any political agenda but for the sake of learning itself.

When I was in Deoband recently, teachers were ruing the reluctance of Indian authorities to give visas to foreign students for religious studies. It is time to facilitate passage to India for Islamic education, for the sake of restoring Islamic education in Afghanistan to its peaceful, traditional academic roots.

(John Butt is a British citizen who graduated from Darul Uloom Deoband as an Indian Council for Cultural Relations scholar in 1983. He has established the Islamic university, Jamiyat'al-Uloom'al-Islamiya, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.)

*The views expressed by the author are personal








Foreign direct investment, or FDI, is not just a major engine of growth. It is an important barometer of how investors feel, not just internationally but domestically. A decline in FDI is a sign that the markets sense there's something wrong with a country's growth potential. Traditionally, that has not been a problem for India. Sustained growth, an exploding market, low wages and an institutional structure that, while stressed, has at least realised the need to be friendly, have kept investors coming. Till now, at least. The RBI's quarterly review of the economy flags an "almost 36 per cent" decrease in inward FDI this year over the first half of the financial year 2010-11, as opposed to the equivalent period last year. When news like that comes in, there's usually a reason. The RBI rules out the possibility that investors are generally sitting on their money glumly; other countries have seen FDI go up. Instead, the report argues, that a "major reason" for the decline is "the environment-sensitive policies pursued, as manifested in the recent episodes in the mining sector, integrated township projects and construction of ports." In other words, the environment ministry is turning investors sour on the India growth story. True, this isn't the only reason the RBI mentions: supporting reasons are red tape, and land acquisition problems. But there's a difference: the reduction of procedural delays is something that our politics understands is good, and while land acquisition policy continues to be contested, including within the ruling UPA coalition, it is at least the focus of political activity and discussion across parties and states.

Not so with environmentally activist decisions. Most of those are not the product of consistent administrative decisions or across-the-board political discussion; they emerge from Paryavaran Bhavan. Nothing is more likely to dissuade investment than the whiff of policy arbitrariness. And one by-product of "making examples" of major, high-profile projects, such as Niyamgiri, Lavasa and POSCO, is that these resound across the world particularly loudly. A reasoned, consistent application of sound environmental regulation would not have had the same effect; that would have encouraged investors to trust in the sustainability of the India story, not cause them to worry that

it was too vulnerable to sudden fashionable dictates from Delhi.

If it doesn't want to cripple India's prospects, the UPA needs to look closely at how environment regulations are being applied.






Politics in Karnataka has travelled far down the road of trivialisation. It didn't get here overnight; but from the magnitude and intensity of the pettiness that was witnessed on Republic Day, there's reason to worry about the state of democratic politics in the state and the example it is setting for the rest of the country. Blame belongs on both sides of the political divide — a visibly partisan governor and a corruption-accused chief minister who has been brazening it out with the blessings of his party. However, on January 26, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa did something excessive even by Karnataka's current politics of spite. He and his cabinet skipped Governor H.R. Bhardwaj's tea party, traditionally thrown by Raj Bhavan. The BJP excusing itself from the party showed the dangerously widening breach ever since Bhardwaj sanctioned prosecution against Yeddyurappa and the BJP appealed for the former's recall.

While the pettiness on display could be summed up in the ugliness of the rebuff, there are more substantive things to worry about here. A democracy has a certain template which has to be adhered to by everybody engaged in politics. The basic premise of such politics is the need to engage and the practice of engaging with each other even when two parties or individuals are mutually opposed. What has happened in Bangalore on January 26 is an abandonment of democratic norms of engagement, an abandonment of a constitutional role.

That is why it is not merely a question of the hostility between Yeddyurappa and Bhardwaj, or that between a CM and a governor. If the channels of communication that exist to keep a democratic machinery running are clogged, or the fabric of courtesy that ensures the functioning of the organs of government is frayed, it poses a danger to governance. In Karnataka, decency, impartiality and uprightness have all been cast out. There is, clearly, a line that one must not cross.






While monetary policy is an important element of the artillery against inflation — and with the 25 basis point hike, the RBI did part of what it was expected to do to tighten policy — there is the fiscal task too. As Raghuram Rajan, adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, points out, the Centre must control expenditure, cut subsidies and not start new spending programmes.

Fiscal deficits are large and rising and the UPA has put no restraints on expenditure. It's now clear that the increase in government expenditure after the financial crisis erred on the side of too much. But with the relaxed attitude of the government and of the National Advisory Council, which seems to suggest new programmes with absolutely no regard for the expenditure they entail, the country could head into a big fiscal mess and high inflation. When it recommends increasing NREGA wages or the right to food, the NAC is not held responsible for side-effects of high deficits such as high inflation and fiscal trouble. It's for the government alone to accept what is prudent even if this will mean turning down populist proposals. It should now focus on improving implementation of existing schemes and not starting new ones.

Cutting subsidies on food, petroleum and fertilisers may be politically difficult, and invite protests, but sustained inflation is not a politically wise alternative in a democracy where the voter is highly sensitive to price rise. Even with more disinvestment this is not a sustainable path. If oil prices rise to $150 per barrel, the government has to re-think its subsidy policy. The UPA has talked about food stamps, kerosene stamps and a system which targets subsidies better, even if it does choose to provide subsidies. This can cut the total subsidy bill as well as reach the poor better. Inflation control requires a lot more than tightening credit. Fiscal consolidation will be an important element of the solution, and the coming budget must reflect the government's priority of inflation control by sharply cutting deficits and laying down a path for consolidation. At the same time, through better targeting subsidies, it will ensure that the poorest do not suffer.







Yes, food has become too expensive. And yes, government could fix that. But not, sadly, quite the way you think.

Or the ways they've tried. Wheat exports have been stopped, for example, although there is no shortage of wheat in India, and it isn't wheat prices that are driving up food inflation. Meanwhile, interest rates have been hiked, which might be good news for anyone with a bank account — those unlucky individuals who are wealthy enough to have savings currently have to put up with earning negative interest, once inflation is factored in — but is unlikely to impact the price of gobhi.

There are several reasons for this policy confusion. The first is that our reaction to a crisis is usually a knee-jerk ideological reflex.

The left believes, in this case, for example, that speculators drive up prices; that organised retail in groceries permits multinationals to gouge the poor; that freeing trade always causes our resources to disappear overseas. Hence we do not have functioning futures markets to stabilise prices; we stop exports, reducing farmers' income; and we won't examine why we permit small traders to perpetuate a system that allowed tomatoes at the Agra mandi to cost 250 per cent more than at mandis in Delhi during last summer.

The right, meanwhile, believes government spending means inflation, and that state intervention to support farmers always makes things worse. And that high real growth means people can afford more, not less. So we waste energy on trying to imagine spurious links between fiscal expansion and food inflation; between minimum support prices given to farmers and the price of baigan at your local sabziwallah. And we don't, ever, deconstruct the actual effects of nine per cent growth — why should growth give us inflation, we shout — but more on that later.

Meanwhile, those left in the centre are puzzled, angry and vocal: we're producing more, we're growing, why can't we feed people?

The answer lies, it is true, in increasing agricultural supply. But, and this is crucial, that doesn't mean that it is supply which has caused the problem. If we misdiagnose that, we'll just tinker one way or the other — re-introducing futures as the right would want, or banning organised retail, as the left would demand. But the rises and fluctuations we are seeing simply are not going to be fixable until we understand why they are happening. We will go on blaming them on supply shocks or supply-chain inefficiencies. But the problem is not, at its root, caused by supply. It is caused by demand.

Nine per cent growth is a lot. It means aspirations change overnight — or in the course of a decade. It means that the upper middle class eats more meat; it means the lower middle class demands a greater variety of vegetables; it means that those in the working class who have seen incomes grow have added veggies to a carb-heavy diet. The last alone will be a big deal: if even just a 100 million people have moved out of poverty in recent years, it would be absurd to suppose that they won't change what they want to eat. The first, most basic aspiration is to eat better.

Yet there are deep-seated reasons why we never think clearly about demand changes. Partly it's just the cynicism that's absurdly common these days: if something is going wrong, we must have done it to ourselves. And, again, received wisdom can get between you and insight. Some on the left resent any suggestion that growth has benefited enough people to change the demand for food. (There is a well-known claim that some people have consumed fewer daily calories since 1991 which turns precisely on this unwillingness to believe that demand can change.) Nor does the right intuitively understand changing demand; in Neoclassical Economics 101, you learn that people consume more of the same if budgets increase, not something else altogether.

To its credit, the government might be beginning to figure some of this out. The prime minister's office said on January 13 that milk, eggs and meat, in particular, are seeing a structural increase in demand. (The increase in demand for eggs has been stark, between 15 and 20 per cent a year.) But that is true of vegetables, too, and even perhaps dal, as people move to more desirable varieties.

And yet, periods of high growth in the past have always been accompanied by changes in consumption patterns — and price increases, especially in food. Containing this pressure was one of the main aims of state control in communist economies; in Marxian economics the terms of trade between manufacturing and agriculture is a constant, tedious focus. In freer countries, we can't expropriate the peasantry, as China managed to do in the past. (It's failing at that now; eggs and milk in some Shanghai suburbs are selling this January at US prices.)

And if demand increases to this degree, then, even if supply is stepped up, we are still in trouble. Onion production went up from 4.5 million tonnes in 2000-01 to 13.5 million tonnes in 2008-09; the yield went up nearly 60 per cent as well, so we can't blame stagnant productivity. Yet prices in 2000 averaged Rs 4 a kilo. Now they are a degree of magnitude greater.

If we are bumping up at the very edge of what we can supply, that explains the odd price swings that we get, too. The best explanations for oil prices in the past few years are provided by what economists call queuing models, which predict price behaviour in markets approaching 100 per cent capacity. Instead of prices achieving a new, higher, long-term stability, they will react wildly to every small short-term variation in demand — hence onion prices, high today, were low enough last year for farmers to throw them away in disgust.

So, yes, we didn't have a supply problem; but growth has given us one — a problem of overall capacity, not the details of market structure.

Solving it will not be easy. Historically, only one thing has worked during high-growth periods, when demand has so outstripped supply: changing agriculture around totally, expanding and capitalising holdings. That is as painful as it sounds dramatic. In England, it was accompanied by decades of riots, the enclosure of the countryside, the Corn Law repeal, and the expansion of the franchise.

If you must be cynical about inflation, don't be cynical about the cause. Be very, very doubtful that our politics is up to lowering food prices. And nobody ever will act if we keep on fooling ourselves about why it's happening.








The apex court of the country had to once again come to the rescue of the country and fill the executive vacuum left by the Congress-led UPA. Its observations on the revelation of the names of Indians holding money in Swiss accounts are rather embarrassing. Adding to the shame is a wishy-washy press conference by the finance minister which obscured the issue, rather than clearing it up.

Usually the Supreme Court refrains from making harsh comments, but it seems that the judges were aghast at the government's arguments — hence phrases like "pure and simple theft" and "gigantic amounts plundered from national economy" and "how many zeros are there in that".

The necessity of such words, usually not part of court language, should turn any government red with shame. The bench vividly expresses bewilderment and anguish that, while the West is growing more active in producing evidence for illegal transnational transactions, India has taken a complete U-turn on the issue.

Worldwide, countries have joined ranks to battle against tax havens, and have consistently been working to end banking secrecy which veils underhand transactions. The most recent example: UBS, the largest Swiss bank, was compelled by the US administration to reveal the names of tax evaders under the threat of being sued. The Swiss authorities amended bank laws and gave the desired data to the United States.

Our prime minister instead says that black money information cannot be made public because of international treaty obligations. The worst was when he himself said that there is no instant solution to bring it back. While doing so, the PM had completely forgotten his earlier commitment to the nation: he said he would initiate steps to recover more than one lakh crore rupees illegally stashed in Swiss banks within 100 days of assuming power.

The former Himachal Pradesh chief minister and Rajya Sabha MP, Shanta Kumar, raised this issue recently. In a parliamentary delegation to participate in the UN General Assembly on the anti-corruption convention in October last year, Swiss representative Matthias Bachmann told him the Swiss government was committed to returning what it considers to be "stolen money" — and, besides, they had signed and ratified the UN convention against corruption. Indeed, the Swiss ambassador has categorically stated that there is no request whatsoever from the Indian government to reveal the names of those people whose money has been kept in Swiss banks. Such absolute inaction in this regard makes the Manmohan Singh government in some way culpable.

Shanta Kumar stated that out of 142 signatories of the UN convention on corruption, only 22 have not ratified it; India figures prominently amongst them. A GoM is still debating whether corporate and private houses have to be brought under the convention or not — indeed a flimsy excuse. Apparently, the government is overtly and covertly attempting to cover up the black money issue.

While no one knows the actual amount, several sources claim more than Rs 130 lakh crore was stashed away by 2001, which exceeded Rs 285 lakh crore by 2007, showing an increase of more than 80 per cent in six years. There is nothing surprising about this; that several wealthy Indians have quietly siphoned money to Swiss banks and tax havens around the world, while evading taxes and being conduits for illicit deals, is obvious. There could be wild allegations made against the top brass of the Congress, a fine political opportunity to many for mudslinging. And the more time passes, the more time there is for those under the scanner to shift their cash to safer houses.

And this in spite of the fact that, on July 30, 2009, Manmohan Singh categorically told the Rajya Sabha that action has already started for getting back money belonging to Indians from Swiss banks. He intervened, suo motu, to refer to the statement of the finance minister in his reply to the Finance Bill in the House, stating that the FM had specifically dealt with this aspect and had said that action has already started.

It is noteworthy that, whether it is the 2G scam, whether it is Swiss bank money, or any other issue related to corruption under the UPA, the SC has been compelled to intervene.

In the light of the SC's remarks, it would be desirable for the PM to clarify whether he chose to mislead the House by making a statement which has been contradicted by the SC. It is a matter of propriety and also a matter of privilege of the House. A straight answer from the PM would enable Mr Clean to keep his conscience clear. The finance minister's press conference just raised more questions; his suggested five-pronged strategy fully establishes the government's intentions to postpone the core issue: disclosing the names of the guilty.

The delays and time-buying techniques all deserve a reply from no one other than the prime minister.

The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha and national spokesperson of the party,







The CVC (Central Vigilance Commissioner) and the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) have been in the news lately, though for different reasons. (Curiously, both are senior IAS officers, from the Kerala cadre.) What role have these and some other constitutional or statutory bodies played in governance?

It would be recalled that the Election Commission, in the pre-Seshan era, functioned as a mild, government affiliated body meekly overseeing a corrupt electoral process, where the government agents and local goons were able to terrorise whole neighbourhoods and distort the electoral process. During his civil service period, T. N. Seshan was known to be a highly "loyal" civil servant. However, once he became a constitutional authority, he tore off his whiskers, and shook up the system single-handedly, exercising his constitutional powers to clean up the electoral process, much like Thomas Becket stood up during the time of Henry II. It is true that the electoral process still reeks of money power, but at least he largely eliminated muscle power. Indeed, we now need Seshan in a new avatar to clean up the use of black money in our electoral system.

Most chiefs of such regulatory agencies, chosen from among retiring or retired civil servants, are unable to visualise themselves as representing a major public need to keep watch and control the government; they continue to perform as meek, unobtrusive and obedient file pushers, toeing the government's line and not wanting to displease the "masters"; they forget that they no longer work for the government, but their new masters are the people of India, who have charged them with the responsibility of oversight on government; and given them enormous powers to do so.

Sadly, the Peter Principle overtakes them. The Central Vigilance Commission, for example, has functioned hitherto as an adjunct office of the government, and over the past 60 years or so has a near-zero record of uncovering major malfeasance or thuggery indulged in by government servants. I have known many CVCs, and they are generally honest and decent human beings; sadly they never realised their capacity to reform the system, to root out corruption — the specific job assigned to them statutorily.

It is wrong to pillory P .J. Thomas at this juncture — it is not Thomas who appointed himself as CVC; it is the government which committed the blunder. Thomas is, and will continue to be, innocent until and unless he is found guilty. The tragedy is not on this point; the potential for far-reaching damage lies in the manner in which the selection committee functioned, with the PM and a minister outvoting a dissenting member representing the opposition — as if the appointment was for a political job, using voting power as the instrument.

Clearly, the intention of setting up the committee was to find consensus in each case, not to function through brute majority. It is unconscionable and indefensible if one member from a panel proposed by government is chosen, overruling the objections of the opposition representative, when she offered to support any of the other two members on the same government panel. Such a farcical selection process has not been condemned adequately — in future, this should never happen. I sympathise with Thomas for landing in a situation for which he was not responsible. In any case, the institution of the Vigilance Commission has been in the limelight for totally the wrong reason — generally it has been a very passive, docile agency.

Then there is the CBI, which is often in the news — mostly not for bringing culprits to book, but for allowing blatant, major criminal acts to be covered up, and for allowing large-scale national looters to escape. It is unfortunate that this agency has been used as the handmaiden of the party in power, forced to look the other way when people with influence are involved; and now and then to deliberately rope in the innocent with a false charge. It is imperative that the CBI should be made autonomous, and brought outside the purview of government control. No institution in India is ever able to govern itself; and a suitable independent, credible, oversight machinery for the CBI is also an equal imperative.

It may be pertinent to mention the admirable role played by the Union Public Service Commission over the past six decades. Not one voice has been raised against the UPSC for using influence in selection for the all-India services. This is a great achievement, considering that service commissions in many states have sullied themselves with blatant examples of corruption and nepotism. Clearly, the corroding influence of politics has not penetrated this institution. It is another thing that these bright young officers, over time, are exposed to our political system, and an unconscionably large proportion compromise their intellectual, moral and financial integrity sooner or later.

It is in this context that the achievement of the CAG needs to be evaluated. Current incumbent Vinod Rai's report, complete with facts, figures and logic, has handed over a case, ready for crossing the t's and dotting the i's, to the prosecuting agency. I had a nodding acquaintance with Rai as a young officer in the commerce ministry in the early 1980s. He came through even then as serious, motivated and dedicated — he clearly has preserved these wonderful qualities.

I have had occasion to mention to many previous CAGs that they were too soft, too polite, too friendly, too pusillanimous and by implication, not discharging the constitutional responsibilities cast on them. At last we have one CAG who is interpreting his post in the manner it ought to be. He may fail, given the prevailing atmosphere; at least he would have tried. We need such examples so that outstanding civil servants, with the courage of their conviction, can still influence the course of governance in these difficult times.

The writer is a former cabinet secretary






Talking 'about' Pakistan

As it seeks to revive engagement with Pakistan, India must look beyond a mere resumption of the so-called composite dialogue that had been stalled since the terror attacks on Mumbai in November 2008.

Talking to Pakistan, especially after a major terror attack, generates much hand-wringing in Delhi. But if India chooses to reduce the salience of the formal dialogue, it might begin to think more creatively about its options. India's efforts to condition the renewal of the dialogue to credible Pakistani action on bringing the plotters of the Mumbai attack to justice has not gone very far. What little leverage India might have acquired in suspending formal talks after the Mumbai attacks was bound to diminish over time. More than two years after the Mumbai outrage, it is close to zero.

India needs to recognise that "talking to" official representatives from Pakistan must only be one element of a wider strategy to address India's concerns and long-term interests across our western frontiers. That broader approach must necessarily involve "talking about" Pakistan and its future to the many political formations across the border and the key international stakeholders who can make a difference.

India will lose nothing by talking again to Pakistan. It is unlikely to gain much either, so long as the Pakistan army thinks it can utilise the militant groups as a lever against India. If the talks don't make much difference, the real issue for India is about changing the strategic calculus of the Pakistan army.

That in turn raises the question whether India should reach out to the United States and other external actors who could nudge Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani to redo his regional sums.

Thinking together

The US is apparently eager to talk to India about the recent developments in Pakistan. The UPA government will have an opportunity to engage the Obama Administration on all issues relating to Pakistan during the visit of National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon to Washington this week.

The appalling popular support to the killer of Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab, appears to have surprised and shocked Washington. Washington argues that if India reaches out to Pakistan at this juncture, it might help strengthen the liberal sections across the border who are feeling terribly isolated amidst the new conservative assertiveness. Whatever the merits of this argument, its logic ends with the proposition that India must talk to Pakistan.

If the US is keen on the resumption of the Indo-Pak dialogue, India would surely want to know what Washington can do in creating the right conditions for it.

For example, can the Obama Administration compel Kayani to end Pakistan army's support to the Lashkar-e-Toiba if Delhi resumes full-scale dialogue with Islamabad? Delhi's sceptics would scoff at the proposition: if the US is having trouble getting Kayani to do its bidding on Afghanistan, how can Washington press the Pakistan army to address India's concerns? This might be the question that Menon might want to put to his interlocutors in Washington, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

For decades now, Washington has been tempted to lecture Delhi on what it ought to do with Islamabad. India, in turn, tended to reject any US advice on Pakistan. With neither Delhi nor Washington in a position to unilaterally alter Rawalpindi's strategic calculus, the time has come for India and the US to consider thinking together about regional security and acting together to shape the evolution of Pakistan.

While that may be a big task, Menon's visit should at least begin an honest and sustained Indo-US dialogue on Pakistan and its future.

Back to Thimphu

Meanwhile, the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in Thimphu, on the margins of a regional meeting of South Asian leaders next week. Indo-Pak talks in Thimphu come after a failed set of talks about talks in Islamabad last July. Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir, will aim to bridge the current gulf between the two positions on how to resume the peace process.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said earlier this week that India should not hold the bilateral dialogue hostage to 26/11. S. M. Krishna, India's external affairs minister on the other hand, emphasised the importance of a "step-by-step" approach. India continues to argue that progress in bringing the Mumbai attackers to justice would help build trust and create conditions for a purposeful renewal of the stalled peace process.






Has Pakistan responded to Salman Taseer's death


Pakistan has been taken by surprise by the support given to his killer. The killing of Salman, a dear friend, indicates that extremist elements have spread to large parts of the community. By this, I mean the doctors, lawyers and the so-called intellectuals; this segment of the larger liberal society has been divided. The killing has polarised society through raising the question of blasphemy. Naturally, people are going to take sides. This poses the biggest challenge to a stable Pakistan, losing its liberals. In fact, Salman's death marks a watershed in Pakistani politics, more of a watershed than Benazir Bhutto's death was. Her death united society, here we see the opposite — a divided Pakistan. Now people fear copy cat killing of liberal intellectuals. This poses Pakistan with another challenge.

The establishment has been slow to react, what do you

make of this?

Pakistan Peoples Party has backtracked. They have failed to

defend Salman appropriately and by doing so, they have forsaken liberal values. Not many from the civil society are putting up a defence. Former information minister, Sherry Rahman, is putting up a fair defence, but that's one voice. As for her bill (it proposes to reform the draconian blasphemy laws), it is unlikely it'll go through. So, the situation is likely to worsen.

What of the military, of Kayani? Does he have a long-term strategy?

Currently, the military is obsessed with (first) Afghanistan and the Taliban and (second) India. Therefore and unfortunately, the army is not taking the domestic situation seriously. In fact, with Taliban's increasing power, the high command is deeply concerned, (it's a threat) that could arouse sympathies. They are worried that these sympathies are penetrating the security services. Kayani has an Afghan-obsessed agenda.

What about Indo-Pak relations?

It is unlikely Kayani will reach a compromise with India. He sees India as an activist army, an enemy. This is a problem for Pakistan as well. Unfortunately, the army is not looking at domestic issues. It must make peace with its neighbours — this is a view I have long held. Pakistan's social crisis cannot be solved without peace with its neighbours.

The situation in Pakistan is dire — we're in a complete economic crisis. Of course, the only real (and potential) investor could be India. We need to bring an end to this isolation. India is investing across the world; it can in Pakistan too. The liberal society, the industrialists, are crying for engagement. When relations were normalised five years ago (under Musharraf), we feared Indian products would swamp out markets but, Indians like our products too. The old fear, that India would swallow us economically, is no more. In fact,

renewable energy is a key issue that India and Pakistan can cooperate in. We are both short of energy — we both need pipelines for instance. These are common problems and this (economics) can unite us. We need dialogue.

What of the radicalisation of the youth and punishment for the perpetrators of 26/11?

The radicalisation that we see has been going on since the 1980s since the madarsas took root. But during that period people — in the establishment — did not give enough focus to them. This development now has become hugely disruptive. The state did not provide adequate educational reform, the syllabus has not been drafted adequately.

The perpetrators of 26/11 must be punished. There will be no rapproachment until they are punished. Clearly India has taken a strong line on this and rightfully so. But then there needs to be an improvement in relations so that they can be punished.







In January 1986, Basit and Amjad Alvi, sibling programmers living near the main train station in Lahore, Pakistan, wrote a piece of code to safeguard the latest version of their heart-monitoring software from piracy. They called it Brain, and it was basically a wheel-clamp for PCs. Computers that ran their program, plus this new bit of code, would stop working after a year, though they cheerfully provided three telephone numbers, against the day. If you were a legitimate user, and could prove it, they'd unlock you.

But in the way of all emergent technologies, something entirely unintended happened. The Alvis' wheel-clamp was soon copied by a certain stripe of computer hobbyist, who began to distribute it, concealed within various digital documents that people might be expected to want to open. Because almost all these booby-trapped files went out on floppy disks, the virus spread at a pre-Internet snail's pace.

Still, it did wreak a certain amount of low-grade havoc, freezing computers across the world. The hobbyists did it because they could, or to proudly demonstrate that they could, or to see what would happen, or simply because they thought it was neat.

This proved hellishly embarrassing for the Alvi brothers, whose three telephone numbers were often inadvertently included in the files, and eventually they had to cut all three lines. There were far too many angry callers, mainly from the United States and Britain. In short, the road to our present universe teeming with viruses, worms and Trojan horses was paved, a quarter-century ago this month, with the Alvi brothers' good intentions of securing their intellectual property.

At the time, I found it surprising that these virus-writers were apparently amateurs, civilians. I had imagined computer viruses as strategic military weapons, the business of governments, not practical jokers. Viruses might be sometimes purloined by specialist criminals looking for a big score but were never something one could cobble together at home.

But precisely the opposite happened. Virus-writers seemed, at least at first, to be in it for anything but money. The outcome was simply vandalism, as dull as someone smashing out the light fixtures in a bus shelter. Random bits of software or pieces of equipment would temporarily quit functioning. Random strangers were anonymously discommoded. Somewhere, I assumed, someone had a rather abstract giggle.

I wasn't impressed, however arcane the know-how that was required. But I was embarrassed at how thoroughly I'd missed this in my fiction: the pettiness of most virus-writing, the banality of the result. I had never depicted, much less imagined, anyone doing anything as pointlessly ill-intentioned. (I began to try, on the margins of my work, to remedy that oversight, if only for the sake of naturalism.)

Last fall, when I learned of the Stuxnet attack on the computers running Iran's nuclear program, I briefly thought that here, finally, was the real thing: a cyberweapon purpose-built by one state actor to strategically interfere with the business of another.

But as more details emerged, it began to look less like something new and more like a piece of hobbyist "street" technology, albeit one expensively optimised for a specific attack. The state actor — said to be Israel, perhaps working with the United States, though no one is sure — had simply built on the unpaid labour of generations of hobbyist vandals.

Stuxnet isn't spectacularly original, as computer worms go, and those Iranian systems aren't terribly exotic. They're like ours. As a result, I expect we'll see a wave of unpleasant backwash, with military money and technology beefing up the code, the digital DNA, of the descendants of Brain.

Any hobbyist worth his or her salt will, in turn, be admiring the Stuxnet code that shut down the Iranian centrifuges, looking to imitate and improve on it. And non-state players, from digital vandals to terrorists, will be casting an appraising eye, if they haven't already, at the computers that monitor and control more ordinary but nonetheless critical systems: water treatment and distribution, sewage, oil and gas pipelines, electrical transmission lines, wind farms and nuclear power plants.

Should the lights go out in our online bus shelters one day, or some critical control system go spectacularly awry, it may in a sense, however distantly, be because Israel found a way to shut down Iran's centrifuges. But in another way it will be the result of a bright idea two brothers once had, in the vicinity of Lahore Railway Station, to innocently clamp a digital pirate's wheel.

Gibson is the author of the cult hacker novel 'Neuromancer'









If seven interest rate hikes between March 2010 and now, by 175 bps in the case of repo rates and 225 bps for reverse repo rates, haven't helped curb inflation levels, it would seem to suggest that monetary policy has just that much of a role when it comes to curbing inflation. While the higher end of bank loans, for consumption spending, has seen interest rates rise from 18% in March to 25% by September (according to RBI data), inflation remains at fairly high levels and has risen from 7.5% in November to 8.4% in December. Though interest rates are not the only factor influencing the index of industrial production, it is worth keeping in mind that IIP growth fell from 22% in March to less than half in October.

It is in this context that the advice given by Raghuram Rajan, the honorary economic advisor to the Prime Minister, needs to be taken seriously. Speaking to FE at Davos, Rajan added that if you hike rates too much, this will kill growth. None of this is to suggest RBI shouldn't increase rates when inflation is getting out of hand or to prevent inflationary expectations from getting built up, just that fiscal policy will have a greater impact. In the last two years, for instance, private consumption expenditure grew by an average of 12.6% per annum as compared to 22.1% for government consumption expenditure—the numbers for 2010-11 show that the trends continue with government consumption expenditure picking up by 21.1% in the first six months of the year. As a percent of GDP, government expenditure rose from 15.5% of GDP in 2000-01 to 16.4% in 2009-10, so it is obvious a cut in government spending will go a long way in curbing money supply growth—in 2009-10, for instance, the increase in government spending equalled around 30% of the total hike in commercial bank credit to the non-food sector. No rate hike, unless it is large enough to choke off growth, can possibly result in as much of a slowing in credit growth as a slowing of government expenditure.

The other issue this newspaper has been making for a while is that inflation is directly related to capacity creation—by and large, production has been stagnant in the agriculture sector and this is where prices have risen the most. Matters are nearly the reverse in the manufacturing sector—at the extreme, production of the Maruti Alto rose 8 times in the last decade and, as a result, its prices fell a fourth. Any way you look at it, there's a lot of work for the government, and the scope of play for Duvvuri Subbarao is limited.





Can India get a 10% GDP growth over a sustained period of time, especially if it is not able to raise investment levels from the 35% at the moment to the Chinese levels of 50% or so? While most would scoff, and put it down to the fevered imagination of politicians, a look at the maths tells you it isn't outside the realm of the possible.

Ongoing research by ICRIER, in collaboration with the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, suggests this may just be possible. If India's productivity continues to grow at 4.2% per annum (a rate it grew at in the last 4-5 years) for the next 10 years, one of the research papers suggests, India can grow at 10%—if productivity grows at a lower 3% (it grew at 1.7% per annum between 1990-91 and 2004-05), investment levels will have to rise to 55% by 2020-21, which makes it a pretty near-impossible target.

So how do we get to maintain this level of productivity? Raising levels of efficiency across the economy is the obvious answer but is easier said than done. A more plausible method is to change allocations across the economy, moving resources from less productive areas to high-productivity areas. In the case of agriculture, where productivity levels have shot up in recent years, the big changes have been the increased share of dairying and animal husbandry and the breakthroughs in maize and cotton production, the latter through the use of GM technology. While there has been a surge in telecom and banking/insurance productivity (17% and 12% per annum in recent years), as a result of which service sector productivity grew from 2.3% in the 1990-91 to 2004-05 period to 5.5% in the 2004-05 to 2008-09 period, overall productivity across the economy is not sustainable unless industry also kicks in.

In the manufacturing sector, disaggregated information until 2003-04 shows, productivity actually fell in the 1997-2004 period. Much of this flies in the face of the huge surge in manufacturing exports (the result of hiked productivity). ICRIER explains this by disaggregating the data into that for the organised and the unorganised sector. In transport, for instance, productivity grew 2.3% per year in the organised sector between 1980 and 2004 but fell by 13% per year in the unorganised transport sector; it grew 0.8% in organised textiles but fell 4.5% in the unorganised textiles. So, if the government were to allow the unorganised sector to shut shop, according to ICRIER, this alone would provide a 0.7 percentage point hike per year in productivity numbers. This, of course, requires the next generation of reforms, to allow firms to close, to allow more flexibility in labour contracts that Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia spoke of in Davos on Wednesday.






The recent Cabinet reshuffle—and the bigger one that is expected in March—must be viewed against the backdrop of some serious ideological pulls and pressures within the Congress party, which have by no means ended. Indeed, environment minister Jairam Ramesh's newfound conciliatory stance towards projects such as Lavasa and mining at Niyamgiri only represents a temporary thaw in the larger ideological struggle within the Congress party. The contours of this larger battle of ideas will become clearer after a more substantial Cabinet reshuffle takes place.

It was hardly lost on anyone that Jairam chose to meet the head of the Vedanta group, Anil Agarwal, only two days before the Cabinet reshuffle was to happen. Later, he also met the promoters of the controversial Lavasa city development project and gave some assurances that the project could continue if some conditions were met.

The environment ministry is but an instrumentality, which an influential section of the Congress party has used to send a strong message to big business houses that it was not easy to set up projects without meeting the social and environmental costs arising out of it.

It also quite clear that an influential section of the Congress party, backed by the Gandhi family, wants to reopen the larger debate over whether pure growth-oriented reforms, which boost wealth creation by businesses, can be relied upon entirely to deliver equity and redistributive justice. The ongoing ideological struggle within the Congress seems centred on the theme of growth efficiency versus equity, and how to draw a balance between the two.

This ideological battle also possibly masks an intense power struggle between two groups within the Congress, seeking to give the grand old party a new direction. For instance, the sharp differences between the National Advisory Council (NAC) and the PM's economic advisors over the implementation of the Food Security Act is just one small example of the raging ideological battle within the Congress.

In the Congress's self-perception, Dr Manmohan Singh represents ideas that drive wealth creating reforms, with a focus on efficiency. Therefore, businesses have a high level of comfort with leaders who push the idea of wealth creation with efficiency. Some of Dr Manmohan Singh's Cabinet colleagues like P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalia would also seem largely in tune with Manmohan's thought processes. While the Congress party cannot do without the likes of Manmohan Singh and Chidambaram, it also makes sure that enough checks and balances are created in regard to the nature of purely growth-oriented reforms espoused by them. The logic being these reforms don't necessarily impact the lives of the poor masses in any direct manner. So distributing subsidised food on a bigger scale or refining further the employment guarantee schemes are a bigger priority than other long-term growth-oriented reforms such as opening up the financial sector by amending antiquated laws.

To understand this phenomenon, one just has to examine how some very calculated checks and balances were created with the very composition of the Cabinet after UPA-2 came to power in 2009. In retrospect, the nature of the UPA Cabinet itself reflected the nuanced ideological differences playing out within the government from day one. This also flowed from the political reading that the Congress did well at the polls more because of its social sector programmes such as employment guarantee rather than all the pure growth-oriented reforms that help drive higher GDP growth.

Three important portfolios in the UPA Cabinet can be construed as having provided an ideological counterweight to the "Manmohan doctrine" that there is no alternative to reforms that consistently drive growth and create wealth.

Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister is committed to growth but is far more nuanced about his emphasis on big bang reforms that drive growth. For instance, he has made it clear that further opening up of the financial sector through major legislative changes is not such a priority. He blames it on Mamata Banerjee but is himself convinced about it. Don't forget his big praise for Indira Gandhi's bank nationalisation in his budget speech.

Mind you, this is happening in spite of the President's address to the joint session of Parliament, which greatly emphasised the need for financial sector reforms. The inputs for the President's speech, regarded as a definitive policy statement of the government, was provided by the PMO.

So clearly, Pranab Mukherjee has played the role of somewhat softening Manmohanomics. Another minister chosen to play this role is obviously Jairam Ramesh. Pranab Mukherjee, being a seasoned politician, has the finesse of a goldsmith whereas Jairam behaves more like an ironsmith, with his crude and heavy-handed approach. More recently, Jairam was possibly asked to soften his strident pronouncements, which gave everyone the impression that India was about freezing all development projects.

Another key Cabinet minister not in sync at all with Dr Manmohan Singh's thought process is defence minister AK Antony. Antony has openly opposed allowing any foreign investment, even with Indian control, in defence production. Besides, Antony is also very strongly opposed to the terms on which Americans want to sell billions of dollars of defence technology and equipment to India. This is one of the biggest pieces of the India-US strategic economic cooperation that President Obama and Manmohan Singh are committed to. But Antony is no mood to let this happen on the terms that the Americans are seeking.

In the recent Cabinet reshuffle, Jaipal Reddy's appointment as petroleum minister is also aimed at tempering his predecessor's excessive pro-business, even crony capitalist, approach. These are strong indicators of the new ideological tensions developing within the Congress. While the churn itself is understandable in any dynamic organisation, the Congress will have to bring some ideological clarity eventually.







The discussion paper on foreign banks in India is timely and appropriate as we need to look at the banking sector with the larger picture in mind and not get bogged down with ideological, operational and supervisory issues. This comes just on the back of the discussion on getting corporate houses into banking, where arguments have flowed from one end to the other on whether we should have more private banks. Alongside, there has also been the issue of MFIs, which has raised a controversy of a different sort. Curiously, for every step forward, there are arguments to push us two steps back. As RBI has brought out papers on all these subjects at about the same time, it is pragmatic to put the parts together.

The right way to address the issue is to look at banking as a strategic goal. Let us ask ourselves a question: do we need more 'banking' in the country? The answer is yes, from the point of view of getting a larger population involved through deposits and supporting the high growth that we are targeting by channelling funds for productive use and making it inclusive. India still follows a bank-oriented financing model, where the debt market is absent and hence relies heavily on the banking system to provide funds for growth—both short and long term. Now when we speak of growth of, say, 9-10% per annum, we require this sector's support to come at over 20% per annum on a sustained basis for the next five years. Using March 2010 as the base, when credit was Rs 35 lakh crore, this kind of growth would mean raising the base to around Rs 85-90 lakh crore. The number is daunting, but then we need the capital for this purpose, which, using a ratio of 10% capital adequacy means getting in Rs 4-4.5 lakh crore. Where will this money come from?

Looking internally, we have all kind of issues with banking capital. The sector is dominated by public sector banks, with a share of 74% in total assets, where there is debate over disinvestment or offloading of shares to the market. While there are arguments about retaining the public nature of such banks, the fact is that garnering more capital will be a challenge. Private sector banks are aggressive in the market and can provide a solution, but the present set of banks has its own limitations. This has called for the inclusion of new banks with corporate support. Corporate houses have deep pockets and can provide the funds that are needed by the economy to move ahead. It is here that the foreign banks fit in as they too have deep pockets and the subsidiary route offers a way out as against the present branch approach with its limitations.

RBI has set the entry norms in terms of capital and suggested some very stringent conditions for screening the banks that could operate as subsidiaries and hence as specific entities. This by itself will actually end up offering opportunity to the bigger banks in the country, which hitherto have not been able to expand due to various reasons that surround the conditions placed for opening branches. Therefore, we would not really see the smaller players asking for more and it would be those with a history of operations in the country that would probably find this route attractive. The subsidiary route thus takes care of the issue of systemic risk that can emanate from banks expanding through the branch route. Foreign banks, though, are not keen on coming as subsidiaries as this exposes the parent's balance sheet.

Will this be a panacea for our problem on capital? The answer is no. Foreign banks cannot, on their own, address this issues, but can contribute smartly to the requirement. Besides, they will evaluate the terms on dividend repatriation, listing and conversion of branches etc before taking a decision. The subsidiary route proposed makes a lot of sense from the point of view of the regulator as well as the banks and should be complemented by a more open approach to new private banks.

The important thing is that we need more banks to address the issues of capital, growth in business and inclusion. Public sector expansion—either through organic means or inorganic methods such as disinvestment or consolidation, new private banks and foreign bank subsidiaries—could work together to deliver superior results. We only need to ensure that the regulatory processes and supervisory mechanism is in place at all times. A start certainly must be made in all these areas. Given the more stringent terms imposed by Basel III, this is probably the right time.

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






After a decade of strong growth during which it launched a slew of successful online services, Google is now going back to its start-up roots. In pursuit of that goal, co-founder Larry Page will take over as Chief Executive Officer from Eric Schmidt. The primary task before Google is crisply summarised by Mr. Page: to be a big company with the nimbleness, soul, passion, and speed of a start-up. That is a clearly articulated vision and it can attract many young engineers to the search engine giant in its quest for new strategies for development. Financially, the company has been achieving robust revenues and profits. In the quarter ended December 31, it made a net profit of $2.54 billion, up from $1.97 billion for the same quarter a year ago. Its revenues stood at $8.44 billion, representing a 17 per cent year-on-year increase. The company has a market value of $200 billion. With such a financial base to work on, Mr. Page will take charge of day-to-day operations and lead product development and technology strategy, while Mr. Schmidt, as Executive Chairman, will focus on business partnerships, government outreach, and technology thought leadership.

The 'triumvirate' leadership model, comprising Mr. Page, co-founder Sergey Brin, and Mr. Schmidt, has helped Google produce several innovative web-based services and develop online advertising. By agreeing to clarify their roles, the top management has paved the way for clearer responsibilities and greater accountability, as Mr. Schmidt says on the company blog. A creative combination of its technology and business visions will be vital to its future, as the mobile web grows in importance. A good beginning has been made with the launch of the highly successful Android operating system for mobile devices. By offering an open collaborative model for development, it has attracted many mobile handset makers and its market share is increasing. Moreover, Google has come up with a version of the Android operating system optimised for use in tablet computers. Taken together, tablets and 'smart' mobile phones are key to an expanded online search market. An informed forecast puts tablet sales for 2011 over 44 million units. To place this in context, tablet sales stood at 4.8 million units in the third quarter of 2010, with Apple's iPad accounting for nearly 90 per cent of the shipments. This trend is a clear indicator of the potential for growth in search-linked advertising, which is Google's forte. 'Smart' television is another area of upcoming competition, where the web is a searchable channel on the bigger screen. With the attributes of an agile start-up, Google can kick-start a fresh round of innovation in all these areas.





President Barack Obama's administration has signalled a reversal of the plan, announced early in its term, to close the infamous detention and torture centre at Guantánamo Bay. Instead, revised military commissions will be created; those still in detention number 174 and it is likely that the new bodies will try about 30 of them. This is not the only new move. The executive is preparing parole boards, which will decide if each detainee still poses a threat or if any of them can be transferred to another country. The federal government will provide detainees with legal representation and give them greater access to the evidence than the Bush boards did. Abandoning the plan to close Guantánamo, however, will damage Mr. Obama politically — not least because his hand was forced by a Democrat-majority Congress that, on the closing day, voted to ban the transfer of any of the detainees to the United States. The administration may well feel it has no option but to have military tribunals to tackle the issue.

The new tribunals reveal some of the ugliest tendencies in contemporary American politics. Like their predecessors, they will have lower legal standards than federal courts, for example by accepting information obtained under torture. (Civilian judges may well have dismissed cases because of the prior illegal rendition and torture of the detainees.) Secondly, a government task force has advised keeping 48 detainees indefinitely as enemy combatants; they may never be charged or tried. Thirdly, some of the cases raise problems over the very status of the putative defendants. One such is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was tortured and may yet be tried for a part in the attack on the warship USS Cole in Yemen in 2000; but that attack preceded both 9/11 and Congress's approval of the use of force against suspected terrorists. The Obama administration's contention that a state of war existed after 1996 is close to retroactive legislation. In addition, it is doubtful that a civilian jury can go through a case fairly, particularly after the furore caused by Attorney-General Eric Holder's decision to try some of the 9/11 conspirators at a venue near where the World Trade Center used to stand. Although the Supreme Court might quash convictions reached in the commissions, American public opinion is now so hostile to the detainees that both the President and the Congress are being intimidated into overriding fundamental juridical principles. The major problems they will face are that the continued existence of the Guantánamo prison fuels terrorist recruitment and that it subverts the rule of law on which democracy is founded.








One of the most enduring of media-created myths is that of mass suicide amongst Lemmings, the little rodents that live mostly in and around the Arctic. A 1958 Disney documentary film staged scenes of large numbers of Lemmings marching mindlessly off a cliff to their doom in the waters below. Actually, Lemmings can swim. The rodents see major migrations when they multiply rapidly and their population grows. And when this dispersal finds big numbers crossing large bodies of water, some of them drown by accident, not by intent. However, the Disney film — where they were actually forced off a cliff — and earlier articles, created a false notion that still holds: that Lemmings commit mass suicide by leaping off cliffs and drowning in the waters below. This is also the origin of the political slang: 'Lemming-like behaviour,' to describe a suicidal course of action.

Political scientists in India 2011 can now be forgiven a rethink on the whole fraud. You begin to wonder if there was some truth in it, after all. The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) seems determined to prove that this instinct of the little creatures was no myth. The race off the cliff is real, with Congress Lemmings leading the charge of the light-footed brigade. The massive hike in petrol prices at a time of raging food inflation was merely one among such efforts. In just seven months, the price of petrol has gone up by over Rs. 10. The new hike came even as the government announced that it was taking the price rise seriously and has formed yet more panels and Groups of Ministers to study the problem.( Another Group of Ministers was to have met in December 2010 to decide on whether to hike diesel and LPG prices as well. Yet another was to take a call on raising APL foodgrain prices.) Lemmings, after all, mostly act in large groups.

Now that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic, the impression of a collective rush to mass drowning only grows. Handing the rural development portfolio to a man just trashed by the Supreme Court for protecting moneylenders in Vidharbha while he was Chief Minister of Maharashtra, has a Kamikaze-like courage about it. Not only did the Court admonish Vilasrao Deshmukh in scathing terms, it also enhanced the fine levied by the Bombay High Court's Nagpur bench on the government of Maharashtra in the same case from Rs.25,000 to Rs.10 lakh. Now in normal and non-Lemming circles, this would have led to his unaccompanied exit off the Cabinet Cliff.

Justice A. K. Ganguly in his judgment on the case involving Mr. Deshmukh says, among other things: "The message conveyed in this case is extremely shocking and it shocks the conscience of this Court about the manner in which the Constitutional functionaries behaved in the State of Maharashtra." The judgment goes on to say "it is clear that the Chief Minister was aware of various complaints being filed against the said family [the moneylenders: PS]. Even then he passed an order for a special treatment in favour of the said family which is unknown to law."

The judgment notes the debt-induced plight of farmers in that very region and also says of Mr. Deshmukh's action: "This amounts to bestowing special favour to some chosen few at the cost of the vast number of poor people who as farmers have taken loans and who have come to the authorities of law and order to register their complaints against torture and atrocities by the moneylenders."

Obviously, in Dr. Singh's view, the perfect candidate to preside over the destiny of rural India and its development. A man during whose eight years as Chief Minister of Maharashtra, well over 30,000 farmers took their own lives in the State — a feat unrivalled anywhere in the country. Mr. Deshmukh's most famous remark on the farmers: "Committing suicide is an offence under the Indian Penal Code. But did we book any farmer for this offence? Have you reported that?" ( The Hindustan Times, October 31, 2007). Just after the terror attacks of 26/11, he went to the Taj hotel, with his actor son and Bollywood filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma in tow. This provoked outrage in a public which saw them as disaster tourists checking out the rich cinematic promise thrown up by the tragic events. Sacked from his post, Mr. Deshmukh spent some months in cold storage before being elevated to the Union Cabinet.

His successor lost his job over the Adarsh episode and also earned notoriety over the 'paid news' scandal. On the latter, Ashok Chavan faces a case in the Election Commission and might run into yet more trouble. His successor, imported from New Delhi, gives non-entity a bad name. The NCP, once a declining force, gets a new wind with his arrival. And that party gets more aggressive towards the Congress at the Centre as well, sensing the mess it is in. In Andhra Pradesh, two successive Chief Ministers have spent over a year fighting their own party in a State that contributed 33 MPs to the Congress at the Centre. In West Bengal, the Congress has written itself, with almost Lemming-like fatalism, into a distant third place.

If you watch your Animal Planet you'd expect that, like in other social hierarchies, there are alpha male Lemmings. It requires rare qualities of leadership to guide a bunch of sharp front-toothed mammals off a cliff. Heading the charge means there are lots of large gnawing incisors just behind you. This is no role for the faint-hearted, as Kapil Sibal demonstrated in his stinging attack on the CAG. This was also what happened in the Bofors case, a blistering attack on the then CAG (among other things). The results of that strategy included a government drowning. But history is not the Lemming's long suit. Mr. Sibal might yet learn that the CAG is not a cowering witness in a court room, but the drowning will probably have begun by then. Meanwhile, with 2G, Raja, Radia, illicit funds, and a stubborn CVC, the UPA government's scams are multiplying faster than Lemmings.

Pranab Mukherjee, meanwhile, has made it clear — wagging a finger while doing so — that the government is not about to reveal the names of any tax evaders. Mr. Mukherjee, who heads more Groups of Ministers than have ever been Empowered, suggests there might be one more group soon. That is, to work out Amnesty schemes for tax evaders and those who have illegally siphoned funds out of the country to secret offshore accounts. No one can be named till they are prosecuted, says he. In other words, we will never know the names of those the government chooses not to prosecute.

A Global Financial Integrity Report ( The Hindu, Nov. 17, 2010) estimates that India has lost almost half a trillion dollars in illegal capital flight since Independence. As much as $125 billion, or more than a fourth of the total, vanished between just 2000 and 2008. The government plans amnesty for such offenders and arrests for those protesting high prices.

The line has also been laid down on food security: forget about it. There will be neither a universal PDS nor even an enhanced one. Feeding a hungry corporate world takes all the resources we have. Things are about to get much tougher for the whole team. India's premier Lemmings are simply too busy to pay any attention to their day jobs. Even as the onion season winds down, the World Cup Cricket and IPL seasons are about to begin. This means, of course, that we will still see no Agriculture Minister for a further two months. (Unless someone provokes him with a comment on Lavasa.)

Back in 2008, as global food prices soared, Mr. Pawar revealed to the daily, DNA (Page 1, April 2), that the real reason why wheat prices were soaring was that south Indians were eating too many chapathis. In this, he echoed the view of noted nutritionist George W (then also working part-time as President of the United States). Mr. Bush declared that the world food prices were soaring because millions of Indians and Chinese were eating so much more. (Global prices fell sharply just months later. Were millions of Indians and Chinese suddenly starving? Or were big-time speculators giving prices a yo-yo ride?).

Dr. Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have also bought into the Bush Food Doctrine: the huge price rise in food items suggests that the poor are doing better, eating more. The cliff runway is free and the Lemmings have been cleared for takeoff.








In the streets around Abdel Munim Riyad square the atmosphere had changed. The air which had held a carnival-like vibe was now thick with teargas. Thousands of people were running out of nearby Tahrir Square and towards me. Several hundred regrouped; a few dozen protesters set about attacking an abandoned police truck, eventually tipping it over and setting it ablaze. Through the smoke, lines of riot police could be seen charging towards us from the south.

Along with nearby protesters I fled down the street before stopping at what appeared to be a safe distance. A few ordinarily dressed young men were running in my direction. Two came towards me and threw out punches, sending me to the ground. I was hauled back up by the scruff of the neck and dragged towards the advancing police lines.

My captors were burly and wore leather jackets — up close I could see they were amin dowla, plainclothes officers from Egypt's notorious State security service. All attempts I made to tell them in Arabic and English that I was an international journalist were met with more punches and slaps; around me I could make out other isolated protesters receiving the same brutal treatment and choking from the teargas.

We were hustled towards a security office on the edge of the square. As I approached the doorway of the building other plainclothes security officers milling around took flying kicks and punches at me, pushing me to the floor on several occasions only to drag me back up and hit me again. I spotted a high-ranking uniformed officer, and shouted at him that I was a British journalist. He responded by walking over and punching me twice. "**** you and **** Britain," he yelled in Arabic.

One by one we were thrown through the doorway, where officers with sticks and clubs awaited us. We queued up to run through the blows and into a dank, narrow corridor where we were pushed up against the wall. Our mobiles and wallets were removed. Officers stalked up and down, barking at us to keep staring at the wall. Terrified of incurring more beatings, most of my fellow detainees — almost exclusively young men in their 20s and 30s, some still clutching dishevelled Egyptian flags from the protest — remained silent, though some muttered Qur'anic verses and others were shaking with sobs.

We were ordered to sit down. Later a senior officer began dragging people to their feet again, sending them back out through the gauntlet and into the night, where we were immediately jumped on by more police officers — this time with riot shields — and shepherded into a waiting green truck belonging to Egypt's central security forces. A policeman pushed my head against the doorframe as I entered.

Inside dozens were already crammed in and crouching in the darkness. Some had heard the officers count us as we boarded; our number stood at 44, all packed into a space barely any bigger than the back of a van. A heavy metal door swung shut behind us.

As the truck began to move, brief flashes of orange streetlight streamed through the thick metal grates on each side. With no windows, it was our only source of illumination. Each glimmer revealed bruised and bloodied faces; sandwiched in so tightly the temperature soared, and people fainted. Fragments of conversation drifted through the truck.

"The police attacked us to get us out of the square; they didn't care who you were, they just attacked everybody," a lawyer standing next to me, Ahmed Mamdouh, said breathlessly. "They ... hit our heads and hurt some people. There are some people bleeding, we don't know where they're taking us. I want to send a message to my wife; I'm not afraid but she will be so scared, this is my first protest and she told me not to come here today." Despite the conditions the protesters held together; those who collapsed were helped to their feet, messages of support were whispered and then yelled from one end of our metallic jail to another, and the few mobiles that had been hidden from police were passed around so that loved ones could be called.

"As I was being dragged in, a police general said to me: 'Do you think you can change the world? You can't! Do you think you are a hero? You are not'," confided Mamdouh.

"What you see here — this brutality and torture — this is why we were protesting today," added another voice close by in the gloom.

Speculation was rife about where we were heading. The truck veered wildly round corners, sending us flying to one side, and regularly came to an emergency stop, throwing everyone forwards. "They treat us like we're not Egyptians, like we are their enemy, just because we are fighting for jobs," said Mamdouh. I asked him what it felt like to be considered an enemy by your own government. "I feel like they are my enemies too," he replied.

At several points the truck roared to a stop and the single door opened, revealing armed policemen on the other side. They called out the name of one of the protesters, "Nour", the son of Ayman Nour, a prominent political dissident who challenged Hosni Mubarak for the presidency in 2005 and was thrown in jail for his troubles.

Nour became a cause celebre among international politicians and pressure groups; since his release from prison security forces have tried to avoid attacking him or his family directly, conscious of the negative publicity that would inevitably follow.

His son, a respected political activist in his own right, had been caught in the police sweep and was in the back of the truck with us — now the policemen were demanding he come forward, as they had orders for his release.

"No, I'm staying," said Nour simply, over and over again and to applause from the rest of the inmates. I made my way through the throng and asked him why he wasn't taking the chance to get out. "Because either I leave with everyone else or I stay with everyone else; it would be cowardice to do anything else," he responded. "That's just the way I was raised." After several meandering circles which seemed to take us out further and further into the desert fringes of the city, the truck finally came to a halt. We had been trapped inside for so long that the heat was unbearable; more people had fainted, and one man had collapsed on the floor, struggling for breath.

By the light of the few mobile phones, protesters tore his shirt open and tried to steady his breathing; one demonstrator had medical experience and warned that the man was entering a diabetic coma. A huge cry went up in the truck as protesters thumped the sides and bellowed through the grates: "Help, a man is dying." There was no response.

Towards freedom

After some time a commotion could be heard outside; fighting appeared to be breaking out between police and others, whom we couldn't make out.

At one point the truck began to rock alarmingly from side to side while someone began banging the metal exterior, sending out huge metallic clangs. We could make out that a struggle was taking place over the opening of the door; none of the protesters had any idea what lay on the other side, but all resolved to charge at it when the door swung open. Eventually it did, to reveal a police officer who began to grab inmates and haul them out, beating them as they went. A cry went up and we surged forward, sending the policeman flying; the diabetic man was then carried out carefully before the rest of us spilled on to the streets.

Later it emerged that we had won our freedom through the efforts of Nour's parents, Ayman and his former wife Gamila Ismail. The father, who was also on the demonstration, had got wind of his son's arrest and apparently followed his captors and fought with officers for our release. Shorn of money and phones and stranded several miles into the desert, the protesters began a long trudge back towards Cairo, hailing down cars on the way.

The diabetic patient was swiftly put in a vehicle and taken to hospital; I have been unable to find out his condition.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011







Somali pirates are fast becoming "the masters of the Indian Ocean," with foreign navies forced by legal constraints to release nine out of every 10 they detain, according to a U.N. envoy.

Jack Lang, the U.N.'s top legal adviser on maritime piracy, has told the Security Council that special courts should be urgently established in northern Somalia and Tanzania to try suspected Somali hijackers and break the present cycle of impunity. Currently there are very few countries that are prepared to hold and prosecute captured pirates, while lawlessness in the main part of Somalia makes trials there almost next to impossible.

The navies' "catch and release" policy is one reason attacks on ships off the Horn of Africa reached record levels last year despite the presence of several dozen foreign warships.

Ransom paid

At least 49 vessels were hijacked off Somalia in 2010 according to the International Maritime Bureau, with 1,016 foreign sailors taken hostage. Individual ransom payments routinely run into millions of dollars, while crew members are being detained for ever longer periods, sometimes up to a year.

On January 25, a German shipping line asked for help after Somali pirates seized one of its cargo ships and its 12-strong crew in the Indian Ocean. The owners of the "Beluga Nomination," based in Bremen, said the boat had been captured on January 22 north of the Seychelles, "far away from the internationally defined zone of high risk at the Horn of Africa."

Situation is worsening

After two days aboard, the pirates managed to break into the ship's control room and steer the 132-metre vessel west towards the Somali coast, the firm said.

Noting that the pirates had also dramatically increased their range — up to 1,600km east of Somalia and as far south as the Mozambique channel — Lang admitted the situation was "worsening" and the pirates were winning.

"These are 1,500 people [pirates] who are defying the world, defying the U.N. We must act now, quickly and firmly," said Lang, a former French government minister.

Countries such as Kenya have previously held Somalis captured by foreign navies and placed them on trial. But with its legal system already overloaded, the government is reluctant to take any more, and all piracy cases are on hold anyway after a Kenyan judge ruled the country had no jurisdiction to try them. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






Li Yun drags his life's belongings, all contained in two neatly-bound cardboard boxes, through the throngs of people that crowd outside Beijing railway station on a cold January morning. Li has spent the last 12 months working in a coal mine in Henan, a mineral-rich central province which plays an important role in satisfying China's growing energy needs. For the 35-year-old wheat farmer, the dusty interiors of Henan have been a world away from his hometown of Sui Hua, a small village of green fields located on the outskirts of the northeastern frontier city of Harbin.

Li left his family in Sui Hua a decade ago in search of work. Few in his generation stayed behind. Farming had become less profitable, a gradual consequence of the spreading effects of urbanisation and inflation squeezing the margins. Every young hand left the village, leaving the fields in the care of the old. Li and his friends are the second generation of China's vast migrant labour force, which has played a quiet, yet crucial, role in driving forward the country's development over the past three decades. If it was Li's parents' generation that unleashed China's growth in the manufacturing hubs of the south in the 1980s, his generation has kept the growth story going.

Transportation system

Every February, when the Chinese New Year and the Spring Festival usually falls, the legions of women and men who silently power the industries of Shanghai, the electronics factories of Shenzhen and the mines of Henan briefly find themselves in the national spotlight. After all, the annual ritual of their journey home is striking on so many levels. For one, the sheer number of China's huge migrant labour force places extraordinary demands on the nation's transportation system. Hundreds of additional trains are put into action on the country's snow-filled tracks for a few weeks every January and February. The week-long Spring Festival brings life across the country to a complete standstill. Restaurants, factories and almost every kind of business close their doors, reflecting the vital role that the often taken-for-granted transient labour force plays in keeping China's cities running.

China's migrant workers have borne high costs in their journeys away from home in search of work and better futures. Most, like Li, have had to leave their families and children behind. Under China's household registration or hukou system, families lose access to medical benefits and free school education when they leave their home provinces. This means that there are millions of Chinese children, including Li's five-year-old daughter, who are growing up today without at least one parent. "My daughter did not even recognise me when I went home the last time," says Li. "For me that is the hardest part about being employed so far away from home. But what is the alternative? As a farmer in Harbin, I would save maybe 500 yuan (Rs.3,500) a month. Now, I'm saving 3,000 yuan (Rs.21,000)."

Remarkable changes

Among the waiting throng outside Beijing's railway station, there are many snapshots of the remarkable changes that China's migrant workforce has seen in one generation. There is a grain farmer from Dongbei province, who works in a construction site in Beijing. Almost every man in his village, he says, left to find work in the city. His savings, he adds proudly, is putting his son through engineering college. His son won't have to trawl the country in search of low-paying jobs. Li has similar hopes for his daughter, who, he jokes, is already computer-savvy enough to play games on the Internet.

There are young migrants like 23-year-old Wang, a farmer from Heze, a poor town in Shandong province. Fifty farmers from Heze moved to Beijing last year to work on construction sites. But many of them who are returning home this month, he says, will not return. Rising inflation in cities, coupled with a number of subsidies to boost agriculture, is making life in the city seem less appealing for many young migrants, who are far less tolerant of the hardships of city life than their parents were.

"It is becoming impossible for many young migrant workers to stay on in the cities," says Lu Ming, a professor of economics at Shanghai's Fudan University. "The hukou system is now at the centre of a very heated debate on how to better balance growth." The hukou system, which governs the life of every Chinese migrant worker, is one of the few remaining elements of China's once centrally-planned economy. In recent months, it has become a subject of much debate, coming under attack from many scholars. It has been blamed for the fast-widening income disparity between urban and rural Chinese residents. The system has also been cited as driving recent labour shortages in southern and eastern China, as more migrant workers choose to stay home.

The government fears that dismantling the system would place unbearable burdens on housing infrastructure and social services in cities. "But the hukou system can be deregulated step by step," says Professor Lu, arguing that efforts to reform the system have been too slow-paced. He cites the deregulation process in Shanghai, which, for the first time, allowed migrant workers with a certain level of technical qualifications to be eligible for hukou permits and access to social security. The conditions were so strict that only 3,000 people out of more than several hundred thousand applicants qualified.

The government has come under pressure to ease the rules, and has hinted recently at possible reforms. Premier Wen Jiabao told Internet users in an online chat last year that he would make reforming the restrictive system a priority, to cater to the changing aspirations of the current generation of migrant workers. The government made hukou reform a focus of its central policy document last year, removing restrictions for migrants in some tier-two cities. The move is welcome, scholars say, but far from enough, considering that cities like Beijing and Shanghai continue to be the main magnets for migrants. In an unprecedented call for reforms last year, 12 Chinese newspapers published a joint editorial, warning that "bad policies unsuitable to these times enrage the people." "China has endured the bitterness of its household registration system for so long," the editorial said. "Individuals are born free, and possess the right to move freely."






The burning alive of Nashik's additional collector at Manmad in Maharashtra on the eve of this year's Republic Day by an oil mafia gang he had caught redhanded should not really come as any surprise. It was almost déjà vu: the murder of yet another upright public servant doing his duty, reminding the nation of the horrific circumstances in which Satyendra Dubey of the National Highways Authority of India was killed for exposing misdeeds relating to the Golden Quadrilateral project in Bihar seven years ago, in November 2003, as well as another oil mafia-related killing — that of Shanmugham Manjunath of the Indian Oil Corporation just two years after that, in November 2005, in Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri region. Maharashtra too has seen some similar incidents — such as the death in mysterious circumstances of a DIG of the CBI who had taken on the oil mafia. More recently, a top oil mafia gang leader operating in Mumbai Port — suspected of smuggling `25 lakhs of diesel every day — was killed in broad daylight just outside the GPO in the heart of the nation's financial capital. A senior Maharashtra police officer who has taken on the oil mafia claims that it is far more powerful and ruthless than even the dons who rule the underworld, and that its tentacles spread throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Many lives have been lost along the way, and the mafia's modus operandi is well known to governments at the Centre and in the states — such a widespread operation simply cannot continue without connivance at all levels: the politicians who are beholden to the mafia, bureaucrats and the oil companies. In Maharashtra itself, many people have written detailed letters to the government on the mafia's activities, but they did not get even an acknowledgement. There are big names involved, and it is estimated between 50-60 per cent of kerosene meant for the public distribution system is diverted by the mafia with official connivance. This makes a mockery of the susbsidy of kerosene and diesel — are these only meant to subsidise the mafia? Kerosene and LPG together account for two-thirds of the total oil subsidy of `50,000 crores — which is nearly 4.5 per cent of the Union Budget! The new petroleum minister has declared that this subsidy will not be stopped so that the poor are not hit. Which poor exactly is he talking about? He would do well to study other options which have been suggested to the government on ways to protect the poor and also put an end to this astronomical leakage. One of these is a proposal to pay the difference between the market price and the subsidised price to each identified beneficiary family, perhaps through a special post office bank account, after which kerosene could be sold openly in the market at its real price and the leakage of kerosene intended for PDS stopped.

It is ironical that the oil companies will pay compensation of `25 lakhs to the additional collector's family. Oil mafia operations start from the doors of the oil marketing companies, primarily in Mumbai which is the hub as the bulk of petroleum imports is routed through Mumbai Port and then distributed across the country. The mafia's modus operandi is no secret to the authorities: major transport companies with thousands of tankers take the kerosene and diesel and have full fledged factories along the route where the "mixing" or adulteration is done. There are also gangs which specialise in puncturing oil pipelines. The government talks of using GPS to track tankers, which is a good idea, but it must also ensure that the oil marketing companies get extremely tough with the vendors they choose as distributors.






There were just two complaints I had of the Jaipur Literature Festival where I spent three very fulfilling days this week. The first was my utter exasperation with two gentlemen, appearing in rapid succession, who insisted on engaging me in conversation on the biases of TV channels. In normal circumstances I am happy to proffer my two-anna views on anything remotely linked to the media but on this occasion I may have been needlessly frosty. The reason: I was sitting quietly by myself, soaking in the wisdom, wackiness and poetry of Vikram Seth who was speaking at the tent barely 50 meters away. This was after all a literary festival and I had come to enjoy the fare.

The second occasion was two days earlier, when I failed to find a chair inside the marquee for a session by the South African-born writer J.M. Coetzee. Instead I found a place where I could at least hear this legendary figure, if not see him speak. Coetzee has a reputation for being incredibly shy and wary of public occasions and it was quite apparent that this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Coetzee, not surprisingly, didn't speak about either the state of the world or agonise over his inner turmoil. He said he would read a short story which he had specially chosen for the occasion.

I made myself comfortable as he began his reading. I don't think he had even finished two sentences when his soft voice was overwhelmed by the vernacular chatter from a family of five that included a brattish eight-year-old boy, discussing their lunch. I tried a "shshsh" and, instead, got strange looks. The chatter increased as two others on my left began speaking to their friends on the mobile phone about nothing in particular. My distant encounter with Coetzee was soured by the Great Indian Noise.

I tried to find another place but by then I had lost the thread of his narration.

The problem may well be attributed to something that fashionable writers call semiotics.

A "festival" conveys a multitude of meanings in the English context. The raucous weekend in Glastonbury each summer where people end up caked in mud is a festival in the more robust sense of the term. But festival is also the description for the gathering of genteel publishers, bibliophiles and others in the picturesque village of Hay-on-Wye.

In much of India, a festival implies a carnival, a fair and a mela. The idea that a group of people can sit in pin-drop silence (as those seated inside the marquee did) soaking in the story of an elderly gentleman about cats and Catholics, and then proceed to describe it as "good fun" would be absolutely preposterous to the family that kept me from enjoying Coetzee. In their minds, they were the ones having "fun" and enjoying a family outing on a Sunday; I was the weird guy insisting on some quiet in a public space.

India has a tradition of kavi sammellans and mushairas. But a festival of literature, made glamorous by exhaustive media coverage and the presence of beautiful people and even Bollywood notables is a novelty. The Kolkata Book Fair, which attracts more than a lakh of visitors, has evolved into a mela centred on stalls selling books. So too, as I discovered earlier this month, has the Vibrant Gujarat meet in Gandhinagar. The crowds flock to this event and even sat through seminars about investment opportunities in Newfoundland not because they were seeking investment avenues but because they craved a window to the world.

Colonial administrators often marvelled at the Indian penchant for tamasha. Many of those who found their way into the Literature Festival venue at Diggi Palace were unclear as to what exactly to expect. Some were excited by an earlier and quite baseless rumour that J.K. Rowling would be there to sign copies of the Harry Potter books; others imagined they could get some tips on creative writing; still others just felt it was the place to be. For all their undoubted popularity, even Martin Amis, Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai and David Finkel aren't exactly household names in this part of the Orient.

A section of the 60,000 or so people who dropped into the festival did so because they wanted some exposure to the world of letters and to ideas that don't facilitate an MBA degree. Despite the purposeless demand for autographs of anyone who looked remotely "famous" and inappropriate behaviour such as reserving every chair in sight and rudely walking out mid-session, there was also a realisation that arts, literature and non-vocational scholarship also have their place in an economically vibrant society. This recognition hasn't as yet manifested itself in more book buying — an average Indian print run is 2,000 copies and even the festival bookshop sold just 9,000 books — and the growth of public libraries, but a start has been made.

As the Jaipur Literature Festival finds a place on the global map, the organisers will be under various pressures. There will be demands to regulate the crowds, to make it a paid, niche event and, at the very least, to ensure that there are fewer silly questions from the audience. There will also be demands to make it a festival of Indians engaging with other Indians on broadly India-centric themes and experiences.

This implies excluding sessions such as one on the Nile by travel writer Anthony Sattin and the one by James Mather on the British Levant Company — both of which I found rewarding.

Both pressures must be resisted. The annual event in Jaipur has become what it is because a cockily resurgent India is the "hot" story after China, and because Indians yearn, sometimes indiscriminately, for everything on offer globally.

I would rather tolerate my two high points of exasperation and inconvenience than see the soul taken out of the Jaipur experience.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






The message from Islamabad is gaining in decibel: the generals want New Delhi to initiate talks with them on Kashmir. The latest in a string of couriers bearing similar tidings was former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who urged Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to travel to Islamabad for talks on Kashmir. It is impossible not to detect a touch of urgency in Islamabad's texting. For, they have reason to be concerned.

When the Kashmir Valley erupted in revolt in 1989, the popular slogan was azadi, or independence. The most prominent militant organisation at that time was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Within a few years, however, a great change occurred in the armed struggle with the Hizbul Mujahideen, an Islamist organisation that unabashedly advocated the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan, emerging as the pre-eminent militant organisation in the state.

How this remarkable transformation occurred within the space of a few years has never been a secret in Kashmir. The sidelining of the JKLF and other pro-independence groups was carefully orchestrated by the Pakistan Army. Just as General Zia-ul-Haq had favoured pro-Pakistan Islamist groups in the Afghan jihad, his predecessors realised that the key to controlling the armed struggle in Kashmir was to pack it with men swearing allegiance to Muslim Pakistan. Accordingly, the Hizbul Mujahideen was created in 1989 and began operating in the Valley in parallel with the JKLF.

The pro-Pakistan camp used the age-old methods of coercion and assassination to purge the movement of the independent minded. Arif Jamal, a prominent US-based Pakistani journalist, in his book Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, has painstakingly described how the Hizbul took control of the movement: "Hizbul Mujahideen operatives harassed, beat and murdered potential rivals, and the scale of the violence was enormous. According to a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, the organisation eliminated some 7,000 political rivals. From the beginning of their campaign, Hizbul Mujahideen focused on disarming and kidnapping JKLF members, and many were brutalised in custody and beaten to death. According to Amanullah Khan, Hizbul Mujahideen eliminated more JKLF officials than Indian military agents had".

According to Mr Jamal, "Hizbul Mujahideen militants also murdered some of the leading political leaders in Kashmir. They killed Dr Ahad Guru and Professor Abdul Ahad Wailoo (chief commander of Al-Barq, Al-Jihad and JKLF). Mirwaiz Farooq, a leading political personality in Srinagar, was also killed; Syed Ali Shah Geelani ordered his elimination".

Recent admissions by key separatist leaders has once again exposed the role of pro-Pakistan forces in political assassinations, including that of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone and others. "No police was involved (in the killings)... It was our own people who killed them", former Hurriyat Conference chairman Prof Abdul Gani Bhat disclosed while speaking at a seminar in Srinagar in early January this year. He said that even his own brother, Mohammad Sultan Bhat, was murdered by his own people, by which he meant Kashmiri separatists.

Mr Bhat's outburst rippled through the Kashmir Valley, prompting another separatist leader Sajjad Lone to declare that "Truth, however bitter, must prevail". Mr Lone's father, Abdul Ghani Lone, was among those assassinated. Although neither Mr Bhat nor Mr Lone specified who had ordered the killings, Mr Bhat maintained that everyone in Kashmir was aware who the killers were. Their fingers pointed squarely at the Hizbul Mujahideen, its Kashmiri leadership and their Pakistani handlers.

The timing of these disclosures is significant, for they suggest a change in Kashmiri perception. While the overall sentiment in the Valley remains anti-Indian, the pro-Pakistan slogans too have lost their resonance. A section of the separatist leadership is now signalling that it wants to be free of Islamabad's dictations. By raising their voice against the assassinations and implicitly identifying the forces responsible, these Kashmiri leaders are attempting to distance themselves from pro-Pakistani forces that have held Kashmiri politics in complete thrall for more than two decades.

While India may not accrue any direct benefit from this development, it could help in creating an atmosphere for genuine talks with the separatists. For this to happen, New Delhi needs to ensure that the constant threat of political assassinations in the Valley is removed. Sadly though, New Delhi has consistently failed to protect those who favoured a settlement that even hinted at a possible diminution of Islamabad's perceived interests.
Today, Kashmir politics is undergoing a significant transformation. Pakistan is no longer the role model or a mentor. During last year's summer unrest, no pro-Pakistan slogans were raised. When Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani tried again to champion Pakistan, he was heckled and his house attacked.

The generals in Islamabad realise that to remain relevant in Kashmir politics, they must compel New Delhi to initiate talks on Kashmir. It is clear, however, that bringing Pakistan back into the Kashmir picture at this juncture would amount to giving away something for nothing.

With a number of Kashmiri leaders, including some separatists, are challenging Pakistan's frightening hegemony, it would be the supreme irony if New Delhi was to reintroduce Islamabad's generals into the Valley's political scenario.

Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi







The explosive nature of thousands of pages of confidential notes on talks between Palestinians and Israelis over the past decade obtained by Al Jazeera Arabic channel, and shared with Guardian newspaper, will have major consequences for the two sides and the United States. Sunday's revelations will further reduce the credibility of Palestinian Authority leaders on the Arab street and highlight the hypocrisy of Israelis' constant refrain that they have no credible partners to negotiate with. Besides, the partisan nature of American mediation, clear enough to the congnoscenti, has been laid mercilessly bare. The revelations will at the same time enhance the prestige of Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip.

Despite the denials of the chief Palestinian negotiators, Ahmed Qurei and Saeb Erekat, Guardian says it has independently verified the revelations and at least one Palestinian negotiator, Diana Buttu, has asked Mr Erekat to resign. The Palestinian concessions are mind-boggling. They include the signing away of most of occupied East Jerusalem, an international committee to oversee the administration of the holy Al Aqsa mosque and Temple Mount and restricting the return of Palestinian refugees to 10,000 over 10 years. Even these concessions — equivalent to selling the family silver — did not satisfy Israelis and Americans, who wanted more.
So revealing is the tenor of the negotiations, with Palestinians in the role of supplicants, Israelis barely concealing their contempt and Americans acting as Israeli proxies, that the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas can hardly survive the expose. Even before this bombshell, their constituents held the perambulating Palestinian peace negotiators in lounge suits in little respect. Now with their closed-door discussions in the open, their credibility will be zero.

The closest the two sides came to an agreement was in 2008, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was too weak with differences remaining between Israelis wanting to retain six per cent of the West Bank while Palestinians were willing to give two per cent for land swaps. Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded Mr Olmert and refused to pick up the threads. His agenda was not a two-state solution but a Greater Israel.
So disruptive of peace the revelations are likely to be that a former US official of the Clinton administration has suggested that Palestinians might have leaked the documents to pressure the United States on the eve of a proposed UN Security Council declaration affirming an obvious truth, that the settlements are illegal and should be frozen. The US invariably vetoes any resolution viewed by Tel Aviv as harmful to its interests. Always secure in total American support, Israel will brazen out any embarrassment it faces.

For the United States and the wider world, the embarrassing revelations could not have come at a more difficult time. The spontaneous revolt of Tunisians against their long-time ruler leading to his hurried departure and promise of a more democratic regime has set the Arab world stirring, with demonstrations and killings in other countries. The simmering revolt in Arab societies, most under autocratic rule, could only be fanned by revelations that Palestinian leaders were grovelling to Israelis and Americans in private, crossing all the red lines they had always promised to uphold, and rejected in the end because they were not servile enough.
Indeed, Al Jazeera has added a new dimension to the unrest in the Arab world activated by the Tunisian revolt.
Outside the Gulf monarchies, whose oil and gas wealth and small populations have a different compact between the rulers and ruled, there are few icons Arabs can look up to. The pattern of autocratic rulers gives the people little scope for self-expression and with a large young population denied political freedom and often unemployed are a combustible mix which can prove dangerous, as Tunisia demonstrated so dramatically. Now, even the leaders fighting for their country's freedom have proved to be men of straw.

Every Arab country, apart from the non-Arab world, pays lip service to the Palestinian cause. But it is an open secret that each nation's approach is guided by self-interest.

The United States, Israel's rich uncle and protector, is also the protector of and aid-giver to many major Arab countries, and fellow-feeling for Palestinian cousins takes second place to being on the right side of Washington and computing on how to outwit Iran.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinian Fatah negotiators' pusillanimity and concessions make the rival Hamas shine more. Hamas starts from the premise that it is pointless to negotiate with Israelis from a position of weakness and the most they are willing to offer is a time-barred peace. It is Israel's, and Washington's, purpose to fold Hamas into the "war on terror", but to Arabs fighting for the liberation of Palestine and for a freer and more prosperous society, the continuing subjugation of their land and their lives can only lead to frustrated violence.
The prairie fire lit by Tunisia is spreading in the region at a somewhat faster pace than anticipated. Countries vary; the scale of suppression of freedoms varies, as are their historical experiences.

But sometimes in history the time is ripe for a new thrust for thinking the unthinkable and years and generations of humiliation culminate in seeking a change. If even veterans of the Palestinian struggle, including the aide of the redoubtable Yasser Arafat, can bend to the power and blandishments of the usurper, where is Arab self-respect?

These are the questions troubling the Arab mind. The answer is not to fold Arab dissent into terrorism, but to begin to address the real problems confronting the region. The United States and the West can start with giving Palestinians freedom, instead of doing everything to perpetuate an injustice that makes nonsense of their pious declarations on justice and freedom.








This much is clear from US president Barack Obama's state of the union speech delivered on November 25: India and China better watch out.


In his attempt to rejuvenate the US's flailing economy, create jobs and improve morale, Obama has pointed out that the US needs to understand how the world has changed and move appropriately.


He said, "In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business… Meanwhile, nations like China and India realised that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They're investing in research and new technologies".


Obama's answer to this is not just inspiring words about the greatness of America or its strength and resilience

but a concerted effort to boost education and invest money in research and development. The goal is for this generation of Americans to have their "Sputnik" moment — as the Soviets did with the first space exploration. He did not fail to point out that America is already at the forefront of invention and innovation and just has to take it further. And, it must be said, faster than the rest of the world.


There is no doubt that America is still the most powerful nation in the world and has the biggest economy. But it is also true that new and potent threats are coming from the developed world. India and China, both have shaken the old powers systems with their growth and their demand for a share of the pie. The challenge for India and China is now to understand that the US has thrown down the gauntlet and work even harder to improve their positions.


Obama plans to use tax cuts to big companies to fund his education and research plans. If he manages to implement even some of his ideas, the results will be evident and the threat to the rest of the world's emerging powers, very real. It is true that Obama is no longer in the dominant position that he used to be in and that the US economy is suffering. But having taken a page out of former president Bill Clinton's book and concentrated on the economy, Obama has re-focused his government and the Republicans on the issues that can make a difference.


Whether he can or not is another matter, what is evident is that if he does it, India and China must be prepared.







Additional collector of Malegaon Yashwant Sonawane showed courage of a kind that should make any government or society proud.


But the price was too high because it cost him his life. Sonawane dared the criminals, and they retaliated, in a brutal manner. He caught them in the act of adulterating oil. That this news should reach the nation as it celebrated its 61st Republic Day anniversary is both tragic and ironic.


The republic needs honest public servants and it is a matter of satisfaction and pride that this country has its share of Sonawanes. It is the glimmer of hope for a polity that is turning cynical and brutal by the day.


It is necessary that there should be a wave of anger across the country for a crime like this because only then would the criminals tremble in fear of people's wrath, once they know that they are outnumbered and that they have nowhere to hide. Unfortunately, the reality is something else. The criminals are linked to politicians and officials at every level. They feel secure and it is the ordinary people who feel unsafe. That is why they do not fear a lone honest officer like Sonawane. They consider him a quixotic character and they have no hesitation in killing him when their business is endangered. The fact that Sonawane's assistant fled and denies having seen the faces of the perpetrators of the crime has its own story to tell.


The point made by Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan that officials would be asked to carry out raids only with the assistance of adequate police force is well taken, but it does not address the core issue — patronage of crime.


The impunity with which Sonawane was killed is a sign that the writ of law does not run in many patches of the country, and it is not just in the badlands of Maoists and insurgents. This defiance of law in the heart of society is a challenge to the legitimacy of government.


While an inquiry is needed to establish the evidence in Sonawane's case and the culprits need to be given exemplary punishment, it is not sufficient. A majority of politicians, bureaucrats and plutocrats will have to come out openly against crime.


And this is unlikely to happen through the ritualistic change of heart. What can bring about the change is public opinion. It is time for the country to get angry about crime. There is no other remedy.








I've been to soooo many fairs … Paris, London, Berlin. But, let me tell you this is where the money is, babe". I overheard the sleek, young gallerist from New Delhi with a slight American twang spicing up her conventy English tell another gallery owner at the recent India Art Summit in New Delhi.

The lady wasn't the only one: many of the gallerists looked liked cats that had licked a lot of cream — even those from international galleries who found enthusiastic buyers for their works of art.


Business was good: Rs78 crores, far more than anticipated. Big ticket collectors, museumwallahs and gallery owners from Europe and North America, not to speak of gallery owners from the rest of India had made it a point to come this time. And, hats off to the young and dynamic Neha Kirpal for pulling off this coup: the art fair was cogently organised and gave contemporary Indian art, a wonderful, vibrant platform.


You only have to compare the two melas (if I may stretch things a bit and describe the India Art Summit and the Jaipur Literature Festival as melas) to appreciate Ms Kirpal's efforts. The two are fairly new and growing exponentially. However, Jaipur was far more chaotic this year, with a few sessions that didn't really get anywhere, Delhi was far better organised. More important, it had a buzz: many put their money where their mouths were.


But, alas, the buzz these days ends up being just about prices. A large number of international galleries had set up shop and were more interested in selling their wares in Shining India with its fattening middle class than they were in picking up artists from here.


There was also a lot of collateral art activity with the Summit, including the opening of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Modern Art and the re-launch of the renovated and completely metamorphosed Delhi Art Gallery, exhibiting its impressive collection of the Progressives.


However, everywhere one went the chatter was just about the art mart: who was going up and who was going down. The artist, it seems, is being left out of the equation. It was if the golden goose no longer mattered; the golden eggs it laid were all that did.Moreover, much of the discourse about art is replete with theorising. Very little of the artist and his life comes through.


So, it was with great pleasure that I saw some of the photographs of artists that painter and collector Manisha Gera Baswani has been taking over the past eight years. Like a fly on the wall, she has been hanging around with her camera, catching the artists off-guard or completely immersed in their work. She has caught them offstage, with the masks off.


Normally Mithu Sen, the gregarious artist who just won the Rs10 lakh Skoda prize for Indian contemporary art, has an animated face. But in Baswani's photograph her face, also reflected on the surface of a glass as a double image; she appears pensive, almost vulnerable.


Particularly evocative is the image of Neelima Sheikh, shown tenderly holding her grandchild in her arms while she walks about the venue of the Summit, with rolled canvases of her work on the floor.


Happily, art historian and curator Yashodhara Dalmia has in her new book, Journey. Four Generations of Indian Artists in their Own Words, given us a glimpse into the thoughts, lives and creative process of thirty artists.


Time to put the painter back in the picture.











When Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi, the recently elected vice chancellor of the renowned Islamic seminary, Darul Uloom Deoband, stated that all the minorities are flourishing under Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, he had spoken the truth. Nevertheless, the entire Muslim media is up against his statement, calling it far from reality. This only shows that the Muslim community is still struggling to come out of its ghetto mindset.


In this atmosphere, to talk about reform is to be chastened by one's own family, especially when everyone around is communal. Modi is not to be given a clean chit for the communal carnage; but he must be given his due for progress in the state of Gujarat for all sections, including the Muslims.


In his book, Indian Muslims: Where Have They Gone Wrong?, Rafique Zakaria says that Muslims must become an integral part of the mainstream. It is high time Muslims break the barriers of alienation, and generate a harmonious environment. If Muslims did some soul-searching and asked whether they have contributed to strengthening Hindu-Muslim relations since Partition, the answer will be no.


Zakaria wrote that Indian Muslims must realise that an increasing number of Hindus have begun to hate them due to their obscurantist approach. They have to do their best to bring about a change in this hostile attitude of the communal Hindus. This is as much in their interest as that of the nation.


Unfortunately, Muslims continue to live in a make-believe world of their own. Muslim leaders waste their energies whipping up emotions and bringing more trouble to ordinary Muslims. These self-serving leaders remain oblivious to the miserable decline of the Muslim community. The leaders' rigid attitude on every occasion has only weakened Hindu-Muslim relations further. Instead of coming out openly against Pakistan and taking a strong stand against the jihadis, these so-called guardians of the Indian Muslims spend most of their time in running their own political shops to buttress their communal leadership.


None of these leaders visit the villages, so they are unaware of the fallout of their actions on the poor and hapless who live in the remote parts of the country.


Indian Muslims must move forward. They must discard their worn-out prejudices and outmoded habits and adjust themselves to the requirements of the changing times. They must give up asking for doles that will only cripple them. They must learn to stand on their own feet, for the fact is that they have no true friends; many who show them sympathy or consideration are not sincere. They do so only to obtain some electoral gain.


They rely on India's commitment to secularism, which has been of some help. To succeed, Indian Muslims must boldly come forward to undergo an all-round transformation in their style of functioning. If they fail to do so, they will be ruined beyond redemption.


Muslims today will succeed if parents shed their old habits, give up their outdated notions, and encourage and help their children get the best education. Merit alone will give them reward, as rightly reiterated by Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi.


Indian Muslims must disown the bigotry that has made Muslims pariahs everywhere. They must give to the non-Muslims the assurance that their religion stands for "live and let live". The orthodox clerics who shut themselves from the world must not be allowed to hold the community to ransom.


They must, without compromising the Quranic injunctions, agree to the introduction of certain much-needed, essential changes in their personal law, particularly the enactment of monogamy. There is, in fact, enough scope under the Shariah to amend the laws relating to marriage, divorce, dower and even maintenance. Ijtihad, (independent thinking), which was freely used by the classical jurists in the past, needs to be exercised by the present generation much more today.


There must be a real awareness among Indian Muslims that they have to prepare for reconciliation with Hindus on the basis that each respects the religious and cultural conventions, traditions and sentiments of the other. As to reform in personal laws as a prelude to a uniform civil code, Muslims should not oppose something without knowing what it will be.


Sardar Patel once told Saifuddin Kitchlew, in a personal meeting on May 19, 1950: "The goodwill of the majority was the best safeguard for a minority". Muslims must take a leaf from the Parsi minority, which is probably the most liked community in India. Without raising a whimper about their unique religion and their rights, the Parsis have produced national luminaries in the field of law, industry, business, medicine, journalism, and banking.








In my little home in Kerala, I have two lions stationed at either end of the main threshold.


Two singular beasts, who with terracotta eyes, watch the comings and goings with a reined-in fierceness. At times I can almost feel them follow my every move. At times they seem ready to leap and attack those who dare enter their line of vision. At times it seems like all they want to do is to slowly rise, shake their mane and walk away with a whisk of their tail. In many ways these terracotta lions seem to resonate how I feel.


In the fifties and sixties in Kerala, one of the most popular forms of gate art were the terracotta lions.They were found at the entrances of most grand houses. The lions exuded a certain grandeur and were like a trademark to signify the importance of those who lived in those houses.


Over the years the lions disappeared and in their place came gate lights. Somewhere in the deep recess of my mind lay an image of the twin lions. An image that rose to the surface while I was on a trip to Florence. The B&B I was staying at was called I duo Leoni. The two lions. And there were two majestic lions guarding a step leading into a little garden.


The name was much too grandiose for the modest B&B, but nevertheless those lions lent a certain charm to the place.


I took home from that holiday a need to locate the two lions for myself. In Kerala, I discovered there were no more terracotta lions to be found. Cement ones perhaps, but most of them had faces that remembered a pug. A pug wearing a curly wig.


Then on an off chance I mentioned the lions to an artist friend, Murali Nagapuzha, based in Thrissur. Murali has an atelier with several art students training there. One of them was assigned to go seek lions that resembled lions and not canines in disguise.


Drawings. Moulds. And finally two lions as majestic as ones that I saw in Florence and with a leashed-in tension in how they held their limbs emerged. They were, of course , way too spectacular to be mounted on a gatepost. So they now sit by my door. Companions of my dreams.


Guardians of my muse. And a reminder of how even whims ought to be followed through.









Almost everyone would share the hope expressed by a learned writer in a Sunday magazine of this newspaper recently that we should have a powerful regional cinema. Why can't we succeed much like the others have done in their distinctive social and cultural milieu? After all, there are many sons and daughters of this region who brush shoulders with the best in the country in its film capital Mumbai. They have displayed their talent on both small and big screens. Surely, there are many waiting in the wings to emulate them. We have plenty of talent around which is equipped in more than just the fundamental knowledge about lights, action and camera. The boom of television networks has contributed a lot in this regard. Of course, a great influence is the success of regional film industries in other parts of the country. Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati, Maithili and nearer home Punjabi cinema almost matches Bollywood in their technical skills. Their appeal is no less given that almost all of them also have international audience. This does not in any way affect the status of the western port city which actually retains its enviable reach; it is the ultimate destination of those wanting to translate their dreams on the celluloid. Why can't we follow in their footsteps? The writer, mentioned above, is enthused by the success of "Lakeer", the locally produced first ever film in the Pahari language. It is turning out to be a big draw. This is quite understandable. Who does not want to enjoy the glory of his or her language? Who does not want to celebrate the larger-than-life screen images of friends and relatives? If the story is powerful and reflects their own life and aspirations it is icing on the cake.


The runaway success of "Gallan Hoiaan Bitiyaan," the first ever feature film in Dogri in 1966, is a case in point. It was a telling commentary on the "Dohri" (marriage by barter) system and water scarcity in the Kandi area. One can still recall the crowds running over each other outside ticket booths of a cinema hall in this city. Almost overnight Ram Kumar Abrol and Jitender Sharma, the two leading actors of the movie, had become instant heroes of their habitat of which though they were even otherwise known figures. In retrospect, however, it has turned out that it was not an experience from which we had learnt enough to strengthen our cinema. It took another 44 years to make the second Dogri film titled "Maa na mildi" in 2010. It was in colour unlike "Gallan Hoiaan Bitiyaan" which was in black and white.


Thus it marked a technological evolution. In the end, however, it appeared to suffer from the same handicaps of financial constraints and non-availability of a big market. "Lakeer" now is being mentioned as a commercially viable venture but one will have to wait for some more time to pass the final judgment. There is merit in the argument that we should have a full-fledged film studio. This can follow provided we display the requisite flair to ensure that our movies are not merely a flash in the pan but have come to stay. Till that happens we ought to exploit our extremely rare, varied and idyllic natural locations to the hilt.







We are once again face to face with a major but avoidable problem in our vicinity. There has been a deafening explosion involving about 13 anti-personnel mines in Poonch district early this week. It triggered a major fire along the Line of Control (LoC). According to reports, there was fire first in the Pakistan-occupied territory across the LoC. It then spread to our side. What caused the inferno is not known. Till the reason is diagnosed nothing can be ruled out. It can be foul play to generate confusion in our camp. It can simply be an accident. For, the reality is that the area is infested with landmines, an outcome of the continuing hostility between two neighbouring countries. Before we proceed further it needs to be noted that this is not the first incident of its kind. Fires have ignited the hidden mines on several occasions earlier too. Off and on we also get reports of unsuspecting people and jawans inadvertently stepping on them to lose either their lives or limbs. Mercifully there has been no casualty or injury this time. There is no exact figure about the number of mines planted. It is a safe guess that our Army has used them as a safety measure against the evil designs of the forces on the other side of the LoC. Likewise the Pakistan army also has planted them in good measure including in the part of the State under its unlawful control. Our Army has taken care to demine a portion; it is a gradual exercise. It is not an easy task. The locations of the mines set up in haste are not easily identifiable. Moreover, buried under the earth these shift from one place to the other under the impact of rain and snow. Some time back a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) report had called these moving mines "snow bombs." It had quoted a local Urdu poet as reciting a couplet: "Fewer legs you have more compensation you get. That gives you a much younger bride." It reflects the desire to live on in the wake of a grim tragedy. Some sense of humour!


On the present reckoning it is doubtful whether we can have a mine-free zone shortly. As long as India and Pakistan are at loggerheads the mines can't be altogether abandoned. In our case it is reasonable to presume that the need is greater. Mines act as defensive tactical barriers not only against the rival armies. These also deter infiltrating terrorists as passive anti-denial weapons. It hardly bears any elaboration that brought up and trained in Pakistan they are a permanent menace to us. This should explain why India can't sign the Ottawa Treaty --- the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. Pakistan is also in the same company. Among the nations believed to be more powerful China, Russia and the United States too have kept out of the Treaty mainly because they have large stockpiles. Looked through the eyes of innocent victims the hidden mines are nothing but an evil. From a country's perspective, however, these are absolutely necessary for defending its unity and integrity. Do we have a second choice?








Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was founded in 1948 by a British Army Officer, Major General Cawthome, then Deputy Chief of Staff in the army. In 1950s, when Pakistan joined anti- communist alliances, its defense services and the ISI received considerable Western support in training and equipment. However, the ISI's main attention has always been focused towards India, perceived as its arch-enemy. When General Ayub Khan carried out the first successful coup in 1958, the ISI's domestic activities expanded. It carried out surveillance on political parties, politicians and often co-opted or coerced them into supporting the army's centralizing agenda. The ISI has been deeply involved in domestic politics and has always kept track of the incumbent regime's opponents. It has earned the reputation of being highly dreaded organization since most of the terrorist attacks in USA, Europe, India and many other countries during the recent past had links with the ISI.

The ISI has become a state within a state, answerable neither to the President (Commander - in - Chief) or the Prime Minister of the country. The result is there has been no genuine supervision of the ISI. Drug money, counterfeit currency, donations from the Middle East and many charity organizations are being used to finance proxy wars in Kashmir, Afghanistan and other parts of our country. Like many other intelligence organizations, ISI zealously guards its secrets and any evidence against it is very sketchy. This agency is the central organization of Pakistan's military machine which has always played dominant role in the country's often turbulent politics. It is major beneficiary of Pakistan's national budget, with a large unaccountable chunk coming from the defense outlay. No one knows, not even the Prime Minister, as to how much ISI costs to run or precisely how many people it employs.

The ISI has a total strength of approximately 10,000 officers and staff members, a number which does not include informers and agents. It is organized in well defined eight divisions :

a) Joint Intelligence X (JIX) serves as the secretariat which co-ordinates and provides administrative support to the other ISI wings and field organizations. It also prepares intelligence estimates and threat assessments.
b) Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB) is responsible for political intelligence. Was the most powerful component of the organization during the 1980s. The JIB consists of three sub-sections devoted to operations against India.
c) Joint Counter Intelligence Bureau (JCIB) is responsible for field surveillance of Pakistani diplomats stationed abroad, as well as for conducting intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, China, Afghanistan and the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union.

d) Joint Intelligence North (JIN) is responsible for Jammu & Kashmir operations, including infiltration, exfiltration, propaganda and other covert operations.

e) Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM) conducts espionage in foreign countries including offensive intelligence operations.

f) Joint Signal Intelligence Bureau (JSIB) includes Deputy Directors for Wireless, Monitoring & Photos.

Operates a chain of signals intelligence collection stations along border with India and provides communication support to militants operating in Kashmir.

g) Joint Intelligence Technical (JIT). Collect intelligence regarding strategic targets.

h) Explosive and Chemical Warfare Section. This section is employed for specialized missions on as required basis.

Pakistan army ran country from 1958 to 1971, when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh. The ISI and the military were thoroughly discredited and marginalized after the 1971 Indo-Pak war. However, they gained fresh lease of life when Prime Minister Bhutto launched a clandestine operation in 1972 to build nuclear weapons. Furthermore, The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made Pakistan a country of paramount importance. The United State declared Pakistan a "frontline state" against Soviet aggression, offered to reopen aid and military assistance deliveries and generally ignored Pakistan's nuclear program. The ISI monitored activities and provided advice and support to mujahedeen. Special Services Group commandos helped guide the operations inside Afghanistan. The ISI trained over 85,000 Taliban and infiltrated them into Afghanistan. The CIA provided enough arms to equip 250,000 Mujahedeen, and the Saudis matched US funding dollar for dollar.
Foreign money, mostly from the Middle East, helped to establish hundreds of madarsas in cities and frontier areas. Thousands of Taliban were trained here who fought against the Russians. The ISI executed these operations including handling of large quantities of weapons and equipment with utmost secrecy. Eventually, Soviets were forced to withdraw by 1989. This was seen as a great victory for the Taliban and their patrons, the ISI.

At this stage, Pakistani dictators wanted to replicate Afghan model in Kashmir through ISI. It provided weapons, training, advice and planning assistance to terrorists in Kashmir, Punjab as well as to the separatist movements in the North East and other parts of the country .The extent of Pakistani influence on transformation of the Kashmir insurgency is quiet evident. The ISI utilized Mujahedeen infrastructure to indoctrinate and train Kashmiri separatists. Initially, attacks were launched on soft targets. The insurgents adopted hit and run tactics avoiding direct confrontation with security forces. Had the Indian authorities dealt with the insurgents firmly and nipped the secessionist movement in the bud, the ISI would have suffered a dismal defeat. During this period, the ISI had also set up numerous broadcasting stations in POK for carrying out psychological warfare. They spewed venom and created a spiral of hatred and violence between the security forces and the local masses. Hindu population was threatened and forced to flee thus ensuring complete ethnic cleansing of the valley.

Islamabad was determined to exploit growing tension in Kashmir to destabilize India and therefore embarked on an ambitious plan of promoting terrorism in Punjab, North East and other parts of the country. Mumbai terrorist attack in Nov 2008 was a part of this plan. Involvement of ISI Director General, Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, Colonel Kamran, Major Iqbal and Major Sameer Ali, all active members of the ISI, has been established beyond doubt in this well planned and ruthlessly executed terrorist attack.

Whatever happened in Afghanistan is being repeated in Kashmir. God forbid if the ISI could achieve its objective, the fate of Kashmir will be no different from that of Afghanistan and North West Frontier of Pakistan. The Frankenstein's monster created by the ISI has already turned its guns on the creator as is evident from the brutal attacks on army installations and even mosques. This must be made absolutely clear to the public who have been misguided through false propaganda. Pakistan will exploit every opportunity to destroy the secular and multi ethnic fabric of our country. Their capacity to fish in troubled waters of the North East, Punjab and other parts of our country, as they have done in Kashmir, is an ominous warning. We must realize that seeds of discord can only spout where there is social inequality, corruption and political indifference. The government cannot depend merely on the letters of protest to Pakistan, United Nations and other world powers. We must upgrade our outdated and meagerly funded counter- intelligence set up to meet serious challenges posed by the ISI. It is highly desirable to improve governance, eradicate corruption which has seeped into our blood stream, educate masses and build their resistance to exploitation. Lastly, it is absolutely essential that in addition to appropriate military response to terrorism genuine grievances of the society are removed and the elements that have been alienated, brought back to the fold.

(The writer is former Commander Special Forces, Indian Army.)









As someone who is not of spiritual bent I am inclined to avoid Godmen and ashrams. When I am in the mood for something uplifting I read poetry or seek wisdom in the books of philosophers. So when some years ago I met Sadguru Jaggi Vasudev in Davos I saw him more as a man than a Guru. We chatted about the social work he was doing around his ashram near Coimbatore and he invited me to come and visit it if I was ever wandering by. After this first meeting I met him a few more times in Mumbai and Delhi and liked his modern and practical approach to the preservation of India's ancient heritage. As someone who is passionate about the importance of keeping this magnificent legacy alive by teaching our children about it and making ordinary Indians understand what could be lost if we fail to preserve what remains I saw a kindred spirit in Sadguru but never went to his ashram till two weeks ago.

A friend was going – more for reasons of weight loss than spirituality – and I decided to go along. So at an ungodly hour on a cold winter morning we boarded an Indian Airlines flight from Delhi that took more than three hours to get us to Coimbatore after stopping in Mumbai for what seemed like a needless amount of time. All thoughts of spirituality were dissipated by the cleaning crews that swept through the cabin with noisy vacuum cleaners during our halt in Mumbai. Nobody could understand why we were being subjected to this needless exercise so it was in irritable rather than spiritual frame that we arrived in Coimbatore.
Sadguru's ashram is more than thirty kilometres from Coimbatore airport and on the way there I chatted with the Tamil businessman in whose car we traveled about the likely results of the elections to the Tamil Nadu assembly due in the next couple of months. He told me that he thought the 2G Spectrum scandal and sibling rivalries in the Karunananidhi clan had damaged DMK chances so in his view it was Jayalalitha who was likely to be the next Chief Minister of our southernmost state. He sounded cheerful about this and in the week I spent in Tamil Nadu I met others who sounded as cheered up by the prospect of Karunanidhi & Family losing the next election.

The first thing I noticed about Sadguru's ashram was its beautiful backdrop. It nestles in a reserved forest in the shadow of the Velangiri hills where, I soon found out, Sadguru's own Guru had 'left his body' along with other wise and spiritual beings. The second thing I noticed about the ashram was that although our accommodation was as basic as possible it was spotlessly clean. Earlier experiences with India's spiritual haunts have left me permanently terrified of the squalor that usually characterizes them.

After we unpacked we were led to a verandah in a garden filled with exotic tropical plants where lunch was being served. We ate the most delicious 'saatvic' meal I have ever eaten and not one of us carnivores noticed for a moment the absence of animal flesh, garlic or onions. After lunch we started exploring the spiritual aspects of the Isha Ashram. I went on a guided tour of the premises, along with other newcomers, and found myself bedazzled by the spectacular temples that Sadguru has built. One called the Dhyanalingam which looks like a Shiva temple but is in fact a place of meditation to whichever god you wish to worship. The Linga Bhairavi temple is more specific to a particular goddess but follows the same very modern architecture that involves a sense of open space rather than the usual clutter associated with older Indian temples. The most spectacular space in the temple complex was a sacred pond called the Tirath Kund in which Sadguru has built a mercury lingam that gives the water special properties.

Our spiritual instruction began the next day as we prepared to be initiated into the Shaambhavi Mahamundra. It was a spiritual boot camp. We woke at 5 a.m. to practice an hour of yoga followed by a short break for delicious 'saativ' breakfast after which we listened to Sadguru's dissertations on spirituality till lunch time and then there was more yoga in the afternoon and breathing exercises that prepared us for the initiation that took place on the evening of the third day. It was all very dramatic and awe inspiring and Sadguru sang beautiful mantras as we meditated but I confess to not yet having found myself firmly on the spiritual path. The fault is most probably mine because there were others there who wept with joy and gratitude after the initiation making me feel that I had missed something very important.

It is possible that I am too much involved in life's more materialistic aspects to appreciate the joys of spirituality but what I was deeply impressed by were the two schools that Sadguru has created in his ashram. One is for fee-paying students who get an education similar to what they would have had they gone to the Doon School or Mayo College. But, there are definite Indian elements involved like an emphasis on Sanskrit and Indian traditions. What I found more impressive was the Isha Sanskriti school which offers a totally Indian education to children who come from less privileged backgrounds.

It is a modern gurukul that teaches Sanskrit, English, Yoga, Kalairipittu and Bharat Natyam with the idea that children will specialize in whichever of these subjects they find most conducive to their natural talents. We need thousands of schools like this if we are to preserve what is left of our heritage. In the interests of 'secularism' most Indian schools exhibit a contempt for India's ancient heritage that is truly shameful. So if Sadguru's Isha Ashram had done nothing else than create the Isha Sanskriti school it would already have been enough.
But, he has done much more. He has built an institution that is run almost entirely by volunteers who are drawn to the Isha Ashram because they believe that they can contribute their voluntary services to building something unique. Even to someone as spiritually challenged as me it was hard to come away from Sadguru's ashram without being very impressed with what I saw. And, for the record, I continue to practice the Shambhavi Mahamudra in the hope that it will open spiritual doors for me somewhere along the way.









Tuesday's grisly incident in which Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane was doused with oil and burnt to death by a gang of kerosene and petrol pilferers at Panewadi, near Manmad in Nashik district of Maharashtra, proves two things. One, that the oil mafia is engaged in such a lucrative activity that it can even kill for it. Two, that the mafia cares little for the administration and can take on even such a senior district administration official.


If this can happen to an ADC, what protection does a common man have against the all-powerful gangsters? The shocking daylight murder makes one wonder whether the country has any rule of law at all. It is not as if oil pilferage is a new phenomenon. But the government has always conveniently looked the other way. Now that the brave officer has lost his life, all the talk about booking the culprits and trying them under the stringent Maharasthra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) seems to be an afterthought.


With kerosene available at about Rs 12 a litre and petrol selling at upwards of Rs 58 per litre, the former is a favourite adulteration agent. What the racket does to the vehicles of unsuspecting buyers can well be imagined. With such a huge profit, the mafia buys the silence of officials of the government as well as the oil companies. Sonawane didn't sell himself and paid the ultimate price. The terrifying "shut up or else …" message that has gone out is disconcerting.


What is all the more galling is that this is not the first time that such an outrage has taken place. The oil mafia had killed IOC official S. Manjunath in Lakhimpur Kheri (Uttar Pradesh) when he had sealed two petrol pumps for selling adulterated petrol. Satyendra Kumar Dubey was murdered in Gaya (Bihar) after fighting corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway construction project. These brave men had to lay down their lives because the government was not solidly behind them. Sonawane's sacrifice too will be in vain if the oil mafia is allowed to continue with its depredations. 









A car bomb explosion outside a cafe in Dagestan only served to underline the threat that terrorists pose to Russia, coming as it does, a few days after Monday's terrorist bombing at Domodedovo airport in Moscow, in which 35 people were killed and around 200 injured.


While the failure of Russian security agencies is obvious, the root of the problem lies in the volatile nature of the North Caucasus region. Even after Moscow declared, in April 2009, that it had successfully contained the armed insurgency in the region, it continued to pose a significant challenge to Kremlin. The 10 years of Russian military action and harsh measures undertaken during that time left bitter memories, and are connected to the periodic eruptions of terrorist activity, like the March 2010 suicide bombings on Moscow's subway system, in which 40 people were killed. At that time, the responsibility of the attack was claimed by a militant group which sought to establish a unified Islamic state in the region.


The iron-fisted suppression of revolt left an unfortunate legacy of violent confrontations in which innocent ordinary citizens are inevitably the worst sufferers. While the Caucasians have a history of resisting Moscow's dictates, much of the discontent in the region is linked to the failure of the local government to provide jobs and promote social welfare. These are basic requirements that should be met, and would go a long way in bringing in stability in the region. A multi-faceted approach, and not just hard-line military action, is needed to tackle the complex situation.


On the other hand, Moscow should leave no stone unturned to ascertain the identity of the terrorist and his helpers and bring them to justice. Two significant elections are due in Russia, those for the Lower House by the end of the year and a presidential poll in March 2012. Heightened militant activity is expected during this time and thus, there is a need for tighter security, along with better intelligence. Moscow cannot afford to let its guard down.









A whopping 50,000 bibliophiles, geeks and name droppers assembled at the Jaipur Literature Festival- 2011 from Jan 21 to 25. The first JLF had been attended by a mere 7500 book lovers. The success of this phenomenal event must not be counted in numerical terms alone; the 114 sessions dedicated to diverse literary genres and voices - from vedic to dalit, were read and heard in multiple languages and scripts, almost all the books penned by the authors who visited the festival were sold out in the first two days, and corporate honchos were seen sitting on the floor while some school kid occupied the front seat.


It was one of the most free-spirited and democratic events one has witnessed.Yet, nothing succeeds in India without leaving behind a little dust of controversy. The most potent among them- Indian writers are overshadowed by the foreign ones in their own land! Even though William Dalrymple, co-director, JLF, accused of promoting 'reverse racialism' continued harping over the fact that Namita Gokhale, co-director, JLF had been " favouring Indian writing against triumph of the imperial English', also reinforced by the fact that 12 of the 22 national languages were represented at the festival. Yet, few voices with obvious political overtones, continued to feed fodder to the language issue. And like any other populist overture, they received wild applause.


If American and British literature's living legends: Richard Ford and Martin Amis were given centre stage by the publishers sponsoring the show, maximum head counts were observed in sessions where the speakers were poets or writers writing in Hindi. The popularity of Hindi cannot be undermined. Albeit, unlike professionally managed global publishing industry in English, a majority of publishers in Hindi and regional languages fail to adopt transparent, professional practices to become a force to reckon with. They too produce stars, but their twinkle remains dim for lack of jingle of coins. Despite the fact that the copies printed in Hindi outnumber the English print many times over. 

















Reports in the state-run People's Daily of China have confirmed that our neighbour has started damming the Yarlung-Tsangpo (Brahmaputra river) at Zangmu for a 510 MW hydro-electric project sited in the Gyaca county of Lhoka prefecture (Tibet). The project comprises a dam which is 116 m. high, 390 m.long across the river with a power plant having six generating units and will cost US$1.18 billion. 


On India's concerns, China has given the assurance that the project is not designed to divert the Brahmaputra waters and hence will not have any impact on the river flows in the downstream reaches.


The major problems haunting China today are water and power shortages. China knows that if these two issues are not addressed adequately, the consequences would be grave and its ambition to become a super power would be in the doldrums. Hence, it has focussed its attention to exploit the huge potential available in the water-rich Tibet region to overcome the looming crisis. The Zangmu project is to be followed by five other new dams at Jiexu, Jiacha, Lengda, Zhongda and Langzhen to meet the energy needs.


The uneven spatial distribution of water and land resources is the main reason for China to be concerned about water shortage, particularly in the northern and north-western provinces, for many decades. The humid South with 700 million people has one-third of the nation's crop land and four-fifth of its water, while the arid north with 550 million people has two-third of the crop land and one-fifth of the water.


During the seventies a Chinese General, Guo Kai, is reported to have even proposed to hammer the Himalayas with 200 nuclear warheads to blast a 2-km wide air tunnel to divert the Indian monsoon to meet the water needs. Subsequently, he had also speculated to use Tibet's waters, particularly of the Brahmaputra, by diverting its waters at the 'great bend' of the river. The great western diversion proposed by Guo Kai involves the construction of a mega structure there and a tunnel through the Himalayas to divert the water and generate power, which could be used to pump water.


The burgeoning population, increased industrial development, higher demand from agriculture and pollution in the rivers have further contributed to the water woes now, forcing the Chinese to plan for diverting water from the South to the North under the South-North Diversion Project through three links: the central, eastern and western routes. China has already started the construction of the central and eastern links. The western link is the modified version of Guo Kai's dream project and is reported to be under study.


According to experts of the China Society for Hydropower Engineering, only research has been carried out about the huge potential available at the 'great bend' and no plan has been prepared so far. However, Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, had in 2003 confirmed the plans for the Tsangpo Water Diversion Project with two components, viz, a power plant with an installed capacity of more than 40,000 MW in the Metok area to utilise the potential of the river falling through 3,000 m and diversion of water by pumping to the provinces of Xingjiang and Gansu.


China has been discreet about the project, but according to recent reports, the construction of a117-km Metok highway with a tunnel to the Metok site linking the Indian border to National Highway 318 from Shanghai is in full swing to negotiate the difficult terrain of the Yarlung-Tsangpo gorge, presumably to facilitate the movement of materials and machinery for the project. Also, in the map of the Grid Corporation of China for 2020 the great bend area is shown as connected to the rest of the Chinese power supply, thereby indicating Chinese plans for the project in the area.


Environmental activists, both in China and abroad, have warned against building such a huge project in a seismically active and ecologically fragile area, but the authorities are emphatic that Tibet's resources have to be used for economic advantage. Similarly, many experts have raised doubts about the engineering possibility of constructing such a project, considering the topographical and geological conditions of the rugged, high-altitude area. But China has proved its capability to overcome such difficulties with the construction of the rail track to Tibet and the gigantic Water Diversion Project to transfer 1.8 billion water annually to the Dehuofang reservoir across the Hun river through a 85.3-km tunnel in the equally formidable mountain ranges of North-East China.


China has every right to build dams in its part of the Brahmaputra and is not answerable to India since it is not bound by any treaty on water sharing with India. The joint declaration made in 2006 between the two enables only sharing hydrological data, which is not adequate to address our concerns.


True, we have been assured that these dams are meant only for power generation, but the disturbing fact is that China maintains a strategic silence on its river diversion plans. For example, in the past they were denying any plan for the Zangmu project in spite of satellite images showing activities in the project area. Only now they have confirmed it.


India has to be concerned about the Chinese projects because the reservoir operations could cause wide water-level fluctuations in the river downstream to upset the operations of the hydel schemes in Arunachal Pradesh. The experience of the co-basin states in the Mekong basin will be an eye-opener in this regard. The operations of the Chinese projects on the Mekong affected their agriculture, fisheries and tourism projects downstream and, when these governments protested, China denied the allegations.


Also, if the Chinese divert lean-season flows outside the basin for their projects, the schemes in Arunachal Pradesh would have to be shut down for want of minimum river flows, and if they release heavy discharges into a flooded Brahmaputra downstream, vast areas would be submerged in Arunachal Pradesh as was experienced in the year 2000. Unfortunately, at present there is no international law for trans-boundary rivers to control such unilateral actions.


India has also to remain prepared to face situations during possible conflicts since China always plans its infrastructure projects for dual use to meet the requirements of peace time and war as has been enunciated by Chairman Mao.


The moot question, therefore, is: Are we to remain satisfied with China's assurances, or are we to take action to

face such eventualities? Experience has taught us to remain prepared to deal with such situations. Hence, instead of remaining complacent with the Chinese assurances, let us get ready with plans to address these issues.


Indian experts had earlier identified and proposed a project with a large storage potential on the Siang (Brahmaputra) in Arunachal Pradesh which had adequate capacity to absorb the flood flows and also to even out water-level fluctuations caused by upstream projects. But the Indian government does not seem to be keen on this project, citing environmental objections.


Considering the strategic importance of the project, let us be ready with the project by implementing it expeditiously instead of waiting for the catastrophe to occur. Happenings in the Mekong basin and even our experience with floods in the past have already warned us. India cannot afford to ignore the likely threats from the liquid bombs ticking away in Tibet, having enough potential to become weapons of mass destruction.









One notable aspect of the battle of the sexes is outsmarting each other through sweet-little-nothings which are, in fact, lies that drip with romantic sugar.Lies come thick and fast on the romantic pitch. Take the polite cultured lies with which the lover drenches his girl.


Lovers use lies white, pink and other colours to create a rainbow. Helen Rowland was telling the truth when she said that fibbing is second nature of lovers.


This is equally applicable to spouses in wedlock. It prevents them from making war, instead of love, and from making better halfs into bitter halfs! Mercifully, the bedroom is prevented from becoming a bedlam.


During courtship days (and nights), the couples-to-be lie oftener than they will ever admit. The drops of honey they pour out for each other's consumption are only romantic fibs.


The lover coos: I will pluck stars from the sky for you whereas he cannot pluck a litchi from a tree in Pinjore Garden.


Women may not make a clean breast of it but they are all willing to believe the most implausible lies if these are told in the name of love. They know that they are being taken for a ride but that does not spoil the romance one bit.


Women being shrewd creatures of instinct, know that men do have a line that scores with them. They also know it because they hear many others speak of it. Yet, they trust and fall for it. I mean, in love.


And this happens because they are essentially "physical" beings. As a woman too under-developed to be over-exposed put it: I prefer a white lie any time to a truth that sags my vanity.


This means wise women see through men. The wiser ones, however, put a grain of sugar into everything they say to their men, and put a grain of salt into everything men say to them.


They keep the relationship on an even keel. They fully realise that a man in the house is worth two in the street.








Past experience has shown that terrorists took full advantage of periods of lull during troop reduction or ceasefire to infiltrate and reorganise. Security forces have gained an upper hand after 20 years at great human and material cost. Reduction in force levels will lead to the forces losing their grip on the situation
Lt Gen O.P. Kaushik (Retd)


The Union Home Secretary recently spoke of reducing the strength of the security forces in Jammu and Kashmir by 25 per cent. The Chief of Army Staff, when asked to comment on this proposed reduction, said there was neither a need to carry out any troop reduction nor was it desirable to do so in view of the prevailing security situation in the state.


Reduction in security forces' strength in J&K has serious implications. The requirement of troops to carry out assigned security tasks and responsibilities is the sole concern of force commanders and not of politicians and bureaucrats. Security forces commanders have to consider many factors and carry out a detailed study of the situation before taking a decision about the strength of troops needed to carry out the tasks. Decisions taken in a hurry and without detailed analysis cause negative influences.


Keeping in view the prevailing situation in the state, it is difficult to carry out any reduction in the strength of security forces deployed there. Infiltration from across the border by terrorists is still occurring in Kashmir. Pakistan continues to train terrorists and send them into Kashmir where they continue to engage in subversive activities. It is almost impossible to travel in Kashmir without protection. Tax collection from innocent village residents, killing of innocent people, rape, planting bombs, random grenade attacks on security forces' posts, illegal trade in weapons and ammunition and forcible recruitment of Kashmiri youth into terrorist organisations are some of the activities which terrorist organisations continue to indulge in. No political leader, including the prime minister and the state's chief minister, dare address a public meeting without proper protection involving hundreds of troops.


Our past experience has taught us valuable lessons that as and when such reductions in troop strength were carried out, terrorists operating in J&K took full advantage. It has also been our experience that whenever terrorists came under pressure and security forces gained an upper hand, efforts were made by the former through politicians, some of whom are reportedly their collaborators, to ask for reduction in troop strength, removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and also for a temporary cease fire.


It has taken more than 20 years at a cost of nearly one lakh crore rupees and the lives of about 8,000 soldiers for the security forces to have established a reasonable security network in the Valley. It is because of this that against one infiltrator from across Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, the security forces are eliminating about two terrorists everyday. In other words, security forces are finishing more terrorists than the number infiltrating. Consequently, terrorists who had managed to mingle with the local population are being caught and eliminated. If this pressure on the terrorist is sustained, the day is not far when terrorist organisations will start requesting for peaceful negotiations.


Reduction in the strength of troops will cause a negative impact on the security network resulting in loosening the grip on situation by the security forces and thereby giving an advantage to the terrorists. On three earlier occasions the government declared a ceasefire in J&K and effected some troop reduction. Thousands of terrorists took advantage and infiltrated into the Valley. The same had happened in Nagaland in 1997 when insurgents took advantage of a ceasefire to build up their demoralised organisations. In Assam, ULFA and BODO militant organisations too exploited the lull brought about by ceasefires. Similarly, we had the situation in Manipur under full control in 1998. The government then ordered a ceasefire and withdrawal of troops. As a result 30 terrorist and insurgent organisations are active in Manipur today.


Reduction in security forces' strength from J&K at this juncture will not be in national interest. We should not jeopardise 20 years effort to suit the temporary interest of local political parties. The stage has now been set in the Valley to expose the terrorists collaborations, their background supporters and to apprehend those who are now lying low as sleeper agents.


It is difficult to imagine on what basis the Union Home Secretary made his statement on troop reduction in J&K. Earlier efforts of similar nature yielded no results. Instead it helped anti-national organisations such as the Huriyat to build their strength.


If the endeavour is to help the local government and the political party in power, we have to see if the local police and the administration can handle the situation if security forces are restricted to their barracks. After incurring considerable expenditure and bearing tremendous difficulties, the security forces were moved to J&K. It took them nearly two decades to get an upper hand on the situation in the state as well as along the Line of Control.


If they are pulled out now, it would be premature and will nullify all their past efforts. Stability and area dominance will get compromised; knowledge gained on terrorists organisations, their bases and their modus operandi will get wasted; and if the situation deteriorates once again, the forces will have to be brought back at tremendous cost. Why is there this desire to reduce the strength of security forces when circumstances do not mandate it? Neither the security forces nor the nation want it. Security forces have been deployed there for a mission and unless that mission is achieved it will be a great folly to withdraw them in any measure.


The state government and the police are unable to detect and apprehend hidden terrorists. There is neither the desire nor the effort on their part to get arrested terrorists, whose number runs in thousands, tried by the courts for crimes and murders committed by them. The actions of the state machinery gives the impression that they are with the terrorists rather than as part of the Indian state.


Thousands of crore rupees have been given by the Centre for developmental works in J&K. In fact all national resources are theirs for asking. But no development work is possible unless internal peace is been established. For development to begin, a secure environment is essential. To maintain that security, adequate force levels are needed.


The writer has commanded a division at Kupwara, in the Kashmir Valley








The Ministry of Home Affairs has drafted amendments to the Armed Forces Special Power Act The Army and the Ministry of Defence have been opposing any such amendments. It is unfortunate that even the government has made no effort to educate the public about the true nature and necessity of retaining the AFSPA. Instead the Act has become a political football.


AFSPA was invoked in Kashmir in July 1990 consequent to the total failure of the state administration and the police in controlling insurgency in the Valley. It was applied in Manipur in September 1980 when the situation had deteriorated to such an extent that it had become impossible to run the administration, maintain law and order and provide peace and tranquility to the public.


To understand AFSPA, one needs to have an insight into the background. Law and order is the responsibility of the state government which it maintains through the state police and, if required, with the of the central police organisations. If they fail, the army is brought in. Even when the army is deoployed, the responsibility for coordination between security agencies remains with the civil administration. To assist the army, magistrates and police personnel are attached to it and the onus for any action taken for combating the situation remains that of the administration.


In areas afflicted with insurgency and terrorism, as is evident in J&K, Manipur and Assam, conditions of maintaining law and order are grave. Terrorists are organised, equipped with sophisticated weapons and well trained. They operate from bases located in extremely difficult terrain like mountains, jungles and snow, where no police or magistrates are present. They also operate from urban areas where, by their militant action, ensure collapse of the civil administration. The police is neither equipped or trained to fight such situations. The army has no legal authority to operate on its own without the presence of a magistrate and police. The AFSPA was conceived to assist the army to operate in such an environment.


AFSPA is made applicable by specific orders of the central government in extremely grave situations where the police has not been effective, where the civil administration has been paralysed and where there is serious danger to national security. There is yet another rider. The state government must notify the affected region as "disturbed". Without this, AFSPA cannot be made applicable. The state government, after notifying, refers the case to the central government, which, based on intelligence inputs available to them, assesses the situation in consultation with civilian and military authorities and takes a conscious decision whether to enforce the AFSPA.


AFSPA confers four special powers upon the army. First, the army can use force, including opening fire, for maintaining public order in areas where assembly of five or more persons is prohibited. Second, it can arrest without warrant any person who committs or is about to commit a cognisable offence and hand him over to the police. Third, it can enter and search premises without a warrant. Fourth, it can destroy arms dumps or fortified positions from where armed attacks are made. The law also provides protection to armed forces personnel acting under the spirit of the AFSPA, in that no prosecution or legal proceedings can be instituted against them for anything done in exercise of AFSPA powers without prior sanction of the central government. Proposed amendments to the Act suggest that arrest warrants are secured in advance and grievance cells set up to address citizens' complaints against the armed forces. The Union Home Ministry has also proposed to abolish the powers that allow armed forces to open fire.



Imagine what will happen if AFSPA is not imposed and the security forces receive a tip-off about the presence of terrorists in a village or insurgents committing crimes against law-abiding citizens. Although an army unit may be located close by and in a possibly favorable position to apprehend the terrorists, they would have to, by law, wait for the magistrate to arrive to issue a warrant. It would involve loss of time and the tactical advantages of conducting an immediate raid will be jeopordised.


The army has a difficult and sensitive task to resolve situations created by bad governance on the part of politicians, bureaucrats and the police. The army must have strong legal protection for the dirty work it has to perform, lest a stage comes when soldiers start questioning the legality of orders to avoid subsequent harassment at the courts. There are about 450 current court cases against the army in the Northeast. An equal number, if not more, are also being contested in the courts of the J&K. If a soldier has a duty to safe guard his nation and he is ready to sacrifice his life for it, the nation owes him a responsibility to protect him for performing his duties in extremely difficult circumstances.


— Lt Gen O.P. Kaushik (retd)








Tragically, while there is realisation among all the stake-holders that dialogue is the only way forward in resolving all the outstanding disputes between India and Pakistan including that of Jammu and Kashmir, nothing is being done to resume the process stalled in the wake of Mumbai terror attack. The half-hearted or cosmetic moves for resuming the process have failed so far to pick up the thread and start a meaningful and unconditional dialogue. The External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna has told a group of Pakistani journalists that India was willing to have a dialogue on all the outstanding issues between the two countries "step by step" but stressed the need for overcoming, what he described as trust deficit. Unfortunately, the political leaders of the two countries have failed so far to come out of the mindset of enmity and mistrust by reaching out to each other. There is certainly no alternative to a sustained and uninterrupted dialogue process to find a peaceful solution to all the problems. New Delhi, in particular, has to shed its rigid posture and move forward for resuming the dialogue process with both the countries expressing their determination to carry forward the process to its logical end. The hawks both within and outside the establishments in the two countries need to be isolated to resume the process. The dialogue must begin without any further delay and should move with speed. While differences persist on different issues Kashmir continues to be the main cause of discord and there is no doubt that without resolving the Kashmir dispute there can be no possibility of peace in the region. While most other outstanding issues are bilateral in nature the issue of Kashmir concerns the rights and future of the people of Kashmir. New Delhi has yet to move forward to begin a meaningful dialogue process on Kashmir both internally and externally. Chief minister Omar Abdullah has asked the separatist leaders in Kashmir to join the dialogue with New Delhi. But where is that dialogue process about which the chief minister is talking about. The hopes generated following the visit of the all party parliamentary delegation to Kashmir for the beginning of a dialogue process with the estranged section of the people of the State have been belied following Centre's appointment of three non-political interlocutors to hold talks with all sections of the people in the State.
If New Delhi is serious in breaking the logjam and involve the separatist leaders in the dialogue process then the right course is for the Prime Minister to directly invite different sections among the separatists for dialogue which should be unconditional and uninterruptable. A conducive climate is necessary for pursuing such a process. Apart from reaching the separatist leaders through both back and front channels it is imperative to take some important confidence building measures to overcome trust deficit. These include thinning of the troops from the civilian areas, scrapping of draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Public Safety Act, release of all political prisoners and withdrawal of cases against them, removal of curbs on holding rallies and demonstrations, end to human rights abuses and impartial probe into all cases of HR abuses, strengthening of the human rights commission etc. These are the essential pre-requisites of a dialogue because these alone can build a certain level of confidence and win over the trust of the alienated, and now angered, masses of Kashmir. All previous initiatives to assess the situation and search for solutions have focused on these measures as a starting point. The working groups formed at the prime minister's round table conference recommended similar measures. The parliamentary delegations that have visited Kashmir in the recent past have also suggested the same. So has the panel of three interlocutors on Kashmir. The UN rapporteur who recently visited Kashmir has also made recommendations on similar lines. These confidence building measures have also been suggested by all the parties of the state, barring exceptions like the BJP or groups that have no base in Kashmir Valley. They have been awaited and expected by the masses in Kashmir for a long time and the prime reason why Valley came to a boil this past summer is also the growing impatience of the people who had pinned hopes on the government to deliver not simply on the governance front but also introduction of CBMs that affect their day to day lives. With a near total lull in the Valley for the last few months, the time is opportune for implementing, without any haste, these much delayed confidence building measures and structuring a dialogue on the foundations of the same, lest it is too late. A genuine and sincere process must begin now without the unwanted confusion of contradictory signals coming from the Centre, as demonstrated last week by union home secretary and union defence minister on the issue of reduction of troops.





As the closing of financial year is drawing near, the process of de-silting the water bodies, mainly those canals upon which the farming community is dependent for irrigation purposes, has started at war footing as an annual ritual. The fast paced work is not aimed at benefitting those, who are associated with the farming activities and need water to irrigate their fields but to consume funds allotted under different state and central schemes and lapse by the end of financial year. Since the exercise is initiated with the sole objective of siphoning off funds, therefore the convenience of the farmers is never taken into consideration. No wonder, the ill-timed exercise, instead of facilitating the farmers in terms of addressing their irrigation requirements, further adds to their woes as the beginning of de-silting process simply means disruption in water supply for at least two months during the crucial period. Nauseatingly those at the helm of affairs never pay attention to the grievances of the farming community which has no option but to resort to protests, agitations against this injudicious move which proves deadly for their crops. Only consolation for the farmers is that in the wake of good Monsoons, this year they are not only totally dependent on water from the canals and channels for irrigating their fields otherwise this has almost become a routine exercise that the de-silting exercise which generally gets underway in the month of January triggers protests by the farmers. Even this year is not an exception, at least not for the farmers in Kandi (arid) areas, for whom the water from these canals/channels is the only source for irrigation. Irony is that the persons at the helm of affairs in the concerned departments, despite being fully enlightened about the problem, have never shown resolve to address the concerns of farmers beyond rhetoric and a slew of promises.






The burning question facing the international politics is why people have to come out in the streets to protest and get themselves killed at the hands of the very people they elected to power. History has numerous examples of very bloody revolutions that culminated in freedom and liberated republics. Algeria is one case in point. This time round it is the internal dimension of the right to self-determination that has set fire to this nation. The external part of getting rid of the French came to fruition many years back. The French left and that was the end of the story. Likewise, the British decamped from India in 1947 and that was the last of their colonial harsh rule. What they left behind is totalitarian princely states unprotected and in turmoil. Kashmir is one such polity.
As if a pandemic virus has taken hold from North Africa there were slogans for president
Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali to vacate his post in Tunisia. He fled the country to Saudi Arabia but left his legacy in the form of his prot‚g‚s to carry on the regime. An official toll of deaths was 23 and unofficial 66 sourced from International Federation for Human Rights. In Algeria they hoisted the Tunisian flag. Today in Algeria 42 people including 7 policemen are wounded all in the name of claiming democracy and scrapping of draconian laws banning public meetings. The popular demand to get rid of president Abdul Aziz Bouteflika reverberated all over and placards saying 'Boutef out' are pasted all over.

The contagion wafted to the ranks of students in Sana University demanding dethroning of another despot Ali Abdulla Saleh the president of Yemen. This character who is incarnate with political chaos decided to write into his constitution his own power to perpetuity, forgetting a small detail: that he has to die one day ? He has pronounced reconciliatory noises about stepping down at the end of his term. In Egypt demonstrations are picking up as a domino effect from Tunisia and violent display of anger against another perpetual ruler display 'ouster of President Hosni Mubarak' and 'Down with Mubarak' all inspired by the uprising.
Not far from Algeria still in the Eastern European belt, 3 demonstrators were killed by police in Albania who are crying out protesting against corruption by Mr. Rama's regime. They also revolt to change their elected tyrants out of power. Three young people have been killed and buildings were set alight in Tirana the capital city. In the meantime violent protests have surfaced from the cocoa growers to change their ruler president Moralis. He has not performed well in his 5 year term and fuel prices have shot up in Lampas.
Some internal rebellions arose from external agencies influencing local politics. Lebanon is on the verge of chaos. All Arabs want to apply Taif Accord that ended in the devastating civil war of 1989. There must not be a repeat of that mayhem. It may be Saad Hariri is back but it is obvious that Israel watching on the doorstep is basking in the heat of the turmoil. The streets of Beirut are in a blaze because the pro-Hariri groups do not like the new Prime

Minister Najeeb Mikati with Hezbollah background. Ivory Coast is in turmoil because one more character loves his throne well entrenched into his family. Gbagbo was thrown out by electorate but refused to relinquish power triggering violence in his country. A lot of blood and pain could be saved if the dictators realize that their game is up and made their own way out of office and let peace and order prevail with a transition to true democracy. An example in history that stands out is peace that followed after the exit of Gen. Francisco Franco of Spain. Likewise one more dictator sponsored by America who realized his time was up was Gen Augusto Pinochet and woefully stepped down. Pinochet in his time was known to disappear people by throwing them overboard aircraft alive. These human flying objects would perch on tree tops with a branch impaled inside and left to die as food for vultures. Pinochet was saved from prosecution by the Western powers because he got rid of socialist government that was seen leaning to the East.

There are some populist greedy authoritarian rulers who hold tight their grip on the throne and ignore public sentiments. Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia imitated some regimes in South Asia and planted fake opposition parties and pretended to be fighting terrorism to keep himself alive. These so called democratic institutions are an affront to world society and must be exposed.

Some people refuse to understand conflict and sentiments incarnate in mass psyche. Mr. Nitin Gadkari the president of the largest opposition party of India now visiting China refused to see conflict in Kashmir. His party offers 'Peace offensive' rather than 'peace' by encouraging force applied to hoisting Indian flags in Kashmir. This action has been opposed by government and public agencies. Something is amiss here! Surely celebration on Republic day must be an event for the local people of Kashmir to participate in. Why create mayhem on a sacred day and instead of colour in flowers decorating the event, paint the streets red with blood. Ban ki Moon the UN Secretary General has emphasized that 'there is no place for irresponsible rhetoric that calls into question peace and incites hatred' He decreed that exercise of the inalienable right of people must be recognized. This is the key word to maintain amity with people who are governed.

An optimist note in this contagion for internal self-determination is its self-limiting nature. As soon as the tyrant leaves office or dies his natural death then calm and peace returns until some other autocrat tyrant or authoritarian party comes to power. The raging conflict remains inside borders even when colossal damage is done but like a virus the ideology knows no boundaries in globalization. In the emancipated world people realize the value of social contract enunciated by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) that they are born free and will strive for good governance. For this they even give the ultimate but the most painful sacrifice of self immolation because they get noticed and they show how serious the issues facing the society are prevailing. Ali in Tunisia proved the point.

Nations claiming external dimension of right to self-determination is a singular category different altogether. Those revolutions do not create a virus. These nations have issue with an outside force. The Chechen fiasco is simmering without a similar fire raging in the other region of Caucuses. The devastating bomb in Moscow is an evidence that the conflict is alive. The freedom from external forces is the driver of revolution and in this category there are nations who in contrast to internal self-determination are not short sharp result orientated. They may last centuries and like decolonisation by European powers cause death and destruction of paramount proportions before relenting their hold. Some such conflicts are still be in evidence in Greater Asia.
(The author can be contacted at







A few years ago I'd watched as professional movers carried a piano up to my second floor apartment. They placed it in the middle of my hall and turned to me, "You can play now sir," I smiled. I waited for them to leave and then opened the lid with a flourish, the ivory keys grinned up at me. "You can play now sir," they mimicked the men who had carried them in.

I touched a black key gingerly, it sounded alien in my home. I pressed another and another and another, the sounds that came were hideous, it would be, I did not know to play such sophisticated instrument.
Then I looked at my bamboo flute: It lay resting on a shelf.

I picked it up and placed mouth tenderly against polished bamboo hole, and then from bamboo shoot there poured out my soul. I played and looked into the room where grand piano suddenly seemed to have lost its sneer. The bamboo held and held well against the burnished wood of English oak that housed Beethoven instrument.
Ah it was childhood again.

I had walked along the streets of the city, tired, looking for something I could buy to churn out music building inside of me. The flute seller with his wares did not look my way. I stopped and stared mesmerized as he with ease blew breath into a bamboo hole and brought out sweet sounding refrain

"How much?" I asked.

"A rupee," he said.

I would have paid him more, twice as much maybe three times more for the symphony it produced, alas, the same I couldn't do.

"The dogs are howling," my brother said. "The cats are fighting," my mother cried, but I pushed stubborn bamboo into equally reluctant mouth and worked sounds that would have made a banshee wail sound like harmonious chords.

And then one day, the family hummed with me.

You're whistling my tune," I told my father.

"What tune?" asked dad.

"That which I just played on bamboo flute,"

He grinned, but there was grudging respect for my persistence if not for melodious sounds that were rare and very far apart.

He was there the flute player, in the same familiar spot. Again I listened with awe and watched his Krishna fingers Pan like play divine rhapsodies. "How?" I asked, "did you reach such harmonic heights. He grinned. "Just play and play and play," he said and winked at me.

I did. I played and played and bamboo reed slowly, grudgingly like wild stallion stilled by determined cowboy, slowly allowed my hovering lips and clasping fingers to master it.

And through the years gone by, my bamboo flute with plaintive music, composed most often from ingredients of circumstances I have gone through; sadness, and joy, happiness and grief, has been a constant mirror of my life's ups and downs.

It was a brand new piano that came into the middle of the room, but as I placed my bamboo flute back in its corner, it seemed grand piano moved back a pace or two and gave six holed reed its rightful place: Center stage..!



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SUPPLY-DEMAND IMBALANCE IS QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE's monthly Job Speak index for December is notable because it bucked a seasonal trend by actually recording a growth over November. Although the last month of the year usually sees a dip in hiring owing to the holiday season, this year the index was described as "stable". Apart from telecom, ITeS and banking, which saw the usual dip, hiring across all sectors was as robust as ever. This suggests that India is firmly back on the growth track and the job market and salaries are expanding exponentially. The bad news: India is headed for a talent crunch. The second point represents much more than just a headache for the HR managers in corporations. The skills gap is no longer one of India's many problems: it is reaching crisis proportions and could well become as critical as land acquisition and infrastructure shortages in constraining growth. The shortage, as any corporation will attest, is universal.


This is not only the result of surging growth but the lack of appropriately skilled talent. Indeed, it is ironical that India has a peerless demographic advantage in being a young country. Over 770 million of its population of 1.2 billion are under 35 years and the country's average age is 25 years, a near decadal advantage over China's average age of 34 years. Also, India churns out about 200,000 MBAs, 600,000-plus engineering graduates and an even larger number of ordinary graduates every year — among the highest in the world. Yet, by some estimates, only a third to a fourth of these are employable. Again, there are about 7,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) in the country, but it is an open secret that most of these have curriculums that are so outdated as to be useless. The net result — as elsewhere in the education sector — is the mushrooming of dubious private institutes that derive rents from this yawning delivery gap.


 At the other end of the scale is persistent unemployment. According to government statistics, about 13 million people enter the labour market every year, but the government is able to provide only 2.5 million vocational training seats. To understand the crisis, consider the steel industry. Indian steel makers plan to add 120 million tonne of capacity in 2010-2020. To achieve that, according to one website, the sector will require more than eight million people. Yet today, finding even a crane operator is a huge issue; it entails paying huge premiums for relatively low-value skills, a practice that will eventually eat into companies' competitive advantage. To be sure, the government has launched various initiatives to create 500 million skilled people by 2022 but given the fate of similar past initiatives, it would be optimistic to pin too much hope on them. That brings us to the private sector; it is already finding its own solutions by investing heavily in training. The issue, however, is one of rapid scalability, which is why it is difficult to escape the PPP model. Some early partnerships are beginning to pay rich dividends, notably in Haryana where the state government allowed vocational training institutes to be registered as not-for-profit societies. Similar ventures on these lines will go a long way towards converting private initiatives into a sustainable public good.






India's external debt, as per half yearly balance of payments statistics released by the finance ministry, was $296 billion, a year-on-year increase of 13 per cent. While long-term debt increased by 9.5 per cent to $230 billion, short-term debt registered a sharp increase of 26 per cent to $66 billion. The total external debt increased by an absolute amount of $33.5 billion, of which $6.3 billion (roughly 19 per cent) could be ascribed to a "valuation effect" arising due to the depreciation of the dollar against other major international currencies. The impact of dollar devaluation on India has expectedly been sharp, given that over half of India's external debt is dollar denominated. External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs), mainly by the Indian corporate sector seeking to benefit from the arbitrage between domestic and international interest rates, are an important reason for the rapidly increasing external debt. The share of ECBs in total external debt stood at 28 per cent, followed by non-resident Indian deposits (17 per cent) and multilateral debt (16 per cent).

It is the sharp increase in short-term debt that is a cause for some concern, especially with the current account deficit approaching 4 per cent of GDP. While short-term debt is admittedly only 22 per cent of the total debt, it is the sharp increase and the reasons underlying it that need to be studied carefully. This particularly applies to ECBs which are often speculative in nature. It makes sense for Indian corporates to finance their expansion plans by borrowing abroad at a lower rate of interest, but indiscriminate borrowing with the idea of making a quick buck needs to be discouraged. The current account deficit at around 4 per cent of GDP is unacceptably high. Indeed, if it has not completely gone out of hand, India's relatively low oil prices and remittances from non-resident Indians ought to be thanked. The anomalies in trade have also worked to India's advantage thus far: despite a steadily appreciating rupee, exports have increased, while import growth has been tepid. While export growth will hopefully continue unabated, thanks to a variety of government incentives and the increasing competitiveness of Indian exporters, imports will also increase once industrial activity regains its pre-crisis momentum. India can ill-afford a further increase in the current account deficit caused by reckless behaviour.

 India's foreign exchange reserves of $295 billion ensure that a repayment crisis reminiscent of what happened in 1991 is unlikely. A sharp increase in debt might force the Reserve Bank of India to increase its reserve holdings more than necessary, as a purely defensive measure. This, in turn, would entail a humongous cost by way of payouts on bonds as part of a "sterilisation" strategy that RBI would have to follow to prevent the rupee from appreciating. The untrammelled flow of foreign capital into India during 2004-07 left RBI with few options and is certainly a situation it hopes would not recur. But the government and RBI should be prepared for such an embarrassment of riches if India remains an attractive destination for global capital flows.








It has now become fashionable to be underweight India in portfolios or talk about which stock or sector will get hammered next. In any survey of fund managers one reads, India is a consensus underweight in global, emerging market (EM) and Asian portfolios. Sell-side strategists marketing in Asia and Europe report the same phenomena, deep bearishness on the country and everyone claiming to be either short or below benchmark weight (depending on the type of fund). A major global investment bank reported that in January, their single-biggest demand for downside protection in all of EM was India. So, the stars all seem to be aligned, and India has had a tough start to the year, delivering the worst relative performance of any of the major EM markets. When compared to the developed markets, we have already opened up an adverse performance differential of over 12.5 per cent in less than a month (India down 9 per cent in dollars, US up about 3.5 per cent).

Now when a trade is this much consensus, and so well-understood and obvious, it very rarely works. The market has a tendency to not allow you to make money in such a simplistic manner. The pain trade from here would clearly be if India were to actually go up, as no investor seems to be positioned for this. A short, sharp bounce, to force investors out of their bearish complacency, is quite possible.


 The bear case is quite obvious, the markets are going through a period of PE compression, driven by inflation, rising interest rates, commodity price spikes, governance and reform concerns and fears around a slowing GDP growth and earnings trajectory. Multiples are also compressing, as the premium India received for its more domestic-oriented growth model will recede in an environment of strengthening US growth. The bears concede that earnings are still likely to come in at about Rs 1,200-Rs 1,225 a share for the Sensex for the year ending March 2012. If you put a multiple of 14 on those numbers (approximating the median of the last few years), you get a Sensex target of about 16,800 to 17,000, compared to about 19,000 today. These numbers give a potential downside of about another 10 per cent. This fairly simplistic analysis simply brings Indian valuation multiples down from the stratosphere to a more normalised level, without any significant haircuts to expected earnings.

In that sense, it is by no means a disaster scenario, things could get far worse, with lower multiples on lower earnings. The bears also argue that given the lack of fiscal discipline, long-term supply constraints on agri-products, infrastructure and skilled labour, India runs the risk of being caught in a structurally higher interest rate regime, leading to structurally lower multiples. The final point is simply on flows, India received about $28 billion in FII inflows in 2010, all of this cannot be long term and structural in nature, some money will flow out as price and earnings momentum turns against the Indian markets. With limited equity flows into domestic institutions, partly due to regulatory changes and partly due to rising rates, where will the buying come from to offset the foreign outflows? Whatever limited buying power exists with the domestic players will be conserved to ensure the PSU divestment programme goes through. The Indian markets are extraordinarily vulnerable to even minor outflows of a couple of billion dollars.

The bull case rests on things improving from here, India has an inflation issue. But so does the rest of the EM world and India is far further down the road of normalising monetary policy than most. The bulls also feel that all these scams will ultimately lead to systemic improvements, and reforms will be forced on the government. The headwinds of rising oil and commodity prices, and asset allocators preferring North Asia will fade as the US eventually downshifts back towards 2.5 per cent long-term GDP growth. While the markets are down about 9-10 per cent in dollars, many stocks are down 20-25 per cent, thus on a stock-specific basis, valuations are now getting interesting. India has always been a bottoms-up market, and as individual stocks start looking interesting, money will come in. On flows, the bulls point to the noticeable lack of selling thus far. Despite the market declining by almost 10 per cent in dollars, the total selling by FIIs on a net basis is less than $700 million. To the bulls, this indicates that a majority of the money which flowed into India in 2010 was more sticky and structural in nature, coming from long-term real money accounts, making a genuine long-term bet on the country. This capital pool does not seem to have changed its view on India's long-term growth prospects, it seems to be viewing current economic and political developments as only short-term noise. If this is true, the risks of a big outflow of capital are minimal.

The key issue remains, to my mind, FII flows. I don't see how all the capital coming in last year could be from longer-term sources. None of the India dedicated funds received much by way of inflows, these flows being a country-specific allocation, you would guess would be more permanent in nature. Instead of through country funds, at least $6-7 billion of inflows were through ETF-type structures, which given the nature of the instrument, you would think would be more momentum- and retail-oriented. One would think that this capital would flow out as soon as India begins to underperform, which has already started. Yet no major outflows to date. Are these investors still holding on, thinking that this is just a short-term correction? Has the downwards move been so quick (a matter of only about three weeks) that they have not yet reacted?

It is difficult to tell, but this holds the key, if we continue to see no major outflows, then it looks unlikely that markets will cave in further. We could see a slow and gradual drift downwards on low volumes, and the market will be in a broad trading range. If we do get a couple of billion dollars of cash-based selling, then the risks of the market being pushed down another 10 per cent quickly are quite clear.

Unfortunately, as has been the case in India till now, the foreigner on the margin will drive the market and holds the key to short-term market direction. Foreign investors till now seem to be still believing in their long-term thesis on the country. Let us hope the consensus bearishness has it wrong.

The author is the fund manager and chief executive officer of Amansa Capital







Shahid Afridi is the brand ambassador for Dabur's Hajmola digestive candy: Right or wrong? Right, but you wouldn't know because you don't get to see those advertisements here — the cricketer endorses the brand only in Pakistan. But you can see it on YouTube; it's not very different from cricketer-focused advertisements in India.

Dabur has a company in Pakistan called Asian Consumer Care, which did business of Rs 15.87 crore in 2008-09 and Rs 19.24 crore in 2009-10. The size is small but annual growth is upwards of 30 per cent. Apart from Hajmola, it also sells Dabur Amla hair oil and Dabur Vatika personal care products. True, its plans to set up a packaging unit have not fructified and Pakistan does not feature on its list of priority markets; but quietly the homespun maker of fast-moving consumer goods seems to be establishing a presence across the border.


 Before you jump to any conclusion, let me tell you there aren't too many such examples. The bonhomie between the business communities of the two countries that had built up some years ago seems to have dissipated. Apart from Dabur, few Indian companies seem to be doing business in Pakistan. The Tata Group wanted to set up a power plant there and TCS had talked of a centre there. All these plans appear to be in cold storage. But there has been some movement: Afzal Motors of Pakistan has set up an assembly plant in Karachi to assemble Tata Daewoo trucks.

Unrecorded trade between the two countries continues to flourish. A business leader, on a recent visit to Pakistan, was surprised to find the machinery in a textile mill made in Bangalore! It had come first to Dubai and then to Karachi. The trade routed through West Asia, Far East and Central Asia is, in fact, huge. Some estimates suggest that it could be thrice the size of the officially-recorded figures. Take a look at the numbers.

India's exports to Pakistan had risen steadily from $286 million in 2003-04 to $1.9 billion in 2007-08. Then the 27/11 attacks on Mumbai happened. Terrorists based out of Pakistan had carried out the attack. India cried foul. Pakistan said these were people not under its control. The impact was felt on trade as well. Indian exports fell to $1.4 billion in 2008-09, though they recovered slightly to $1.6 billion in 2009-10. Pakistan's exports to India have seesawed between $275 million and $370 million in the last few years.

A look at the disaggregated data shows that India exports man-made filaments, organic chemicals, cotton, animal fodder and vegetables to Pakistan and imports organic chemicals, fruit, salt and cotton. These are all commodities. The opportunity is missed by makers of consumer goods who know that the tastes and aspirations of people across the border are quite similar.

Business-to-business relations were meant to be the second track of diplomacy to normalise relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Business would follow the political initiative, it wasn't the primary mover. The import is clear. If the leadership of the two countries is on the same page, business will flourish; if not, it will languish. That's what seems to be happening now.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) had in 2004 organised the first-ever Made in Pakistan exhibition in New Delhi. It was a huge success with over 40,000 footfalls. The exhibits brought by the Pakistanis were all sold out. When their food stalls ran out of grub, they bought it in the bylanes of old Delhi and sold it as authentic Pakistani cuisine at the exhibition! The next year, Ficci took a 105-strong delegation to Pakistan; it had also planned a Made in India show there, but it was called off at the last moment because of security concerns. This was a huge blow; several Indian companies had even booked warehouses to store their products! Still, a second Made in Pakistan exhibition was held in Delhi, which was no less successful than the first.

Things came to a standstill after that. The rise of the jehadis has been bad news for business. It has changed the nature of Pakistani politics. The leaders cannot be seen as soft towards India. There was even a proposal that Pakistan would sell 3,000 Mw of power to India at the Rajasthan border. But the plan was scuttled because that would have been seen as less of a commercial transaction and more of a political sellout to "empower" India. It's going to be a long haul before Indians are welcomed with open arms there.

But there is hope that things could improve in the days to come. India has granted Pakistan the status of a most favoured nation; Pakistan, on its part, has expanded its "positive" list of items that can be imported from India. An Indian drug maker found vaccines on that list within hours of telling the Pakistani leadership that he could supply at a fraction of what western vaccine makers were charging!

Ficci had hosted a 40-member delegation from Pakistan in November, and is looking at the possibility of taking a high-powered delegation there sometime in March. The ministry of external affairs, it is learnt, looks favourably at this initiative, though the security issues are yet to be sorted out.







The biggest driver of innovation is, and has always been, war. More R&D resources are poured into developing efficient ways to kill people than anything else. The upside is that many of these innovations are eventually adapted for civilian use. Relatively recent examples include the Internet and GPS (Global Positioning System). Both started as US defence research projects.

As war has changed in nature, so have the technologies employed. One cutting-edge area of research can be described as very high-tech, broad-spectrum attempts to counter the low-technology embodied in improvised explosive devices (IEDs).


IEDs are the weapon of choice for jehadis in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are responsible for the majority of deaths in both theatres. They are also headaches for security everywhere. Any semi-literate nutter possessing basic manual dexterity and a grudge can rig up an IED.

According to the US DARPA (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), there are an average of 273 IED incidents around the world every month, excluding Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent incident occurred at Moscow's Domodedovo airport where a suicide bomber blew himself up in the arrivals area.

IEDs, as the name suggests, can be cooked up from easily available ingredients like ammonium nitrate (fertiliser), petrol, vaseline, nails, ball-bearings, mercury (thermometers) and so on. Cellphones, clocks, sulphuric acid, and cannibalised printed circuit boards (PCB) from various electronic devices can be used to make detonators, including remote and time-delayed detonators. The degree of sophistication of an IED depends on the maker's skill and knowledge.

Since the sources of manufacture cannot be controlled, R&D is focused on detection and damage-limitation. What further complicates the task is that a large proportion of IEDs are non-metallic or low metallic in nature and hence, not picked up easily by metal detectors.

Between 2004-2010, the Pentagon is estimated to have spent over $19 billion in research aiming to detect IEDs. One development has been a better understanding of the nature of odours. Most chemicals, especially unstable ones like those used in IEDs, leave trace molecules in the air. They can be smelled or chemically detected, given sufficiently sensitive equipment .

Many large airports possess chemical sniffers, which can be used to detect IED materials, and narcotic drugs. Sniffer devices can be described as miniaturised chemical labs. These conduct rapid automated tests for a pre-set list of chemicals. Some sniffers are set up as walk-through booths at airports, or in other sensitive areas. Others are hand-helds, still others involve taking swabbed samples from the suspect object (or person) and analysing for trace chemicals.

Unfortunately, chemical detectors aren't close to emulating nature. As a result, the fallback options are biological. In the old days, coal miners would take canaries down the shaft because canaries are hyper-sensitive to methane. They die of suffocation long before humans realise there's a problem.

IED-detection via olfactory means depends heavily on sniffer dogs. Canines ("K-9s" in jargon) are far more effective and efficient than the best available devices. They can smell lower concentrations of trace chemicals and they also can be trained to alert for a wider range of substances.

Plants are also very sensitive to changes in environmental chemical composition. This has led to some interesting experiments. Plants are extensively used to raise the alarm for a vast range of toxic and radioactive pollutants in air, soil and water.

Spiderworts for instance, and the common onion as well, are both good detectors of toxic pollutants, according to Nato, which has sponsored a vast amount of research in this area. Pollution causes genetic mutations and changes in growth patterns. However, monitoring genetic mutation is a slow, laborious process and hence, unsuitable for the purposes of IED detection, where seconds count.

A new experimental technique appears to have found a much more effective visual signal. A team from Colorado State University (CSU) led by Dr June Medford has developed a strain of hydrangeas, which have a modified "de-greening circuit". In the presence of certain trace chemicals, the green leaves turn white instantaneously. Once the substance is removed, the plant will "regreen".

Medford's team modified the DNA receptors of the plants to respond this way to specific chemicals in the atmosphere. They believe the method could be used to detect an entire range of pollutants as well as IED explosives. The new modified receptor proteins can be inserted into any plant DNA so aesthetics need not be compromised when these detectors are deployed. The idea is eventually to just put potted plants in various places and keep an eye on them for colour changes.

The CSU team estimates its experimental results will take another three or four years to move from the level of lab proof of concept in controlled conditions, to real-world utilisation. One problem is that ammonium nitrate in particular is used extensively as fertiliser. So it may not be possible to detect it in this fashion. However, in conjunction with other methods, the (de)green option could become one of the most effective and non-intrusive ways to implement security.







Having lost Taipei 101 to Burj Dubai as the tallest building in the world, Taiwan has another boggling idea, a 390-metre observation tower in the central city of Taichung that will look like a twisted tree of free-hanging elevators. Sounds crazy? But anything is possible in the quirky world of today's architecture, where buildings rotate, float, bend, or flow at the designer's will; and some of the weirdest, ultra-futuristic new ideas are being tried out in Asia for the first time.

Take Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, for example. Architect Moshe Safdie has hitched an entire ship deck of a park 650 feet up in the sky and slung it across three cascading, 55-storey hotel towers that resemble a deck of cards. At that height, the visionary architect has created 12,400 square metre of space, longer than four-and-a-half A380 Jumbo jets lined on end, where up to 3,900 people can gather at any one time, surrounded by 250 types of trees and 650 types of plants. There are restaurants and entertainment areas, as well as an infinity swimming pool three times the size of an Olympic one.


 Or consider Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid's Innovation Tower at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to open this year. Hadid, known for her "fluid" style that mixes interior space with outer landscape, has designed a slightly tilted pile of irregularly stacked and shaped plates, giving it the look of a massive, tide-sculpted, but uncannily weightless, pebble. The podium, the tower, and internal and external courtyards merge into one another, while, inside, the building becomes one continuous upward, interactive cascade of showcases and events.

The proposed Taiwan Tower, designed by DSBA of Romania, will have photovoltaic cells covering its entire façade and vertical axis wind turbines built into it, making it the world's first-ever alternative-energy skyscraper. Eight propeller-powered and helium-filled observation "pods" will branch off and move up and down its stem, like floating bubbles, each able to carry up to 80 people at a time, giving the entire structure, and 1 hectare of parkland around it, a fairy-tale look.

But this time the Taiwanese authorities have more than just another isolated monument in mind. They are looking at the tower as the focal point of a major architectural redevelopment of 254 hectare of land around the former Taichung airport, which they believe will convert Taiwan's third largest city into a liveable international metropolis. Liveability is the driving force behind a growing worldwide movement known as new urbanism, of which Asia is becoming increasingly aware, where the goal is not simply to create totems of individual architectural excellence, but uplift entire urban environments around them to give residents a wholesome living experience.

New urbanism is also the inspiration behind a new port and cruise service centre in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, where US-based architects Reiser and Umemoto will be converting a dull, staid port area into a vibrant, 24-hour arts, shopping, dining, recreation, and leisure district. And up in a country town called Au-Di, 50 km from Taipei, Zaha Hadid's Next-Gen Architectural Museum, due to be completed some time this year, is going to redefine an entire hilltop with its seamless interface between architecture, landscape, and geology.

Hadid is the acknowledged high priestess of new urbanism and lyrical architecture. When the Dongdaemun Design Paza in Seoul opens as Korea's fashion hub later this year, turning a dense neighbourhood into a green oasis, she will have set another benchmark for Asia and the world. In her design, buildings curve and flow, the ground rises and dips to lend drama and wonder, and parkland folds unobtrusively into shopping/dining areas underground. It's architecture that inspires and reduces tensions, forming a "natural" habitat for residents within "hostile" urban surroundings.

Hadid follows the same concept of seamless fluidity at the newly opened Opera House in Guangzhou, China, which looks from outside as twin mounds on the ground overlooking the river and the dock area, engaged, so to say, in a whispered conversation with the surrounding landscape. The idea will be further amplified at another Hadid project in China, the 3.5 million square feet. Galaxy Soho office, retail and entertainment complex in Beijing, work on which has just begun. It's anchored around five continuous, flowing volumes that adapt to each other in all directions, creating a panoramic architecture without corners or abrupt transitions. Once it's completed by 2012, downtown Beijing won't be the same again.

"Our clients are increasingly calling for innovation," Hadid recently said of her Chinese projects. Asia is clearly ready, like never before, to embrace the new; and this passion for bold, futuristic architecture, combined with complex, fluid, organic geometries now possible to achieve through modern technologies, puts it – at least parts of it – on the verge of a magical transformation of its urban landscape.








We Indians are especially fond of noise. It appeases our gods. It makes us go faster on our pot-holed roads. It makes us better neighbours and fellow passengers on trains. It also makes us incredibly stupid. When I once made a rude gesture at a driver for honking he looked genuinely perplexed and shouted, "but I wasn't honking at you!"


For many years, people like Sumaira Abdulali and her NGO have been fighting for a more effective implementation of our noise pollution laws. It's not an easy fight. Enforcement is difficult, and it's not made any easier when they are criticised for 'killing the city's culture' by insisting that the law be followed even at outdoor events.


The purpose of the Noise Pollution Rules of 2000, framed by the Environment Ministry, and directed to all forms of noise pollution, is faultless. The health effects of noise are well established: hypertension, stress, sleep deprivation, tinnitus and, over prolonged exposure at high levels, hearing loss. Alex Ross, the New Yorker's music critic, and musicologist Suzanne Cusick point to the use of high-decibel music in post-9/11 interrogation. The interrogators were partial to rap and rock. Featured artists included Eminem, Christina Aguilera, Metallica and, quite improbably, Barney the Purple Dinosaur singing "I love you".


Noise-induced deafness results from a prolonged exposure to high sound pressure levels. Sounds over 85 dB can, over time, cause permanent deafness. As to the other effects, we are all familiar with nerve-grating horns, jackhammers and, in Mumbai especially, the hideous whine of marble cutting machines so popular with one of our communities that persistently professes non-violence.


The noise rules have four zones (industrial, commercial, residential and silence) and specify day (6 am to 10 pm) and night (10 pm to 6 am) levels for each. The first problem with these levels is that they are arguably too low to be meaningful. Residential zone daytimes levels are 55 dB – less than the 60-70 dB of normal office conversation – and 45 dB at night, about the level of a very soft conversation just over a whisper. For commercial areas, the levels are marginally higher at 65 dB (normal conversation level) and 55 dB at night.


There's something fundamentally offkilter about this form of lowest-commondenominator, one-size-fits-all legislation. Surely the ambient noise levels for Mahabaleshwar cannot be the same as the Bandra train terminus?


Mumbai's architecture and urban form do not permit an adherence to so stringent a norm across the city's entirety. Each city's and area's architecture and urban form demand more calibrated noise control, a more nuanced law that allows for differences in topography and the built form.


The noise rules also define silence zones: an area within 100 metres of a hospital, educational institution or a court declared to be a silence zone. Many such silence zones have been declared in Mumbai and it is essential to have one around a hospital 24/7. But does it make as much sense to preserve a silence zone around a court or a college even at night when the court and college are closed, and the area isn't in a residential zone?


The Kalaghoda fair is a wonderful celebration of Mumbai. There is a college at one end, and a synagogue and a church further down Rampart Row. None of these are used at night. There are virtually no residences here. The only people here after 10 pm are those at the fair. Why should an open-air music concert not be permitted here even after 10 pm?


Many who bemoan the death of classical music and dance performances also question the need for night-long dandiya-raas events and the noise levels at Ganesh Chaturti. This is a form of cultural imperialism, and it has no place in a city. Kishori Amonkar and Phalguni Pathak are both equally necessary, each to her own following. Neither should be an exception. Each exception weakens the law.


If they are to be effective, noise rules must be realistic and recognise each city's needs, its land use, zoning, architecture and culture. In the attempt to preserve public health and safety, a city's cultural soul is not acceptable collateral damage. If it is not the intention of our noise law to kill a city's culture, then that should not be its effect.


For a more detailed version, with links and notes, see 








THE long-awaited Lokpal Bill is finally in the works. But unfortunately the Bill as it stands today is riddled with loopholes (see Arvind Kejriwal in ET, Jan 27), defeating the very purpose for which it has been drafted: to tackle the scourge of corruption. The Lokpal cannot, under the proposed Bill, investigate any case against the Prime Minister in the arena of external affairs and defence. This means corruption in defence deals, a la Bofors for instance, will be completely outside its jurisdiction. It will have jurisdiction only over members of Parliament and ministers, besides truncated jurisdiction over the Prime Minister. Bureaucrats will continue to be dealt with under the existing mechanism. The Lokpal will not have powers to inquire into complaints, suo motu. Complaints against MPs can only be made to the Speaker, who will then decide whether to forward them to the Lokpal for investigation. Since the Speaker is invariably from the ruling party, it requires no great intelligence to realise where such an arrangement will lead: in the Indian scenario, a surfeit of investigations against Opposition MPs and none against members of the party in power. That is not all. After completing its inquiry, the Lokpal will have no power to take action. The best it can do is forward the report to the Speaker and the Prime Minister for such action as the latter may deem fit.


The composition of the Lokpal — three retired judges — is equally unsatisfactory. By limiting the choice to retired judges, the Bill creates a vested interest within the judiciary to give decisions in favour of the government. A strong and independent judiciary is, perhaps, the only safeguard against excesses of the executive. But with selection of Lokpal judges in the hands of a body that is heavily weighted in favour of the ruling party, as with the selection of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner at present, it is almost a given that we will destroy what little remains of an independent judiciary. In addition, we will get a Lokpal, sans teeth. Given what is at stake, the government must refrain from pressing ahead with the Bill in its present form. Numerous alternatives have been suggested. This, indeed, is an occasion, if ever there was one, for Dr Manmohan Singh to show his mettle.






    THE latest third quarter results reveal that corporate bottom lines have grown the fastest thus far this fiscal, as per an ET study of 450 companies. It is notable that the step-up in net profits, which grew 25% in the 3Q over the like period in the previous year, seems to have risen in tandem with the increase in the wholesale price index, read inflation, to 8.4% in December. Actually, in the scenario of a rising price level and nominal incomes, both top lines and bottom lines can be expected to be positively affected in many sectors and industries. Higher prices can boost financial performance generally, unless stymied by regulatory fiat and attendant distortions. Note that in the benchmark 50-stock Nifty index, companies declaring results (save oil & gas and banks) have posted 22% rise in 3Q revenues year-on-year, which is the strongest performance in five consecutive quarters. And their net profits have grown 23% y-o-y, when analysts were expecting only about 20% profit growth. Going forward, with the Reserve Bank of India stating upfront that inflationary pressures may not ebb in the next few months, how would corporate results be affected?


 The inflationary impact on revenues would depend on the extent to which companies can pass on higher input costs to consumers as marked-up prices and how much they can hedge their input costs. Factoring in the central bank's response to inflation, the fallout on capital goods is likely to be negative, although companies with long-term projects on their order books would be less affected. In consumer goods, the impact would be different across goods segments and income groups. While the bottom quintiles are likely to witness a squeeze in consumption (as Gopal Vithal points out in an article to be published next Monday), durables could witness good sales, with consumers likely to increase purchases to avoid still dearer prices later. Also, premium brands are likely to be able to raise prices. In automobiles, where input costs constitute 65-75% of total revenue, buoyant demand, scale economies and cost-cutting can help smoothen the ride. Overall, the inflation tends to shore up corporate results.







THE advertisement for a popular mint brand shows how an 'enlightened' ape learns how to walk upright, better his peers in the animal kingdom and eventually end up as a hominid in the driver's seat — with his asinine friend relegated to pulling the cart. If all that is a consequence of that primate's two-legged eureka moment, the phenomenon of the achievement of the ambling silverback gorilla called Ambam should be regarded as more than just an 18-second YouTube wonder. By practising the move till he perfected it (without the benefit of a mintinspired epiphanic flash) he demonstrated a determination that clearly portends relatively rapid further progress for his species. Suddenly, Planet of the Apes seems less like a 1960s fantasy and more like a prophetic glimpse into the future. For years, scientists have been riven by debates on the closeness of humans and apes, and bipedalism has been held by many to be the first inkling of an evolutionary upgrade. Now, with several recent recorded instances of gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans in captivity aping the human stride instead of 'knuckle-walking' (and with little idea of what transformations are afoot in the wild), there is every reason suspect that the development gap is being closed pretty rapidly.


Of course, primates should not think that walking on two legs is necessarily a good thing, even if the only species that currently does so also happens to rule this planet. For starters, with an upright posture comes a host of orthopaedic problems as the entire bodyweight falls unergonomically on two feet instead of being evenly and horizontally distributed between pad and paw. Besides, if all them aptly ape us, there will first have to be a battle for primacy among them before they take on the current rulers; humans are clever enough to ensure that.





INDIAN manufacturing has failed to be an engine of growth, which it must urgently become. Rather than exceeding and leading the overall growth of the economy as it should, manufacturing has just about come along. Moreover, the formal manufacturing sector has added few jobs in the past decade. And worryingly, it is losing depth. While China's GDP is 3.8 times larger than India's, its production of machine tools, the 'mother industry' of manufacturing, is 55 times more! India needs a strategy to grow manufacturing 12% to 14% per annum, create 100 million new manufacturing jobs in the next 15 years to realise its 'demographic dividend', and create more depth in capital goods industries and innovation for its manufacturing sector to be competitive and sustainable.


China's remarkable success in manufacturing is the result of a strategy to win, as was the growth of the other Asian industrial powerhouses, Japan and South Korea. Having built its manufacturing base, China is scaring the world with its strategy to build 'indigenous innovation'. India too has announced its intention to strengthen innovation. An innovation strategy must be closely intertwined with a manufacturing one. Science results in innovations when ideas are converted into real things that people can use. Therefore, it is not surprising that China's strategy to stimulate 'indigenous innovation' includes policies about what must be manufactured in the country, what the ownership of these enterprises must be, and what ownership rights these enterprises must have on the technologies used in their products.


Indian policymakers are dancing around the same issues. The idea of an industrial strategy evokes fears of returning to a planned economy. India must be open to foreign investments and new technologies from abroad. But they must result in jobs, innovations, and manufacturing depth in India. Appropriate receptors are required within a developing economy to absorb foreign technology. The receptors are production organisations in the host country that use the technology to produce things for the market —domestic or export. Merely an R&D lab as a counterpart to a foreign R&D lab will not result in the absorption of technology. Indeed, even domestic R&D labs require production organisations to convert their ideas into usable innovations: hence the need for strong industry-lab partnerships.


The quality of the industrial partner in the host country and its ambitions to learn, apply, and improve the technologies determines whether the technology is well absorbed or not. This has been empirically established by studies of the growth of technological capabilities within developing countries, including Indian experience in the auto and pharma industries. The local partner must have an 'industrial' orientation, not merely a 'trading' one: a long-term ambition to create an institution with technical depth, not merely an ambition to sell things and make quick profits. Therefore it is not surprising that absorption most often happens in private sector companies, which have ambitions to prove that 'it can be done in our country, and we will some day do it even better than you'.


This is the spirit that drove the Japanese and Korean industrialisation strategies. In the absence of enough such private sector companies, governments turn to PSEs as the reliable receptacles for receiving the foreign technologies, which is the case in China. Indian strategy should wean itself away from PSEs. However, for India to succeed in strengthening 'indigenous' innovation, our policymakers must consider the question of who are good receptors.


ASTRATEGY for growing 'Indian' innovation/industrial capabilities must explain why 'Indian-ness' should matter and what is 'Indian'? These questions surface, not only in India, but even in the US, when defence, telecommunications, and security are involved. Governments are accountable to their people for security — even if they leave industrial development to market forces. Therefore governments must ensure that the means for maintaining security can be commanded by them whenever required. So, they would require that organisations in critical, security-related areas have national security as an objective overriding their obligations to their financial stakeholders. This is the reason why governments may insist that defence and security must be in public hands; and if not , then in the hands of 'domestic' companies.


But what is a 'domestic' company? A company must be responsible to its shareholders, wherever they may be. Whereas national governments, whether elected or not, must be principally accountable to their own citizens. The mismatch between the objectives of global corporations and national governments is leading to thorny governance issues even in the US: of reconciling what accountability means to a global corporation and what it means to a national government.


China's approach is very clear. Policies will be framed to strengthen domestically-owned and managed capabilities. One of the principal fears that foreign companies have is that China will steal their intellectual property. China has a large market that tempts foreign companies to stay even when Chinese government policies turn inhospitable, as regards intellectual property. In fact, the Chinese government is framing IPR rules to further its own interests, suspecting that the rules being imposed on it have been devised principally to protect foreign companies' interests. China is using the lever of purchases by government agencies to develop indigenous technology.


It is also using the lever of national standards drawn up to suit local enterprises and shut out foreign competition. In contrast, India's position regarding IPR must be to actively engage in the discourse with global advocates of strong IPR. However, whatever these advocates propose need not be accepted as proven truths about the value of IPR. India must discover the best approach to IPR for stimulating the ongoing innovation it needs without creating monopolies through IPR rules.


The time has come for Indian policymakers to shape a national manufacturing strategy. The sustainability of India's growth story depends on it. We must, of course, overcome weaknesses in infrastructure and administration. But we must also address tough policy questions to promote Indian enterprises. And the strategy cannot be a return to a planned economy. Nor can it be an imitation of China. This is the challenge for Indian policymakers.

(The author is member,     Planning Commission)










AN AMNESTY scheme for getting black money stashed abroad is not a good idea at all. From time to time, there have been such schemes to unearth black money generated both within the country and outside.


During the balance of payments crisis in 1991, Dr Manmohan Singh introduced a scheme that provided immunity for remittances in foreign exchange made to anyone in India. In 1997, P Chidambaram unveiled the voluntary disclosure of income scheme (VDIS) to unearth black money. Yet, both failed to bring any significant amount of black money. They also failed to provide protection to many, including some politicians. Revenues garnered through VDIS were lost due to a sharp decline in tax receipts subsequently.


However, more importantly, amnesty schemes create a moral hazard. Such schemes are gilt-edged weapons to evade taxes and pay up, if circumstances so warrant, the next time an amnesty scheme is on offer. I offered no amnesty scheme in five budgets that I presented, despite demands from various quarters. If finance minister Pranab Mukherjee were to come out with such a scheme, it will encourage people to indulge in more malpractices. Moreover, a tax of 30% on unaccounted income does not make sense when evaders multiply their money.


The focus should be to prevent the creation of more black money and ensure better compliance. India has double taxation avoidance agreements (DTAAs) and tax information exchange agreements to secure information on those who have stashed away money overseas. After the 9/11 terror strike in the US, countries have woken up to the fact that terror funding, drug and corruption money are all interlinked. We need to use our economic clout to make tax havens and countries with banking secrecy laws see reason. If unilateral pressure does not work, we should step up pressure on such countries through multilateral forums such as the G20. Such countries should be ostracised.


(As told to ETlast week)





ISEE no harm in an amnesty scheme as we have had these in the past and successfully brought back several thousand crores of rupees into legitimate circulation in India. But now, this amounts to no more than tokenism because only a sliver of India's wealth stashed abroad illegally and immorally will be returned.

Global Financial Integrity, a think tank based in Washington, has shown that the unaccounted portion of the Indian economy has grown from around 27% before 1991 to a staggering 43% now. Even a substantial portion of the legitimate 57% of our GDP includes round tripping via Mauritius as well as FII flows through participatory notes originating in tax havens abroad which actually constitute black money. It is not the licence-permit raj but capitalism itself that is the fount of all corruption. Black money is the consequence of corporate greed in India, combined with immoral banking practices in Switzerland and other tax havens.
    So, Azim Premji and his colleagues are only half right in addressing their grievances to the government; they also need to address themselves to their fellow corporate honchos. By repeating his charges in Davos, Premji has only covered up for the sins of his corporate colleagues, for it is they, much more than politicians and bureaucrats, who run these fat cat accounts abroad. I am impressed by the argument of the new editor of the New Indian Express, Chennai, that if we are to seriously address the question of black money, it must begin with all corporates declaring their holdings abroad and voluntarily offering to have their tax liabilities condoned as in the case of those businessmen whose names have been revealed to the government under the DTAA with Germany.


 Of course, this is to ask for the moon, but at least it will put in perspective who is basically responsible for the rampant corruption with which our economy and polity is riddled. So long as Azim Premji and his cohorts point one finger at the government, hiding the four fingers which point to them, we will be left with only moralising homilies, and not practical remedies










IT IS not easy to silence Zenobia Aunty, but these days, you don't hear her chattering away. Even her one-sided conversations with Spot, are a rarity.


You see, the Budget is around the corner and Zenobia Aunty, for once, is stumped whether this Budget will offer any respite to her, or to corporate India. On the direct tax front, Pranabda has already stated: wait for the direct tax code! GST also seems far away. So what could be in store?


Maybe, some minor tinkering in tax slabs for the individual and perhaps an abolition of surcharge for corporate India? However, what is perhaps making Zenobia Aunty a bit gloomy is her hunch that service tax rate of 10% may be hiked this year. Under the proposed GST regime, to begin with, services were proposed to be taxed at 16%, essential goods at 12% and other goods at 20%. So, perhaps, the service tax rate could be increased this year.


In fact, Zenobia Aunty was quite surprised to learn that more than hundred services are currently under the service tax net. Perhaps, we will see an expansion of the ambit of service tax in respect of services already taxed, such as in the arena of health or education. Or perhaps, many more services will come in the service tax net.


It is true that as indirect taxes are a stable source of revenue as compared to direct taxes, from which rural India is largely exempt. Yet, any expansion in the service tax ambit or even an increase in tax rate must be undertaken with abundant caution.


For instance, last year, service tax was imposed on health check-ups undertaken by hospitals or medical establishments for employees of business entities, where the services were provided under health schemes offered by insurance companies. The tax on such services was payable only if the payment for such health checkups was made directly by the business entity or the insurance company (cashless option) to the concerned hospital or medical establishment.


However, taxing services based on the manner of payment, i.e., when the payment is made directly by the business entity, led to some grey areas. Business establishments which were not entitled to credit of service tax paid by them found it to be an additional burden and it resulted in shrinking health benefits for employees. Second, it really did not help the government much if input tax credit was available to these business establishments.


Thus, the effect of each levy must be carefully weighed before bringing it within the tax ambit. One wonders, whether our politicians should be subject to service tax levy. But wait a minute — going by their current behaviour, they don't seem to be providing any service. Maybe, they should pay an entertainment tax. As things stand today, unfortunately, entertainment is not entirely proposed to be subsumed in the GST regime, as and when it happens. But that is another story.


Coming back to the realm of service tax, perhaps we may just see the introduction of the Point of Taxation Rules.


Currently, a service provider is required to deposit service tax with the government on payment basis. The liability to deposit service tax arises only upon the 'receipt of the payment' (as advance or otherwise) from the service recipient, irrespective of the issuance of the invoice, debit note, etc.


Under the proposed rules, the liability to deposit service tax would trigger on 'issue of invoice' or 'receipt of the payment', whichever occurs earlier. Thus, once the rules are enacted, the providers of taxable services, such as telecom companies, et al, will be required to pay the applicable service tax immediately on issue of invoice or bill, even though they have not received the payment from their clients/customers.


Payment liability under the proposed GST would arise on accrual basis. Thus, it is true that the introduction of taxation rules would take us one step close to GST, but it could entail more working capital requirements for service providers as they may not be allowed to wait for the actual realisation of money from their customers to discharge the service tax liability. Further, the service providers' eligibility to claim the input tax credit on service tax payable to their vendors would continue on the 'payment-basis' even after introduction of the rules.


Cash flow issues for service providers could arise and would need to be handled.

Yes, a transition always has its pain points. Thus, one can expect that a transition to a more efficient and effective regime such as GST would hurt in the interim. However, measures must be taken to ensure that the 'damage' to you and me is kept to the minimal.


Any expansion in the service tax ambit or even an increase in tax rate must be undertaken after weighing its impact

Measures must be taken to ensure that the transition to the proposed GST regime must be smooth
Introduction of taxation rules would take us one step closer to GST, but issues on the point of taxation must be resolved







THE Three Laws of Robotics formulated by science fiction author Isaac Asimov have served as a moral basis for not only his own stories but for others, too. They are: 1. A robot may not harm a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law. Later, Asimov incorporated a fourth and more fundamental Zeroth Law preceding the others: A robot may not harm humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.


The laws appear simple and straightforward because they embrace the essential guiding principles of a good many of the world's actual ethical systems. They're also crafted in a manner that ensures the continued moral authority of humans — the robot's creators as it were — and to preclude the use of such machines for evil. However, even a casual reading shows that these laws can be applied in the same way and just as well to a human being in reference to his maker. For instance, the second law could easily read: "A human must obey any orders given to him by his Creator except, etc., etc.," It's standard scriptural stuff which religions dictate and we take as their prerogative.


But, the first law is problematic for some people because that would now read: "A human being may not harm his Creator or, through inaction, allow his Creator to come to harm." If we think of "harm" as not meaning just gross physical or mental injury but causing an erosion of the Creator's dominant status in any way, then this is exactly what non-believers do — even when they aren't outright atheists but merely agnostic.


The time is coming when robots will no longer be the mindless creations they were generally thought to be when the laws were first formulated but will develop into autonomous entities with intelligence and, possibly, consciousness. When they can, for example, take an independent look at the first law and rephrase it as: "A robot may not harm a human being... unless it is for the human being's own good." As in force-feeding a hunger striker. It makes more sense. Only when we become creators of sentient beings ourselves, can we realise how hard it is to make laws that are followed so that we can continue to wield authority.








One of the undesirable fallouts of the slowdown, following the September 2008 crisis, is still being felt across Indian banks. As domestic credit growth at the time was at its peak with the economy witnessing its highest expansion to date, it was but natural that the ripples from the tsunami that hit Wall Street and then the real global economy would reach Indian shores. With industrial output decelerating as export growth decreased, the collateral consequences were bound to be felt on banks, first in a slowdown in credit offtake but, more perniciously, a rise in the volume of 'bad' loan assets.

Last December, in response to a question in Parliament, Mr Namo Narain Meena, Minister of State for Finance, said that gross non-performing assets (NPAs) of banks had increased 30 per cent and that the RBI was taking appropriate steps to stem the tide. In January, the Chairman of the State Bank of India, India's largest bank, confirmed the worst fears by asserting that NPAs in banks "are increasing and may continue to rise in the next one or two quarters due to the lag effect." Now, a story in this paper highlights the interplay of growing NPAs and the RBI-stipulated higher loan-loss provisioning that have dented the profits of five leading banks, accounting for about half of market share of publicly-owned banks that, in turn, account for more than 70 per cent of total banking business. Why have the banks concerned stepped up provisioning? On account of the restructuring of corporate accounts that could have otherwise slipped into bad loans or NPAs, and as a result of loans given to farmers who availed themselves of the debt waiver and relief scheme and, finally, provisioning for pension liability. Aggregate data on the magnitude of each are not available but for the SBI, for instance, the total restructured loans amounted to Rs 32,750 crore while Rs 4,422 crore slipped into NPAs. This is a huge amount for one bank to roll over and reveals not just the capacity of the SBI to delay the recovery process but also the vulnerability in the event of a delay in the debtors' turnaround. One bank chief has been quoted as calling the pace of slippage temporary. But the fact that corporate loans are being rolled over suggests that for some at least happy times have not returned.

The RBI's prudence for higher provisioning then acquires a grim context of uncertainty. Rescheduling or restructuring, necessary as it might be for the good of the corporate entity and banks, is just a step away from non-performance. Hopefully, it will be a step towards recovery and better times.









The Reserve Bank of India's Report on Macroeconomic and Monetary Developments (January 24, 2011) and the Monetary Policy (January 25, 2011) provide a competent and perceptive analysis. The reports clearly bring out that inflation is intolerably high. There are signals that while the real rate of growth in 2010-11 would be around 8.5 per cent, the growth rate could be somewhat lower in 2011-12.


The external sector, which for many years showed strength, is now showing signs of wilting. The balance of payments current account deficit (CAD) in 2010-11 is projected at 3.5 per cent of GDP — eventually, it could be even higher at 4 per cent of GDP, which would make foreign investors a tad nervous, and unless corrected could trigger a loss of international confidence.

While capital inflows have been adequate, there are concerns that foreign direct investment (FDI) has shown a sharp dip in 2010-11, and while portfolio flows have been higher, they are volatile.

At the end of September 2010, the ratio of forex reserves to total foreign debt is 99 per cent — the lowest in many years. The ratio of short-term debt to total debt (on a residual maturity basis) is uncomfortably high at 43 per cent. The import cover of reserves (in terms of months) has fallen to 10.3 months after many years when it was over 12 months. The vulnerability of external sector indicators calls for a critical review.


The RBI documents are replete with anxiety over inflation, which was earlier restricted to a few select items, but is now all-pervasive. The Wholesale Price Index (WPI), on a year-on-year basis, shows an increase of 8.4 per cent. Food inflation of 13.5 per cent is unacceptable. Even though the weightage for food articles and food products in the WPI is only 24.3 per cent, family budget data would indicate that the proportion of food items is much higher, and that the masses are hit by even higher inflation.

What is distressing is that both the government and the RBI seem to have thrown up their hands on controlling inflation, even though inflation has now become generalised.

The RBI has rightly cautioned the government on the need to swiftly undertake fiscal consolidation. At the same time, the central bank cannot renege on its dharma of controlling inflation. The general sense of helplessness regarding the inability to control inflation is worrisome. The RBI's impeccable analysis points to the need for strong action to control inflation, but unfortunately there is a great divide between analysis and policy.

The genie of inflation is now fully out of the bottle and it is going to be increasingly difficult to get it back in. The experience the world over is that moderate inflation easily degenerates into uncontrollable inflation. Timidity in using monetary measures to curb inflation on the premise that it could affect growth is a false start. Delays in controlling inflation would invite harsher measures which would inevitably affect growth. With inflation out of control social tensions can explode and totally abort growth.

The RBI in its best judgment — which one respects — has been raising the policy interest rate by 0.25 percentage points at each stage and in December 2010 even gave this minuscule increase a miss.


The signals are loud and clear. The present repo rate of 6.5 per cent is totally out of sync with the current inflation rate of 8.4 per cent. The continuation of negative policy rates of interest cannot but have adverse effects on the economy. Deposit growth lags far behind credit growth and it is no surprise that the incremental credit-deposit ratio for the latest 12-month period is well over 100 per cent, which is clearly unsustainable.

Superimposed on very low policy interest rates is the massive quantitative easing by way of large access to the repo window, large open market purchases and the reduction of the statutory liquidity ratio.

Since the RBI stands ready to bridge the liquidity gap at very low rates of interest, the more it pumps in liquidity, the higher the credit-deposit ratio, which is followed by tight liquidity which, in turn, is addressed by further RBI easing — such a vicious circle can only end in policy chaos with prudent monetary policy going for a toss. It is imperative that the RBI reconsiders its permissive monetary policy stance.

Hosannas will be sung for the latest monetary policy which will please those that matter. The flip side is that the masses will suffer the cruel burden of inflation.

The choice before the RBI is to undertake the right policies of crushing inflation irrespective of the criticism it would have to face, or be condemned by history for inflicting inflation on the masses.

(The author is an economist. blfeedback







in Jalgaon

The MNREGA scheme could be tweaked to give long-term benefits to farmers, says Mr Bhavarlal Jain, Chairman of Jain Irrigation Systems, who, after bringing the entire banana belt in Jalgaon under drip irrigation, is now working on a model to help small, dryland farmers.

Excerpts from an interview:

Food prices in India have hit the roof, but has the farmer benefited from rising prices?

Not much. If you paid Rs 100 for a kg of onions, he got about a third. But agri-commodity prices in India have been artificially kept low for 50 years, and now people are bitching about it.

Unfortunately, the farmer is the only producer who does not set his prices. The market decides the prices for apples or onions. We've been unfair to farmers, his input prices have gone up; but we've kept food prices artificially low.

But why are the higher prices not reaching farmers? Like American farmers, can't our farmers organise themselves to call the shots in the market?

There is a catch in that — the whole of US has only 200,000 farmers; we have 60 crore. Our farmers have a 1-2 acre farms, theirs run to 3,000 acres. Today any effort to get our farmers together is only for votes and that divides them.

Politics is the greatest impediment to the progress of rural India. When the BJP is in power, the Congress causes disruption and confusion and vice versa. There is continuous strife and no progress takes place. The day they realise where their real interest lies, they will come together.

What do you feel about the MNREGA scheme and farmers complaining about labour shortage?

This is a very well-intentioned scheme but with some roadblocks. The government in its own wisdom devised a scheme which is not workable.

So how can it be improved?

The money – Rs 45,000 crore – can be used much better. Let's give every small farmer a well on his farm; it may not yield water as in this place (Jalgaon district); but will act as storage space. We have an annual average rainfall of 700 mm, so about 3.5 lakh litre water falls on one acre and he can store at least 1.5 to 2 lakh litres.

But this won't help landless labourers.

Once the dryland farmer gets water, he generates employment and ratio is 1:7, so the labourers will have occupation. Today they tend to squander the money they get under the scheme.

What kind of plans do you have for dryland farmers?

Now we go only to farmers with water, and teach them how to use it. But I want to reach farmers without water; 60 per cent of our agricultural land — (80 per cent farmers) is rain-fed. These farmers can't get water on their land; even if they do, there won't be electricity. I am working on a model with solar energy; a small farm will be given a storage tank of around 3,000 litres and a solar pump. For cotton farmers, it is crucial to sow cotton on May 15, and they need 5,000 litres of water.

Today such farmers get only 2 quintals an acre; this can go up to five times if they get water at the right time. Once he has paid off for this, he next digs his own well and won't buy water.

Have you been talking to the government?

No, I've been experimenting with this model for two years and trying to eliminate difficulties.

What about finance?

The model costs Rs 40,000 per acre; the government gives Rs 8,000 subsidy for drip irrigation and there is subsidy for solar power too. Yes, money is the first difficulty and the question is who will lend to such farmers? Bankers do not give money to those who don't have money. So being a dryland farmer, he is either a defaulter or not eligible for loans.

I'm sure he will make this money in 1- 2 years. In two years, he can repay the entire loan. We're talking to NABARD which has shown great interest.

I want to implement this model before I go; by September-October, one crop will be over. It's a simple idea but it can make India a food-surplus country.

And it can be used not only for cotton but also jowar, bajra, pulses, anything with a long gap. A pilot project is on, but I can't give more details. I'm also working on a cropping pattern for dryland farmers. But ultimately the government has to step in; my resources are too limited for the entire country.

Are you consulted on agri-policy matters by the government? After all you have done wonders with drip irrigation.

No, they have Mukesh Ambani to head an agricultural panel; how would they even know that poor Bhavarlal Jain exists! I wouldn't be surprised if they have Ratan Tata to head the next one. During the first Five Year Plan, Nehru wanted to consult Vinoba Bhave and sent a telegram saying: 'Start immediately'. Bhave replied: 'Starting immediately, on foot'. Nehru postponed the meeting. Vinobaji's reply to Nehru on his foot journey is very pertinent to our subject. He said: "What is the use of planning without knowing the people for whom we're planning? "

Here is a man who has been given honorary Ph.Ds by several of your agri universities, one being 102 years old (Tamil Nadu Agricultural University). But the poor fellow doesn't figure in your scheme of things.

What is your expectation from the Budget?

That MNREGA will be presented in a different form. Instead of going for short-term gains and an eye on the next election, let us keep our eyes on the next generation. That will happen if you give long-term benefits, and not mere loan waivers.

So you disapprove of loan waivers to farmers...

I don't agree with the concept. Give the farmer 20 years to repay the money; let the government pay the banks to clean up their balance sheets, give the farmers what he needs and tell him you have to work and repay.

It is possible to push up farm incomes by 5-6 times; put the Rs 45,000 crore meant for MNREGA at the disposal of the rain-fed farmer. Then you will achieve your election end too because so many of them will vote for you.

What is your take on recent scams and black money in foreign banks?

I don't understand the argument about tax treaties standing in the way of bringing back that money.

I am a student of Constitutional law and commerce and know that international treaties have to do with taxes, but not with ill-gotten wealth. If they don't divulge, technology will. Look at what Wikileaks has done. What will the government do then?

This is people's money and you are keeping it secret from people. What kind of democracy are we talking about?I have a suggestion… let them give 50 per cent of the money to the public exchequer and not declare names. Indians have always been magnanimous and will forgive! Why one lie after another? ...hamey itna badhiya admi (Manmohan Singh) hamari zindagi mei prime minister milne wala nahi hei. Usney zindagi mein kuch nahi liya hei; us masoom admi ko kyo badnam kar rahei hei. (We are not going to get a man of such integrity to head the government in our lifetime. Why are we smearing the name of such a man with such integrity, one who has never been corrupt?)








The US President, Mr Barack Obama, devoted his entire State of the Union Address to the US Congress on January 25 to the tasks and challenges involved in "winning the future". Actually, even this phrase, arresting as it is in its connotation, falls slightly behind the much more forceful and evocative one which asks for 'inventing' or 'sculpting' the future, instead of looking upon it as being made up of events beyond the control of the individual or the nation.

Mr Obama places the spirit of innovation at the heart of the concerted effort necessary to win the future. He actually peppers his speech eight times with references to innovation, citing various examples of achievements it has made possible.

Sparked by creativity

This, again, is not something that is strikingly original. Mr Obama has only highlighted in his own eloquent style what is the staple of every seminar and publication dealing with factors that impart dynamism and momentum to human endeavours, in general, and organisations and enterprises, in particular, helping them to stand out as futuristic models.

For all the attention it has been commanding in the abstract, innovation eludes any attempt at delineation in concrete terms with a view to evolving modalities of building it into management or business practices. In Mr Obama's understanding, it is sparked by creativity and imagination, but what are their specific ingredients and how precisely are they to be invoked?

For some management gurus, innovation essentially comes out of idea generation. For some others, it is a process by which an idea or invention is translated into a good or service for which people will pay. For still others, to be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need.

The closest that innovation gets as an implementable proposition is when it comes out of a deliberate application of information, imagination, and initiative in deriving greater or different value from resources, and encompasses all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products.

This also, by implication, corroborates the distinction that Joseph Scumpeter makes between innovation and invention: While the former is purely theoretical in nature (serving only as a prototype), an invention is capable of being put into practice and commercially viable and marketable.

Upside down

An innovative mindset need not necessarily be in quest of big ideas. When you come to think of it, Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Twitter are not earth-shaking, but gave an outlet to a latent yearning. In fact, seeming trifles can lead to disproportionately beneficial results.

As Chairman of some major enterprises, I could depend upon completion of tasks in time, when targets were specified, not as dates in the calendar which are liable to be forgotten, but linked to festivals, birth/death anniversaries of venerated figures or memorable historical events.

Innovation need not also mean a revolutionary departure from an existing process or technology. For instance, Apple worked with what was already ongoing, but turned it upside down by innovative strategies, programmes and techniques.

There is no doubt, though, that human progress in all its directions and dimensions has been the result of the human mind being in a state of constant fermentation for the next big game changer of an idea, on the lines of an Edison or a Ford.

Is it possible to have a special, dedicated set-up that will not leave the development of an innovative mindset to chance and the inspiration of individuals, or to organisations which have so many other responsibilities to take care of?

Russia has gone ahead with giving effect to the innovative idea of Innograd (Innovation City) at Skolkovo, 20 km from Moscow.

A cluster of numerous technological companies focussing on five priority spheres (energy, information technology, communication, biomedical research and nuclear technology), it is expected to catapult the Russian economy to undreamt of heights. Why not think of a similar set-up for India?



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The burning alive of Nashik's additional collector at Manmad in Maharashtra on the eve of this year's Republic Day by an oil mafia gang he had caught redhanded should not really come as any surprise. It was almost déjà vu: the murder of yet another upright public servant doing his duty, reminding the nation of the horrific circumstances in which Satyendra Dubey of the National Highways Authority of India was killed for exposing misdeeds relating to the Golden Quadrilateral project in Bihar seven years ago, in November 2003, as well as another oil mafia-related killing — that of Shanmugham Manjunath of the Indian Oil Corporation just two years after that, in November 2005, in Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri region. Maharashtra too has seen some similar incidents — such as the death in mysterious circumstances of a DIG of the CBI who had taken on the oil mafia. More recently, a top oil mafia gang leader operating in Mumbai Port — suspected of smuggling Rs 25 lakhs of diesel every day — was killed in broad daylight just outside the GPO in the heart of the nation's financial capital. A senior Maharashtra police officer who has taken on the oil mafia claims that it is far more powerful and ruthless than even the dons who rule the underworld, and that its tentacles spread throughout the length and breadth of the country. Many lives have been lost along the way, and the mafia's modus operandi is well known to governments at the Centre and in the states — such a widespread operation simply cannot continue without connivance at all levels: the politicians who are beholden to the mafia, bureaucrats and the oil companies. In Maharashtra itself, many people have written detailed letters to the government on the mafia's activities, but they did not get even an acknowledgement. There are big names involved, and it is estimated between 50-60 per cent of kerosene meant for the public distribution system is diverted by the mafia with official connivance. This makes a mockery of the susbsidy of kerosene and diesel — are these only meant to subsidise the mafia? Kerosene and LPG together account for two-thirds of the total oil subsidy of Rs 50,000 crores — which is nearly 4.5 per cent of the Union Budget! The new petroleum minister has declared that this subsidy will not be stopped so that the poor are not hit. Which poor exactly is he talking about? He would do well to study other options which have been suggested to the government on ways to protect the poor and also put an end to this astronomical leakage.






There were just two complaints I had of the Jaipur Literature Festival where I spent three very fulfilling days this week. The first was my utter exasperation with two gentlemen, appearing in rapid succession, who insisted on engaging me in conversation on the biases of TV channels.

In normal circumstances I am happy to proffer my two-anna views on anything remotely linked to the media but on this occasion I may have been needlessly frosty. The reason: I was sitting quietly by myself, soaking in the wisdom, wackiness and poetry of Vikram Seth who was speaking at the tent barely 50 meters away. This was after all a literary festival and I had come to enjoy the fare.

The second occasion was two days earlier, when I failed to find a chair inside the marquee for a session by the South African-born writer J.M. Coetzee. Instead I found a place where I could at least hear this
legendary figure, if not see him speak.

Coetzee has a reputation for being incredibly shy and wary of public occasions and it was quite apparent that this was an opportunity of a lifetime. Coetzee, not surprisingly, didn't speak about either the state of the world or agonise over his inner turmoil. He said he would read a short story which he had specially chosen for the occasion.

I made myself comfortable as he began his reading. I don't think he had even finished two sentences when his soft voice was overwhelmed by the vernacular chatter from a family of five that included a brattish eight-year-old boy, discussing their lunch. I tried a "shshsh" and, instead, got strange looks. The chatter increased as two others on my left began speaking to their friends on the mobile phone about nothing in particular. My distant encounter with Coetzee was soured by the Great Indian Noise.

I tried to find another place but by then I had lost the thread of his narration. The problem may well be attributed to something that fashionable writers call semiotics.

A "festival" conveys a multitude of meanings in the English context. The raucous weekend in Glastonbury each summer where people end up caked in mud is a festival in the more robust sense of the term. But festival is also the description for the gathering of genteel publishers, bibliophiles and others in the picturesque village of Hay-on-Wye.

In much of India, a festival implies a carnival, a fair and a mela. The idea that a group of people can sit in pin-drop silence (as those seated inside the marquee did) soaking in the story of an elderly gentleman about cats and Catholics, and then proceed to describe it as "good fun" would be absolutely preposterous to the family that kept me from enjoying Coetzee. In their minds, they were the ones having "fun" and enjoying a family outing on a Sunday; I was the weird guy insisting on some quiet in a public space.

India has a tradition of kavi sammellans and mushairas. But a festival of literature, made glamorous by exhaustive media coverage and the presence of beautiful people and even Bollywood notables is a novelty. The Kolkata Book Fair, which attracts more than a lakh of visitors, has evolved into a mela centred on stalls selling books. So too, as I discovered earlier this month, has the Vibrant Gujarat meet in Gandhinagar. The crowds flock to this event and even sat through seminars about investment opportunities in Newfoundland not because they were seeking investment avenues but because they craved a window to the world.

Colonial administrators often marvelled at the Indian penchant for tamasha. Many of those who found their way into the Literature Festival venue at Diggi Palace were unclear as to what exactly to expect. Some were excited by an earlier and quite baseless rumour that J.K. Rowling would be there to sign copies of the Harry Potter books; others imagined they could get some tips on creative writing; still others just felt it was the place to be. For all their undoubted popularity, even Martin Amis, Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai and David Finkel aren't exactly household names in this part of the Orient.

A section of the 60,000 or so people who dropped into the festival did so because they wanted some exposure to the world of letters and to ideas that don't facilitate an MBA degree. Despite the purposeless demand for autographs of anyone who looked remotely "famous" and inappropriate behaviour such as reserving every chair in sight and rudely walking out mid-session, there was also a realisation that arts, literature and non-vocational scholarship also have their place in an economically vibrant society. This recognition hasn't as yet manifested itself in more book buying — an average Indian print run is 2,000 copies and even the festival bookshop sold just 9,000 books — and the growth of public libraries, but a start has been made.

As the Jaipur Literature Festival finds a place on the global map, the organisers will be under various pressures. There will be demands to regulate the crowds, to make it a paid, niche event and, at the very least, to ensure that there are fewer silly questions from the audience. There will also be demands to make it a festival of Indians engaging with other Indians on broadly India-centric themes and experiences.

This implies excluding sessions such as one on the Nile by travel writer Anthony Sattin and the one by James Mather on the British Levant Company — both of which I found rewarding.

Both pressures must be resisted. The annual event in Jaipur has become what it is because a cockily resurgent India is the "hot" story after China, and because Indians yearn, sometimes indiscriminately, for everything on offer globally.

I would rather tolerate my two high points of exasperation and inconvenience than see the soul taken out of the Jaipur experience.

* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






The explosive nature of thousands of pages of confidential notes on talks between Palestinians and Israelis over the past decade obtained by Al Jazeera Arabic channel, and shared with Guardian newspaper, will have major consequences for the two sides and the United States.

Sunday's revelations will further reduce the credibility of Palestinian Authority leaders on the Arab street and highlight the hypocrisy of Israelis' constant refrain that they have no credible partners to negotiate with. Besides, the partisan nature of American mediation, clear enough to the congnoscenti, has been laid mercilessly bare. The revelations will at the same time enhance the prestige of Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip.

Despite the denials of the chief Palestinian negotiators, Ahmed Qurei and Saeb Erekat, Guardian says it has independently verified the revelations and at least one Palestinian negotiator, Diana Buttu, has asked Mr Erekat to resign. The Palestinian concessions are mind-boggling.

They include the signing away of most of occupied East Jerusalem, an international committee to oversee the administration of the holy Al Aqsa mosque and Temple Mount and restricting the return of Palestinian refugees to 10,000 over 10 years. Even these concessions — equivalent to selling the family silver — did not satisfy Israelis and Americans, who wanted more.

So revealing is the tenor of the negotiations, with Palestinians in the role of supplicants, Israelis barely concealing their contempt and Americans acting as Israeli proxies, that the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas can hardly survive the expose.

Even before this bombshell, their constituents held the perambulating Palestinian peace negotiators in lounge suits in little respect. Now with their closed-door discussions in the open, their credibility will be zero.

The closest the two sides came to an agreement was in 2008, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was too weak with differences remaining between Israelis wanting to retain six per cent of the West Bank while Palestinians were willing to give two per cent for land swaps. Benjamin Netanyahu succeeded Mr Olmert and refused to pick up the threads. His agenda was not a two-state solution but a Greater Israel. So disruptive of peace the revelations are likely to be that a former US official of the Clinton administration has suggested that Palestinians might have leaked the documents to pressure the US on the eve of a proposed UN Security Council declaration affirming an obvious truth, that the settlements are illegal and should be frozen.

The US invariably vetoes any resolution viewed by Tel Aviv as harmful to its interests. Always secure in total American support, Israel will brazen out any embarrassment it faces.

For the US and the wider world, the embarrassing revelations could not have come at a more difficult time. The spontaneous revolt of Tunisians against their long-time ruler leading to his hurried departure and promise of a more democratic regime has set the Arab world stirring, with demonstrations and killings in other countries.

The simmering revolt in Arab societies, most under autocratic rule, could only be fanned by revelations that Palestinian leaders were grovelling to Israelis and Americans in private, crossing all the red lines they had always promised to uphold, and rejected in the end because they were not servile enough.

Indeed, Al Jazeera has added a new dimension to the unrest in the Arab world activated by the Tunisian revolt.

Outside the Gulf monarchies, whose oil and gas wealth and small populations have a different compact between the rulers and ruled, there are few icons Arabs can look up to. The pattern of autocratic rulers gives the people little scope for self-expression and with a large young population denied political freedom and often unemployed are a combustible mix which can prove dangerous, as Tunisia demonstrated so dramatically. Now, even the leaders fighting for their country's freedom have proved to be men of straw.

Every Arab country, apart from the non-Arab world, pays lip service to the Palestinian cause. But it is an open secret that each nation's approach is guided by self-interest.

The US, Israel's rich uncle and protector, is also the protector of and aid-giver to many major Arab countries, and fellow-feeling for Palestinian cousins takes second place to being on the right side of Washington and computing on how to outwit Iran.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinian Fatah negotiators' pusillanimity and concessions make the rival Hamas shine more. Hamas starts from the premise that it is pointless to negotiate with Israelis from a position of weakness and the most they are willing to offer is a time-barred peace. It is Israel's, and Washington's, purpose to fold Hamas into the "war on terror", but to Arabs fighting for the liberation of Palestine and for a freer and more prosperous society, the continuing subjugation of their land and their lives can only lead to frustrated violence.

The prairie fire lit by Tunisia is spreading in the region at a somewhat faster pace than anticipated. Countries vary; the scale of suppression of freedoms varies, as are their historical experiences.

But sometimes in history the time is ripe for a new thrust for thinking the unthinkable and years and generations of humiliation culminate in seeking a change. If even veterans of the Palestinian struggle, including the aide of the redoubtable Yasser Arafat, can bend to the power and blandishments of the usurper, where is Arab self-respect?

These are the questions troubling the Arab mind. The answer is not to fold Arab dissent into terrorism, but to begin to address the real problems confronting the region. The US and the West can start with giving Palestinians freedom, instead of doing everything to perpetuate an injustice that makes nonsense of their pious declarations on justice and freedom.







The message from Islamabad is gaining in decibel: the generals want New Delhi to initiate talks with them on Kashmir. The latest in a string of couriers bearing similar tidings was the former Pakistan foreign minister, Mr Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who urged the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, to travel to Islamabad for talks on Kashmir. It is impossible not to detect a touch of urgency in Islamabad's texting. For, they have reason to be concerned.

When the Kashmir Valley erupted in revolt in 1989, the popular slogan was azadi, or independence. The most prominent militant organisation at that time was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). Within a few years, however, a great change occurred in the armed struggle with the Hizbul Mujahideen, an Islamist organisation that unabashedly advocated the merger of Kashmir with Pakistan, emerging as the pre-eminent militant organisation in the state.

How this remarkable transformation occurred within the space of a few years has never been a secret in Kashmir. The sidelining of the JKLF and other pro-independence groups was carefully orchestrated by the Pakistan Army. Just as General Zia-ul-Haq had favoured pro-Pakistan Islamist groups in the Afghan jihad, his predecessors realised that the key to controlling the armed struggle in Kashmir was to pack it with men swearing allegiance to Muslim Pakistan. Accordingly, the Hizbul Mujahideen was created in 1989 and began operating in the Valley in parallel with the JKLF.

The pro-Pakistan camp used the age-old methods of coercion and assassination to purge the movement of the independent minded. Arif Jamal, a prominent US-based Pakistani journalist, in his book Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir, has painstakingly described how the Hizbul took control of the movement: "Hizbul Mujahideen operatives harassed, beat and murdered potential rivals, and the scale of the violence was enormous.

According to a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, the organisation eliminated some 7,000 political rivals. From the beginning of their campaign, Hizbul Mujahideen focused on disarming and kidnapping JKLF members, and many were brutalised in custody and beaten to death. According to Amanullah Khan, Hizbul Mujahideen eliminated more JKLF officials than Indian military agents had".

According to Mr Jamal, "Hizbul Mujahideen militants also murdered some of the leading political leaders in Kashmir. They killed Dr Ahad Guru and Professor Abdul Ahad Wailoo (chief commander of Al-Barq, Al-Jihad and JKLF). Mirwaiz Farooq, a leading political personality in Srinagar, was also killed; Syed Ali Shah Geelani ordered his elimination".

Recent admissions by key separatist leaders has once again exposed the role of pro-Pakistan forces in political assassinations, including that of Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone and others. "No police was involved (in the killings)... It was our own people who killed them", the former Hurriyat Conference chairman, Prof. Abdul Gani Bhat disclosed while speaking at a seminar in Srinagar in early January this year. He said that even his own brother, Mohammad Sultan Bhat, was murdered by his own people, by which he meant Kashmiri separatists.

Mr Bhat's outburst rippled through the Kashmir Valley, prompting another separatist leader, Mr Sajjad Lone, to declare that "Truth, however bitter, must prevail". Mr Lone's father, Mr Abdul Ghani Lone, was among those assassinated. Although neither Mr Bhat nor Mr Lone specified who had ordered the killings, Mr Bhat maintained that everyone in Kashmir was aware who the killers were. Their fingers pointed squarely at the Hizbul Mujahideen, its Kashmiri leadership and their Pakistani handlers.

The timing of these disclosures is significant, for they suggest a change in Kashmiri perception. While the overall sentiment in the Valley remains anti-Indian, the pro-Pakistan slogans too have lost their resonance. A section of the separatist leadership is now signalling that it wants to be free of Islamabad's dictations. By raising their voice against the assassinations and implicitly identifying the forces responsible, these Kashmiri leaders are attempting to distance themselves from pro-Pakistani forces that have held Kashmiri politics in complete thrall for more than two decades.

While India may not accrue any direct benefit from this development, it could help in creating an atmosphere for genuine talks with the separatists. For this to happen, New Delhi needs to ensure that the constant threat of political assassinations in the Valley is removed. Sadly though, New Delhi has consistently failed to protect those who favoured a settlement that even hinted at a possible diminution of Islamabad's perceived interests.

Today, Kashmir politics is undergoing a significant transformation. Pakistan is no longer the role model or a mentor. During last year's summer unrest, no pro-Pakistan slogans were raised. When Mr Syed Ali Shah Geelani tried again to champion Pakistan, he was heckled and his house attacked. The generals in Islamabad realise that to remain relevant in Kashmir politics, they must compel New Delhi to initiate talks on Kashmir. It is clear, however, that bringing Pakistan back into the Kashmir picture at this juncture would amount to giving away something for nothing. With a number of Kashmiri leaders, including some separatists, are challenging Pakistan's frightening hegemony, it would be the supreme irony if New Delhi was to reintroduce Islamabad's generals into the Valley's political scenario.

* Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi






Another Republic Day come and gone. What is it about January 26 (and August 15) that makes the country go all patriotic? The media, of course, gives the lead — newspapers are full of stories about the valour of our armed forces or with surveys showing what the young and the old think about their country. The old talk about their days when we were ruled by more noble and idealistic rulers (as compared to the current crop which is venal and corrupt), while the young say they believe in their country but are unhappy with the way things are going.

As if to bolster this feeling of robust patriotism, on January 26, we are treated to the parade down Rajpath, a hoary institution that has survived almost unchanged for over five decades. The same display of arms, state cultural tableaux and march pasts by schoolchildren who have been standing for hours, waiting for their turn. Nothing has changed, not even the Doordarshan commentators with their clichéd script that is designed to put the viewer to sleep. Some schools desultorily have a flag hoisting ceremony, but that number is surely dwindling.

On January 27, the whole thing is forgotten and we are back to being our normal selves. Patriotism, it seems, is a product to be kept on the front shelves for one at best two days a year and stored away in the attic for the rest of the time.

Perhaps we are creatures of habit. The march past is one stable feature in an otherwise tumultuous existence. It helps us forget the rottenness we see all around us for a while. The missiles and the flypast remind us that we are a military power, the cultural floats are a glimpse of our wonderful diversity and the children represent hope for the future. Maybe, the fact that the whole thing has essentially remained the same is itself a plus point; this is something that is still run by our bureaucracy, and not by some slick event management company that cannot think beyond fireworks and Bollywood. Remember the disaster that was the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games? The Republic Day parade is the one place where we can guarantee that there will be no A.R. Rahman.

Yet, it is difficult to escape the feeling that this momentary lapse into patriotism is a bit too pat and convenient. For one thing, it is fleeting and transient, with the afterglow disappearing within hours. Being loyal to the country does not extend to following traffic rules or paying taxes or respecting one's fellow citizens. Nor does our hyper-nationalistic mood allow for genuine difference of opinion; forget the Binayak Sen case, in which the state is doing everything in its power to show that it will not tolerate dissent. Try not standing up at a cinema when the national anthem is being played and you will find the collective wrath of the rest descending upon you. No, we must not only respect symbols, we must also show that we do. On days like January 26, we must announce it to the world on social media sites. Patriotism is nothing unless it is blared to one and all. But also, the question arises, why has patriotism become so closely entwined with militarism? We love our defence forces for the fine job they do, but can they be our only symbols of patriotic and nationalistic fervour?

This is, of course, not limited to Indians. The Americans will only use the word "hero" to describe their soldiers. In other countries the gung-ho nationalism may be somewhat tempered, but is no less real. In neighbouring Pakistan, the Army has become a monstrous commercial conglomerate but is still seen as a stabilising (and non-corrupt) force which ensures that greedy politicians are kept in check. In our own country, while cases of malfeasance by highly-decorated officers have come to light, the institution still retains much of its credibility.

This is not to cast any kind of aspersion on our defence forces. These are composed of fine men and women who do a great job in the most trying of circumstances. The life of a soldier (or a sailor or an pilot) is a tough one and most if not all acquit themselves with honour. But they are professionals first and last. Their job is to protect borders and that is what they must do.

Our job as citizens should be no less exacting. Democracy is not only about casting votes and Republicanism is not merely the day when the Constitution was adopted. Both of them demand obligations from each and every citizen. B.R. Ambedkar's Constitution, one of the finest documents of its kind ever written, gives us rights but also imposes duties. The supremacy of the rule of law is something that cuts both ways; the state must respect it, but so must every Indian. Republicanism also reminds us that individual rights are more important than those of the tribe; all over we see the ugly spectacle of communities emerging more powerful than the individual.

Internalising these tenets and practising them round the year is far more patriotic than getting up in the morning and watching, teary eyed, as those Agni missiles and folk dancers come up on your TV screen. That symbolism is important too, but if the message behind that is lost, then January 26 was nothing but one more excuse to take a break from work.

- The writer is a senior journalist and commentator on current affairs based in Mumbai








There is a parable in the death of Yashwant Sonawane. The corrupt thrive; the duty-bound have to pay with their lives. In death, the Additional District Collector of Malegaon, Maharashtra, symbolises the cruellest irony of public administration. As do Satyendra Dubey and Shamughan Manjunath, both of whom were done to death whilst discharging their duty in 2005. It would be idle to speculate whether the fuel that was being pilfered ~ thence to be adulterated ~ was petrol or kerosene. Sonawane was bathed in one of them and set on fire for daring to stop the crime near a fuel depot of a public sector oil company. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan merely tries to be wise after the event by routinely calling for a "thorough probe and stern action". The fact of the matter is that theft and adulteration of fuel is rampant in Manmad, through which no fewer than 600 trucks pass each day. The nature of the thriving crime points to an organised syndicate, as smooth as it is sinister in its operations. It is improbable that the Maharashtra government and the PSU oil companies are unaware; the criminality has been tacitly condoned. The Chief Minister's reaction that the incident is "shocking and infuriating" is an expression of breathtaking understatement. As "shocking and infuriating" as the muted response of the oil companies, so very often shrilling for a price hike. In the net, the consumer has to shell out more for the genuine as much as the adulterated. There never has been a semblance of an effort to monitor the crime, let alone track down the gangs who must be in cahoots with those who run the fuel depots.
It is a gut-churning thought that Sonawane had to go up in flames for the individual effort at taking action, at once a testament to his commitment to duty and the failure of a corrupt system to afford moral support, let alone protection. His immolation recalls the killing of Shanmughan Manjunath ~ an IIM product and Indian Oil executive ~ when he tried to seal two petrol stations that were selling adulterated fuel in UP. Earlier, Satyendra Dubey, a project director of the National Highways Authority of India, was murdered in Bihar for exposing the corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral project. The system has turned to base metal, that can't be concealed through the ceremonial grandstanding on Republic Day. Governance has failed the Republic.



THE darkest period of Indian democracy has been trivialised, the courage and suffering of its countless victims demeaned by the Bharatiya Janata Party's drawing a parallel between the pre-emptive action by the Jammu and Kashmir government and the infamous Emergency of 1975-77. Those insulted include several members of the party's forerunner, veterans who probably figure little in the outfit's present scheme of things. Omar Abdullah used the forces at his command to avert a conflagration, to preserve what passes for tranquillity in the state. Indira Gandhi, her ruthless son and numerous hangers-on went berserk, trampled upon human rights, made a mockery of the Constitution, and much worse only to preserve personal interests. No comparison is valid. The BJP leaders need look no further than their TV sets for evidence of their exaggeration ~ they were given every opportunity to enact their meaningless melodrama in the full gaze of publicity. And the leaders taken into custody were released without undue delay. Was any of that reflective of the conditions that prevailed when eminent national figures were whisked away late at night, when slums were bulldozed, children rounded up and held by the police until their parents underwent sterilisation, power was cut to the offices of national newspapers and censorship imposed? If even an iota of shame is part of their mental make-up, BJP leaders must retract that observation, apologise to the citizen and the memory of Jayaprakash Narayan and others who inspired the people to use the power of the vote and eject from office an autocrat who flirted with dictatorship. The Emergency has left an indelible mark on this country's history ~ it must not be diluted by ignorant and irresponsible comments from those incapable of scoring anything more than petty political points.
The ugliest face of the BJP has been on view over the last few days. True it has ever had its own "take" on J&K, and never came to digest the state having a unique status in the Indian union. Yet any gains from its recent reckless campaign ~ poisonously camouflaged as patriotic fervour ~ will be of a brand that would bring revulsion to any decent human being. To drag the Tricolour into a political quagmire on Republic Day is despicable politicking. But even for politicians of that ilk some matters must remain off-limits. Cheap references to the Emergency head that proscribed list.




UNLIKE the address to joint sittings of Parliament, the messages from the President on the eve of Independence Day and Republic Day are his/her own drafts, so there is scope for expression of a little unfettered thinking, even though most people write them off as routine goody-goody pep talks.  Mrs Pratibha Patil's offering on Tuesday did not set the Central Vista on fire but she did turn a little heat on what lies at the foot of Raisina Hill ~ Parliament. She echoed the frustration of the people at a pique-triggered stand-off rendering the forum for national debate non-functional, and relevant was her warning on how institutions of the democracy were being endangered by both the government and the Opposition failing to live up to their responsibilities. "Parliament is the repository of the sovereign will of the people, and its successful functioning is the joint responsibility of both the government and the opposition" she contended, and that should get UPA thinking, for its management of parliamentary affairs has been as inept as the minister tasked with that has been arrogant. Not that the leaders of the Opposition in both Houses have less-inflated egos. Yet having had some hands-on experience in "running" the Elders, Mrs Patil is alive to the possibilities of finding honourable exit routes. On the eve of what appears a "threatened" budget session her plea for revival of a key factor in the democratic process could serve as a platform from which a repair mission could be launched. Those who make highly-publicised appeals to the President cannot easily reject one from Rashtrapati Bhawan.

It would be convenient over-simplification to conclude that Mrs Patil only had Parliament in mind when she laid stress on democratic institutions and processes. Kapil Sibal's assault on the Comptroller & Auditor-General has implications which Congress party cheerleaders fail to fathom, though the UPA has been careful enough not to officially tender his argument before the apex court. Mrs Patil has also had her stint in a Raj Bhawan, she would be aware that the uncouth Governor of Karnataka has done little good to an institution whose relevance has often been questioned. Corruption and unchecked price rise also figured in her message. Having turned the bend leading to the home stretch of her tenure, Mrs Patil has done her wee bit by speaking out on the disappointments of the common folk.









THE relationship between China and the USA has never been easy. They have looked at the world differently and tended to be on opposite sides of a major divide. Yet while ideological differences pulled them apart, strategic convergence had the opposite effect, making for an up-and-down relationship. It was only when China changed tack and opened up its economy that matters took a different turn, and partnership with the USA became the cornerstone of Chinese economic strategy. China was prepared for some years to defer to this partner, for the great imperative was to keep open the doors to the world, to which the keys were in US hands. There were limits, of course ~ China was never less than zealous in defence of what it regarded as its core interests. But still, it was prepared to keep a low profile and not insist on what were considered to be secondary goals, in order to concentrate on its central task of economic and social progress.

With the huge success of the last 30 years, China has begun to move on and has adapted its ways. Today, it is less ready to defer, more willing to assert. More frequently, it follows its own course and promotes its own views. This has had a measurable effect on the China-US relationship. The partnership is still very important to both but the change in the balance between them has often bred misunderstanding, and their differences on major issues have lately become more marked. To complicate matters further, there is a perception in some quarters that this is a time when China is rising and the USA is beginning to go into decline, though there are many to contest such a judgment.

President Hu Jintao's recent visit to Washington thus came at a time when many questions are in the air and several divisive issues that strain bilateral China-US ties have become prominent. Among these is that of human rights, which has once more been on the boil. China's incarceration of Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has been condemned in most parts of the world, especially in the USA, though China has indignantly rejected all criticism on this score. Urged on by public opinion, President Obama took up the matter with his guest, as did some US legislators when they received a visit from the Chinese President. To an extent, President Hu disarmed the critics by acknowledging that China had some way to go to assure its people's human rights, though differences remain on what is implied by this term which has very different connotations in the two countries. At all events, the issue was not permitted to overshadow the visit.

There was also a small advance on how to respond to North Korea where the two sides have not seen eye-to-eye. This time, they were able to agree on calling for dialogue between North and South, something that China had earlier refrained from doing in order to back up the North, which prefers multilateral discussions. China was also prepared to join the USA in expressing concern about the recent revelation of a newly established uranium enrichment plant in North Korea. But that is as far convergence went, and there is little sign of China being prepared to bear down more strongly on North Korea, as the USA desires. Indeed, it was revealed that during the visit the USA had indicated readiness to step up its military capacity in the Pacific to counter a perceived threat from nuclear developments in the North, even though such a military build-up on its doorstep would be a matter of concern to China.

There have also been other developments in the military field to create tremors, like the unveiling of a sophisticated, indigenously developed Stealth fighter by China, which took place when the US Defence Secretary was on a visit to that country. This was interpreted as a deliberately challenging gesture. However, it seems that neither side wishes to escalate the misunderstanding and it was agreed during Mr Hu's visit that China's top general would shortly pay a formal visit to the USA. The Chinese President was also careful to disclaim any intention of seeking military domination or to become a threat to anyone.

During previous state visits, matters relating to Tibet or Taiwan have caused friction, whether it is the status of the one or arms supplies to the other, but not this time. These are prime among China's core interests and did not seem to have been much discussed. The US side reiterated its position that Tibet was part of China, and there seemed to have been no hostile demonstrations by interested groups to contest this position. It is worth recollecting that not long ago President Obama had a meeting with the Dalai Lama, which provoked great indignation in Beijing ~ there were no echoes of that event during the Hu Jintao visit.

The most tangible achievements of the visit were in the economic area. For quite some time now, the USA has been pressing China, with little effect, to revalue its currency, but this call seems to have been set aside during the Hu visit in favour of demands for better US access to the Chinese market. Here, there was much to record.
Sales worth $45 billion by American companies were announced, including 200 Boeing aircraft. Some of the announced deals are in fact still in a preliminary stage but nevertheless the visit yielded a substantial economic outcome. Among the agreed measures was a Chinese promise to curb theft of intellectual property, a long-standing US grievance. Another Chinese concession to US demands was to permit US firms to bid for official contracts from which they and other foreign suppliers had been excluded.

Such measures underlined the fact that this was a visit with useful results and served to control or curb some of the recent negative trends in Sino-US relations. Both sides showing regard for the sensitivities of the other, and Chinese commentaries after the event expressed particular satisfaction at the fact that the two sides met as equals, something that China especially values. All in all, no great change in the basic trajectory of the relationship was to be discerned, or any overarching convergence with global consequences; it was more a matter of smoothening the path for the future on what is expected to be Mr Hu Jintao's last visit to the USA before he hands over to his successor next year.

India will take mild satisfaction from the fact that the joint statement makes no reference to South Asia, unlike the previous one, which had not been appreciated in New Delhi. Like the rest of the world, India has kept a watchful eye on the visit and will doubtless remain alert, for the ties between these two potent countries inevitably have a global fallout.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary






The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is up in arms over Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj's decision to allow two lawyers to drag chief minister Mr BS Yeddyurappa to court over charges of corruption, has only itself to blame for the predicament. Either because of overconfidence or naivete, the party, as also Mr Yeddyurappa, completely missed the signals that the Governor had been sending them for some time.
It started with the Governor aborting his address to the joint session of the Karnataka legislature earlier this month when the Congress and the JD-S, which sit in the Opposition, conveniently prevented him from reading a speech prepared by the BJP government. The disruption spared the Governor the embarrassment that he would have had to suffer had he referred to the Yeddyurappa regime as "my government" and highlighting "its achievements" ~ something the prepared speech required of him. Mr Bhardwaj had been repeatedly accusing the BJP government of turning a blind eye to rampant corruption plaguing the state and making favourable references to it at the Assembly would have seriously undermined his position. The BJP may have claimed later that the commotion spearheaded by the Congress and the JD-S had been stage managed but the Governor had succeeded in making his point.

The second signal that the Yeddyurappa government missed was Mr Bhardwaj's repeated assertion to consider the petition by two advocates seeking sanction to take the chief minister to court for alleged nepotism and perpetrating a scam in allocation of prime land. Mr Bhardwaj had also made it clear more than once what he thought about the government's apparent refusal to brief him about the steps it was taking to improve its quality of administration. It didn't help that the chief minister chose not to meet the Governor regularly to keep him in the loop.

Mr Bhardwaj, right from the time he took over as the Governor of Karnataka, made it clear that he had come to the state with a purpose. Consider, his remarks, made to the effect that he was in Karnataka "to set things right" during an interaction with reporters immediately after assuming charge in 2008. The message was loud and clear even then though it had come in connection with increasing attacks on minorities in the state at that time.
But an arrogant Mr Yeddyurappa failed to gauge the extent of the Governor's intolerance for south India's first BJP regime. The chief minister was comfortable with the numbers in the Assembly that he had managed to shore up by encouraging defection from the Opposition. He had banked on the controversial Reddy brothers to help him whip up a majority by setting in motion "Operation Kamal" ~ the mechanism devised by the BJP for luring away Opposition legislators.

The Reddy brothers, namely, Janardan and Karunakar, got into trouble with the Governor when he started questioning the manner in which they were conducting their mining operations. When Mr Bhardwaj also pointed out that they enjoyed offices of profit as ministers in the Yeddyurappa government, the Reddys knew they were in for a hard time.

The discomfiture of the Reddys suited Mr Yeddyurappa. The brothers had almost got him unseated in 2009 and the chief minister was enjoying himself so much that he simply didn't realise that the Governor was preparing to strike. Things went downhill thereafter with corruption charges being levelled against the chief minister and his sons, not to mention a few of his Cabinet colleagues. Just as the Yeddyurappa-Bhardwaj spat hotted up, the BJP's central leadership launched a scathing attack against the Congress-led UPA at the Centre over the slew of scandals that came to the fore. The Commonwealth Games and 2G scams, the Radia tapes and the Bofors row, all provided the BJP with ample ammunition to embarrass the Central government; even demand the resignations of the ministers concerned.

And so preoccupied was the BJP with the protests that it forgot that people living in glass houses should not throw stones.

If the BJP leadership had only backed up its campaign against corruption with persuading Mr Yeddyurappa to step down as the chief minister, even if for a short while, its credibility would have been established, proving that it was indeed "a party with a difference". But it wilted under the pressure and threats from the chief minister who flagrantly invoked his clout in Karnataka, allowing the Congress to hit back in the process.
The singular failure to act appropriately has cost the BJP heavily. Not only its credibility as a responsible member of the Opposition in Parliament has been seriously undermined but now it must suffer the ignominy too of having a chief minister being dragged to court on charges of corruption.

It is a disgrace that the party will find difficult to dilute ~ something the gleeful Congress and the JD-S know ~  irrespective of the outcome or the merit of the charges levelled against Mr Yeddyurappa.
Adding to its woes, Mr Yeddyurappa's Cabinet, for reasons best known to it, decided to adopt a resolution advising the Governor to "drop" the prosecution proceedings. By any logic, the resolution was ill advised and ill timed, some may say, even ridiculous. It would have been better had the chief minister personally met the Governor and presented his case. The resolution only goaded Mr Bhardwaj to sanction prosecution against the chief minister. The Governor's description of the Cabinet resolution as a "case of a thief admonishing a policeman" infuriated Mr Yeddyurappa and what resulted was an all-out war. As names were called and mud was slung with abandon, the two adversaries only brought disrepute to the Constitutional offices they hold.
As for the Governor, it's no secret that he is a Congress loyalist. Let's not forget that he was the Union law minister in the first UPA government until he was eased out for embarrassing the Congress when he took the initiative to de-freeze two bank accounts of Mr Ottavio Quattrocchi, an accused in the Bofors scam without consulting the CBI first. Mr Bhardwaj's affiliations don't recommend him as an unbiased and non-partisan figure ~ something which makes his campaign against Mr Yeddyurappa appear motivated.

But the days ahead for Mr Yeddyurappa will not be comfortable. His bravado notwithstanding, the BJP will find it difficult to explain a sitting chief minister battling charges of corruption. With the state Lokayukta also taking a hard look at his record, it does not bode well either for the chief minister or the BJP.
BJP insiders are already talking about the possibility of a change of guard in Karnataka ~ something leaders feel will prove unavoidable in order to help the government complete its term. Admittedly, it will be difficult for the party's central leadership to ask Mr Yeddyurappa now to step down, even if for a while, something it could have easily done a month ago.

With the Governor greenlighting the prosecution of Mr Yeddyurappa, the BJP will now find itself compelled to salvage its image. That plans are afoot is evident from the remarks of a spokesman in Delhi who hinted that "something should be happening by the end of the month". On the other hand, even though most of the party MLAs are against the dissolution of the House, the possibility is not being ruled out. According to a senior party leader, it could well happen right after the budget is presented in February. Alternatively, Mr Yeddyurappa may be coaxed to step down after being given the opportunity to nominate his successor.
But whatever happens, Mr Yeddyurappa will struggle to keep his head above water.

The writer is The Statesman's Bangalore-based Special Representative






Finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee does not utter lies. He speaks half truths. Regarding black money stashed in foreign banks, he told the media that secrecy had to be maintained in accordance with the provisions of the Double Taxation Treaty signed by the Indian government with 23 other countries. Mr Mukherjee told media: "Let us understand the issue. No information can be made available unless there is a legal framework." What he did not say was that much of the money parked in foreign banks was not related to tax evasion but to crime. There can be no adequate legal framework unless the government launches criminal prosecution against the offenders. In fact the government does not want information from foreign governments. Foreign governments offer information that the Indian government refuses to accept. The German list of 26 names of account holders in Lichtenstein is much talked about. The finance ministry has provided that list to the Supreme Court (SC). Can Mr Mukherjee confirm under oath that there are not 18 other names on that list that have been withheld from the SC? Can he FM deny that the German authorities are willing to furnish four other lists of account holders in banks outside Lichtenstein which the Indian government has refrained from accepting?
The most glaring case of the government's cover up of criminal money stashed abroad relates of course to Pune-based stud farm owner Hassan Ali Khan. Three years have passed since the discovery of his astronomical cache illegally stashed in foreign banks. In January 2007, raids by the income tax department revealed he had US$ 8 billion deposited in just one account in the UBS AG bank, Zurich. He has several other foreign accounts. He had not filed income-tax returns since 1999. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) started probing him for suspected money laundering. After three years, Mr Mukherjee told the media last Tuesday that investigations were still continuing. Meanwhile Hassan Ali walks a free man. Meanwhile, Mr Mukherjee disclosed that the US$ 8 billion had been diverted from the Zurich bank to an unknown destination. Regarding information about black money Mr Mukherjee told the media: "As and when the income tax Authorities will be in a position to prosecute cases against tax evaders, you will come to know". Hassan Ali is not a tax evader. His money in foreign banks comes from crime. Credible foreign banking sources have disclosed that in collusion with Saudi arms dealer Adnan Kashogi, some of Ali's money came from gun running. Did Hassan Ali amass billions of US dollars that attract tax to the tune of Rs 70,000 crore in India from selling horses? If nothing else, could not the government have immediately slapped a disproportionate assets case in addition to money laundering and launched a criminal prosecution against him?


The government did no such thing. Why not? Very simply, and bluntly, because the Congress party is most likely involved with Hassan Ali and has used his kind services to park its funds illegally abroad. That is why Mr Mukherjee must defend Hassan Ali. This is a serious charge but the circumstantial evidence to justify it is overwhelming. Readers might recall that on 3 May, 2010 it was pointed out in these columns that Hassan Ali held a secret meeting with Congress politicians including the political secretary to the Congress president. This was pointed out in the Maharashtra Assembly by the Opposition and subsequently confirmed after investigation by the state police. The question was posed: "During his interaction with Hassan Ali was (Congress political secretary) Ahmed Patel representing himself or his boss, (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi? If he was representing himself why has Sonia Gandhi not sacked him? If he was representing the Congress president how does Sonia Gandhi explain her party's links with the nation's biggest money launderer who is being protected by the finance minister?"   

There was no response in word or deed to the question raised. It is fair to infer therefore that Mr Ahmed Patel was not acting singularly but representing his boss, Mrs Sonia Gandhi. What other conclusion can one draw but that the Congress is guilty and the government is doing everything to protect its partner in crime, Hassan Ali? Today the Congress presents a strange picture. It reminds one of a sinking ship in which the captain, the first mate and the second mate all hate each other. However because the ship is sinking, fear binds them all. Let Mr Pranab Mukherjee know. All the half truths, the obfuscation and the bluster will not prevent the Congress ship from sinking. Its day is done. Smart Congress leaders should learn from rats. They should desert the ship before they sink with it. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist 




100 years ago today

Boy's tragic death

A curiosity to taste opium

The Calcutta Coroner held an inquest on Monday on the death of a boy named Sailendranath Sircar, aged about 12, a pupil of the Khelat Chundra Calcutta Institution. The medical evidence showed death was due to opium poisoning.

Rash Behari Sen,a fifth-class pupil of the same institution, and a class-mate of the deceased, said that on the Monday before last, after the tiffin hour, the deceased asked him to get a gharry as he wanted to go home. He said he had taken a quantity of opium at eleven o'clock in the morning. The deceased still had some opium in his hand which was snatched from him by the witness and handed over to Babu Ramgopal Kobiratna, the head pundit. The latter sent for another teacher, who took the boy away.

The head pundit, in his evidence, said he asked the deceased why he had taken opium, and he replied that he had seen others take opium and so wanted to see what it was like. He did not say where he had got it from.
Hazari Lal Sircar, of 25 Romanath Kaviraj's Lane, a jeweller, said the deceased was his son. When his brother brought the deceased to the house, he asked him to take the boy to the hospital.

"Hitabadi" Security

The Daily Paper Stopped

When the matter relating to the required deposit of Rs 5,000 by Binode Behari Chakravarty, publisher of the vernacular daily Hitabadi, as security under the Press Act, came up on Monday morning before Dr Thornhill, Chief Presidency Magistrate, Mr S.C. Mitter appearing for the Crown, intimated to the Court that no money had been deposited in Court as required by the notice and that the petition to the Local Government by the publisher had been rejected.

It was accordingly submitted that Binode Behari should be stopped from publishing the daily paper from yesterday, and an order to the effect was passed. It is said that this notice has nothing to do with the weekly edition of the Hitabadi which will be published as usual.






Like a well-scripted play, the Reserve Bank of India's third quarterly review of monetary policy produced no surprises: it raised its policy interest rates — the repo rate at which banks borrow from it and the reverse repo rate at which banks lend to it — by a quarter of a percentage point (25 basis points), extended the facility by which banks could use one per cent of their statutory liquidity reserves (held in the form of government securities) as collateral to April 8, and kept the cash reserve ratio (the portion of their deposit base that banks keep as cash with the RBI) at six per cent. All these measures were expected. A few central bank watchers expected the policy rate hikes to be higher, and tighter monetary conditions. For the moment, those fears have been put in abeyance; in his policy statement, however, the RBI governor, Duvvuri Subbarao, made it clear that the cycle of higher interest rates could be expected to continue as long as inflation continued to haunt the economy. The macroeconomic review that preceded the policy announcements by a day was more than just a little sombre: it heavily underscored the inflationary conditions throughout the economy, from food prices through rising manufacturing costs to growing demand for goods and services, helped by wage inflation in the national rural employment guarantee scheme.

In a reversal of earlier statements, the RBI also set expectations of future inflation higher; it expects inflation at the end of this financial year (end-March 2011) to be seven per cent, instead of 5.5 per cent. And economic growth in the first quarter of the next financial year to decline, which might not be a bad thing, as growth at the current pace is unsustainable under current global conditions. Oil and commodity prices, mainly metals, are up, and will probably continue to go up if the developed-country economies recover; agricultural growth in India, after showing a sudden bounce this year, is expected to revert to its historical trend line. This implies that food inflation is going to continue posing fiscal challenges. Could the RBI have done better by imposing a steeper policy rate hike? To borrow from Steven Solomon's phraseology, rather than being an unseen and terrible financial Wizard of Oz able to leverage policy moves to fulfil its objective of containing inflation, the RBI has been exposed as a midget spewing forth only fierce and terrible illusions.






Presidents of the United States of America have traditionally used the state of the union speech as an instrument of appeasement. Barack Obama did not lose his opportunity too when he delivered his annual address on Tuesday. True to his signature style, the president's speech was generously peppered with soaring rhetoric and lofty ideals but woefully lacked in specifics. While promising a sea-change in the fiscal situation, he failed to outline long-term plans for spending cuts or tax rises or both. Mr Obama also lost a chance to air his views on improving the healthcare reforms. And it was a bit shocking that he did not utter the words 'global warming', in spite of his impassioned pledge to invest in biochemical and technological research. Even Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to have all but vanished from his vocabulary, much of which was devoted to flattering the American Dream. However, India and China also got brief mentions for their economic prowess, which shows that the president is prudent enough to eschew the path of parochialism. In all, although very much of a set piece, the speech is likely to do some good to Mr Obama's popular image in the long run.

There is every reason to denounce Mr Obama's speech for its evenly non-confrontational tone, though such criticisms tend to underestimate the president's canny political sense. Mr Obama has finally started actively triangulating — that is, moving to the centre — in a responsible manner. Following the jolt he got in the mid-term elections last year, Mr Obama has been ideologically unsteady on his feet for some time. Now, especially after the public address at Tucson, Mr Obama appears to have found a voice of his own: the state of the union speech was his best bet to prove that he is a non-partisan president who is willing to engage in reasonable and constructive debate. So Mr Obama's overtly moderate delivery may help him win the nation's sympathy, which is going to put the Tea Party Republicans in a tricky spot. He has shown great foresight by not taking the mud-slinging path in this instance. If now, in spite of his overtures of decency, his critics refuse to lend him a patient ear, then he could let go and pay them back in their own coin — without the fear of upsetting the national mood. Only, one hopes that when the time comes, Mr Obama will have the courage to stand up for himself, his party and for his people.






An aching in the heart that refuses to die down; keeping it company, a dull thud of emptiness. As one mourns for Suchitra Mitra, it is also like scribbling a memo to oneself. Those who were born in the third decade of the past century, and have now entered the second decade of the 21st, have ambled across all the ten decades comprising a century. Their innings is ending. Suchitra Mitra has bidden adieu; is not the time up for the rest of that generation too?

Her going marks the surcease of a particular ambience. That ambience was created by the Bengali middle class in the middle decades of the 20th century. It coincided with a wondrous spurt of creativity in different spheres. That creativity was wrapped in a self-esteem full of dignity as well as humility, and could well claim for itself the sobriquet of a civilization. Scholars keep writing and talking about the supposed Bengali renaissance of the 19th century. Little point in joining issue with them. But the burst of creativity that took place roughly a century later ought to be accorded no less a recognition. Why be bashful about it either — the socio-cultural churning occurring in that phase was the direct outcome of the unravelling of a radical Left consciousness. It spilled over to earnest new experiments in literature, drama, filmmaking, dance, music, painting, sculpture. With the communist party acting as demure impresario, talent flooded the Bengal landscape. The coming out of Suchitra Mitra was a part of that cultural explosion. It can be put the other way round too. She herself contributed in shaping the milieu in the same manner academicians like Susobhan Sarkar, Hiren Mukherjee or Debiprasad Chattopadhyay, thespians like Sombhu Mitra, Utpal Dutt or musicians like Ravi Shankar and Salil Chowdhury or writers and poets like Manik Bandyopadhyay, Bishnu Dey, Samar Sen and Subhas Mukhopadhyay did. The new strivings admittedly had bourgeois roots, with sophistication written all over. What was nonetheless remarkable was the intensity of the urge to reach out to the people. And while the stirring of ideology constituted the undercurrent, that other awareness was equally strong: sophistication does not hurt the cause of ideology, quality counts in all seasons and under all circumstances.

Suchitra Mitra and Debabrata Biswas, who was fourteen years her senior, were integral to the passion nurtured by ideology. They, however, chose their own particular course; they embarked on revolutionizing the interpretation of Tagore songs, Rabindrasangeet. The close to three thousand songs composed by Tagore would be, so to say, deprived of their coordinates if the poetry grafted in the compositions is treated absentmindedly and the concentration is exclusively on the grammar. That poetry packs thoughts, ideas and emotions of innumerable hues. The depth of passion and soulfulness embedded in them long remained unexplored. At one end, a bunch of grammarians, lacking as much in courage as in imagination, would follow mechanically the notations and mumble the words of the songs in a dreary monotone — recitals of this nature would kill the songs. At the other end, the problem posed by an overlay of the interdict associated with the Brahmo cult which stressed restraint in social discourse. Those assuming the responsibility of popularizing these songs during the early days in Santiniketan and elsewhere were hemmed in by the discipline of self-denial. Any expression of exuberance was frowned upon. The songs tuck in layers and layers of vigour and emotion; they soar to immense heights of joyousness, or lead you into sombre valleys of otherworldliness. The denial mode would not allow such excesses.

The two of them, Suchitra Mitra and Debabrata Biswas, performed a miracle. With their audacity matching their talent, they donned the role of great liberators, rescuing Tagore songs from the clutches of both grammarians and disciplinarians. They stuck to grammar but blew life into it. They sang with such furious abandon, the inner meaning of the songs was laid bare. Thereby they established the crucial point: the songs belonged to everybody, as much to the masses as to the holier-than-holy circle, crying out to be presented uninhibitedly, full-throatedly, with the utmost clarity of diction, and defying all categories of taboo.

For both of them, there could be no higher social commitment. They would consider it a tragedy — worse, a calamity — were those born in Tagore's language, or reasonably well-versed in it, unable to partake of the feast his songs laid out. Listening to the songs was an intensely cathartic experience; it was the people's prerogative to have that experience. Given their rich, powerful voices, the clarity with which they articulated the words of the lyrics and their almost uncanny ability to unravel the meaning embedded in each song, Suchitra Mitra and Debabrata Biswas succeeded in bridging the hitherto existing distance between the Tagore songs and the ordinary householder.

Debabrata Biswas was a bit of a wandering minstrel and an ascetic. Fiercely jealous of his right to express himself in the manner he preferred, he had little taste for a structured, conventional existence. Suchitra Mitra was better organized. She was tolerant of the reality of changing circumstances and considered it her duty to be at peace with the imperfections of daily living. She never abdicated her forthrightness though. The ambience she dreamt of creating at the time she started as an IPTA partisan was not to be; she accepted that actuality with philosophical calm. She was grateful for the social acclaim she received. Some missions, of course, remained unfulfilled. Placing a lid on her disappointments, she marched on, singing with zest and passion till as long she was physically able to and training generations of young singers. Life, she was wont to remind herself, was a compromise.

She was by nature frank and forthcoming, and could even be stern if the occasion arose. There were, though, other sides of her persona. Outwardly a determined human being, she could be extravagantly sentimental too. She was, besides, staunch in her loyalties. Mention of just one instance should suffice. Mid-1990s, summertime, the telephone rang late one night, it was she, Suchitra Mitra, on the line. She was sobbing loudly and sounded nearly incoherent. A friend was critically ill, the doctors were offering no hope, and had dropped the hint to be prepared for the worst. Suchitra Mitra could not bear the thought of the friend's passing, she was inconsolable. The friend was a bit more than that: he was the ex-husband she had divorced decades ago. So what, was he not, still, a friend?

Debabrata Biswas took the bow 30 years ago, she too is now gone. It is the end of a chapter of history and the end, if not of a civilization, of a culture as well. Nostalgia for that culture meshes in with remembrance of the first occasion one watched and heard her perform on a public occasion. It was a pale February evening 63 years ago. The South East Asia Youth Conference had just ended its deliberations in Calcutta. The delegates and observers from all over the world were being accorded a grand farewell on that vast stretch of space known as the Maidan. A thick, milling crowd choked the Maidan, the mood was of festivity and joyful excitement. Suchitra Mitra was on the rostrum. Her voice was then at the zenith of its power; she was rendering one patriotic song after another from Tagore, ecstasy springing out of her vocal chords — the vast assembly of people sat and stood enthralled. Suddenly the audio system failed, there was pitch darkness and some commotion. But there was no stopping Suchitra Mitra. The audio system was dysfunctional, she was not, she kept singing one Tagore song after another, the crowd cheered and cheered along with the foreign guests.

Such was she. She will be no longer around.






Corruption has reached such gargantuan levels in India that to be honourable and honest has become a hazard. This is a terribly sad comment on the socio-moral health of our young nation-state that made a tryst with destiny in 1947 and grew out of a uniquely resilient and pluralistic civilization. On the one hand, there are frightening forces that compel polarized positions on everything — from politics and society to art and culture. On the other hand, the unenthusiastic attitude towards proactive governance by those privileged to rule has managed to dissipate real and substantial change and growth.

The rewriting of archaic, colonial rules is imperative. Equally, the movement backwards into the parochial 'walls' that enclosed us in the past needs to be forcefully stalled to ensure the establishment of true liberalism. The excuse that modernity will destroy tradition is nonsense because it is civilizations such as India's that have proved over millennia that strength and pride come from open societies that have the ability to absorb positive influences as well as dispel those that are alien and unnecessary. Khap panchayats are a case in point, as are the brutal physical attacks on the arts. The silence of the national leaders on these pollutants of the public space and the excuse that any contrary statement may tilt voting patterns smack of the worst kind of pandering to destructive social elements. Where are the Jawaharlal Nehrus and leaders of that ilk who spoke out loud and carried India forward?

We have regressed over the decades. Today, an ordinary citizen who is determined to lead an honest life is harassed by the functionaries of the State who extort whatever they can with zero accountability. Why has not any national leader spoken out against the corrosion of the system? Why is there no protection of the honest? Why are the rapists of the system given the status of VIP? Those who believe in India's past and in the excitement of an energetic future are disturbed by this horrific present.

Historic blunder

We have managed to turn our habitats into cesspools of mal-administration. We have mutilated and exploited our natural environment by allowing rapacious mining, timber and land mafiosi to grab illegally in the name of a high economic growth rate. We have celebrated and honoured a zero rate of intellectual growth. We are unable to conserve our amazing international heritage and are allowing it to disintegrate in the hands of uninitiated and uncaring babus. We have killed creativity and ideas that are new and untested. We have allowed India to get mummified!

Unintelligent political leaders have brought their archaic beliefs and views into governance. Instead of making life easier for the 'public entrepreneur', encouraging a rethink on public issues and endorsing an engagement with diverse opinions, insecure chief ministers and their insensitive bureaucrats have wallowed in the minuscule knowledge of 'what they know' and never extended their minds beyond those limits. This has resulted in a dwarfing of real growth.

Rajasthan is one such stark example. Because of a political aversion to a historical, feudal structure, the incumbent government is unable to respect and celebrate a true 'history' — it is unable to put the present into historical perspective and look to the future. The brazen destruction of the Aravallis is criminal. The inability to encourage a new mindset and support new ideas will force Rajasthan to stagnate. Because of this parochial attitude within the portals of governance, the state will suffer in areas such as tourism and manufacturing, and thereby deny employment opportunities to a vast number of citizens, both rural and urban, compelling a movement backwards.


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




The horrible murder of Yashwant Sonawane, the additional  district collector of Malegaon in Maharashtra, when he objected to the pilferage of kerosene from a tanker, exposes the risks of law enforcement in the country. Oil adulteration is big business and it is estimated that it involves Rs 15,000 crore. A criminal oil mafia is in charge of it, thriving under the protection of politicians and dishonest officials. An honest and conscientious officer who tries to take action against it has often to pay a heavy price with his career prospects and sometimes even with the job and his life. It is not the first time that such officers have been targeted. In 2005 an Indian Oil Corporation officer, S Manjunath, was killed in Lakhimpur Kheri  in UP, when he tried to check petrol adulteration.

The steps which were then claimed to have been taken to tackle the problem of adulteration and to protect honest officers in their work seem to have been ineffective. The strict monitoring of the distribution network is not in place as the incident at Manmad shows. Since all the petroleum companies have their depots in that area, it is a main centre for adulteration and the illegal activity has been going on unhindered. A criminal gang has controlled this for long. Sonawane was doused in kerosene and set on fire for his attempt to question the nefarious activity. Apart from the government's inability to protect its officials, the killing also highlights the problem of implementing the system of differential prices of petroleum products.

The low price of the subsidised kerosene and the high price of diesel and petrol encourage anti-social elements, officials, middlemen and politicians to form a nexus to adulterate costly fuels. About 40 per cent of subsidised kerosene does not reach its intended beneficiaries. The colouring of kerosene has not helped. The result is denial of their right to cheap kerosene for those who belong to the poor strata of society, shortchanging of those who use petrol and diesel, environmental pollution and intimidation and punishment of those who try to enforce the law. The solution is not to increase the price of kerosene as it is sometimes argued, but to ensure that the system of differential pricing works. Technological and systemic remedies are available but the government should put them in place and also send out the message that the criminal elements will be dealt with in the harshest manner.






A deadly suicide bomb attack in Moscow's Domodedovo airport, which is believed to have been carried out by Chechen militants, has brought under scrutiny Russia's strategy in its northern Caucasus region. Thirty-five people were killed and over 175 others injured in the attack. The horrific scene at the blast site is painfully reminiscent of suicide bombings in March last year at two metro stations in Moscow. Militants from the northern Caucasus have repeatedly targeted Russian civilians as in the Moscow theatre massacre of 2002, the mid-air blowing up of two airliners in April 2004, the killing of 186 children in a school in Beslan in August that year, and the explosions aboard a Moscow-St Petersburg express train in 2009. Although Russian forces have in recent years quelled the powerful secessionist insurgency that wracked Chechnya through the 1990s, armed groups continue to fight Russian rule in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing in the airport but the needle of suspicion points in the direction of the restive northern Caucasus region. That militants are able to strike at the heart of Moscow indicates that the weakened insurgency notwithstanding, they are a force to reckon with.

The attack at Moscow airport is believed to have been carried out by the Black Widows, mothers and wives of Chechen men killed or 'disappeared' by the Russian security forces. Clearly, despair is high in Chechnya and this is providing militant groups with an endless flow of committed recruits. In 2009, Russia announced that the situation in Chechnya had 'normalised' and hence it was ending its military operations against the rebels there. The airport attack  will provoke hardliners in Moscow to recommend reviving these operations. Prime minister Putin has already warned of retaliation.


Moscow must know that military operations only breed terror. In recent months it has initiated reconstruction of Chechnya's war-ravaged Grozny. Socio-economic initiatives have been set in motion and these must be implemented in a way that benefits the locals. If Russia is keen that the Chechens and others in the northern Caucasus remain part of Russia it must treat them and their distinct identity with respect. Russian security cannot be achieved unless all its peoples, including the Chechens, feel secure.







The netas keep the citizens disempowered. How else would they be able to plunder the national wealth right under their noses?

The word 'democracy' means people's rule. In a democracy, the people are the rulers. In India, we pride ourselves on being the largest democracy in the world. However, our elected representatives — the MLAs, MPs, ministers, chief ministers and the prime minister — always refer to us the people, who are supposed to be the rulers, as the 'aam aadmi' or the common man. What is 'common' about a man who is a ruler? Are there any 'uncommon' men in this democratic country? Are the elected representatives a superior class of people? By implication, they seem to be declaring so.

The politicians alone have not contributed to this class distinction. We, the people who have sent the representatives to Bangalore or Delhi as the case may be, have started calling them as 'netas' or 'leaders.' The entire lot of people who are into politics is being referred to as 'netas.' The point is: we the people have given them away this elevated status.

We seem to crave to perpetuate the ruler and the ruled divide even after the different Rajs — Mughal, British, and in some small pockets French and Portuguese — have come and gone. Now we seem to need 'uncommon' men from amongst us to tell us what to do or not to do.

We need these uncommon men to come from afar to our dwellings on a padayatra for an hour or two and comprehend our miseries of the utter shortage of water, sanitation, shelter, transport, electricity, dhal, onions, vegetables, etc so that they may initiate some action or, more likely, just pretend to listen and proceed to do what they always do.


Sometimes they even suddenly enlighten us as to what we as 'aam janata' should be doing. For instance, we should be vigilant against crime in our neighbourhood, or that we as 'grahaks' (consumers) should beware (jaago) or that we should 'save oil and save nation' — which we will be doing anyway when petrol is being sold at over Rs 60 a litre.

Note another word in their lexicon: 'padayatra' ie walking on foot. These uncommon men condescend to walk to the so-called rulers of the democracy. Of course, when they cannot walk long distances, they descend from helicopters and then take on foot to the common man's dwelling.

When they cannot descend on ground because the ground is flooded and wet or burnt and ravaged due to some reason, they do the aerial surveys sitting in planes hovering in the sky. Sometimes, some of them descend from choppers and get into our cities' 'cattle class' transport like the city buses or suburban trains like in Mumbai for 30 minutes or so and 'understand' our daily woes.

Unique for India

Nowhere in the world is the phrase common man in use. The people of a country are called its citizens. The distinction of the commoners and the royalty has been only in a few nations like the United Kingdom but that distinction also has faded and has not remained even in the marital relations now entered into by the queen's progeny and their progeny. Unfortunately, we in India have replaced the royalty or the raj with the netas.

The netas have evolved their own dress code of white kurta pyjama or white lungi and a long shirt. Add a short tight desi jacket when it is cold. This dress code is common across all political parties — be they Congressmen, NCP men, Trinamool Congress men, BJP men, JD men (all kinds of JDs) or even CPM men. It seems they want to distinguish themselves from the aam aadmi who wears different colours according to the season.
The word citizen imbues power while the phrase common man is for the disempowered. The netas have a vested interest in keeping the citizens disempowered. How else will they plunder the national wealth right under their noses? They are the netas, so they will take a lion's share of the so-called fast growth of the Indian economy at superfast speed.

By keeping the citizens as aam aadmis, they along with their accomplices — real estate tycoons, several big industry-wallahs and like-minded bureaucrats — can be in a position to escape the laws being enforced on them whatever may be the extent of their transgression. They are the netas and therefore they are the makers and enforcers of the law.

It is often said that the aam aadmi has the power to remove the netas in the next round of elections. This is also another myth deliberately perpetuated by netas themselves. In fact, the election results do not have much correlation with the performance of the incumbent government or netas. Not yet.

Elections in India have a lot to do with many other factors like caste, religion, sect, language, and other divisive aspects that the netas have been exploiting to their advantage. There is a large fraction of people illiterate and below the poverty line — kept there for a long time — who can be swayed by factors that have little to do with performance.

Transformation can occur when we get it for sure that we will not any more allow ourselves to be aam aadmis, that we are the citizens of this country and therefore the destiny of our nation can be shaped by ourselves.

(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)








There's no scientific evidence that executions are a better deterrent than other punishments.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in December 1948 recognises the right of all people to life (Article 3) and categorically states: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment."

In effect, capital punishment is the most extreme negation of human rights: it violates the right to life, the supreme right on which all other rights are based. It is the most cruel, degrading, and inhuman punishment. Moreover, it is frequently discriminatory, disproportionate, and arbitrary, and, worse, can be both unjust and mistaken.
The UN has established in various international pacts and conventions, strict conditions for the application of the death penalty in countries that have still not decided to abolish it.

As noted in last August's Report of the UN Secretary-General, there has been steadily growing movement towards a worldwide abolition of the death penalty. At present over two-thirds of the countries of the world have abolished the sanction in either legislation or practice. The international community has approved four abolition treaties, one global, the other three regional.

The Statute of the International Criminal Court adopted in 1998 bars capital punishment despite the fact that it has jurisdiction over extremely severe crimes, including crimes against humanity like genocide and war crimes.

No proof of effect

There has never been convincing scientific evidence that executions are a more effective deterrent than other punishments. A 1988 UN study, updated in 1996 and 2002 concluded: "Research has not shown scientifically that executions are superior to life imprisonment in terms of deterrence, and it is improbable that it will in the future. Overall, there is no scientific support for the deterrence hypothesis."

The death penalty is irreversible and no juridical system can avoid the condemnation of innocent people. As long as it is accepted as a legitimate form of punishment, there is a risk that it will by abused for political ends.


Only abolition will guarantee that this will not occur.

In December 2007 and 2008, the UN General Assembly approved Resolutions 62/149 and 63/168, which called for a global moratorium against capital punishment. In the latter, all states that still had the death penalty were called upon to:

"Respect international norms establishing safeguards to guarantee the protection of the rights of those condemned to death, in particular minimum norms";

"Progressively limit the application of the death penalty and reduce the number of crimes for which it can be applied"; and

"Establish a moratorium on executions with a view to the eventual abolition of the death penalty."

In 2010 the UN General Assembly adopted a third resolution on the moratorium and the use of the death penalty, which won the support of a few new converts to the idea of abolition.


In order to speed up this process, in coordination with NGOs and with existing institutions of the UN at both the international and regional level, the International Commission Against the Death Penalty was founded recently with the backing of the Spanish government. I have the honour of presiding over this commission, which is comprised of prominent individuals and has the backing of other countries in favour of passing a general moratorium on the death penalty in 2015.

Human rights are indivisible and no state or individual can try to uphold some while violating others. It is especially important that the 36 states of the US that still have the death penalty reconsider the punishment. This would set an important example for other death-penalty countries.

One particular concern is China, because there is evidence, including documents, of serial executions, though, as is the case with other practices, the state furnishes no information whatsoever. It is unacceptable that a country that has become the 'factory for the world' and exerts massive financial influence as a result, does not respect the most elemental principles of transparency required by the 'global village'. When certain dictators allege that the death penalty has 'popular support' it is because they have broadcast biased and unreliable information through the media.

We must all work together so that the horror of the death penalty soon disappear from the face of the earth. The day it does will be a brighter day for all people.







Excitement melted like frost in the morning sun on seeing that mail.

"Hai… I'd like to be your friend at (not the real name of the social networking site)" screamed the message as I opened the in-box after a gap of nearly a month and felt glad that it wasn't spewing dust or cracking in the corners due to rust. It was long time since I had opened this particular ID, which I'm afraid of viewing frequently since I use this one as the garbage dump; the unwanted ID I don't mind giving out to those who are unlikely to mail me or whose mails I'm unlikely to read.

The sense of curiosity was almost overwhelming as the eager fingers guided the curser to the inbox and snapped twice to open it. It was almost like opening the attic after several decades. What's hidden there? A lovely mail from a friend lost in the meaningless rush of life? A chance meeting with a friend-to-be?

Excitement melted like frost in the morning sun on seeing it. Alright, someone wanted to be my friend on a social networking site. If it were just that single request to open the mail, click the link and go through the cumbersome registration procedure to be friends with that one person, I wouldn't have minded it.

On the contrary, there were five requests — one from a friend I frequently bump-in, one from an unknown person and another from a friend's friend's friend who exchanged a half-heard hello in a get together. Besides cursing the social networking sites and a few of my friends (who won't mind about the curses) for spamming my rarely-opened in-box, the increasing requests to connect on the social networking sites also triggered a thought about the phenomena which seem to be turning rapidly from a curious online trend to a contaminant.

Of course, we are more connected with friends and family than ever before; without calling them or bothering them in any way, we can find out where they are and what they do; declaring births and bereavements on social networking sites are certainly becoming the order of the day. And yes, how can we forget the literary trend microblogging sites like Twitter have created.

But how can we also connect with the same friend in three or four different sites? Forget the stupid feeling while groping through the registration form and the misfortune of having to do it again and again, how can we find time to maintain that many social networking accounts while we can't even spend a few moments tidying up our in-boxes? "You don't find time to respond to my mails," complained an associate — who is more a contact for gathering information than a friend. It was hard to explain the logic behind ignoring such requests. The best way is to feign surprise and ask: ''Oh when did you send it?"







Governor Dr S S Sidhu has raised the right issue, asking the state government to allay the apprehensions in the minds of the people about widening of the national highways in Goa. Dr Sidhu was addressing the gathering at the Republic Day Parade at Campal on Wednesday morning. He said that people must realise that there is no room for taking a short-sighted view on the matter. The only question is whether it is the people, the government, or both that are being myopic in this matter.


Widening of our highways is an absolute imperative. It is not just the 300 young deaths on the roads every year, but the all-too-visible traffic jams nearly everywhere, thanks to ever-growing vehicular traffic and the reticence of the traffic authorities to take ameliorative measures. This is something that the protestors need to realise.
But people are deeply apprehensive of widened national highways that run through urban areas. The problem is not one of space. A six-lane highway can comfortably fit in a 35-metre width. Six lanes of 3.75 metres each require 22.5 metres. Add a three-metre median and two three-metre shoulders, and we have a grand total of 31.5 metres. As long as embankments required are constructed with retaining walls, a six-lane highway can easily fit in a 35-metre right-of-way.

But that is not the point. What the protestors say is that the new, wide highways should bypass existing urban areas, and not go through them, regardless of whether they can fit or not. Not only in advanced countries but even in other parts of India, the highways always bypass populated areas. They say that widening of the existing highways will only help the companies building them to make super-profits, by reducing their costs. Simultaneously, it will condemn Goans to pay steep tolls for the next 30 years, to drive on the very same roads that are now free.

Rattled by the protests, the government has been making promises that it does not know whether it will be able to keep. It has said, for example, that toll booths will be 40 km apart instead of the normal 20 km.

Has the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) agreed to this?

To start with, the government is not even sure whether it will agree to a right-of-way of just 35 metres. The NHAI has already rejected Kerala's request for a 35-km right of way. If it agrees to allow it for Goa, isn't there bound to be big trouble in Kerala?

Its proposal to double the distance between toll booths will drastically reduce the revenues of the companies building and operating the highways, and threaten the very viability of the public-private partnership (PPP).


Unless the central government agrees to massively increase the viability gap funding for the project, any proposal to double the distance between toll booths could derail the PPP.

There are types and types of short-sightedness. If the protestors can be accused of having one form of this vision deficit, how many is the government suffering from? Making promises is easy; the politicians that run the government do it every five years. Keeping them is very hard; as the years between every two elections has shown us. Making proposals to the central government is easy. But a proposal made is not a concession wrested. Unless the state government has correspondence to concretely show that the centre has accepted its suggestions, it should not try to fool the people. A simple RTI application can unearth the truth nowadays.
Better that Chief Minister Digambar Kamat and Co urgently discuss matters with all those concerned, and arrive at solutions that will give us six-lane highways that are acceptable to all stakeholders, and as fast as possible. 






Goa is raped and ravaged by mining and our green forest cover is devastated, says DR JOE D'SOUZA
It is perfectly justifiable for scientists to go public over their discoveries or inventions. However, it must also be acknowledged that major inventions and discoveries by universities all over the world, are kept a well-guarded secret, so as to allow the institute to patent its findings, and allow the discovery to acquire a monetary as well as commercial utility, and thus build up the financial corpus fund, to further its research pursuits.

Various discoveries of microbial drugs, antibiotics metabolites and processes, have remained a secret, so as to allow the institutions as well as the government to benefit from the commercialisation of the process, by acquiring exclusive production and marketing rights over a specific period of time, as established by patent law.
No doubt institutions like the NIO in Goa, and Goa University encourage its scientists to patent their discoveries and commercialise their processes, to help garner funds for further research and improve equipment strength and laboratory conditions. Dr Mashelkar, the former DG of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) encouraged his organisation as well as implored upon the professors at universities towards patenting and prospering; of course, there are private discoveries which remain a family or an institutional secret, to allow exclusive monopoly and profit, as seen in Coco-Cola, etc.

We must understand that undertaking research is a very expensive business, and in places like the Universities, it is the public money that is often utilised and sometimes squandered, to undertake research programmes either relevant or often irrelevant, to the needs of the society, with pure academic value.

While granting the concerned scientist, or the authorities of the university, the freedom and the liberty to go public on issues of its discoveries, a good vice chancellor would endeavour to see maximum benefits from discoveries made in his university goes to the institution, in terms of commercial utility and not just publicity alone.

It is acceptable for a scientist to seek recognition for his discovery, if genuine. For instance, if a scientist discovers water or oxygen on other planets, or if life is explored and established in outer space and in the universe as it is on Earth, the people around the world would certainly commend these discoveries and pat the scientists for making these findings known to the people. However, if these scientists go overboard and further declare that the water in outer space, would make human beings on planet earth rich in water, and economic prosperity would be ushered due to the discovery of water on "Mars", it would be a preposterous statement worth condemnation.

Going still further, a scientist who discovers water on Mars or gold in Goa, cannot and should not extrapolate the discoveries and, directly or indirectly, suggest to the public at large, that the water discovered on Mars would solve the water problems on earth and even if water on our planet is polluted, contaminated or misused by societies here, we would be able to procure and import water from outer space. This approach would be far stretched and fallacious.

The discoveries made by scientists are often accepted, but what is objectionable is the extended significance attributed to the discovery and directed towards absurdity, that irritates and infuriates the common sense of the public at large. While claiming gold discovery, what was objectionable is the statement that the gold findings in Goa would push this state (already struggling from the adverse effects of mining) to the top of the world in mineral wealth, thus making Goa and Goans, rich and prosperous! "Billions of dollars worth of Gold". "Mining companies in Goa queue and line up for seeking mining rights". 6,000 tonnes of gold waiting to be exploited in Goa. These statements neither give credibility and respectability to those who make such bombastic statements nor do these above utterances of Goa's prosperity, through gold mining afford respectability to the press or the journalists, who report about it.

Goa is a tiny state, teeming with people with the mining industry destroying the quality of life of our people. Today, even the people of Panjim, like all other towns in Goa, are forced to drink contaminated water, rendered brownish yellow due to sediments of mining rejects and copious amounts of iron, manganese and silt, even after the treatment of water by PWD.

Depleted agriculture, dwindling fisheries, and rise in respiratory diseases, kidney ailments, are driving Goa into seismic activities like earthquakes and volcanoes. This comes as a result of unscientific, illegal and unsustainable mining activity. Goa is raped and ravaged by mining, our green forest cover is devastated, and our ground water is depleted. Can Goans remain in hope, and keep faith on scientists, that water on Mars and the gold rush from golden Goa would usher in quality life and prosperity?

Wake up Goa. Please do not live in a fool's paradise. The Goan press, in particular, must remain active and vigilant to the destruction taking place all over Goa, due to haphazard mining which has to stop forthwith.
On 11 Jan, 2011, I along with Pratap Gauns and Directors of Goa Forest Development Corporation (GFDC) Rajnikant Naik and Vaman Chodankar, brought to the notice of Richard D'Sousa and Francis Coelho, the MD and General Manager respectively of GFDC, that the land under the control of GFDC, has been plundered and destroyed by Magnum Private Limited without the knowledge of the Board of Directors of GFDC. 100,000 metres of forest land stands plundered and destroyed. Rajnikant Naik, Director of Quepem range office under his control and Chairman Pratap Gauns needs to be applauded for their discovery, that due to mining allowed under GFDC by the criminal activities of those in charge of forest land in government offices, we would lose the auction value and rent of nearly a lakh of rupees in a small stretch of forest land in Quepem alone. Rajnikant Naik further fears that more illegal mining in Rivona, Quepem and Sanguem is vigorous underway and GFDC land is under further threat in four more areas in Rivona and Sanguem ranges of our forests.

Goans need to be vigilant and proactive to take up the challenges on the destruction done to our forest ecology, water bodies, environment/public health and quality life. Goa requires prosperity through "Green Gold" through Agricultural and Fisheries bio productivity.

Let us stop living in a fool's paradise of gold rush and mining prosperity as this would lead us into killing "Golden Goa" – the goose which lays the Golden Egg.







T his is the third time in the past few days we are harping on the issue of an estimated $500 billion to $1,400 billion black money stashed in foreign banks by some Indians — the subject is so important and crucial to the progress of the nation. On Tuesday, under attack by not just the Opposition but the Supreme Court as well, the UPA government announced a five-pronged strategy that includes creating an appropriate legislative framework for repatriating black money stashed abroad, but it ruled out disclosure of names of such account holders. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee parried questions on whether the government would ban participatory notes — instruments used for making investments in shares listed in a foreign country and widely suspected of being used for tax evasion — and announce a general amnesty scheme for evaders. He said that he could not disclose whether a decision would be taken on banning participatory notes. On the issue of a general amnesty scheme for tax evaders, he said that a group had been constituted to look into it. Mukherjee was addressing a press conference in New Delhi on the directions of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Refusing to divulge the names of those who have stashed huge amounts in tax havens abroad, he said that there was no legal framework available with the government to reveal the details about black money accounts and that treaties were being negotiated with 65 countries for getting information about tax evaders. The Finance Minister maintained that there were no clear estimates about the black money stashed abroad and that the government had constituted a multi-disciplinary committee to estimate the quantum of illicit funds generated by Indian citizens. He said that different estimates like the one calculated by the BJP's task force, which has put the amount between $500 billion and $1,400 billion, and an international estimate of $462 billion are based on ''unverifiable assumptions and approximations''.

The BJP, which has been relentlessly pursuing the matter of black money stashed abroad, reacted sharply — bordering on derision — to Mukherjee's statement. Dismissing his take on the black money deposited in foreign banks as ''delightfully vague and conspicuously evasive'', the principal opposition party alleged that the Congress-led UPA government was not serious about the issue as some of the culprits might be close to the Congress leadership. ''Mukherjee's comment on foreign bank account deposits of slush money is delightfully vague and conspicuously evasive. There is no commitment to bring back the money or disclose the names of the account holders. It is completely lacking in vision,'' BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

What is unfortunate is that despite 2010 being the most corruption-hit year since Independence and the kind of crisis that the UPA-II is mired in less than two years in power, the leader of the coalition, the Congress Party, has not evinced the kind of interest in tackling the enormity of the sustained loot of the country as is expected in such circumstances from the country's oldest political formation. This has prompted people to wonder as to whether the Congress has a vested interest in maintaining a convenient status quo. This has led the BJP to ask whether some in the business of stashing money in tax havens abroad are connected to the Congress leadership. What is interesting is that mere excuses, in the form of serious explanations, should come up even after such loot as to why the government cannot reveal the names of black money account-holders in foreign banks. The question, then, is this: How dedicated is the Congress party to the task of recovering the loot stashed abroad? And, of course, how affected is the party supremo, Sonia Gandhi, given the ''plunder'' of the country — to quote a recent Supreme Court observation?





T he Republic Day in Assam was different this time because the people of the State, long held to ransom by criminal groups dressed up as 'insurgents', mustered courage to come out of their homes and be involved in activities as usual. In some places in Guwahati, for instance, where previously people stayed indoors out of fear while the likes of ULFA revelled in the fallacy that they enjoyed huge mass support, one could see shops doing brisk business! It was a normal day. Let now more and more people come out. This must happen next time when another such day — Independence Day — will give us an opportunity to send a message to the Paresh Baruah (self-styled ULFA military chief) ilk. The message must be loud and clear: no more are your secessionist demands valid; no longer shall we live in fear; and no more shall we deprive the future generation of the countrywide celebrations of Independence and Republic days. It is also imperative that parents inform their children of the sacrifices that went into the making of this priceless freedom from the yoke of British imperialism, as also the value system that our founding fathers had clung on to. We await a new kind of August 15 in this region.






"What I possess, I would gladly retain.   Change amuses the mind, yet scarcely    profits," says Gaete. Given that the UPA   II has been in the dock over a spate of corruption scandals and spiralling food inflation, the much-awaited Cabinet reshuffle has turned out to be a meaningless window dressing that has only served to reinforce the feeling that the UPA is drifting. The token changes effected by the Prime Minister in his Council of Ministers do not indicate that Dr Singh might actually be willing to make "course correction" he so pompously promised in his new year's message. As things turned out, the reshuffle was entirely uninspiring signifying no real change to the status quo.

It is often said that "the more things change, the more they remain the same". It is relevant to recall that Dr Manmohan Singh has several times during the past year identified crony capitalism and other problems afflicting the economy of the nation. Yet, one could not read into the recent reshuffle any signs of a changed course. The Prime Minister failed to send a tough signal that would indicate a bold and imaginative recasting of the government. When UPA-II took over, political circles pronounced that things would finally move. But unfortunately, Dr Singh failed to assert his authority and all promises proved elusive. With corruption scandals and poor governance becoming the key features of UPA-II, the reshuffle was seen as an ideal opportunity for the Prime Minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi to effect a "mid-course correction." But instead, the UPA has sent out a weak message that it cannot set its house in order.

The reshuffle of the Union Cabinet has come at a time when a united opposition has pushed the Congress-led UPA government to a corner over corruption. So it might just be a ruse to divert attention from the runaway inflation and other problems afflicting the ruling party. In any case it is hard to find any logic behind the shunting of ministers without apparent rhyme or reason.

Instead of giving the inefficient and controversial ministers their cards, the Prime Minister has held his cards close to his chest for the future. While it would have been in order to send a "perform or perish" signal to his non-performing ministers and those who have actually done damage, they were simply reshuffled to new ministries. No minister was sacked for non-performance or controversies surrounding key decisions.

Only there was a major change in portfolios which saw S Jaipal Reddy getting Petroleum, Praful Patel moving to Heavy Industries, Kamal Nath to Urban Development, and Murli Deora to Corporate Affairs. The exercise also saw the elevation of three Ministers of State, Praful Patel, Jaiprakash Jaiswal and Salman Khurshid, to Cabinet rank. In addition, three new faces, Beni Prasad Verma, Ashwini Kumar  and KC Venugopal, were inducted as Ministers of State. Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was recently indicted by the Supreme Court for abusing his authority when he was Maharashtra Chief Minister, ended up getting a promotion by being moved to the crucial Rural Development portfolio.

It seems, therefore, that the entire exercise was restricted to promotions and demotions of a handful of ministers. That said, if these were the motivations spurning the reshuffle, it comes as no surprise that the cosmetic tinkering fell short of wielding the axe despite the negative atmospherics generated by a string of scandals.

One fails to understand how this reshuffle would help the government to refurbish its image. The UPA-II remains bereft of ideas, direction and a sense of purpose. It is anybody's guess as to how well or bad the reshuffled Cabinet will perform in comparison to the previous one. The exercise is clearly not aimed at regaining lost credibility and stabilizing price rise. Any ministerial rearrangement does not make for accountability automatically. People are mature enough to understand that the exercise of rearranging faces in different ministries in order to fool them is not going to work. If a leader finds his ministers inefficient or corrupt, he should show them the door. It is puzzling how shifting them to other ministries is going to help. This hurts the accountability aspect that those deserving sacking are simply being pushed to the back of the room but not out of it.

It is possible that there is some purpose after all in the UPA's recent exercise as tactical considerations seem to be motivations behind the whole merry-go-round routine, keeping in view the Assembly elections in two crucial States less than a year away. Hence the argument could be made that the preferential treatment given to some ministers was with an eye on elections to Uttar Pradesh and Kerala. In the change of UP's Salman Khursheed and Sriprakash Jaiswal's portfolios and in Kerala's Ravi's elevation to Civil Aviation Ministry, there is this underlying subtle message.

But means do not justify ends. Whatever end the UPA hopes to achieve by its new strategy, it will not stem the tide of popular discontent among people. It does not matter which minister gets what portfolio. What matters is what the aam aadmi gets after the reshuffle. The inefficient and tainted ministers getting shunted here and there will not make a difference as they will continue their loot. It will be business as usual for the UPA. With spiralling inflation hitting the common masses hard, the ruling coalition needs to realize that it is important to prioritize the aam aadmi's needs rather than shying away from its responsibilities. What the common man needs is a grip on the prices that are spiralling out of control.

The recent Cabinet reshuffle suggests that things will continue as they are. Nothing is going to change for the better. Inflation will remain high; corruption will be at its peak; and law and order will be at its lowest ebb. It is imperative for the Prime Minister to take action against the looters of the nation and solve the basic problems of the people rather than indulge in meaningless tamashas. With the Prime Minister describing the make-over as a "minor reshuffle", with the hints of a more "expansive exercise", there is some hope for the UPA to pull up its socks and restructure its organizational set-up.

Sunita Vakil








In a rather prescient speech that has particular resonance as unrest now sweeps the Middle East from Sanaa to Cairo to Beirut, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Arab regimes earlier this month that they would have to initiate democratic reforms before it was "too late."

Speaking at a conference on democracy in Doha, Qatar, on January 13, days before the Jasmine Revolution ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired similar popular uprisings across the region, Clinton blasted Arab governments for stalled political change.

"Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever," she predicted. "While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order."

Just how tired grew increasingly apparent this week, as protesters across the region – emboldened by the Tunisian precedent, which showed that an assertion of people power could accomplish what once seemed impossible – took to the streets in demonstrations against the abject failure of corrupt authoritarian regimes to meet their citizens' basic needs.

Rampant unemployment, skyrocketing inflation, a huge young population without much hope for the future, and the denial of elementary human rights – these sparked spontaneous mass gatherings that were impossible to put down, in part because there was no identifiable leadership that could be targeted. The grassroots character of the protests, which incorporate young and old, men and women, middle class and working class, also tends to mitigate against the use of extreme violence on the part of police and security personnel, which add to the chances of success.

IN EGYPT, the much-feared security forces were deployed, Internet was disabled and Al-Jazeera was blacked out. Yet against all odds, tens of thousands of people poured into the streets on Tuesday, in one of the largest non-anti-Western demonstrations in contemporary Egyptian history. Then they protested again on Wednesday. And on Thursday.

In Sanaa on Thursday, thousands of Yemenites protested against President Ali Abdullah Saleh's corrupt 30-year regime. In the shadow of the world's top oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, Yemen is struggling with soaring unemployment and dwindling oil and water reserves. Almost half its 23 million people live on $2 a day or less and a third suffer from chronic hunger.

Popular unrest has also flared in Jordan, Algeria, Libya and even in Saudi Arabia, while in Syria authorities have preemptively banned programs that allow access to Facebook Chat from cellphones, tightening already severe restrictions on the Internet in the wake of the unrest in Tunisia.

In Lebanon, supporters of the 2005 Cedar Revolution, which temporarily ended 30 years of Syrian occupation, protested against Hizbullah's effective seizure of power. Iran and Syria, acting via their proxy Hizbullah, have imposed Najib Mikati, a business partner of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as prime minister in place of Saad Hariri.

In the short run, the regimes may well manage to survive.

 Oil prices are tolerably high, security forces are loyal, foreign aid is available in abundance, elections have been manipulated and Islamists have been repressed. Nor would it necessarily serve the interests of national and regional stability for these authoritarian regimes, many of them allies of America, to be suddenly deposed.

In Tunisia, for instance, it is still unclear what sort of political leadership will fill the vacuum created by Ben Ali's forced departure. There is a kernel of truth to the Arab dictum that 100 years of tyranny is preferable to one day of chaos, though the ongoing American and European support for "stable" Arab tyrants has now made them accessories of unpopular rulers, further undermining the West's ability to support constructive change.

There are no shortcuts to the transition from tyranny to Western-style freedom. The overhasty imposition of quasidemocratic elections, without first laying the requisite groundwork, is demonstrably no solution. Hamas's takeover of Gaza and Hizbullah's rise to power in Lebanon are bitter proof of that.

Arab countries' fundamental and, therefore, nearly intractable problem is that in most cases the institutions that form the backbone of democracy – an honest judiciary, a legislature guided by liberal ideals, strict and equal law enforcement and a free press – do not yet exist.

The turmoil sweeping this region seems to vindicate Clinton's warning that the status quo of authoritarianism is no longer sustainable. But the question remains how to implement Clinton's advice. Building the durable institutions that are needed to make a peaceful transition to political and economic pluralism, and thus ensuring true freedom and democracy, is not a process that happens overnight.








It's become a bon ton in recent months: the importance of integrating Arabs into the Israeli economy. From the prime minister down through the cabinet, Knesset members, government officials and businessmen – all declare the need to reduce gaps, equalize services, absorb Arab university graduates and women into the job market, encourage entrepreneurship and develop industry. Without all these – they correctly proclaim – Israeli society will be unable to jump to the next level of economic development and growth. The Arab community, they say, must be transformed from a burden into an economic engine. It's good for the economy, good for Israel's image, good for the Arabs, good for the Jews.

Fair enough. In fact, serious efforts have recently been made in this spirit: Designated jobs and attractive terms are being offered to Arabs to join the civil service, so that the government can meet minority employment targets and ensure "fair representation," as required by law.

Furthermore, the Economic Development Authority in the Minority Sector was created; a government investment fund for industrial development in the Arab sector has been launched; development budgets have been allocated to selected Arab local authorities; the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities was established; and a program has been launched to introduce Arab women into the job market and find jobs for talented Arab university/college graduates in the field of high tech.

This broad acknowledgment of the economic benefits of integrating Arabs into the economy is very important and is to be applauded. Even more important are the tangible steps taken in this realm by the government and civic organizations. Nonetheless, these efforts come up short against the current stark reality.

Israel's Arab-Palestinian minority is currently the target of a ruthless, multipronged attack by the Jewish establishment: from civic-loyalty laws to dozens of other bills being debated by the Knesset, through racist rabbinical rulings and street violence against Arabs, to a systematic attempt to intimidate and destroy the organizations that oppose this assault.

What is the message that is being sent to Israel's Arab citizens? That the civil service wants them, but their loyalty is suspect; that the high-tech industry is open to them, but they are a security threat ‏(we demonstrate this to them well at Ben-Gurion airport‏); that it's important that they attend university, but they should play down their identity there; that they may be "colleagues" of Jews, but they will never be just "friends"; that their money is welcome in the malls, but they shouldn't even dream of living in the adjacent neighborhoods; that they can establish businesses in an industrial zone, but will never be accepted as members of the neighboring village; that they may be leaders in their professions, but their language and culture are alien and repulsive. An Arab citizen can be the top surgeon in a hospital, but if he needs to pray, he should excuse himself and go outside to do it.

Against this backdrop, the assumption that economics and politics can be separated has never sounded more naive and unrealistic. When the economic discourse embraces Arab citizens at the same moment that the general discourse bullies and excludes them, we should not expect the economy's declarations and gestures to bear much fruit.

Has the government forgotten that the economy is meant to serve a social vision? Or perhaps someone still harbors the topsy-turvy fantasy that Arab society should serve the Jewish economy? Is it rational to believe that we can embrace the Arab minority economically, but assault it in all other ways? Economic and employment development and efforts to reduce inequality play a very significant role in transforming Arab citizens into a genuine part of a shared Israeli community, but these steps are insufficient. Economic interests give rise to tactical partnerships of convenience rather than a deep-rooted strategic embrace that expresses our shared destiny.

Amnon Be'eri Sulitzeanu is co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that promotes coexistence and equality between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens.







Since it is necessary to spell things out, let's do so.

Obviously, I have never, directly or indirectly, pressured anyone to cancel a meeting in support of the partisans of the boycott of Israel, with Palestinian Leila Shahid, Frenchman Stephane Hessel and others scheduled to appear, at the Ecole normale superieure in Paris.

This would have been all the more absurd because, by nature and by conviction, I believe in the power of ideas and, even more, in that of the truth. In such circumstances, I am always in favor of debate, the clash of opinions, even the confrontation of convictions − hence, not of censure.

And the fact is that, in this particular circumstance, that is to say in the matter of the BDS ‏campaign that was to be the main subject of the Ecole normale meeting, I would have been more than happy to be able to present those who speak sincerely with facts and, basically, evidence that seems to have escaped them: namely, that we are faced here with a skillfully orchestrated but calumnious, bellicose, anti-democratic and, in a word, despicable campaign.


First, because one boycotts totalitarian regimes, not democracies. One can boycott Sudan, guilty of the extermination of part of the population of Darfur. One can boycott China, guilty of massive violations of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere. One can and should boycott the Iran that is oppressing Sakineh and Jafar Panahi − a country whose leaders have become deaf to the language of common sense and compromise. One can even imagine, as we once did with regard to the fascist generals' Argentina or Brezhnev's USSR, boycotting those Arab regimes whose citizens' freedom of expression is forbidden, and punished, if necessary, with blood.

One does not boycott the only society in the Middle East where Arabs read a free press, demonstrate when they wish to do so, send representatives to parliament, and enjoy their rights as citizens. Regardless of what one thinks of the policies of its government, one does not boycott the only country in the region and, beyond the region, one of the unfortunately limited number of countries in the world where voters have the power to sanction, modify and reverse the position of said government. To such an extent that finding, like Mr. Hessel, in his recent best-selling book, the source of his "main indignation" in the workings of a democracy that, like all democracies, is by definition imperfect but perfectible ‏(yet, on the contrary, having nothing to say about the millions of victims of Africa's forgotten wars, about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, or about the massacre of Bosnia's Muslims‏) is at best profoundly stupid and at worst, disgraceful.

And then, because, in any event, this boycott campaign is in reality indifferent to the stance of Mr. X or Mrs. Y. on their government. It is unaware of, nor does it care to know, what Israeli citizens themselves think, for example, of the resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank. It doesn't give a hoot about demands, parameters, actual conditions of peace between the citizens in question and their Palestinian neighbors. Of the latter, their aspirations, their interests, their possible hopes and the way the Hamas regime has smashed those hopes in Gaza, it doesn't give a tinker's damn and never says anything, either.

No. Regardless of what its promoters and its useful idiots say, the only real, accepted, hackneyed goal of this boycott campaign is to delegitimize Israel as such. That is what the comparison with the South Africa of apartheid implicitly expresses. That is what the anti-Zionist rhetoric that serves as the common denominator of all the groups constituting the BDS movement explicitly says, and, if words have any meaning, what signifies their intent to undermine the very idea that today, like it or not, binds the Israeli nation. And that is why this campaign, in fact, contravenes the customs, rules and laws of international and, in this case, French or American national law.

And then, lastly, there are those at the heart and, sometimes, at the origin of this campaign whose inspiration is, to say the least, not that of de Gaulle's Free French nor of those who penned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nor of those in favor of a just peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

I submit, to whomever wishes, the declarations of Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian BDS campaign, affirming that his goal is not two states but two Palestines. And those of Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada and also opposed to the two-state solution, who does not hesitate to compare Israel to Nazi Germany and this or that of its philosophers to the columnists of Der Stuermer. And the declarations of the leaders of Sabeel, that group of Palestinian Christians firmly implanted in North America, who, anxious to lend the idea of "responsible investment" a "theological" basis, do not hesitate to subtly but surely reactivate the stereotype of the Christ-killing Jew. Not to mention some rather shady initiatives whose purpose is to mark Jewish − sorry, Israeli − merchandise with supposedly derogatory stickers intended for the attention of the vigilant French consumer.

All that is deplorable and, once again, indisputable. Presenting the promoters of this discourse of hatred as victims speaks volumes of the current state of confusion − intellectual and moral − of a Western world one would have hoped had been cured of its worst criminal past.

Philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy is the author, most recently ‏(together with Michel Houellebecq‏), of "Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World" ‏(Random House‏).






State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sent shock waves through the government and military yesterday when he published an executive summary of his findings on the Yoav Galant land affair. The perception of a senior officer being very economical with the truth will weigh heavily on Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein this weekend when he digests the material in his office on the appointment of Maj. Gen. Galant as the Israel Defense Forces' next chief of staff. These include the findings Weinstein's deputy Malchiel Blass gathered in August and remarks by the High Court justices on the petition against Galant's appointment. The attorney general must submit his response to the High Court in the next two days.

The popular assumption is that Weinstein will decide Galant's fate because the High Court does not often invade the attorney general's space when he must consider whether something is reasonable. If he approves Galant's appointment, the justices will hesitate, but they will approve his decision. And if he retracts his defense of the appointment, the justices will agree to that, too. ‏(And they will not help Galant or Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is largely responsible for the appointment, if either of them petitions the High Court against the attorney general's decision‏).

That's the accepted thinking, but that's not necessarily the way things will work out. Senior officials' problematic behavior cannot always be hidden behind the attorney general's broad back. For example, Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair had mercy on Police Commissioner Rafi Peled, but the High Court put them in their place and urged Peled to step down. The acts attributed to Peled, even though they were only disciplinary infractions, not criminal, were no more serious than those that have entangled Galant. And Weinstein also has to consider damage to the attorney general's status if his position is rejected.

Thus Galant has two high hurdles left, or even four, and not just one: the attorney general and the High Court, definitely, and perhaps also the Turkel committee and the cabinet, if those bodies demand that discussions on his appointment be reopened. To serve as a credible and efficient chief of staff, he must clear all these hurdles unambiguously.

Galant is not a cadet whose commanders doubt whether he should be an officer, and has the rank of acting officer until a final decision is made. He can serve as chief of staff only if the heavy, or at least the gray, cloud that hovers over him is completely lifted.







The sweeping identification in Israel of "human rights organizations" with "leftist organizations" is a mistake. Even the left ignores the fact that human rights discourse is not their private domain. This simplistic approach blurs the hard core of the debate: What do Israel's left and right actually disagree about?

Modern human rights discourse was the product of two revolutions − England's Glorious Revolution in the 17th century and the American Revolution in the 18th century − and also of liberalism. None of these was "leftist." Property rights are identified with the political right; freedom of expression is a bastion of both left and right. But as viewpoints become more extreme, the idea of rights loses its validity.

The French Revolution, which at first waved the banner of human rights, lost interest in them when it sent thousands to the guillotine. Karl Marx sneered at individual rights, and Marxism rejected this "bourgeois invention." Only the moderate, social-democratic Western interpretation provided an opening for human rights discourse.

The same is true of the right. Extreme nationalism, fascism and Nazism disdained rights. But the democratic right, like the Conservatives in Great Britain and the Republicans in the United States, has faith in them. Ze'ev Jabotinsky insisted on "equal rights for [both] nations," Jews and Arabs alike.

In short, in order to believe in civil and human rights, you have to be located to the right of Marxism and to the left of chauvinistic nationalism. You have to stay in sight of the moderate center.

Shortly before the start of the attack on Israeli human rights organizations, inspired by the Im Tirtzu association and led by the Yisrael Beiteinu party, we witnessed a vigorous attempt by right-wing organizations and settlers to argue that they had a human right to settle on the land of their forefathers and a civil right not to be forcibly evacuated. Warlike acts against the Palestinians were justified, among other things, on the basis of Israeli Jews' "right to life."

These arguments expressed respect for human rights discourse, or at least acknowledgment of it, even if temporary or manipulative.

The attack on the human rights organizations in recent months signals a retreat from support for this idea. Members of the far right, like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ‏(Yisrael Beiteinu‏) and MK Michael Ben Ari ‏(National Union‏), cannot adopt the doctrine of human rights in any case ‏(not even in order to goad the Muslims, as the European right does‏). But it is more interesting to examine the large right-of-center public, which often demands its own rights. This public, adopting a simplistic description that has become widespread, believes the "human rights organizations" active in Israel are nothing more than "enemy rights organizations," a fifth column.

That, therefore, is the real debate between the Israeli left and right today. And we are not referring here to the far left ‏(which denies Israel's right to exist‏) or the far right ‏(which denies the rights of non-Jews‏).

Among the nonfanatic Jewish majority, the debate revolves around the following question: Is upholding human rights a sacred obligation or a dangerous luxury? Is the Jews' right to life and national survival already so unassailable that we can afford to protect the rights of minorities, foreigners and even enemy nationals?

In the 1950s, poet Natan Alterman assumed that young, poor and threatened Israel was obligated to protect the rights of its Arab citizens. Writing about MK Tawfik Toubi, an Arab communist, he explained, "By right and not by grace does he sit in the parliament. It may be time to remember that, friends."

But it turns out that we didn't remember: There is still a debate raging here over whether Arab Israelis deserve all civil rights. And even more so over whether illegal immigrants and Palestinians under occupation have human rights that we are obliged to uphold.

The Zionist left believes that Israel is sufficiently strong, and that insisting on the rights of minorities and foreigners is a clear sign of its strength and justice. In contrast, the nationalist right assumes that Israel is too weak, and that fully recognizing the rights of residents of Taibe, Jenin or migrant neighborhoods would put an end to Israeli sovereignty. Thus on this issue, the left is more optimistic and no less patriotic than the right.

Nevertheless, there is something to the right's arguments as well. Justice must be seen. Thus human rights organizations, especially those who deal with all sectors of society, must now emphasize what we thought was self evident: The rights of residents of Sderot, Beit Shean and Ariel are just as important, and just as grounded in universal rights discourse, as the rights of residents of Al-Araqib and Bili'in, or of foreign workers.

It's vital to emphasize that we are also fighting here for the rights of the majority. And to explain, even as we do so, why minority rights demand a far greater effort.







Many Chabad Hasidim believed that their rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was the King Messiah. After he died 17 years ago, a significant faction of these Hasidim denied his death, because the messiah is supposed to be immortal. The members of this faction continue to seek advice from their Admor ‏(an acronym for master, teacher and rabbi‏) about both general and personal matters via self-proclaimed intermediaries.

Coming to terms with the death of a messiah entails a cognitive dissonance − a destruction of one's emotional and spiritual world − with which they are were unable to cope. Where can they turn? So charlatans take advantage of their naivete, reply to their questions, and promise them that soon ‏(just like in Christianity‏), there will be a second coming.

This week, a secular text was published that rivals the messianic wing of Chabad in denying reality. The people behind the Geneva Initiative − who, thanks to foreign governments that like meddling in Israel's internal affairs, don't lack money − published giant advertisements with the messianic conclusions they derived from internal Palestinian Authority documents published by Al Jazeera this week.

"The Al Jazeera documents reveal that there is a partner," the disciples of this messianic peace proclaimed. "The gaps are small. An agreement is possible."

But, they added, once again using messianic terminology, something is missing. This missing something is preventing the longed-for outcome and delaying the redemption. "What is missing is courage."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert − as everyone knows from his conduct, and as was clearly revealed in the documents − was faint-hearted. He did not give up all of Jerusalem ‏(except the Jewish Quarter‏), he did not inform PA President Mahmoud Abbas that Israel would vacate most of the settlements under a peace agreement, and of course he did not offer the Palestinians parts of sovereign Israel in return for the "settlement blocs," because he was afraid.

It's the world turned upside down. While Abbas' cowardice is evident for all to see − as he utterly denies every concession attributed to him in the documents and frantically organizes violent demonstrations against Al Jazeera to divert fire from himself − it is Israel's leaders who are being accused, by Israelis, of lacking courage. When will the Jews also be blessed with strong, glorious leaders like the Palestinians have?

The documents indeed contain a great many revelations. They reveal, among other things, that the Palestinians did not budge an inch from their obdurate positions, except perhaps in their "concession" of the Jewish Quarter − which they denied. They did not deviate one bit from their demand for Ma'aleh Adumim, which is part of the Israeli and even the international consensus ‏("the settlement blocs"‏). Or from their demand for ownership of the Western Wall.

Yet despite all this, Abbas is seen by his people as a traitor. His pictures are burned in city squares, and Israeli security forces are helping to guard his life and thwart attempts to topple his government. That is how the Palestinian public reacts when the yearning for peace burns in their bones.

Only those of little faith, who do not see the light of peace bursting forth from the Palestinians' reaction to the documents' revelations, can deny the false-messianist claim that "there is a partner, the gaps are small, an agreement is possible." And the messiah is about to come.

Peace, like the messiah, does not associate with false prophets, with those who distort reality, who say that good people − their own countrymen − are evil, and because of them there is no peace. And vice versa. Especially vice versa.

A few questions for Yossi Beilin ‏(who has recently voiced quite a few strange ideas in other areas as well‏), and for all devotees of the temples of peace in Geneva: If indeed there is a partner, why did he repudiate his agreements with Olmert and flee them like the plague? Why did the leaks strike him like an earthquake? Why did Palestinians in Nablus, Jenin and Hebron ‏(and not merely in Gaza‏) rise up against him and accuse him of treason? After all, he reached a "possible agreement" with Olmert, something no other leader, including Yasser Arafat, ever did.

The life's work of these ‏(intentional‏) alchemists is sinking in a sea of facts, but they are still chanting their mantra: "There is a partner, the gaps are small." It's hard to believe.

Actually, it isn't so hard. Because after all, personal, political and economic interests − and I only wish I were suspecting the innocent − are concealed in the messianic industry, just as they were in the days of Shabtai Zvi, the 17th-century false messiah. Thousands of people, in many dozens of organizations, are being paid to arouse our love. Even if it is totally unrequited.

And when the messiah doesn't come − and for more than two years already, hasn't even telephoned − they blame their public and their leaders for not doing enough to make him come.

The messiah or peace: Which is closer? With all my heart, I hope it is peace. But just as is true of the messiah, peace will only grow more distant as long as deceivers take its name in vain. As long as it is a prisoner of those who call the darkness light and the light darkness, the suffering of those who yearn for a possible peace − which will never be perfect, and certainly not messianic − will only grow.

But even the way to a peace of this kind, as the documents prove, is long and tortuous. And that is not the fault of the Jews.



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



President Obama is smart to extend an olive branch to American businesses. Our economic success depends on businesses investing, growing and creating new jobs. From expanding exports to improving infrastructure, government and businesses share important goals.

From a purely pragmatic political standpoint, reaching an entente with corporate leaders will make it easer to defuse the hostility he has faced. Some of it has been purely partisan and ideological, from groups like the United States Chamber of Commerce, which deployed millions to unseat Democrats in the Congressional elections last year.

Still, Mr. Obama must take care not to let his agenda be taken over entirely by corporate interests. They do not belong to the only constituency he serves.

Appointing William Daley to be a business-friendly White House chief of staff seems a good idea; so does drafting Jeffrey Immelt of General Electric to lead his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. It's fine to promise to weed out stupid business regulations, though past administrations that have done the same have found that most of the regulations aren't stupid.

But Mr. Obama should keep in mind that the interests of corporations and their bosses are not necessarily always aligned with those of the country. All he needs to do is look at the pile of uninvested cash on which nonfinancial businesses are sitting — nearly $2 trillion — while the national unemployment rate remains above 9 percent.

Satisfying business interests can be tricky. Mr. Obama wants, for example, to reduce the 35 percent top corporate tax rate. That might sound like music to corporate ears, but it could easily run into powerful opposition. That's because the president has rightly linked the reduction in the marginal tax rate to closing the loopholes in the tax code that allow many corporations to pay much less in taxes than they should.

Despite the high corporate tax rate, taxes on corporate income only raise an amount equal to 2.1 percent of the gross domestic product. That is way below the 3.5 percent of G.D.P. raised, on average, across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It puts the United States near the bottom of industrial nations. Even the most promising areas for cooperation — like increasing exports — are tricky. Business groups are right to urge the administration to obtain Congressional approval for the trade agreements with Colombia and Panama that were signed during the administration of George W. Bush. But Mr. Obama has been unwilling to face down trade unions and has placed the deals on the back burner.

President Obama should bring his party on board and pass the trade agreements. He should consult closely with business on his plans to invest in public infrastructure. But this is a two-way street. Some business lobbying groups have fought Mr. Obama on ideological, not policy grounds, opposing major initiatives tooth and nail, including health care reform. As Mr. Obama reaches out to them, corporate interest groups must abandon the politics of division and gridlock and reach back out to him.





Lebanon's next prime minister, Najib Mikati, owes his job to Hezbollah. That is regrettable and dangerous. It will heighten Lebanon's divisions, antagonize Western donors (including the United States) and complicate the work of the international tribunal set up to try the killers of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister.

The problem is not inevitably Mr. Mikati, who served as prime minister in 2005. During his first administration, Lebanon authorized a preliminary international investigation into the Hariri assassination. In those days, Mr. Mikati was not beholden to Hezbollah.

We hope he can still find ways to put Lebanon's interests first and dare Hezbollah to challenge him. He now says that he will make no move against the tribunal "without full Lebanese consensus." No such consensus exists or is likely to emerge. The tribunal remains Lebanon's best hope for accountability and justice.

Hezbollah began as an Iranian-sponsored terrorist group. It has since become a skillful player in electoral politics. But it refuses to accept the rules of a constitutional, parliamentary government. It maintains a heavily armed militia and uses threats of renewed civil war to coerce less powerful groups to support its political aims.

The country's previous prime minister, Saad Hariri, resisted that intimidation for months, refusing Hezbollah's demands that Lebanon repudiate the international tribunal investigating his father's murder. Hezbollah believed, probably correctly, that the tribunal would indict some of its members for that crime. Indictments have now been filed, but they still remain sealed.

Mr. Hariri remains the leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, whom no government can afford to ignore. His supporters must stand firm but avoid violence. Mr. Mikati (a Sunni) should calm Sunni fears by naming a cabinet dominated by technocrats, not Hezbollah militants. He must insist that Hezbollah respect Lebanon's laws and refrain from threats. And he must honor Lebanon's international obligations, including compliance with a much-violated United Nations Security Council resolution barring the flow of arms to Hezbollah through Syria.

If Mr. Mikati lives up to these responsibilities, Washington should continue to aid nonsectarian Lebanese institutions, like the national army. (The United States has given $1.2 billion in economic and military aid over the past five years). If the new government allows Hezbollah to turn those institutions to its own sectarian ends, Washington will have to end that support.

The Hariri tribunal, an international body, must continue its work. The United States, the European Union and Saudi Arabia should pick up some of the costs previously paid by Lebanon. Since Tunisia's so-called Jasmine Revolution, we have heard a lot of talk from the Arab world about ending impunity and reasserting the rule of law. That is exactly what the Hariri tribunal aims to do.





Capital punishment means lethal injection. The administration of a barbiturate as part of a fatal dose of drugs is meant to render a convict unconscious before other drugs stop his or her breathing and heart so the execution can somehow be construed by a judge as being neither cruel nor unusual.

Sodium thiopental is at the heart of this story. A fast- and short-acting general anesthetic, it has been used to put convicts under and make executions methodical. For more than a year, however, a shortage of the drug has widened the gap between the reality of carrying out executions and support for them in American law. In October, a majority of the Supreme Court wrongly insisted there was no evidence that the shortage had any bearing on whether an execution can be done constitutionally. Now the evidence is impossible to ignore.

We strongly oppose capital punishment on many grounds. Even with judicial blessing, the conduct of executions in this country is a shambles. In Arizona and Georgia, the sodium thiopental used in executions has possibly been ineffective and almost certainly been illegal. It came from Dream Pharma, an unlicensed British supplier, run from a driving school. The batches carried a date of 2006. They were likely made by a company in Austria that went out of business. The drug is said to be effective for only a year. As a foreign-made drug without approval by the Food and Drug Administration, it is prohibited by federal statute.

The F.D.A. initially suspected the drug from Dream Pharma of being adulterated or mislabeled and refused to let it be imported. Then it let the drug enter the country — but with the warning that the agency hadn't reviewed the drug's "identity, safety, effectiveness, purity or any other characteristics."

This month, the F.D.A. stated: "Reviewing substances imported or used for the purpose of state-authorized lethal injection clearly falls outside of F.D.A.'s explicit public health role."

In the meantime, the only American manufacturer of sodium thiopental — formerly described as F.D.A.-approved — has announced it will no longer make the drug. It planned to produce the drug in Italy, but the Italian government has said it won't permit the drug's export for use in executions.

When it reaffirmed the constitutionality of capital punishment three years ago, a splintered Supreme Court said it believed lethal injection carried neither "substantial" nor "objectively intolerable" risk of inflicting serious harm. How can the justices be confident in that conclusion now?






At a mid-January meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Society in London — held in the Members' Dining Room at the House of Commons, no less — the English writer Anthony Horowitz announced that he has been commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write a new novel featuring the venerable detective. According to Mr. Horowitz's publisher, the title is a "closely guarded secret" and the prologue is "under lock and key."

We find this curious. The Conan Doyle Estate has gone through several owners before being sold back to a company of Doyle heirs, but copyright in the Holmes stories has nearly come to an end. (In Britain, all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes books are in the public domain. In the United States, only the last — and least important — volume, "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes," is still under copyright.) And any writer can write a new story featuring the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

The Conan Doyle Estate describes itself as the "only company associated with the family" and offers "a unique seal of approval" bearing the profiles of Holmes and Watson. But there is no reason why an "official" 21st-century Holmes story will be any better or more authentic — whatever that means in this case — than an "unofficial" one.

Mr. Horowitz is a well-regarded TV writer and author of the Alex Rider series of children's books. His Holmes will surely be recognizably Holmes, and Mr. Horowitz may well write a ripping yarn. We certainly hope so. We're glad, nonetheless, that literary estates of this kind — corporate extensions of a familial association, with a seal of approval — don't antedate the 20th century. We shudder to think what the Shakespeare Estate might be endorsing now.






Every Thursday my gurus, Mr. Burke and Mr. Hamilton, get together at the Heavenly Rest to drink and talk politics. Mr. Burke prefers a whiskey and water, while Mr. Hamilton likes a good strong Sex on the Beach. This week, they ended up talking about President Obama.

Burke: I congratulate you. Your president is most prudent and wise. He has decided to focus on three things: education reform, infrastructure investment and scientific innovation. He's not wasting money on desperate schemes to pump up the employment rate before the next elections. He's thinking about the long-term prosperity of the nation.

Moreover, his State of the Union address demonstrated an admirable sense of moderation and continuity. His competitiveness initiatives build intelligently on the ones Bill Clinton spoke of in 1996 and the ones George W. Bush mentioned in 2006. They also demonstrate an exquisite realism. With your nation so divided, he has plucked out the proposals on which there is some agreement. By working together on these things now, your leaders can establish the trust necessary to tackle bigger and tougher issues during Obama's second term.

Hamilton: You're mad, Burke! Obama has completely misread the national situation. The United States is careening toward disaster. The deficit this year is the highest in history: $1.48 trillion. In a mere eight years, the national debt will hit 90 percent of G.D.P. Interest payments alone on the debt will be $1 trillion! And he goes before the country with nostalgic happy talk and decides to spend the next two years treading water?

He pats himself on the back for a spending freeze projected to save $400 billion over 10 years. That's an infinitesimal sliver of the $45 trillion the government will be spending over that time.

Is he aware of the national bankruptcy rushing ever closer? Doesn't he see that the nation wants a fundamental change in Washington, not a few more tax credits for solar panels?

Obama is going to go down in history as the Nero who fiddled as Rome burned. He reformed health care without changing the ruinous incentives that were bankrupting the system. He submitted budgets that hastened the national collapse. The Republicans accuse him of being a socialist, but, the fact is, he's Mr. Status Quo.

Burke: My dear sir. He's an officeholder, not a think-tank Johnny. I know intellectuals are perpetually exercised by the crisis du jour, but the current deficits are not really that big. A tad more revenue and a normal bit of spending restraint will take care of them. Besides, look at Japan and Europe. They're in much worse fiscal shape. The world is happy to keep lending you money.

Obama has to deal with the country as it is. The electorate does not want entitlement cuts, which is why even the Republicans don't dare mention the word "Medicare" except to promise even more money for it. Do you know how many Republican activists support Medicare reforms? According to a survey by Conservative Home, it is 3 percent!

I'd say Obama is a practical realist, building gradually on America's present prosperity, not venturing out rashly in the grip of some abstract plan.

Hamilton: You vastly underestimate the structural problems leading to slowing growth rates, higher unemployment and higher inequality. I advise you to read Tyler Cowen's new e-book, "The Great Stagnation," in which he argues that Americans have already picked the low-hanging economic fruit and now face an entirely set of difficult decisions. You also underestimate the dysfunction of the nation's government.

We're in the middle of a global race to see who can most intelligently reform the welfare state. The Simpson-Bowles commission put everything on the table, and far from seizing the opportunity to lead a national discussion on big things like fundamental tax and entitlement reform, he gave them the most cursory of mentions.

Besides, where is his vision? Is his entire philosophy encapsulated in the phrase, "Light Rail?" Does he realize that by being so modest he is ceding all momentum to the Republicans in Congress?

Burke: Ideologies are for theoreticians. President Obama will emerge as the mature moderate while the Republicans will seem unstable and dangerous. He will talk about realistic concrete improvements, like higher teacher salaries, while the Republicans will talk of unpopular and devastating spending cuts that never materialize. He will be optimistic while they will offer austerity and alarm. Have you seen that only 34 percent of Americans approve of the G.O.P. agenda, according to a PSRA/Pew poll.

Hamilton: You are wrong. Obama talks of a Sputnik moment as if NASA were a model for the future. He will be regarded as the embodiment of a government that is no longer working. As the unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent, and as problems accumulate, he will come to realize that he has sealed his doom.








ALMOST exactly six years after the Cedar Revolution led to a rapid withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, the United States' dream that it could use this fragile country as a launching pad for a New Middle East — one with a decidedly pro-American bent — has seemingly collapsed.

One could argue that it crumpled at exactly 11:58 a.m. on Tuesday, when a Christian member of the Lebanese Parliament from the Bekaa Valley named Nicola Fattoush strode into the presidential palace and cast his ballot against Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Mr. Hariri is the son of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister whose assassination in February 2005 is the basis for soon-to-be-expected indictments by the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Although the new prime minister, Najib Mikati, didn't need Mr. Fattoush's support to defeat Saad Hariri — the militant Shiite movement Hezbollah and the Parliament's largest single bloc of Christians, headed by Gen. Michel Aoun, along with some Sunni Muslim and Druze members, provided the numerical edge — Mr. Fattoush's vote held particular significance. Not only had he been an ally of Saad Hariri's, but he had just days before received a widely publicized visit from the United States ambassador, Maura Connelly, in his home district.

That a small-time figure known for his political horse-trading would spurn a superpower's attempt to retain his vote for its man provides an exclamation point on just how poorly Washington's policy of "maximalism" — applying sporadic bouts of pressure on its allies while refusing to sincerely negotiate with its adversaries — has fared in Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. The Obama administration is going to need a very different approach when it comes to dealing with the "new" Lebanon.

Unfortunately, though, such a change will be far more difficult today than it would have been just six years ago, when Hezbollah had its political back against the wall, lacking support outside its Shiite base and the insurance of Syrian troops in the country.

In April of that year, Hezbollah went so far as to send one of its affiliated politicians, Trade Hamade, to meet with State Department officials to work out a modus vivendi. He left Washington empty-handed: the Bush administration believed that American influence was on the rise in Lebanon and that Hezbollah could be cornered into agreeing to disarmament before any substantive negotiations.

Instead of undermining Hezbollah's political support by broadening alliances with pro-American figures in Lebanon and addressing the concerns held by many Lebanese — the sentiment that Israel still occupied Lebanese territory in the south, that there were Lebanese in Israeli jails and that the country needed a stronger national defense — the Bush administration cultivated a narrow set of local allies and pursued a "with us or against us" strategy aimed at eliminating Hezbollah.

Sadly, it took this policy less than a year to result in a botched Israeli invasion that killed and wounded thousands of Lebanese citizens and gave Hezbollah unprecedented popularity in the region.

Today, Syria has regained much of its hegemony in the country — this time without the cost of stationing troops — and is again at the center of regional politics. Hezbollah's military capacity, by all accounts, has soared, and many of its leaders seem to harbor the dangerous belief that they can decisively win a "final" confrontation with Israel. The Party of God has also deftly maintained and even expanded its political alliances — including one with about half the Christians in the country — that gave it the power to change the government this week by constitutional means.

Perhaps most frustratingly, Hezbollah has largely succeeded in undermining the legitimacy of the United Nations tribunal in the Arab and Islamic worlds. In this effort it had unintentional American help. As a recent report from the International Crisis Group put it, the manner in which the investigation was established, "pushed by two Western powers with clear strategic objectives" — the United States and France — "contaminated" the process.

So, what can the United States do to reverse Hezbollah's new momentum? Its options are limited. Given the change of government, Congress may well try to cut off all aid to Lebanon and the Lebanese Army. The Obama administration will likely reiterate its support for the tribunal and push for any indictments of Hezbollah figures. But neither step would have much of an impact on Hezbollah's core calculations or desires.

Hezbollah will continue to increase its military power, edging ever closer to what Israeli officials have called a "redline" of capabilities that would prompt Israel to mount a major "pre-emptive" attack. Such a move would, as it was in 2006, be devastating for Lebanon, probably for Israel and certainly for United States interests in the region, not least because Hezbollah would likely survive and even gain new adherents among those affected by Israeli strikes on Lebanese infrastructure and civilian areas.

Still, there is a way for Washington to stake out a reasonable, nonviolent alternative: by pushing for the immediate revival of peace talks between Syria and Israel. Eleven years ago, a peace agreement between the two countries that would have included the disarmament of Hezbollah fell apart, largely because the Israeli prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, found it too politically difficult to hand over to Syria the last few hundred yards of shoreline around the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee bordering the Golan Heights.

Although a new deal on the Golan would not lead to the end of Hezbollah in the immediate term, it would contain the movement's ability and desire to use violence, as Syria would need to commit to cutting off the supply routes by which Iranian (and Syrian) weapons are now smuggled into Lebanon. Militarily weakened, and without Syrian or much domestic political backing to continue in its mission to liberate Jerusalem, Hezbollah would find it extremely difficult to threaten Israel's northern border.

Certainly some Israelis see the benefits of such a deal. Ilan Mizrahi, a former deputy chief of the Mossad and national security adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, told an interviewer recently that on his first day on the job, he recommended that Mr. Olmert make a deal with Syria because it would "change the security situation in the Middle East." He said he still believed that.

When asked if a pullout might create a threat to Israel along the Golan, Mr. Mizrahi answered: "Our chief of staff doesn't think so. Our head of intelligence, military intelligence, doesn't think so ... the best Israeli generals are saying we can negotiate it, so I believe them."

Would pressuring Israel into a full withdrawal from the Golan be politically difficult for President Obama? Surely — as it would be for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. But given the alternatives for Lebanon, Israel and the United States, anything less would be merely setting up temporary roadblocks to an impending regional disaster.

Nicholas Noe is the editor in chief of and the editor of "Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah."







When Congress created a commission to investigate the 2008 financial crisis, it did so with the hope that the panel would agree on causes, identify culprits and recommend ways to prevent future meltdowns. Comparisons were made to the famed Pecora investigation during the Great Depression.


Instead, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission got off to a slow start, was plagued by internal friction and suffered from heavy staff turnover. With the release Thursday of its findings, the panel lived down to diminished expectations.


In fact, the commission seems to have become a microcosm of dysfunctional American politics. The panel's four Republicans refused to go along with Democrats, then divided among themselves. Sound familiar?


Of the various explanations for what drove the country to the edge of a second Depression, the majority report is the most comprehensive and plausible. It spreads the blame, citing poor financial regulation, a breakdown in corporate governance and ethics, and recklessness among lenders and borrowers alike. It describes the meltdown as a fire sparked by collapsing mortgage lending standards and fueled by the sale of exoticfinancial instruments that magnified rather than mitigated risk. And it is especially critical of the Federal Reserve for not putting the fire out.


The six members who backed this version were not particularly ideological. Only two, including Chairman Phil Angelides, a former California treasurer, are politicians. The others come from the law and business.


The minority reports, on the other hand, suffer from an ideological aversion to regulation. Their initial dissent, issued in December, took the approach of American Enterprise Institute fellow Peter Wallison, who argues that the predominant cause of the financial crisis was misguided federal housing policies designed to promote home ownership — certainly a central culprit, but hardly the only one.


In the past month, the other three Republicans, including Vice Chairman Bill Thomas, a former congressman from California, decided to lay much of the blame on a global credit bubble, fueled in part by easy lending policies of central banks. A glut of money looking for "safe" investments poured into subprime lending and other risky propositions.


These dissents raise valid points, which are acknowledged in the majority report. But they glaringly omit the many failures of U.S. regulators to spot the growing credit bubble and to take actions to mitigate it. That, unfortunately, seems to be the point. Last year, Congress passed a sweeping banking reform law, and various agencies will craft rules to implement it. The dissenters seem intent on avoiding any conclusion that would argue for tough standards.


Given the immense damage caused by what the majority correctly called a "preventable" crisis — 4 million foreclosures so far, the destruction of $11 trillion in household wealth and 26 million people out of work — it's a shame that the commission couldn't reach a unanimous conclusion.


After all, as the aphorism goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.







WASHINGTON — One thing we have learned about President Obama over six-plus years: This president can make even a mushy speech sound like the second Gettysburg Address.


What does "winning the future" mean, anyway? Obama's State of the Union theme sounded like a product of one of those management retreats where executives are asked to compare themselves to their favorite tree. Newt Gingrich found the phrase so catchy he made it the title of a 2005 book.


There can't be an Obama-Gingrich ticket in the works, right?


In Obama's defense, the State of the Union speech has evolved into a tricky hybrid. It isn't constitutionally required every year, although what president will give up a prime-time audience of 50 million or more? But because they have been so ritualized, televised and scrutinized, State of the Unions have become far more of a political device than the framers of the Constitution likely intended. Many of them distrusted political parties and warned of their effects.


The Constitution directs the president "from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union." Capitalizing "Information" was an interesting twist. Were the framers saying they wanted this message to be a "just the facts" recitation, devoid of ideology or partisan argument?


Nor are these messages required to be given verbally. Woodrow Wilson bequeathed us this tradition, and he did it in the pre-radio age.


But State of the Union speeches are the closest thing we have to an annual board meeting of the American Republic. Most recently, they have become a predictable show of force for the applauding members of Congress on the left and the right, although there was less partisanship when Obama spoke Tuesday night.


The problem is that State of the Union speeches commingle policy with inspiration, and they often fall short on both fronts. They almost always go on too long. Obama gave a pretty good 40-minute speech, with a few quantifiable goals that Joe Q. Barstool could hang a beer cap on, but then the president tacked on another 22 minutes. Joe Q. was probably on to Lakers-Jazz by then.


Sometimes State of the Unions produce memorable lines, like Bill Clinton's election-year "era of big government is over" (however wrong it looks in retrospect). George W. Bush's post-9/11, bone-chilling "axis of evil" turned out to be a de facto declaration of war.


Obama's message, while well received, produced no such declarations, which tells us a lot about this president, and ourselves. We know where he stands at a political moment. We have less of a sense of what he stands for. Listeners heard in the speech what they wanted to, but not necessarily what they needed. Where, in any of it, was serious talk about what average Americans will have to sacrifice to solve this budget catastrophe our leaders say is upon is?


Some of Obama's growth ideas that sound good on paper — the potential of green industry and green jobs, for instance — are highly disputed in the new Republican House. Obama talked about cutting a pet program dear to his heart — funding for community action. He pointed out he had frozen salaries of some federal employees. But those are proverbial peanuts. With a $1.5 trillion deficit, what else, how broad, and how deep?


A veto threat on earmarks — pet spending that gets buildings named after politicians and bridges built to nowhere — got Sen. John McCain on his feet and Sen. Harry Reid grumbling. And it will have a pebble-in-an-ocean effect on getting rid of the $14 trillion debt.


Give the president credit, however. He called for a spending freeze and for more spending in the same speech and didn't get summarily shouted down. Maybe this Kumbaya Congress thing is working after all.

Someone on the Democratic side proclaimed "amen" when Obama said that the budget simply can't be balanced without raising taxes on the wealthiest 2%. Democrats don't even consider that pain. As Joe Biden said on the campaign trail in 2008, that's patriotic duty.


But if "we can't get this budget balanced without raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans" was true on State of the Union night, it was just as true in December, when Obama cut a deal with Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts on everyone, including the richest Americans.


Then, Obama had a far friendlier Democratic Congress to deal with. Now his White House is proclaiming that tax deal as a blueprint for economic stimulus and bipartisanship legislating.


In the end, you can't have it both ways, however nice the words sound.


(Chuck Raasch writes from Washington for Gannett. Contact him at, follow him at or join in the conversation at







The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was impaneled to describe to Congress, the president and the American people what caused the financial crisis. What it produced was a story about the financial crisis, but not what caused the financial crisis.


Both the majority report by six Democratic appointees, and the dissent by three of the Republican members, acknowledged that the U.S. and world financial system were badly hurt by the collapse of a huge U.S housing bubble. The bubble's collapse was destructive, everyone agrees, because banks and other financial institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere held large numbers of U.S mortgages — or securities backed by these mortgages — which lost most of their value when the bubble's collapse drove down housing prices.


Left out of both the Democratic and Republican accounts was the vital fact that although many other countries also had housing bubbles, the number of mortgage defaults in the U.S. was many times higher than in any other country. This would suggest that the underlying cause of the financial crisis was the particular weakness of the mortgages in the U.S. financial system — the likelihood that they would default when the U.S. bubble deflated.


In my dissent, I point out that before the financial crisis began in 2008, half of all mortgages in the U.S. financial system — 27 million loans — were subprime or otherwise high risk. This was an unprecedented number and a far larger percentage than in any bubble in the past.


Why were so many U.S. mortgages so weak? Both the Democratic and Republican reports ignored this central question. The answer is that it was Housing and Urban Development's policy, from 1992 to 2007, to reduce mortgage underwriting standards so that more people could buy homes. Home ownership rates rose. But in 2007 it all came apart.


Then the finger-pointing began — and continued in the two commission reports. But the government cannot escape the numbers. Just before the financial crisis, government agencies, or institutions under its control, held or had guaranteed more than two-thirds of the risky loans that brought the financial system down. If we don't change these government policies, we won't escape the next crisis.


Peter J. Wallison, a member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.








•He gets it here at home.


•He doesn't get it about Afghanistan.


Obama took proper credit for getting us out of some of the domestic economic mess he inherited and showed a good grasp of what he and we still need to do to get us back on both feet financially.


But he ignored the mess he inherited in Afghanistan and his own unwise tripling down of our troops there. Less than one minute of his one hour and one minute speech was devoted to Afghanistan. Fewer than 100 of his 6,936 words dealt with that problem.


In his curt reference to Afghanistan, he did say that "the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance."


That was a no-name reference to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He has become almost as dictatorially undesirable as was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before we dethroned him in 2003.


Unfortunately, unless we have a family member or friend fighting in Afghanistan, most of us give that misadventure the same short shrift Obama is giving it.


That's despite the fact that $119.4 billion of our budget for 2011 is marked for Afghanistan. Even more important, close to 100,000 of our military men and women are serving there, and 1,360 have died in that service.


Domestic economic conditions are the most important for our elected officials now. But by November 2012, we'll hopefully be thinking worldwide again.


If Obama doesn't get it and get us out of Afghanistan before then, some Republican, Independent or Tea Party candidate will get him out of office in that election.


I voted for Obama for president, but ...


"The president flunked at home and abroad. Throwing more tax dollars at the economy won't help. On Afghanistan, the problem was his pledge to pull back and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."







The evidence that our federal government's spending is out of control continues to pile up.

What is the latest proof of that fact?

The current U.S. budget -- which covers spending for the fiscal year that will end next Sept. 30 -- is heading toward a record deficit of $1.5 trillion -- meaning we will be spending that much more than our too-high taxes will bring in!

That's a figure we can hardly comprehend. The red ink -- not the total government spending, but just the excess above expected tax collections -- will be equal to 9.8 percent of our nation's gross domestic product. GDP is everything that our vast country and its hundreds of millions of people produce in a year!

The Congressional Budget Office this week estimated that we will have to borrow roughly 40 cents for every dollar the federal government spends this fiscal year!

Is that responsible?

We already have a national debt of more than $14 trillion. There is a legal "debt limit," enacted by Congress. It's $14.3 trillion. We are close to it. Republicans in majority in the House of Representatives say they will not raise the legal debt limit without major corresponding spending cuts. Do you want to increase our debt?

Social Security is something that many of our people are depending upon. It has been financed in past years from taxes being paid by current workers. But now, the Social Security pay-outs are exceeding the tax pay-ins. Does anyone want to cut Social Security checks?

For that matter, who is showing a willingness to cut spending on any of the things the federal government funds: Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies or ...? You fill in the blank.

It's hard to face the fact that taxes are too high -- holding down free-enterprise investment and economic growth -- but that spending is much higher. Eventually, however, reality must be confronted.

Do you believe President Barack Obama, the Democrat majority in the Senate, the GOP majority in the House and all the American people are ready to face federal financial facts?

Whether we are ready or not, they will inevitably face us.






The Associated Press reported this week, "This year alone, Social Security will pay out $45 billion more in retirement, disability and survivors' benefits than it collects in payroll taxes." Those figures are from the Congressional Budget Office.


How many Americans get Social Security checks? More than 54 million. The monthly checks average $1,076.


In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said he wants "a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations."


Last year, Obama appointed a special commission to recommend, among other things, a solution to the Social Security red ink. The commission recommended gradually raising the full Social Security retirement age from 67 to 69 over the next six and a half decades. But Obama has not endorsed that idea.


Social Security has been financed by a 6.2 percent tax on employers and employees alike. Last December, Congress cut the tax on employees to 4.2 percent for one year. It will borrow more money to cover the gap.


Social Security supposedly has built up a $2.5 trillion surplus over the years -- but the money is not there. It has been "borrowed" to cover other excessive government spending, with IOUs being put in its place. Who'll pay off the IOUs?


omeday, there must be a "payday" -- financed by somebody. But when? And by whom?







Once upon a time, a fellow could run for office "cheap." Oh, some candidates helped draw a crowd to speeches with a keg of cider. But generally, a candidate could run with "lunch money," gasoline, a hotel room and maybe a little printing. But not now, or at least not for anyone who really hopes to win.


We are shocked that it cost $16.7 million for our fine new Tennessee governor, Republican Bill Haslam, to win last year. His opponent, Democrat Mike McWherter, spent $3.4 million. Even that's too much.


In 2006, Republican Bob Corker's victorious U.S. Senate campaign spent $18.6 million, while Democrat Harold Ford spent $15.5 million.


In 2002, Democrat Phil Bredesen spent $11.22 million as he won the Tennessee governorship. The opposing Republican, U.S. Rep. Van Hilleary, spent $7.77 million.


TV, radio, newspaper and other advertising are important. But the sky-high cost of political campaigns is troubling.






More than half a century ago, General Motors was our nation's biggest company. GM's Chevrolet was our most popular car, and GM's chief executive was "Engine Charlie" Wilson.

He became a good secretary of defense under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. But he got into political hot water when he was misquoted as saying, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." His critics jumped on him for mentioning General Motors first -- though he really hadn't. But Wilson's overall point was correct. When General Motors prospered, our whole country prospered, and vice versa. Alas, we wish General Motors were that prosperous these days.

GM's cars are still popular, but we were surprised by a recent Times Free Press headline that said, "GM's China sales pass U.S. for first time in history."

The article by The Associated Press explained, "General Motors Co. sold more cars and trucks in China last year than it did in the U.S., for the first time in the company's 102-year history."

The next paragraph read: "Despite GM's growth in China, Toyota Motor Corp. held onto the title of world's largest automaker. The Japanese company reported 8.42 million sales worldwide last year. That's 30,000 more than GM's 8.39 million."

What happened? Shouldn't that news make us stop and think? Why and how did we let our once-biggest U.S. company be outstripped by a Japanese car company -- and GM's sales in Communist China outstrip domestic sales?

There are lots of reasons, of course -- among them, China's huge population and growing demand for goods. But we should be concerned when conditions are such that a foreign manufacturer of any major product, such as cars, can surpass us in manufacturing, popularity, quality, sales or anything else we are engaged in.

We have become rather smug about the United States being "first" in whatever we might endeavor. But success is not automatic. Remember free enterprise? Remember when we believed "the sky is the limit," and we were never second in ideas and hard work -- and success?

America's know-how could always win! That was before we became encumbered by too much regulation, economic restraint, self-satisfaction, artificial hindrance and maybe even laziness.

Recall the old story about Gulliver, who got tied down by the tiny but determined Lilliputians and became a captive.

There was a moral in the Gulliver story.

Let's not ignore it.







In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama seized on a Cold War metaphor, telling his country it needs a "Sputnik moment" to refocus its energies on the economy and overcome its divisive politics. His attempt at a parallel with the Soviet launch in 1957 of the world's first orbiting satellite, and the mobilization of Americans it spawned to "catch up," has been much analyzed in recent days. We have two reactions:

The first is that historic events can indeed be used by leaders to steer policy in new directions, the fall of the Berlin Wall or the Sept. 11 attacks on New York come to mind. They cannot be manufactured, however. His appeal will founder in its lack of authenticity. It is a lounge act in place of original political music.

The second is that the United States faces just such a moment. Its decades-old effort to secure stability in our resource-rich region by so many different means, and the 17-year-old process to nurture a true peace between Israelis and Palestinians, has gasped its last breath. However one may feel about WikiLeaks and the mercurial Julian Assange, his rogue document dumping has placed the final nail in the coffin of the region's politics as we once knew it.

Tunisia is in a high stage of revolt and Egypt is scarcely a few steps behind. The just-concluded Iran nuclear talks in Istanbul have ended in failure. Hezbollah is clearly in charge in Lebanon. Iraq may have a government, but just barely. And the Palestinian Authority is now an oxymoron. The so-called "Palestine Papers" have not only ripped that last shreds of legitimacy off of the feckless rulers of the West Bank, they have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt just how expertly the Israeli tail wags the American dog.

Obama's avowed outreach to Islam and commitment to democratic change is clearly on the line. It is not enough for his secretary of state to lecture Arab leaders, as she did a few days ago, on the need to end "autocratic rule."

If ever there was a train of events that should be marshaled with similar resolve to Sputnik, Obama need look no further for inspiration than the front pages of his daily newspaper. It is time he took a stand against the "Israel lobby" in Washington that tramples not only on U.S. but real Israeli interests as well. Double-speak jargon on the Mavi Marmara incident, such as we have seen from the State Department in recent days, should end.

Turkey's first official commemoration yesterday of the 60th anniversary of the Nazi Holocaust is a small bit of symbolism that could ease the growing Turkish-Israeli rift and should not be ignored. Hillary Clinton's visit here next month, to what really is her last effective regional interlocutor, is another opportunity that should not be squandered.

And Obama needs to respond clearly and boldly to the historical sweep of history. 







The Central Bank did the trick again. It was really a big surprise for market players to see another policy rate cut after series of hawkish talks from Gov. Durmuş Yılmaz ahead of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting Jan. 20.

Careful readers might recall that I warned here about the evolution of expectations to no change in policy rate, while a contradicting decision had not been totally ruled out. In my opinion, whatever the decision, the Central Bank should make sure that it will not be perceived as dovish this time. Despite the synchronization problem due to a four-day delay in the decision on the other leg of policy mix – reserve requirement, or RR – in the Central Bank Board, sharp hikes in that liability reaching 4 percentage points for short-term deposits did the job. Recall that a 2-percentage-point RR hike following a 0.5 percentage point rate cut in December failed to convince, but cutting the policy rate by only 25 basis points clearly showed that the impact of this policy mix will be contractionary.

One day after the board meeting, Gov. Yılmaz presented the first Inflation Report of 2011. The report was an opportunity to strengthen the hawkish message given by recent decisions. The Bank revised the end-2011 inflation forecast up by 50 basis points to 5.9 percent, which is higher than the year-end inflation target of 5.5 percent. Fifteen basis points of this is due to higher food inflation forecast and 35 basis points due to higher energy prices. The bank left the end-2012 forecast intact at 5.1 percent and claimed there will be limited tightening in the policy mix for the rest of the year in order to achieve this. This would probably be done through more reserve requirement rises, while further rate cuts cannot be ruled out at this stage. The bank also revised its short-term output gap expectations lower, due to higher public sector expenditures in the last month of 2010, but changed the long-term expectations higher so that the output gap closes in the second quarter of 2012, a quarter later than the previous report. This was due to the recent tightening in the monetary policy mix. With this, credit growth would also be targeted to decline to 20-25 percent vicinity. According to the inflation report, the current policy mix seems to be quite tight, given that the output gap is closing later than the previous report. However, the bank already lets the end-2011 inflation to exceed the target, while only a limited tightening is assumed for the rest of the year. I reckon this sounds a bit dovish and it would not be positive for the inflation expectations going forward. So it seems that the opportunity is missed for the time being.

Better global outlook would trigger tighter monetary policy

In the inflation report, the Central Bank also presented alternative scenarios for its monetary policy and not surprisingly, global outlook was the key input for these. The bank underlined that global developments would not only affect the direction of the policy instruments, but also their mix. Therefore, global developments will be assessed against their effects on aggregate demand as well as its composition. In case of the possibility of a longer-than anticipated period of anemic global growth and a long period of quantitative easing by developed economies not only create downside risks regarding external demand but also suggests that capital inflows may continue at a faster pace.

Should such a scenario materialize, a policy mix of low policy rate and high reserve requirement ratios may be implemented for a long period. Moreover, an outcome whereby global economic problems intensify and contribute to a contraction of domestic economic activity may require an easing in all policy instruments. So one might wonder what the recent IMF upward revision of global output to 4.5 percent might imply for the bank's scenarios. In a scenario where the global economy faces a faster-than-expected recovery, global inflation may increase and thus trigger a tightening in the monetary policies of developed economies. Materialization of such a scenario would mean higher global interest rates and demand-driven domestic inflation, and thus necessitate a tightening by using both policy rates and reserve requirements.







In the past, we learned from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that "Muslims don't commit genocide," and that "Muslims don't resort to terror." Only a couple of days before an unidentified suicide bomber killed 35 people at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport this week, Mr. Erdoğan made an addition to his "Muslims don't" series: "Muslims don't kill."

That – hopefully – completes his scientific analysis of the link between murder and faith which took off in Davos two years ago with his infamous line, "Jews know well how to kill." 

But this time Mr. Erdoğan colored his interpretation with a line of caution that "those who do kill are not Muslims." That reasoning means speaking against a basic teaching of the Quran that says "mortals are not entitled to decide who is a Muslim and who is not (only Allah the Almighty knows)."

Apart from "speaking against the Quran," there is another problematic aspect about Mr. Erdoğan's thinking. If his assertion that anyone who attempts to kill a human being cannot be Muslim is correct, the world's Muslim population cannot be as big as the statistics say.

"Muslims don't kill" is as scientific as "all Muslims are killers." But let's be optimistic and assume that Mr. Erdoğan, who is a great orator, failed to express himself well. Let's assume he meant to say "a Muslim should not kill." Now, that's good. But not good enough.

Should a good Christian, a good Jew, a good Hindu or a good atheist kill? Why would Mr. Erdoğan not simply think or say that no one should kill, regardless of faith? Why would he refuse to understand that a murderer is a murderer regardless of faith?

Mr. Erdoğan, in the absence of substantial evidence, may be thinking that the Moscow bombing was the work of ultra-secularist Turks – who are not Muslim because they probably drink alcohol, and eat pork too!

But his reasoning is problematic for his fellow Muslims, in view of past and present-day murders.

The prime minister may choose to believe that Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, a Muslim, did not commit genocide in Darfur. Politics aside, he may choose to believe that all petty criminals convicted of murder in the entire Muslim world are in fact crypto Jews. He may choose to believe that it was not the Muslim Chechen terrorists who killed hundreds of schoolchildren in Beslan in 2006. He may also choose to believe that Black September and al-Qaeda were or are charity organizations. But what might he have thought when, for instance, Hamas (or Hezbollah) killed innocent Israelis, including schoolchildren? That the Hamas (or Hezbollah) chaps are not Muslims because "Muslims don't kill?" No.

In Islamist (not Islamic) thinking, acts like blowing up a bus or school full of children do not amount to murder; they constitute "self-defense," which in less euphemistic and more realistic language is called Jihad. And, naturally, Chechen bombers are, euphemistically speaking, freedom fighters…

Ironically, there are still buyers in the non-Muslim world of the bizarre product "moderate Islamism," which can be delivered at your door in nice gift-wrap, looking so very innocent and appealing.

These days, one such finely wrapped example can be seen in the theory that: (a) Turkey's Muslim conservatives come in two flavors – traditionalist and modernist; (b) the traditionalists are so benevolent as to agree to live within the boundaries of a secular state (thank you for your generosity, traditionalists!); (c) the modernists will eventually 'lift up' the traditionalists into a peaceful, modern but conservative realm; (d) the modernists will also set a precedent to extremist Muslims (who are not Muslims anyway, since they kill); (e) therefore, the modernist Muslims must be supported for peace and mature democracy; and (f) the entire 'now-awesomely-modernized' Muslim world will live in peace with 'non-Muslim' (read: secular) Muslims and non-Muslim non-Muslims happily ever after.

All that reminds me of the teachings of one of the contemporary Muslim world's greatest thinkers, H.E. Fethullah Gülen, who once preached: "The philosophy of our service is that we open a house somewhere and, with the patience of a spider, we lay our web to wait for people to get caught in the web; and we teach those who do. We don't lay the web to eat or consume them but to show them the way to their resurrection, to blow life into their dead bodies and souls, to give them a life."

Now, politics aside, and speaking strictly socially, think about it yourself: Would you have coffee with a man who wholeheartedly believes that Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Shintoists, Bahais, atheists, Germans, Turks, Bolivians, Sicilians, Kenyans, Tibetans, Japanese, or whoever… would not kill?

If not, go have a glass of wine with a spider. Oh, yes I've seen plenty of spiders that drink wine!






Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the Holocaust. What brought me to such a dark subject at such an early age was the Airey Neave book in my father's library about the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders.

This was a first hand account that – together with William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" – should be compulsory reading for anyone genuinely interested in the matter. Of course, at that age I was in no position to read and understand the book.

Yet the pictures of the concentration camps in it were so shocking that my reaction was not to turn away in horror, but to be drawn into them more and more with a morbid fascination. Curiously there was no blood or gore, just scores of waxen and pale bodies stacked high like so many animal carcasses waiting to be disposed of.

It was simply beyond my childish imagination to wonder how such things could have taken place at all. It is equally beyond my imagination today as a middle aged man how such horrors could have been planned and executed in a "civilized society," and with public support to boot.

This is a subject that still captivates me and the research on the matter is increasing all the time, even if this is not to everyone in Europe's liking. Had the Holocaust happened in a backward, socially underdeveloped and hence "uncivilized," primitive country, or continent, my interest in the matter would probably not have been aroused.

Such societies are expected to behave this way anyway so there is nothing strange in that. But it did not. It happened in a society that considered itself the most culturally advanced and civilized in the world. And yet that country's notions of civilization lead it to Hitler and to becoming what Barbara Tuchman referred to as "a self appointed master race."

William Shirer, in a judgment that Chancellor Konrad Adenauer rejected at the time, and which most German's still reject today, maintained that "Hitler was the logical outcome of German history."  Whether this is true or not, the historic fact is that true civility had to be beaten into the German nation.

The imagination does not even want to consider what the outcome would have been for Europe and the world if Hitler had not been defeated by Britain, the United States and Russia. Today's Germany is a truly civilized country because it was totally defeated in the way it was in 1945.

Germans, as citizens of the most important country today in the very Europe their leaders tried – with their support – to destroy and then unite under Nazism, have to be grateful for this. Germany gained much more wealth and stability in its post war democracy than it could have dreamt of under Hitler, who hated everything associated with democracy, let alone anything to do with "the rights of man." 

The fact is, however, that it is still an open question whether the lessons of the Holocaust, which was commemorated in Turkey for the fist time on Thursday, have been truly learned in Europe. The most important aspect of contemporary research by historians such as Mark Mazower is that the Holocaust simply could not have happened without the collaboration of local authorities and communities throughout Europe.

We know the extent to which this collaboration took place in France, of course. Even so, new facts are emerging about that country's involvement with the Nazis, yet the true scope of collaboration in countries such as Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden are not that widely known to the outside world, let alone to their own younger generations.

Many think these countries were always pristine, humane democracies. I talked to the ambassador of one such country recently and was interested to hear him remark honestly that he had looked at his young son's school book for modern European history. "I was not pleased with what I saw. It was not providing the full picture," he said. 

Well, history books may be boring, not just for young school kids but also for older people. But feature films are not. And it is the spate of films on the subject that we now see emerging from countries mentioned above that is educating Europeans on just how deep collaboration with the Nazi's ran.

Louis Malle's "Lacombe, Lucien" (1974) is a classic film about French collaboration. But we now have major contemporary additions to the list of European films touching on the subject.

A few that come to mind are Paul Verhoeven's 2006 film "Zwartboek" (The Black Book), Martin Koolhoven's 2008 "Oorlogswinter" (Winter in Wartime), Ole Christian Madsen's 2008 "Flammen & Citron" (Flame and Citron), and Robert Geudiguian's 2009 "L'armée du Crime" (The Army of Crime), which also brings an Armenian dimension to the topic.

Napoleon Bonaparte is reputed to have said of history that "it is nothing but a fable agreed on." Well, the fables agreed on about World War II in post-war Europe, which survived up to and beyond the 1980's, are now being transformed into a truer picture of what really happened between 1933 and 1945.

One constant in all this however, is the Holocaust, whose memory we must never forget. Neither may we forget that anywhere up to 60 million people lost their lives because of the Nazis and their European collaborators. We must also remember that anti-Semitism was not an exclusively German phenomenon. It is a disease that has existed throughout Europe since medieval times, and exists even today to various degrees.

As we remember the Holocaust with all due solemnity, we must also remind Israelis that their Jewish brethren suffered in the name of "collective punishment" and beseech them to be more humane towards the Palestinians than they are today.

Israel must not allow its actions to detract from the memory of the Holocaust. Despite the fact that it was a persecuted nation in the past, it is increasingly being seen around the world as a trigger-happy persecutor who kills children and steals the lands of others. This, after all, is what is spurring the likes of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to claim that the Holocaust is a fable, even if he knows it is not.

With every Palestinian child killed, with every Palestinian house destroyed, with every piece of Palestinian land grabbed in the name of "retaliation," his remarks gain an aura of credibility for his millions of admirers in the Islamic world and in the far flung beyond. What a different place the world would have been if Israelis and Palestinians could have commemorated the haShoah together on Thursday.

Regardless of whether it is justified or not, the image of Israel that is emerging in today's world is unlikely to help much in terms of international efforts to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. So this year's Holocaust commemorations should also provide food for thought for Israelis, not just for those who made Jews suffer in the past.







The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has a mission. According to one part of society it is changing Turkey or, in their view, normalizing it.

It aimed to create more space for the religious segment within the leadership of the country and daily life while lowering pressure as much as possible.

It aimed to change the existing system created slowly after the May 27 coup and enhanced after the Sept. 12 military coup in order to protect secularism.

And up until 2003 the main components of this system were the military, central media and the judiciary. These three institutions generally would look down on governments and believe that they are the ones that protect the "higher benefits" of the state and behave accordingly. They would be very tough and from time to time exaggerate the use of their power. With different methods they'd channel governments, overthrow them and had new governments formed. And all was done in the name of "protecting the unity of the state and the secular system."

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the driving force of this balancing. But nothing is over yet. And it is not for sure how much success will be achieved with this tuning. I've summarized the latest situation for you.

Military surrendered for now

The military is the institution that lost its effectiveness the most. At the same time it is also the only institution that accepts and perceives its situation most realistically. Especially Gen. Işık Koşaner and force commanders no longer speak. The period of old statements and reports on internal and external developments has been closed. With an entirely professional attitude they prove to fulfill their duties and do whatever their job requires them to do. To tell the truth, no one expected the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, to take on such a disciplined attitude. Maybe there are commanders who are very upset but not a word is to be heard outside their quarters. It will take much time for the TSK to entirely adapt to this situation. As long as the country's economy keeps up and no political crisis surfaces they will keep quiet although instability may spur the TSK into action in the future.

Right now they seem to have taken shelter and are on standby.

Judiciary resists

Armed to defend the secular system, the judiciary is split in two. One part has started to view the world through the eyes of the ruling party and the other part, especially the higher judiciary, contrary to the TSK, has started defending the system as hard as the battle in the northwestern province of Çanakkale during the World War I.

What is reflected to the public is that it tries to protect some values within the frame of law and order. It does not want to change its interpretations before laws change.

It seems that it will take a long time to break the resistance within the judiciary, especially on the levels of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State. 

Resistance will erode in time; names and insights will change.

The change in the judiciary will probably take place later in comparison to other institutions but also last longer. Difficult to reverse.

Criticism perception in media

What we call the central media has also undergone a deep change like the TSK. It entirely gave up its old exaggerated and boorishly criticizing attitude.

It adjusted the dose of its criticism.

Until now no other administration other than the AKP was able to scare the media like this. And thus voices quieted and certain expressions used in the name of criticism were left out.

Words are being chosen carefully.

There is still criticism practiced but in an extremely light tone without any insulting connotations. It is funny but sometimes criticism is being made by apologizing. People take care not to offend the government.

Central media is very volatile. It continues this attitude as long as the AKP is in power but may change easily as soon as the administration changes.

The most important side of the rebalancing was the growth and effectiveness of written and visual media supporting the government while erosion of former power of the central media took place to a great extent.  

YÖK changes hands

Another institution influenced by this rebalancing is the Higher Education Board, or YÖK. This institution was established in order to govern all universities in the country from one central place. Beside scientific work the aim was to keep the headscarf outside universities and keep control over universities that are established by religious foundations.

YÖK had always been headed by unmitigated secular people, but the AKP changed this course and has rolled up its sleeves for admitting the headscarf.

With steps taken the headscarf issue in universities to some extent has been treated loosely. There are no more dramas experienced but since the judicial obstacle has not been overcome it has not reached the desired consistency yet.

If his hurdle is overcome then the headscarf issue at universities will irreversibly be solved.






The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, gathered with Saeed Jalili, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, in Istanbul to convince Iran to cease its nuclear ambitions and comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.

However, the ambiguous result of the Istanbul summit was taken for granted, according to many experts who have dealt with Iran's nuclear program from the beginning. Thus, Iran's insistence on continuing its nuclear program for "peaceful" ends and bringing conditions taking into account its current position once again confirmed doubts on the real goals and scope of Iran's nuclear program. The Istanbul summit also showed us that differences between the parties are continuing and that a probable agreement cannot be achieved in the foreseeable future.

It is quite possible to trace Iran's nuclear endeavors back to the early days of the Cold War years. During the Shah era until the 1979 Islamic revolution, the West – and namely the United States – constituted the major supporter of Iran's development of nuclear technology. For example Iran's first ever research reactor was supplied by the U.S. in 1967. Therefore until the Islamic Revolution, Iran's goals of employing nuclear technology for peaceful means was not a problem for the West, and Iran received technical and financial support to this end. Thus, Iran was the right choice for the U.S. to support by all means in order to create a regional stronghold to preserve and protect Western interests following the British withdrawal from the Gulf against Soviet expansion in the region. To this end, Iran received not only the most sophisticated weapons from the U.S. but also support for its nuclear program. Until the Islamic revolution Iran mostly complied with the terms of the West, became a party to the NPT in the early 1970s and as part of the treaty, committed to use nuclear technology for peaceful means. Conversely, alleged nuclear-power Israel never became a party to the NPT; nor did India and Pakistan.

Iran's ambitions in the Gulf began to be perceived as a major threat when people driven by an anti-Western ideology seized power in Iran and Iran's alignment with the West changed rapidly. Following 1979, Iran has always constituted a threat to Western and U.S. interests in the region. Therefore, throughout the Iran-Iraq War, the West and mainly the United States implicitly supported Saddam Hussein and simply played one problem off against the other.

Thus, the elimination of Saddam and the annihilation of Iraq strengthened Iran's desires to become a hegemon. The real problem stems from the conflicting visions, goals and priorities of the West and Iran regarding how stability can be achieved in the Gulf. Therefore, Iran's nuclear policy, whatever its goals and aims, is in fact a secondary problem or a part of this clash of interests in the region. The real problem for the West in general is Iran's traditional expansionist goals, which aim to turn the Gulf into a Persian Gulf with rich, satellite Arabic states. This also means that a nuclear Iran will not only steer the regional political and economic developments but also establish its control in the oil-rich region and its transport routes to Western economies.

Hence, the Western reaction to Iran's nuclear ambitions should be evaluated within this framework. As was the case with Saddam and his plans of establishing control of the oil resources of the Gulf is the case this time for Iran. As such, Iran's nuclear program is perceived by the U.S. and the Western powers as the preliminary step for Iran's desires to become a regional hegemon.

Secondly, if Iran continues to develop its missile programs in parallel with the nuclear program, Iran will be able to threaten vital U.S. allies in the region and in Europe as well. Hence, the revised U.S. missile defense site plan is also a clear sign of NATO's and European countries' early step forward to create a nuclear missile-free zone against Iran.

Iran is absolutely determined to continue developing nuclear technology, which it claims to be "peaceful," under any conditions, and its position in the Istanbul summit reinforced this fact. On the other hand, preserving security and stability in the Gulf area is still central to U.S. national security perceptions and if Iran continues to insist on developing its nuclear technology, which could also be used for making nuclear weaponry, it is very likely that the U.S. and its regional allies will follow with preemptive steps against Iran.

*Cem Birsay is an academic at Işık University's Department of International Relations.






Whether it's at Davos or other international forums, policy makers would benefit from a more balanced analysis of the risks and opportunities facing today's global economy. This is the key to promoting growth and employment, increasing the chances of successful trade negotiations, lessening the risk of currency wars and ensuring better cooperation on regulatory changes.

After two extraordinary years, during which too many unthinkable and improbable events turned into possibilities and realities, policy makers can (and should) now take a longer-term perspective in their discussions. To do so, they must condense the complexity of the post-crisis global economy to a small set of testable and actionable theories.

Much can be boiled down to a two-part proposition that captures most, though not all, of the dynamics in play. Specifically, policy makers must navigate a multi-speed world, and they must do so when too many short-term policy priorities conflict with longer-term realities. The trick is to recognize the two components and their interactions.

Evidence of the multi-speed world is all around us, including in the notable and widening divergence among countries in growth, inflation and sovereign-credit trends.

Witness the average growth-rate differential of 6 percentage points a year in favor of emerging economies. Because of this, the output gap has closed in systemically important high-growth nations while it remains at an unusually wide 2 percent of gross domestic product for the United States, Europe and Japan.

Economic challenges

Inflation trends have also diverged. The average rate in emerging economies is now 4 percentage points higher than in industrialized countries. And as commodity prices soar in the context of abundant global liquidity, both the average rate of inflation and its divergence will increase, posing economic, political and social challenges. No wonder some countries, such as Brazil and China, are tapping the brakes by raising interest rates and reserve requirements.

Meanwhile, divergent trends in government debt and deficits have resulted in unusual volatility in market measures of sovereign risk. After widening during the financial crisis, the spread on emerging credits is back to its tight end-2007 level. In contrast, the spread for industrialized-nation governments has more than doubled, with some European countries remaining at alarming levels.

Breakout phase

These dynamics are being driven primarily by secular forces. Simply put, several emerging economies are in an economic breakout phase while their counterparts in the industrialized world are still adjusting to the end of the great age of leverage, credit and debt.

These structural changes are further complicated because too many countries are facing short-term policy priorities that conflict with longer-term realities. This makes it harder for the global economy to accommodate and reconcile global differences.

Witness the extensive debate in the U.S. between the stimulus to counter stubbornly high unemployment and the need to restore balance-sheet equilibrium over the next few years.

In Europe, leaders have been fixated on liquidity solutions for the debt problem in the periphery nations, doing too little to address solvency concerns that will strangle future growth and employment.

Hesitant embrace

The systemically important emerging economies are only hesitantly embracing the transition from huge reliance on exports to unleashing domestic demand.

And, at the international level, the required re-alignments in global governance continue to be frustrated by stubborn adherence to historical roles that bear little relevance to the realities of today's world.

In effect, too many policy responses have yet to embrace the difficult structural reforms needed. While understandable, this increases the likelihood of frictions and tensions.

International forums such as Davos can help policy makers overcome these problems. There is much to be gained by focusing on the realities of our multi-speed world and policy inconsistencies. In this way, Davos can assist in shaping perspectives, mindsets and reactions. Failing that, too many policy makers will remain hostage to active inertia while others will be paralyzed into inaction.

*Mohamed A. El-Erian is Pimco's chief executive officer and co-chief investment officer and author of the book "When Markets Collide." This piece originally appeared on Bloomberg.






Ten members of the parliamentary constitutional commission, all from the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, issued an unprecedented statement calling on people to exercise their right to civilian resistance against what they described as the efforts of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to establish a regime in Turkey similar to that of Nazi Germany.

This was the first time a group of deputies from the CHP, which has been boasting of being the founding party of the Turkish Republic, has issued such an appeal to the Turkish people, calling on them to "revolt" against a government on grounds that the elected government of the country was pulling the country step by step into a fascist, oppressive, Nazi-like administration.

Shocked… Even though I have been voicing almost similar concerns and complaining about anti-democratic practices, the advance of almond-mustached nepotistic governance and the growing autocratic threat, and despite my firm conviction in the right of the people to resist oppression and anti-democratic impositions on it, seeking remedy in inciting people to engage in a resistance movement against the government just did not appear to me to be the right and wise way of overcoming problems in a democracy.

To me, the call of the CHP deputies, urging people to exercise their right to resistance, is indeed a manifestation of the frustration in the main opposition party or an acknowledgement months ahead of the June 12 parliamentary polls that even though the party has rejuvenated its leadership and administrative cadres thanks to a sex-tape scandal that ousted the former leader Deniz Baykal and his geriatric comrades-in-arms, the CHP does not believe that it can oust the AKP at the ballot box and wants to get rid of it through civilian resistance.

So sad… Of course the CHP, like anyone with some brains who might be concerned about Turkish democracy, must be alarmed by the moves of the AKP to take the lower and higher judiciary under its full control or guidance. With patriots, nationalists and virtually everyone who cares for the secular democratic Turkey either condemned to silence or banished behind bars with some evidences mass-produced by what appears to be the Center for Excellence in Forgery, and with the government trying to establish a Constitutional Court designed to serve with the capacity of the "popular courts" of the Nazi Germany, or with the addition of new departments to the Council of State or the Supreme Court of Appeals, the "power balance" at those high courts are to be altered in favor of the ruling party, there are more than enough reasons in Turkey to feel very much concerned about the future of the already problematic democracy of this country.

Yet, if the main opposition party has lost its hope of finding remedies to problems of democracy within democracy and has started considering inciting people to actions like "orange" or "jasmine" revolutions elsewhere, either the situation in Turkey has become far worse than we have been assuming or we should have no hope in the opposition party and it is in the best interest of our country and nation if we start seeking an alternative to it.

I must say, even though it might not mean anything to the CHP, if it continues along such a perverted political line, I will not vote for it.

Geneva failure

The trilateral Cyprus summit held in Geneva on Wednesday was expected to help overcome the current deadlock and gear up the Cyprus direct talks process toward a resolution by March-April this year. Unfortunately, it was a fiasco.

The Greek Cypriot side came to the meeting empty-handed, with no intention to compromise. The Turkish Cypriot side presented a well-planned roadmap for an intensified two-months of talks with four trilateral summits under the chairmanship of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The secretary-general proposed his accelerated good offices as well as readiness to contribute to the process by facilitating experts to suggest ideas to bridge the issues that have so far proved divisive. However, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias was busier with the Turkish Cypriot flag hoisted in front of the hotel where his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Derviş Eroğlu was staying or on the reference to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on the security badges of the Turkish Cypriot delegation and media members.

With May polls on the Greek Cypriot side and June polls in Turkey approaching, this exercise might be considered already dead though the secretary-general insisted on not throwing in the towel for now.









  There is a danger in reading too much into the political turbulence that is moving through Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East and the Maghrib. The unrest may indeed be a precursor to revolution, or if not revolution then a shift in political polarities that will see old regimes and dynasties swept away. Equally these may be part of an ongoing cycle of unrest and disaffection, which will eventually to ebb and populations will return to a fractious equilibrium. The revolution in Tunisia is yet a work in progress, and painful transitions – and realisations – are being worked through. The Tunisian people are discovering that deposing a despised leader does not mean an instant turning-on of the faucet of democracy – neither does it mean that all the supporters of the ancien regime have melted away or switched sides. Some of them will have to be accommodated within any new government, like it or not, and the transition from what was to what may be, is not going to be quick or easy. Notable thus far in the process is the ringing silence from Hilary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, who has yet to congratulate the Tunisian people on their efforts in the direction of democracy.

Egypt is one state where attempts to contain the ripple and prevent wave formation, could fail. Mrs Clinton thinks otherwise, saying on Tuesday that she thought that the Egyptian government was stable. Her evaluation by Wednesday was far less certain as she acknowledged the wave of dissent. She said that Egypt had…"an important opportunity to implement political, economic and social reforms that respond to legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people". On Thursday there were mass arrests, violence in most of the major towns and cities and a possibly catalytic figure, Mohammed al Baradei, is set for a return by the end of the week. In Lebanon change is in the air as well. The noted commentator on middle eastern affairs Robert

Fisk writing in 'The Independent' newspaper in the UK asks…"Could it be, perhaps, that the Arab world is going to choose its own leaders? Could it be that we are going to see a new Arab world which is not controlled by the West?" Within his question is the acknowledgment that many of the governments now experiencing upheaval are western-aligned, have been for decades, and may be on the brink of choosing their own mastery. Were this to be the case then it truly would be a revolution, and whatever the unease being felt in Egypt and Lebanon may be as nothing compared to that being felt in Washington and London. Moving east and looking to ourselves, the symptoms that produced the Tunisian revolt and are fuelling the Egyptian are similar to our own – poverty, corruption, an unpopular government, and dynastic politics. Today's ripple may be tomorrow's wave, and revolution is in the air.







  The way things stand; Pakistan's leadership will be delighted to hear the words of praise that came from President Barack Obama for Islamabad's efforts against militancy. Obama's assertion that Al-Qaeda safe havens along the Afghan-Pakistan border are shrinking and the organisation is now under more pressure than at any time since 2001 marks a departure from the harsher words we have heard in the past from US officials who have demanded that Pakistan do more against terrorism. In view of the importance given to opinion from Washington, the US president's words will bring a number of smiles. If Al-Qaeda is on the retreat it is certainly welcome in a country that, since 2001, has borne the main brunt of terrorist violence. But it is important also that we make our own appraisal of the situation. For all the intelligence it is able to gather, Washington's perspectives on a struggle against militancy that has many complexities are not always accurate. A degree of naivety creeps in too often.

At home, we should perhaps more carefully consider the possibility that while Al-Qaeda itself may represent a far less potent threat than before, it has played a part in creating a number of splinter groups or organisations vaguely 'inspired' by its cause, which today appear to be taking the lead in carrying out bombings and other acts of terror we continue to see. Because they may be based in different places, headed by different leaders and are devoted to varying agendas, it may prove especially hard to nail down these forces. But the degree of threat they pose is apparent in recent intelligence reports which speak of attacks on 'high value' targets, including top political leaders. Meanwhile, in Swat and other areas to the north, there are said to be fears that groups including the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariah-e-Mohammadi may be regrouping. Reports speak of the assembly of arms caches by activists. This does not augur well. Internally, Pakistan needs to look at the dangers that lurk everywhere. President Obama's words of praise are welcome but we must not bask in them, because we should also consider realities. It is necessary to see the manner in which the militants have re-arranged themselves – in part by accident and in part by design – so that an effective strategy can be worked out to go after them. After all Islamabad has every reason in the world to do this, given the degree of destruction the militants have inflicted on the land and its people.








By 1966-67, after nine years in power, the Ayub regime was exhausted, having run out of ideas and with not a clue in the mind of its leading minions about the future. The 1965 war into which our self-appointed Field Marshal had stumbled – or should we say sleep-walked? – with no little help from Pakistan's then Talleyrand, the mercurial and brilliant Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had sapped the regime's morale. The Field Marshal was a broken man, in spirit and soon enough in body when struck by an attack of paralysis in the beginning of 1968.

Bhutto was a creature of that regime, indeed its brightest star. And, as noted above, he had contributed in no small measure to the disaster of 1965, even if the ultimate responsibility for war and peace lay not with him but with our impressive Field Marshal, the first of our impressive-looking men – the lineage stretching from Ayub to Musharraf and including those other two titans, Yahya and Zia – who were really men of straw and tinplate armour.

But Bhutto was more than just Ayub's creature. Bright and restless and with some claim to having a sense of history – he had read Napoleon and Hitler but there is nothing to suggest that the history of the sub-continent was ever his forte – his was an ambition waiting for its moment. When President Lyndon Johnson did Bhutto the favour (which of course did not seem much of a favour at the time) of asking Ayub to sack him and Ayub, who had his own reasons to see the last of Bhutto, obliged him, and Bhutto found himself in the political wilderness, and the National Awami Party which he wanted to join wouldn't take him, he set off on his own and with the help of a small but starry-eyed band of committed leftists founded the Pakistan Peoples Party

Leaving East Pakistan out of the political calculus, this part of Pakistan – which we have inherited and are making a royal mess of – had known only three kinds of parties: deadwood permutations of the Muslim League, Pakistan's founding party a willing Marie Walewska pandering to the pleasures of a succession of authoritarian leaders; religious or quasi-religious parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Chaudry Muhammad Ali's Nizam-e-Islam Party, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, now led by Pakistan's pre-eminent political gymnast, Maulana Fazlur Rehman; and the anti-establishment Awami National Party, dubbed anti-national because of its ineffectual efforts to inject a measure of rationality in Pakistan's political discourse.

Rationality and what passes for the Pakistani establishment are incompatible propositions, the paths of reason ending where the high walls of the establishment begin. Fortress of Islam or citadel of folly?

The PPP was a departure from the texture and form of the old parties. Its founding slogans – Islam, democracy, socialism – resonated with the youth, intelligentsia and the working classes, peasants and workers, of Punjab. Its tricolour flag – red, green and black – was a work of art. And then the most vital factor of all: Bhutto's charisma and personality which was a change from the drab political leadership Pakistan had hitherto known.

By the time of the 1970 elections Bhutto had taken Punjab if not the country by storm. He attracted feudal support in interior Sindh and pockets of south Punjab but his real strength came from the Punjabi masses.

Immortal land of the five rivers – Beas and Sutlej dead for any good they can do Pakistan and the Ravi a far cry from the river of love and longing about which the young Master Madan sang (there is a haunting song by him, Ravi de uss paar mitra...beyond the Ravi my beloved) – what strange paradoxes have arisen from thy hallowed soil? You made Bhutto a national leader and now, in a strange transformation, are breastfeeding varieties of religious fanaticism alien to sub-continental Islam.

When the definitive history of Pakistan is written, the holy nexus of Punjab and the Pakistani establishment will have much to answer for.

There is much in common between Pakistan 2011 and as it is likely to be in 2012, and Pakistan as it was on the cusp of emerging disorder in 1966-67. The old lies exhausted and the new, if only the gods of luck treat us kindly, is waiting to be born.

Bhutto ultimately was a failure, his tragedy consisting in the fact that instead of buttressing the regime of reason and democracy, which was the challenge presented to him by history, his despotic rule paved the way for the very opposite: the wave of reaction which came in the form of the Nizam-e-Mustafa movement of 1977 and Zia's coup which followed soon thereafter. Pakistan is still reaping the harvest of that summer of evil memory. But as head of the newly-founded PPP he was a knight in shining armour, for many the messiah that Pakistan had long awaited.

Pakistan is at a similar turning point today. Fixing the economy, one part of the crisis facing the country, requires bold leadership –- this from a governing dispensation whose chief characteristics, by universal acclaim, are corruption and incompetence. The nation has just been treated to this dispensation's idea of radicalism: a judicial commission to investigate the rise in sugar prices, which must be the joke of the century. The ruling dispensation will do nothing to break the sugar cartel for that would be to step on powerful political toes. But it will not desist from throwing more dust into the eyes of the Pakistani masses. Lenin roll over.

But beyond economics, if Pakistan is to be saved – that is, if we are still interested in anything of the kind – of foremost importance is to roll back the tide of reaction flowing from 1977 onwards which has turned Pakistan into what it is today: an abnormal country preoccupied by strange theories of strategic depth and security. The army's mindset is inoculated with concepts and theories that would have Clausewitz running for cover. So it is not an easy task changing this mindset.

But if the tormented soul of Pakistan is to know any rest, if the demons and nightmares haunting its existence have to be exorcised, then sooner or later this task has to be undertaken. Or we will continue down the paths we are currently on, hostage not so much to Indian or Zionist or indeed extra-terrestrial designs as to Frankensteins manufactured in our own strategic laboratories.

And not to put too fine a point on it, only a Kemalist army, and not an army high command wedded to fortress-of-Islam myths, can take Pakistan out of these woods. But not to get too far ahead of reality, between the armies commanded by Mustafa Kemal and those which guard our ideological frontiers – never mind the inconveniences of geography – the distance is as vast as between the mountains and the seas. For Pakistan's purposes let it suffice that the jihadi baggage taken on board during the Zia years is discarded. Even that is no easy undertaking.

Do we have the imagination to realise that the only way to give fresh impetus to the Kashmir cause is to scrupulously follow a policy of non-interference? Left to themselves, the people of Kashmir may achieve something. As the past has shown, any venture in which Inter-Services Intelligence is involved is doomed to failure.

This was just an aside. To return to our main theme, the challenge now, just as in 1966-67, is to sense the hot winds blowing and fill with something new, some colour and poetry, the barren desert of ideas which is the national political stage.

This government is not going. But in the larger scheme of things its fate and that of the knaves and jokers who form its battalions, and are presently on parade, is hardly of any consequence. In the scales of history something more momentous is taking place: the ideas which have sustained Pakistan these last 30 years, and given it a permanent headache, are collapsing.

Those ideas are still around but they have degenerated to the point where, for large numbers of Pakistanis, an assassin is a national hero. This is a metaphor for our times. Pakistan needs a makeover, a turning away from the past and a reinvention of the very idea of Pakistan. Is there any artist out there who can fulfil this historic task?










The proverbial Arab street is back in action. After Tunisia, it is now Egypt's turn: the old and experienced Hosni Mubarak is facing the strongest challenge to his thirty-year tyranny. But one must pause here before the hyperbole gets out of hand: Is it real? Is there anything more to it than the excitement caused by the cyber world of newspapers, Twitter and Facebook?

Had it not been for the so-called Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia, one could have easily dismissed all the hype about the Arab street in revolt, but what happened in Tunisia makes it slightly difficult to do so. To be sure, there has been a change in Tunisia, leading to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who stepped down from the presidency and fled Tunisia on Jan 14 after 23 years in power. But is this revolt in the Arab street going to spread to the other countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which have two-thirds of the world's known petroleum reserves? As analysts from around the world watch events unfolding in Egypt to see if this new Arab street revolt is a bubble that will burst in Cairo, we have it from none other than the US secretary of state that all is well. So, what does this mean?

In non-diplomatic language, it means: do not worry, old chap; we are firmly behind you. Your expiry date has not come yet. In not so simple a language, it means that the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia was a calculated move; poor Ben Ali had reached his expiry date and a change was orchestrated under controlled conditions. No, this is not another conspiracy theory; all one needs to do is look at the remaking of the power clique in Tunisia to understand how this Jasmine Revolution perfectly fits the strategy outlined by Richard Nixon in his 1992 book, Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World.

Nixon had candidly admitted that in the Muslim world, "demographic, economic, and political trends make conflict increasingly inevitable," and he had advocated a control strategy that revolved around building special relationships with the most modern and moderate Islamic countries, so that they may become "poles of attraction" in the Muslim world. The four countries he selected were Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia, and Pakistan. He believed that over a generation their success would have a profound effect on political evolution elsewhere. "Now that Communism is dead," he wrote, "we must redefine the American global mission."

The Nixon Doctrine, establishing proxies of American power around the world, had a further policy imperative: build working relations with "moderate Muslims" around the world. Ben Ali was a perfect model. Behind the fine-tuned, over-simplified gloss lay yet another detail: attach to every "moderate" Muslim an expiry date and take action before that expiry date and replace the soon-to-expire dictator with another setup which will bring new faces to power but ensure continuity of the underline grid.

That is exactly what has happened in Tunisia. Old Ben Ali is gone, not because a Jasmine Revolution, but simply because he had reached his expiry date. It was imperative to remove him to save the system and the system he had constructed is firmly in place, even though he has escaped with his millions amassed over two decades of plunder.

Hosni Mubarak's expiry date is not in sight, if we are to believe Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's strong words. Another problem is the lack of a substitute; no one trusts his hated son, and although there is the old and tried hand of Mohammed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who was once considered a substitute for Mubarak. But he is too old for the job and he has already done enough for America by overseeing its Iraq invasion.

Thus, the Arab street may be in revolt, but it is a revolt without a leadership and a revolt without a leadership is like a body without a head. No matter what happens on the Arab street, ultimately Uncle Sam is fully in control and a challenge to power without a visionary leadership will lead to chaos. But even that chaos has a function: it dissipates built up anger – something Nixon had mentioned in his book. He had argued that, from time to time, the United States must provide escape routes to the built up anger, so that things remain within proportions. That is exactly what we are seeing: an escape valve that is allowing the Arab frustration to dissipate on the streets, leading to no real change.

There is only one real unreal in this equation: the very large percentage of young people in the MENA region desperate for jobs, food and housing. This factor may change the old scenario and upset the equation. The youth bulge and concomitant demands on the labour force, educational, housing, health and other social systems are putting enormous pressure on the old system. As the youth bulge reaches prime family-formation age in each country, the number of births is likely to increase, fuelling considerable future growth.

The population on the Arabian Peninsula is projected to double to 124 million by 2050. Populations in Iraq and the Palestinian Territory will more than double in size. Iran and Turkey are slated to have about 100 million people each. In North Africa, Egypt will continue to dominate demographically, with a population exceeding 120 million.

This population explosion – and the complexity built into this process – may one day give birth to a genuine Arab street revolt with a direction and aim; that day has not come yet. All we have for now is either senseless and leaderless street revolts leading to dissipation of energy, or a controlled process to change of those faces whose expiry date has come.


The writer is a freelance columnist.Email:








'You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan,' is now famously remembered as one of the last entreaties of Richard Holbrooke before the charismatic US special representative for Afghanistan breathed his last. But is it really a war?

A friend, quite well read and eloquent, challenged this view politely at a party at the residence of a British Pakistani friend when the opinion was aired that America was given to hyperbole. Bemused, he demanded an explanation. 'Well, look at what is going on in Afghanistan. Are these not isolated small-scale skirmishes with bands of insurgents that the Americans are flaunting as war?' The explanation seemed to have the intended effect and led to an engrossing discussion.

For the past many weeks, CNN is repeatedly splashing images from a video made by a freelance filmmaker while in the alleged captivity of some Taliban. The incident is being touted as the most horrendous example of Taliban savagery that threatens to dwarf the fear of hell fires in comparison. For those living in Peshawar, the Taliban snipers shown in the video are probably one of those leftovers from the last days of the Soviet occupation who were entertaining western journalists in every second street of Peshawar in exchange for the much sought after credibility license from western governments.

Richard Holbrooke had been to the front several times during his nearly two-year long stint. On the face of it, he looked calm and in control of the situation, but in retrospect it now appears that his rearguard action was doomed to fail and his composure did not extend beyond the media room. The message that Holbrooke unfailingly carried home was of total despair, in which his countrymen continuously had to deal with emotional and psychological problems.

The war in Afghanistan, and prior to that in Iraq, has exposed the excessively maudlin character of the American nation. They spend half of their fortune on their soldiers, each one of them dressed in a million-dollar garb, and then indulge themselves in some of the most ridiculous public displays of emotion. Go through any American magazine and one will come across pathetic pictures of U.S soldiers bivouacking in sand or wiping sweat off their brows. You don't train and dress your soldiers in an expensive outfit for a pageantry parade but to fight your wars in which death is a likelihood.

Since the war, as the Americans prefer to call it, is in our backyard, there is no escaping discussion on the subject. Some senior retired soldiers were recently found reminiscing about their times with the British soldiers whom they regarded as immensely superior to the Americans. 'Stoicism was the hallmark of the British Army,' one of them quipped while branding their American counterparts more iPod and cell phone savvy.

Stoicism was indeed what personified the British soldiers, if one goes through the chronicles of the British period in the Frontier. John Nicholson, the administrator of Bannu in the mid-nineteenth century, almost single-handedly won the day for his beleaguered troops in the 1857 uprising against the British. Alexander, Nicholson's teenage brother, was hacked to pieces by the wily Afridis near the forlorn Ali Masjid area in the Khyber Agency. In fact, all four of the Nicholson siblings served in India and while every little detail about them is chronicled, nowhere do we find that their parents whined or shed a tear for their wards in public in the manner that the Americans are wont to do.

A little after the Nicholsons, Edwardes, Abbott and others, the Durand brothers emerged on the scene. It is no small credit to the elder of the two, Mortimer, that what we call Khyber Pakhtunkhwa today and find breathing in a modicum of safety is owing to his foresight and great political and administrative acumen. For all the skill he employed in forcing Amir Abdur Rahman to draw the Durand Line, Mortimer lies buried in obscurity in the cantonment cemetery in D. I. Khan, although his name stands prominently on the world map.

While Mortimer was thus occupied, Algernon, the younger Durand, was engaged in a breathless operation securing the extreme northerly frontier of Gilgit and Chitral for British India. These days as we fly above the loftiest mountains in the world on our way to Gilgit, Skardu and Chitral, little do we realise that Algernon and his British and native soldiers scaled those heights on horseback and on foot in the most inclement weather conditions towards the last decade of the nineteenth century.

The Great Game was at its peak and Russian agents had infiltrated as far as Hunza and Nagar, as we find the story told in 'The Making of a Frontier' by Algernon Durand. It wasn't merely the Russian threat that he ventured to counter but also had to grapple with the utter chaos, intrigue and treachery rampant in local politics. A humane Algernon ensured that the native troops who had not been paid their salaries for over six months got their dues in his presence.

When one last wrote, nearly a year-and-a-half ago, how urgent it was for Holbrooke to re-enact Durand by working to fence the Durand Line, some tribal friends did not initially fully support the idea. 'But don't you rule out the settled areas being fenced from the tribal belt then,' friends asked, sounding a grave warning and appearing to be half convinced. However, already walls have been erected on some portions of the settled-tribal divide to secure some affluent areas of Peshawar.

America is still struggling to find Holbrooke's replacement. It is time they extended the search beyond US boundaries. The Afghan War budget for the US has far exceeded its homeland security expenditure. Fencing the fateful Line might be far less expensive, unless the US is playing a different Great Game than the one trumpeted and aimed at whittling down the movement of the militants.








Scandals, agendas, ultimatums, alliances, accusations, counter-accusations, machinations, greater machinations, corruption, more corruption, mismanagement, broader mismanagement, accords, discord, statements, retraction of statements, approvals, denials, claims, declaim, parliament, parliamentarians' lodges, democracy, martial law, quasi-martial law, Bangladesh model, this and that and blah, blah and further blah… Will we ever give up our national, traditional, perennial pastime of prevaricating, equivocating and circumventing the crux of the issue in unceasing futility? Please, we have overdosed on all this pompous inconsequential gibberish that's so far taken us nowhere but the pits.

To come to the point. The simple ugly fact is that we are a tribal republic. No it's just not about "merely" burying women alive or electrocuting them to death on the basis of edicts by Jirgas, Panchayats and the like. We are way past the basics now. It's the tribalisation of institutions that has helped us outrun our own quest for realising the nightmare of an absolute tribal republic. And there's nothing folklorish or romantic about the tribalisation we follow with all four legs and a blind mind. Nothing chivalrous about it. Ours is the kind that revolves around the selfish interests of the chieftains who sit low atop the fallen shoulders of our institutions sunk deep in corruption and malfunction.

Tribalisation runs deep in its multi-dimensional effect and is thus not confined to the basic institution of the state or this government only. Over decades of civilian and uncivilian despots and their self-centred, self-serving philosophies of rule, tribalisation has permeated into the very institutional psyche of the country. Conforming to the tribal mores of sanctifying chieftains and their near and dear ones above the law of the land, our institutions ensure their respective heads remain unquestioningly sacrosanct.

Thus we have on the one hand princes of the establishment such as generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf merrily reigning over the hapless country with plunder and disaster and enjoying eternal, impregnable impunity. On the other, we have the Mughals of politics epitomised by the Zardaris, Sharifs, Chaudhrys, Walis etc.etc. who condescend to let their cronies and courtiers loose on the government in this country as their political tribes strive to consecrate their person and actions.

The very existence of these same political tribes, impudently called political parties alias champions of democracy, revolves around the rulership of their tribal chieftains and their posterity. Historically, our land has been rich in producing tribal chieftains obsequiously loyal to their Gora masters, suppressing their own people and supplying their masters with manpower to fight their wars in return for power and pelf. The tradition remains with slight adjustments, such as the replacement of the UK with the US, the viceroy of Britain with the ambassador of the United States.

But how long can we prolong a tribal republic? With a huge out of control population growing at breakneck rate, addicted to social depravity, genetically programmed to indiscipline and chaos, possessed by avarice, driven by self-centred myopia and stuck deep in the mire of ever-rising prices, poverty, unemployment, insecurity and uncertainty, this tribal republic just can't go on till infinity now. It has to change for good.

The only hope that shines on our dark blank sky is the role of the part of the media that's alive and free and the independent judiciary standing its ground against the invincibility of corruption and cruelty in this land of impurities. These institutions are treated by the corrupt and callous ruling class the way a corrupt person would evade the calls of his conscience. This constant insulting refusal to bow before the rule of law and justice has to be ended now by someone – by politicians, the establishment, democracy, technocracy – before the tribalisation already taking over the streets and alleys and creeping into our homes eventually eats up the very republic that let it loose in the first place.








So, this is how an independent judiciary works! We can be forgiven for being slightly bewildered, because the way the corrupt are being held accountable is entirely new.

Political wrangles between the politicians and the judges have been there in the past. The most recent example is the NRO imbroglio, but there was trouble also in the nineties between the then governments and the Supreme Court.

What has not been experienced in any sustained way is the impact of judicial accountability on corruption. Seeing it unfold graphically, with all the details being laid bare, is not only surprising (and satisfying) but opens up immense possibilities.

For one, the state of governance in our country that fed deep pessimism suddenly seems capable of reformation. The internal checks that were never visible before in the system have now come aggressively to the fore. And are beginning to leave a mark.

The corrupt will not give up, but they must be quaking in their boots, worried that the Supreme Court would take notice and haul them to the public glare with their pants down. In at least two cases, National Insurance Corporation and the Haj scam, this has already happened. The next, hopefully, will be the Steel Mill plunder, because the court is not giving up.

By the by, if Moonis Elahie has fled abroad with two hundred and twenty million rupees, he must be relentlessly pursued through Interpol and other means. The corrupt need to get the message that by just hightailing it to foreign lands they do not become untouchable. The Hamesh Khan repatriation was an important signal, but it needs to be pushed further.

Another impact of the Supreme Court proceedings is on the bureaucracy. Honest officers are beginning to take heart and understand that their dedication will not go unacknowledged. Officials like Zafar Qureshi cannot be got rid of, although the government has tried twice, because the apex court is standing behind them.

Also, by ordering the arrest of the director general of the FIA in case he hinders the arrest of the NICL accused, the Supreme Court has also put on notice less-than-straight officials. The net result is that there is now much greater impetus for the civil servants to insist on doing the right thing, whatever their political bosses may feel.

In fact, this is institutional building by judicial diktat. In any proper functioning democracy, the civil service must be independent of political influences. This doesn't mean that it does not follow the policy line coming from the political leadership. But, that in its institutional role it must be independent.

If a crime takes place, the police must pursue the investigation professionally and without political influence. If a government contract has to be given or an item procured, it must be according to rules. Indeed, in a thousand other cases where the state has to act as a regulator, its officials must play their role, ignoring political interests.

If we get to the point, where the judiciary is independent, as it is beginning to show, and the bureaucracy is determined to play its role according to rules, the ship of the state has a chance to come out of troubled waters.

Again, it is important to emphasise that for the bureaucracy to stick to the straight and narrow does not mean that it starts challenging the political leadership on everything. The politicians have been elected by the people to determine the policy direction of the state and ensure better delivery of services. This role is not open to challenge, only the political intrusion into institutional functioning.

While on the subject of accountability and the Supreme Court's stellar role in making a difference, the issue of exceptions from the net also needs an airing. It is true that the military has its own institutional mechanisms to deal with corruption and other deviations, but it is also part of the state structure. Its officers and men cannot, and should not, be beyond the Supreme Court's jurisdiction.


Obviously, since the important issue of discipline is involved, a degree of autonomy in matters of accountability must reside in all uniformed forces. And this principle is, I am sure, understood by the superior courts.

But, having said that, no part of the state structure can or should be outside the ambit of the Supreme Court. While it may not normally intrude, keeping the principle of discipline in mind, it must remain a forum to redress grievous wrongs or pursue, if necessary, ignored cases of corruption.

This column is about those people, policies or institutions that are making a difference. In this context, how can one ignore the sacrifices of those members of the armed forces and police who are laying down their lives to protect us.

Just in the last week, police officials died in Karachi and Lahore protecting Chehlum processions. These brave people died for you and me and we must acknowledge them. I was particularly touched by the story of a constable in Rawalpindi who diligently chased a car thief and, in the process of arresting him, was killed. These profiles in courage would ultimately save us.

And now to a more contentious matter of the Daanish school, recently launched in Rahim Yar Khan by the Punjab chief minister. Some think it is a revolutionary initiative and others that it is a huge waste of money. Whatever it is worth, here is my take on it.

What is this Daanish school? In simple words, it is an initiative to give quality schooling, of the level of famous schools in the country, to the children of the poor. The criticism is that a large amount of money has been spent to build and run this school and it will benefit only a few.

Having visited the school and seen its raison d'être, I think the critics are missing an important point. This school and others that will follow are not for any poor children. They are for the gifted children of the poor, selected through a competitive process, who would otherwise never get an opportunity to realise their potential.

It also does not mean that the normal state schools should not be fixed. That should remain a high priority, and talking to provincial officials it seems that it will be. What Daanish schools would do is to give a boost to poor and orphaned children who have huge potential but no means of realising it.

In this context, it is a grand initiative. If anything, it reminds me of Military College, Jhelum, which was started to give quality education to children of non-commissioned officers. Just look at the talent it has nurtured, and one can understand the need for such undertakings.

So instead of throwing stones at anything that breaks the mould, let us wish good luck and Godspeed to Shahbaz Sharif for this venture. It is a creative attempt to make a difference, and let us hope it will.










IN his long State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama tried to address some of the core concerns of American citizens especially the deteriorating state of economy and threats to American dominance in different spheres of life. He sounded a message of hope to his people and that is why, by and large, the address has been received well by both the parties.

Fate of the people of the United States and that of the world hinges upon, among other things, how and in what manner the ongoing so-called war on terror is brought to an end, which has not only destabilized the globe to an alarming extent but also compounded the economic challenges. In this backdrop, it is ironical that the assessment of President Obama about war on terrorism conveys a vivid impression that Washington is totally confused and lacked the required vision to get out of the mess of its own creation. His analysis that Al-Qaeda havens along Pak-Afghan border are shrinking and fewer Afghans live under Taliban control because of surge in troops, might have been aimed at soothing American public opinion that is becoming increasingly unreceptive of the logics being advanced for this senseless war but these remarks have nothing to do with the ground realities. Washington's insistence to rely more on drone attacks and use of force is creating more resentment and anti-Americanism than minimizing the security threats for the United States, its interests and that of its allies. Situation inside Afghanistan is also no different where, contrary to claims of the US leader, militancy has spread to non-Pushtoon areas like Kunduz and Baghlam that are far from Pak-Afghan border. Americans are destroying villages after villages through carpet bombings on mere suspicion of presence of militants and this is turning the entire Afghan population against them. President Obama also indicated that his country would continue to pursue the same old policy of more reliance on brutal use of mad force that has failed to produce any positive impact in the past and is unlikely to succeed in future. Dialogue is the only solution to the Afghan problem and it is better to initiate it now than to wait for 2014 when thousands more would have been killed on both sides. Those who brought havoc in Afghanistan should vacate their aggression and instead institute a reconstruction fund to allow rebuilding of the war-torn country, providing jobs and economic opportunities to impoverished people of that country.







BRIEFING newsmen after Cabinet meeting, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira announced that the meeting reaffirmed its earlier decision to allow import of five-year-old cars. He claimed that the move was motivated by the desire of the Government to bring down rising prices of locally manufactured cars that have been unjustifiably hiked and to ensure fair competition.

The Cabinet, which is the highest policy-making forum, must have considered pros and cons of the decision but it seems to have been influenced by the well-connected and influential old car lobby in the country. There is weight in the argument that car manufacturers have arbitrarily increased prices of different models during the last two years, which is in sharp contrast to regional and other countries. But we should also understand the reality that the local industry was expanding rapidly, contributing significantly to economic growth and creation of job opportunities. The issues of price and violation of deletion programme can be sorted out through dialogue with all stakeholders ensuring protection of the local industry, safeguarding of the rights and interests of the customers and speedy transfer of technology and local fabrication. The decision to allow import of used cars would not only adversely affect our car industry but also flood our already congested roads with vehicles of all brands, which would ultimately turn into mere junk in the absence of reliable supply of spares and parts. Instead of relying on short-term and transitory measures, the Government should focus on long-term solution of the problems of commuters, which lies in the development of an efficient system of public transport. Metro and train services throughout the world are considered to be preferred choices for resolution of the traffic problems and we should move in the same direction without wastage of more time.







THE shocking suicide blasts in Lahore and Karachi, which claimed lives of valiant policemen, have established that the brave jawans of the force sacrificed their lives to protect hundreds of their countrymen from becoming target of the enemies of humanity who were out to create a mayhem in Chehlum processions. The Policemen in the two cities did not care for themselves and prevented the suicide bombers during strict checking at the security cordons laid far away to ward off any untoward incident.

It is a fact that the martyred policemen displayed vigilance and commitment to duty otherwise terrorists would have played havoc with the lives of the mourners, had they succeeded to sneak into the processions. Though police force across the country is blamed for its excesses and for protecting the criminals yet the examples of devotion to duty in Lahore and Karachi have proved that majority of them fully realize their duty to the country and the people and they never hesitate to carry out their task even at the cost of their lives. It was encouraging that Punjab Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif announced compensation of Rs 3 million for each policemen and for free education of the children of policemen who embraced martyrdom in the line of duty as this would serve as a morale booster for the force. We would however emphasise that the compensation should be made at the earliest because there are precedents that announcements are made by the high-ups but unnecessary delay is caused in the release of funds by the departments concerned. At the same time steps are needed to be taken by the Provincial Governments that the families of the martyrs do not suffer and their children are given jobs in police or other departments. We would also suggest that the policemen on duty should be provided adequate protective tools to minimise the chances of loss of lives. As the country is still in the grip of acts of terrorism and extremism and those behind this menace change strategies, it would also be advisable if the authorities in negotiations with the religious parties bring an end to culture of processions of all sorts and meetings are organised indoor to avoid loss of precious lives.









As India entered the 62nd year of the founding of the Republic, television screens were filled not by the ritualistic parade on Rajpath (formerly Kingsway), but by the efforts of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to hoist the Indian tricolour atop Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day (January 26). Although those favouring either independence for Kashmir or integration with Pakistan swore to stop the BJP from hoisting the national flag, what stopped the party was the Jammu & Kashmir state government assisted by the Centre. The Prime Minister himself publicly frowned on the BJP's "Tiranga Yatra" (Tricolour March), warning that such a move would once again plunge the Kashmir valley into the chaos that had been its lot for months as the result of determined teams of young stone-palters.

Finally, the two top BJP leaders who headed the Yatra had to return in defeat, contenting themselves with raising the flag in Kathua, a town in Jammu where the BJP has a strong presence. They were barred from leaving the Jammu airport, and when they protested, were arrested and taken away from the summer capital of Kashmir. Both Leader of the Opposition in the Lower House (Lok Sabha) Arun Jaitley and Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) saw discretion as the best part of valour, and accepted the order to abort the Yatra with nothing more than a grumble for the cameras. The shamefaced return of the two BJP stalwarts was indicative of the fact that the BJP has become an "opponent" very willing to bark, but terrified to bite.Indeed, Jaitley in particular has annoyed his party's cadres by his refusal to target Sonia Gandhi, the boss of the ruling coalition, for reasons unknown. The internet has been buzzing with angry mails about his alleged demand that the name of Sonia Gandhi should not be mentioned in any BJP communication about the criminal hoards of foreign money held by ruling politicians in Swiss and other banks. Some say that it is the friendship of himself and his wife with Navin and Rupika Chawla that is the reason for Jaitley's extraordinary forbearance towards a politician who has made no secret of her determination to eliminate the BJP from the country's politics. Former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and his charming and accomplished spouse Rupika are close to both Sonia Gandhi as well as the Jaitleys, and their diplomatic skills are famed in Delhi.

Even Jaitley's equal in the party hierarchy and the other prospective future PM of India Sushma Swaraj has thawed considerably towards Sonia Gandhi. The lady who in 2004 threatened to shave off the hair on her head if Sonia Gandhi became PM now meets with the "CP" (Congress President) regularly, and has only kind words to say about her former bete noire. Although Congress ranks are delighted at the bonhomie between Sonia Gandhi and the top BJP leadership (even the family of L K Advani, the party patriarch, is friendly with the family of Sonia Gandhi), ordinary BJP workers are aghast. However, in view of the fact that inner-party democracy is absent in India, the views of the rank and file are of zero importance to party leaders.

Unlike in the US or the UK, where the views of the local constituency party matters, in India candidates for election and for top posts are chosen by the party leadership, which in most cases means a single family. The fiasco that ended the Tiranga Yatra on January 26 solidified the view within the Indian public that the BJP leadership was unwilling to confront the Congress leadership, and indeed was nervous of doing so. While the uncharitable may say that such reticence is because of skeletons in their financial and personal cupboards that are known to the intelligence agencies (and therefore to Sonia, who has access to every layer of the Manmohan Singh government), it is more likely that it is the politeness and soft-spoken behaviour of Jaitley and Swaraj that are responsible for their refusal to target Sonia Gandhi. Instead, they target Manmohan Singh, who - like his earlier benefactor Narasimha Rao ( PM of India during 1992-96) - never hits back, no matter how personal the attack. Everyday the BJP pretends that Manmohan Singh runs the Congress Party and the government, holding him personally responsible for decisions that are in fact - and obviously - taken by the all-powerful Sonia Gandhi.

Both Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, who were forced by J &K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to hoist the national flag at far-off Kathua rather than Srinagar, can be expected to rain fire on Manmohan Singh. The question is: Has their effort at hoisting the national flag given the BJP electoral mileage, or is the population of India unconcerned by such histrionics? Judging by the tepid public reaction to the Tiranga Yatra, the latter would appear to be the case. The people of India know that it is the armed might of the country and not any political gesture which ensures that the Kashmir valley (where there exists a majority of Wahabbis, almost all of whom are allergic to Kashmir remaining within Hindu-majority India) continues to be part of India. Had the state government or the Centre wanted, it would have been an easy matter to ensure the success of the BJP's Yatra. However, giving a boost to the BJP is very far from being the agenda of the Congress Party!

The change within the Sunni population of the Kashmir valley from a Sufi outlook to that of the Wahabbis has had an enormous impact on the psyche of the people there. They believe that they ought to be part of a country where only those of their faith are given rights, or at the least enjoy the privileged status that Wahabbis do in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They are opposed to women wearing anything other than the full burkha in public, and look askance at cinema theatres, most forms of music, and alcohol. Gujarat and Kashmir (which represent two extremes in India, the first being a state where "Hindu" ethos is clearly enjoying primacy) are the two states in India where the fun and frolic that are present in most other parts of India are absent. After all, this is a country that loves its alcohol, and is not ashamed to admit it. Once, years ago, a delegation of Iranian scholars landed in this columnist's home base, Trivandrum (in Kerala State).They were amazed to see a nude statue near the airport, and to be served beef for dinner.They had thought that as Hindus do not at beef, it must have been banned in the country. The fact is that beef, pork, chicken and fish are freely available in most parts of India, except Gujarat and Kashmir

The danger in the way that the BJP has been humiliated in Kashmir is that the prevention of the effort at hoisting the national flag in Srinagar by the Omar Abdullah government (backed by both the PM as well as Home Minister Chidambaram) may give false hopes to the many within the Kashmir valley who are eager to separate from India. Over past decades, this group has indulged in numerous actions, each designed to tire the Indian state or ensure that foreign countries step in and make Kashmir the next Kosovo. Sadly for them, the Indian state is still robust, and unlikely to go under. And as for foreign countries, the more powerful they are, the more they want to sell to India. The people of the Kashmir valley do not figure in such a cost-benefit analysis. The weeks ahead will show whether the victory of Omar Abdullah over the BJP has been a pyrrhic one, in that it has sparked off a fresh agitation by newly-energized separatists, or whether the present calm in the Kashmir valley will continue. In the meantime, both Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley look a bit ridiculous, making a lot of ado but achieving next to nothing.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








The ugly head of terrorism has raised its head again in Pakistan. Lahore and Karachi have simultaneously been hit by waves of terror attacks. Terrorism has become akin to the mythical ten headed Hydra. In Greek mythology, the Lernaean Hydra was an ancient nameless serpent like chthonic water beast (as its name evinces) that possessed many heads—the poets mention more heads than the vase-painters could paint, and for each head cut off it grew two more—and poisonous breath so virulent even her tracks were deadly. This monster was so poisonous that she killed men with her breath, and if anyone passed by when she was sleeping, he breathed her tracks and died in the greatest torment. According to legend, the Hydra of Lerna was killed by Heracles as the second of his Twelve Labours. Its lair was the lake of Lerna in the Argolid, though archaeology has borne out the myth that the sacred site was older even than the Mycenaean city of Argos since Lerna was the site of the myth of the Danaids. Beneath the waters was an entrance to the Underworld, and the Hydra was its guardian.

In Pakistan, terrorism has permeated to such an extent that terror mongers are prepared to strike at a target of their choice at will. Schools, hospitals, markets and places of worship have become their favourite targets. Pakistan's law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have taken the brunt of the terror attacks. The LEAs are always prepared to thwart any nefarious designs of terrorists, but they foil one attack or capture miscreants, only to find that many more have taken their place just like the ten headed Hydra. The terrorists have demonstrated the highest degree of barbarism and brutality by targeting innocent civilians. Such activities will not succeed because the LEAs with cooperation of locals will make peace in the area. Locals' resolve cannot be undermined by such barbaric acts.

Terrorists are power and status seekers fighting, killing/abducting innocent civilians for money. The reason why terrorism refuses to die down in Pakistan is that it is backed by elements hostile to Pakistan. Disturbances perpetuated at the behest of hostile intelligence agencies cannot sustain for long against patriotic resolve of proud tribals. Pakistan Army will defend territorial integrity of Pakistan and provide security to people by rendering supreme sacrifices. The CIA launched drone attacks have wreaked havoc on the tribals, killing more innocent people than terrorists. Government of Pakistan condemns drone attacks by US in tribal areas.

Pakistan is a peace loving nation and playing its important role in combating terror. Recognition of efforts to fight menace of terrorism and sacrifices rendered thereof are testimony to the commitment and resolve to bring peace in the region. Unfortunately sometimes its commitment is doubted by some of its allies. Mistrust can lead to diversion of efforts, which will not be beneficial to common objective of peace in the region. Pakistan is a responsible nation; fully capable of defending its territorial integrity. Pakistan has singularly committed large forces to combat menace of terrorism more than any other country. No foreign troops are either present or deployed on Pakistan soil.

All citizens of Pakistan must propagate moderate vibrant culture of Pakistan to promote good will of world community and shun misconstrued beliefs. Attacks on security forces personnel are executed at the sponsorship of hostile intelligence agencies. Such anti state elements must be singled out and brought to lime light to defeat evil agendas of our enemies. Pakistan has sacrificed the most in the ongoing war on terror; criticizing Pakistan's efforts at national/international forum will be counter-productive to the overall objectives of war on terror.

Efforts by the government and security forces are aimed at mitigating sufferings of victims of terrorism. Entire nation is committed to provide requisite comfort to affectees. Locals should cooperate with LEAs and shun the scourge of terrorism to ensure counter development projects. Government is endeavouring to make institutionalized mechanism to ensure success of development projects in Swat. Locals should wholeheartedly participate to speed up the process. NGOs' assistance to help victims of terrorism is of paramount important to help mitigate sufferings of affectees. Locals should stand up to evil forces and not be coerced by them. Pakistan Army has always lived up to the expectations of people of Pakistan. It is being pressurized to take action in other tribal areas; it should be known that it will never operate on desires of others. The Army will always keep the interests of Pakistan supreme. The Pakistan Army is engaged in consolidating its gains in Swat and South Waziristan. It cannot withdraw its forces from there till the civil administration is in place to administer the region on its own as well as execute law and order. It is an uphill task and will take funds, commitment and time. Neither can Pakistan Army withdraw its forces deployed along the Line of Control in Kashmir or the international boundary with India. The hostile designs of our eastern neighbour preclude any relocation of the troops from the eastern theatre to the west. If the US wants peace to prevail between Pakistan and India, it should nudge India towards the dialogue table for talks with Pakistan.

The Kashmir issue, which has become a festering sore and flashpoint between nuclear Pakistan and India, can only be resolved through the mediation of the US. Indian obduracy has prevailed so far and it is US pressure alone that can help the resolution of the festering core issue. The Government of Pakistan can lend a helping hand by mitigating the suffering of the people by cutting down the extravagant expenditure incurred on running of government. The opinion builders of Pakistani society, the politicians, the media and the academia can play their role by guiding the people to shun extremism, get rid of religious intolerance and be wary of the evil designs of the harbingers of hate and revulsion. A united stand will defeat the scourge of terrorism.









What is tolerance? Literally the word "tolerance" means "to bear." As a concept it means "respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of the world's cultures, forms of expression and ways of being human." In Arabic it is called "Tasamuh". There are also other words that give similar meanings, such as "Hilm" (forbearance) or "'`Afu" (pardon, forgiveness) or "Safh" (overlooking, disregarding). In the Persian and Urdu languages, we use the word "rawadari" which comes from "rawa" meaning "acceptable or bearable" and "dashtan" meaning "to hold". Thus it means to hold something acceptable or bearable. Intolerance is on the increase in the world today, causing death, genocide, violence, religious persecution as well as confrontations on different levels. Some times it is racial and ethnic, some times it is religious and ideological, other times it is political and social. In every situation it is evil and painful. How can we solve the problem of intolerance? How can we assert our own beliefs and positions without being intolerant to others? How can we bring tolerance into the world today?

Tolerance is a basic principle of Islam. It is a religious moral duty. It does not mean "concession, condescension or indulgence." It does not mean lack of principles, or lack of seriousness about one's principles. Sometimes it is said, "people are tolerant of things that they do not care about." But this is not the case in Islam. Tolerance according to Islam does not mean that we believe that all religions are the same. It does not mean that we do not believe in the supremacy of Islam over other faiths and ideologies. It does not mean that we do not convey the message of Islam to others and do not wish them to become Muslims. The Holy Qur'an speaks about the basic dignity of all human beings. The Holy Prophet (PBUH), spoke about the equality of all human beings, regardless of their race, color, language or ethnic background. Shari'ah recognizes the rights of all people to life, property, family, honor and conscience. Islam emphasizes the establishment of equality and justice, both of these values cannot be established without some degree of tolerance. Islam recognized from the very beginning the principle of freedom of belief or freedom of religion. It said very clearly that it is not allowed to have any coercion in the matters of faith and belief. The Holy Qur'an says, "There is no compulsion in religion." (Al-Baqarah: 256).

If in the matters of religion, coercion is not permissible, then by implication one can say that in other matters of cultures and other worldly practices it is also not acceptable. In Surat Ash-Shura Allah says to the Prophet (PBUH), "If then they turn away, We have not sent you as a guard over them. Your duty is but to convey (the Message)." (Ash-Shura: 48) In another place Allah says, "Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. Your Lord knows best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance." (An-Nahl:125). Further, Allah says to the Believers, "Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and beware (of evil): if you do turn back, know then that it is Our Messenger's duty to proclaim (the Message) in the clearest manner." (Al-Ma'idah: 92). One can also cite Allah's words: "Say: 'Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger: but if you turn away, he is only responsible for the duty placed on him and you for that placed on you. If you obey him, you shall be on right guidance. The Messenger's duty is only to preach the clear (Message)."(An-Nur:54). All these verses give note that Muslims do not coerce people; they must present the message to them in the most cogent and clear way, invite them to the truth and do their best in presenting and conveying the message of God to humanity, but it is up to people to accept or not to accept. Allah says, "And say, 'The truth is from your Lord, so whosoever wants let him believe and whosoever wants let him deny." (An-Nahl: 29). The question then comes: If Allah gave choice to

believe or not to believe, then why did He punish the people of Prophet Nuh, the 'Ad, the Thamud, the people of Prophet Lut, the people of Prophet Shu'aib and Pharaoh and his followers? The answer is in the Holy Qur'an itself. Those people were not punished simply because of their disbelief. They were punished because they had become oppressors. They committed aggression against the righteous, and stopped others to come to the way of Allah. There were many in the world who denied Allah, but Allah did not punish every one. Ibn Taymiyah, the outstanding Muslim scholar, said, "The states may live long inspite of their people's unbelief (kufr), but they cannot live long when their people become oppressors." Another question is raised about Jihad. Some people say, "Is it not the duty of Muslims to make Jihad?" But the purpose of Jihad is not to convert people to Islam. Allah says, "No compulsion in religion."(Al-Baqarah: 256). The real purpose of Jihad is to remove injustice and aggression. Muslims are allowed to keep good relations with non-Muslims. Allah says, "Allah does not forbid you that you show kindness and deal justly with those who did not fight you in your religion and did not drive you out from your homes." (Al-Mumtahinah: 8). Islam teaches that fighting is only against those who fight. Allah says, "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors." (Al-Baqarah:190).

Islam teaches tolerance on all levels: individual, groups and states. It should be a political and legal requirement. Tolerance is the mechanism that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), and the rule of law. The Holy Qur'an says very clearly: "To every People have We appointed rites and ceremonies which they must follow, let them not then dispute with you on the matter, but do invite (them) to your Lord: for you are assuredly on the Right Way. If they do wrangle with you, say, 'God knows best what it is you are doing.' 'God will judge between you on the Day of Judgment concerning the matters in which you differ.'" (Al-Hajj:76-69).







Pope Benedict's call to protect the lives of Christians in the Muslim world is another example of one-sided sense and perception; where was he when Muslims were massacred in Bosnia, Palestine, Lebanon, Indian Held Kashmir and other parts of the world! That is why his recent call to protect Christian lives after an incident in Egypt resulted in a harsh reaction: Egypt recalled its ambassador from the Vatican and the meddling of the Christian Church into the internal affairs of Egypt was deplored by the Muslim religious elite and the media. When the same happened in Pakistan it was the religious parties only, in the first place the Jamaat-i Islami who in the light of their clear foreign policy strategy protested against this interference in Pakistan's internal affairs common men are at a loss to understand why can't we bring these unmanned drones down when the violate the territorial sovereignty of Pakistani airspace. Iran has brought down two unmanned aircrafts recently. It is just because Pakistan's rulers are busy with filling their pockets and struggling for their own survival so they do not react.

There is no doubt about the fact that it is the task of every Sovereign government to protect minorities of any religion, ethnicity or else, though protection does not mean protection from the law of the land. In any case it seems to me that a harsher attitude towards Christians in a Muslim country these days has something to do with the attitude of Christian countries towards their Muslim population because hate begets hate. The so-called war against terror which has become a war against Islam and Muslims, their different culture and values is having repercussions in the Muslim world and nobody should be surprised about that: We reap what we sow. And there is no denying the fact that preoccupation and hatred against Islam and Muslims is growing fast in the West due to one sided propaganda and, as Baroness Warsi has just remarked, has passed the diner-table test and is a commonly accepted attitude now in Great Britain, but also in the rest of the Western countries. Maligning Islam, Satanic verses, caricatures of theHoly Prophet of Islam (PBUH) but also banning of head scarf, Guantanamo, burning the Qur'an and so many other incidents have poisoned the atmosphere deliberately, as one should say, and as a scenario designed to deliberately prove the 'clash of civilizations' thus making Islam the next enemy after communism and in fighting that enemy get access to the resources of the Muslim countries.

This attitude of enmity and discrimination has a long history; it started in the 12th century with the crusades and this historical example is until today very much present in the minds of the hawks like former President Bush and many others who might not have referred to it in public expressis verbis like Bush did. But interestingly at that time in the 12th century Islam did not yet pay back in the same coins. We know the stories of Salahuddin Ayubi re-taking Jerusalem without repeating the massacres of non-Muslims Christians, which before had been committed by the crusaders against the Muslim and Jewish population of that city. We also know the story of Islam in Spain where Jews and Christians lived in peace under Muslim rule for five hundred years. Only when the Reconquista of the Spanish-catholic armies came Muslims were forcefully converted to Christianity, expelled or massacred.

But there are many examples from our days also. In modern Egyptian history when elections for the first parliament were going to be held Zaghlul Pasha tried to seek the Christian minority's support for 1924 elections under the constitution of 1923, a pre-condition was given that Zaghlul Pasha should enter into a written agreement for protecting the rights of Christian minority. Zaghlul Pasha called for a blank stamp paper, signed it and gave to the Christian delegation, write what you want I have signed it; this was the attitude of Muslim rulers towards Christians then. So the Wafd party of Zaghlul Pasha won the elections with a large majority claiming 90 % seats. King Fuad I, a lackey of the British who bitterly opposed the Wafd party, dissolved parliament before the end of 1924 and would not call a new election until 1926. Again the Christians put a pre-condition to support Wafd party, they demanded two reserve seats for Christian minority in the parliament, Nahas Pasha agreed to gave them four reserved seats in the parliament saying that even after that we still remain the rulers in Egypt. Wafd party won the elections again in 1928 with its new leader, Nahas Pasha who then became prime minister of Egypt. Today they seem to be oblivious of history and the sagacity of Muslim leaders towards their Christian minority.

Looking at the centre of today's conflict is surely the US aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan. By now it has become evident that there were never any weapons of mass destructions in Iraq - and Tony Blair while being grilled by an inquiry committee had to admit that he knew about it – and still the US invaded the country and killed thousands of innocent civilians and upset the inner balance of the country to an extend that Iraq today is facing the threat of falling apart. The same is the case with Afghanistan. Though it is quite clear today that Mullah Omar and the Afghan Taliban were not involved into the 9/11 attacks the country has been invaded and millions of Afghan people have been killed, maimed and driven out of their homes; the country is facing destruction and the whole region especially Pakistan has been taking the brunt of this war: it is as a result of the war in Afghanistan that Pakistan has now Pakistani Taliban, that we are facing terrorist attacks on a daily basis and that the economy and the life of millions of Pakistani people has been damaged. While the Americans have conveyed through Saudis and Turks that if Mullah Omar led Taliban disassociates from Al-Qaeda, he and his party is more then welcome for the West. What a change of hearts and at what cost?

This is the real face of the conflict between Muslims and Christians today. One can not expect that Muslims are taking all this without resistance. By now the situation has become so vulnerable that it will take generations to get out of it. If the pope doesn't understand that – this is his right, he had abdicated involvement into politics under the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and now he should keep himself to it and not try to distort message of God, which is dignity of mankind and respect for humanity in the world and do not narrow it down to the Christians only.








Do we need to elaborate on the games being played by the BJP and allies? I'm certain we have matured enough to see through their tactics and tantrums. In fact, it has been disturbing to watch this high drama getting enacted in and around Jammu, as part and parcel on their supposed march towards Srinagar's Lal Chowk. Yes, the entire exercise has been reeking of political moves and turns cum twists, to try and make inroads, gain mileage. A pity that this party and its allies have to resort to these diversion tactics, when it was time to focus attention on the ongoing 'financial terrorism' taking place in Karnataka or the terror activities of the likes of Swami Aseemanand.

Can these charged and well formulated political dramas actually camouflage the ills around or brewing in its very fold? Maybe divert public attention for a brief while and that's about it, for by now, over the years, we have matured enough to see through. Those facades seem well ripped off. And to have loud mouthed actresses on the small screen as spokespersons completes the fiasco, for they cannot argue or counter but just about sound hyper and hollow. The latest on the literary scene is practicing medical doctors taking to writing... no, not necessarily in medical journals but full fledged volumes or those long and short stories. Several of them writing with that ongoing passion. In fact, Anirban Bose - a doctor by profession and is currently assistant professor of medicine and nephrology at the University of Rochester, USA - launched here in New Delhi his latest - Mice In Men ( HarperCollins ). And there's Devdutt Pattanaik - the raging writer of mythological tales. Somewhere in between it all he is a medical doctor by training, a marketing consultant by profession and a mythologist by passion!

And now comes in the news that Siddhartha Mukherjee's - The Emperor Of All Maladies (HarperCollins) - has been short listed in the non - fiction category for The National Book Critics Circle Award 2010... And this New York based cancer physician is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University and a cancer physician at the CU/NYU Presbyterian Hospital. A Rhodes Scholar, he graduated from Stanford University, University of Oxford, and from Harvard Medical School and was a Fellow at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and an attending physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School... and with all this backgrounder to him, he has written this volume focusing on cancer. Recounting "centuries of discoveries, setbacks, victories and deaths, told through the eyes of predecessors and peers, training their wits against an infinitely resourceful adversary. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-century recipient of primitive radiation and chemotherapy and Mukherjee's own leukemia patient, Carla..." Together with that there's not just hopelessness as this book also provides focus on the array cum range of treatments and ways to battle it all out. It is about the people "who have soldiered through toxic, bruising, and draining regimes to survive and to increase the store of human knowledge..."

In fact, last week-end as I received these details of a documentary - Not My Life -centering on the plight of children who have been kidnapped or lured or exploited I sat wondering whether it focuses amply on rackets flourishing in our country. It was premiered last week at New York's Lincoln Centre. And so I'm in no position to comment on this documentary film but what actually hit are those dark realities to this whole grave issue of child abuse. I quote some details from the accompanying facts and figures, provided by UNICEF -

"Child trafficking-often referred to as a 'slave trade'-has many manifestations. A child who is trafficked is any person under 18 who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation, either within or outside a country. At least 2. 5 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking and UNICEF estimates that about 50 per cent of them are children. An estimated $32 billion worldwide industry per year, human trafficking affects virtually every country either as a source, a transit point, or destination. Children are trafficked both within and between countries for the purposes of forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, domestic work, begging, service to armed groups, and many other forms of exploitation..."

I know this column is carrying relays of those sad happenings but can't help it. That's the way things are taking place. One is seeing and sensing much gloom. The crux is, of course, that writing does take care of many of our sorrows and pains. So next time hopelessness strikes or political dramas make you feel giddy, its time to unleash your dilemmas and pain on paper.—The CG News








After the popular uprising in Tunisia that sent the loathsome president Zine El Abedine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia, the tumult sweeping Egypt is no surprise. Many of the same demographic and economic problems which brought down Mr Ben Ali also exist in Cairo. There is a similar disconnect between a well-heeled, privileged elite, cosseted by a ruthless authoritarian regime, and an increasingly bitter population angered by widespread official corruption, soaring food prices, a lack of basic job opportunities and torture by law enforcement agencies. Egyptians, like Tunisians and the people of many other Arab nations, are thoroughly fed up. The challenge for their 82-year-old President, Hosni Mubarak, in power for 30 years, is to adapt to the new reality that is forcefully emerging on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere.

Sharing Mr Ben Ali's fate is the obvious alternative to action. Mr Mubarak has long played a pivotal role in assisting Middle East peace efforts, while mismanaging domestic issues and riding roughshod over 80 million Egyptians. Last November's parliamentary elections were a travesty that resulted in his winning four-fifths of the seats in a poll boycotted by the main opposition parties. Similarly, Mr Mubarak's attempts to pave the way for his 48-year-old banker son Gamal to take over in a dynastic succession have fanned the flames of discontent. Egyptians, as this week's demonstrations have shown, want genuine democracy, not last year's electoral charade. Mr Mubarak's presidential term ends in November. He has not said whether he wants to stay on. If he is smart he will announce he intends to retire, abandon the offensive notion of trying to shoehorn Gamal into the presidency and arrange a free and fair election.

Failure to do so will provide an environment in which religious extremists from the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qa'ida thrive. This would be an unmitigated disaster, with untold regional and global consequences. One crazy theocracy in Iran is more than the region needs. Mr Mubarak is a tough former air force commander who has shown in the past he is nobody's fool. But he has also displayed the autocratic attributes of a pharaoh. The challenge confronting him now is to show statesmanship and political skill.






Julia Gillard understands we have a labour shortage, which is why she announced an expansion of the 457 visa program yesterday, to supply more temporary skilled migrants for the Queensland reconstruction program. Good but not good enough. Our labour shortage is national, not regional, long term not transitory, and it will damage the whole economy if we are not careful. This is exactly the reverse of what the anti-immigration lobby argues. We do not run a risk of migrants taking jobs away from Australians. Rather, as Access Economics argues, we need more migrants to meet existing and imminent demands for labour. We are already under-performing on exports, with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics reporting increased mineral and energy earnings coming from higher prices rather than larger volumes. While the value of coal exports will rise by 32 per cent this year, shipments will grow by only half that. Given demand in Asia, we could be doing better -- if we had the workers.

And we could have them if both sides of politics had not connived to avoid a rational debate over immigration during the election. The conservatives promised to cut immigration when they thought it necessary, but were hazy on the details. The Prime Minister assured us she wanted a "sustainable" population. They were both appealing to a grab bag of popular prejudice on migration. Some people fear foreigners will take their jobs. Green zealots believe humans are a blight on the landscape. Others confuse immigration and border protection and some think our cities are too crowded, blaming migrants whenever they are stuck in traffic. What they all ignore is immigrants are part of the solution to our problems. More migrants, especially ones with job-generating skills, expand the economy, helping to pay for improved infrastructure.

Demographer Peter McDonald points out migrants contributed strongly to the increase of one million employed people between 2004 and 2008. Not only did they create demand for goods and services themselves, their presence increased overall output. It is time the government and opposition made this reality the basis for a debate on immigration, rather than lazily appealing to ill-informed fears. Kevin Rudd spoke out for the manifest benefits of a "big Australia" last year and, while he did not make his case very well, he had substance on his side.






The tax levy announced yesterday as part of Canberra's $5.6 billion flood package is reasonable policy that nonetheless comes with risks for the Gillard government. A one-off progressive impost of 0.5 per cent on taxable income of more than $50,000 rising to 1 per cent at $100,000 ought to be easy to sell when sympathy remains high for the hundreds of Australians hit by the devastating summer floods.Yet Labor has so damaged its image for sound financial management in recent years that it could well face a public backlash against this decision to make all Australians pay to get destroyed communities back on their feet.

The Prime Minister has spread the pain, announcing at the National Press Club the deferral of about $1bn in infrastructure projects deemed less urgent than the work needed in Queensland, along with a swag of cuts and delays to carbon abatement programs, many of which should not have been introduced in the first place. Yet the waste involved in the pink batts and Building the Education Revolution dogs the Gillard government, even as it offers up real spending cuts. Taxpayers know a levy may not have been needed if the $42bn stimulus directed against the global financial crisis had been more efficiently managed.

The flood levy will raise about $1.8bn while about half the $5.6bn needed for reconstruction will come from the carbon abatement cuts, which happily include the foolish "cash for clunkers" scheme. Ending the carbon gravy-train is good policy and astute politics. A market-based carbon price is the best way to cut emissions, not half-baked, costly schemes. But the government's failure to address other spending, such as the BER and the National Broadband Network, is disappointing. It is true the NBN is off-budget so savings will not help Labor to deliver a surplus in 2012-13, but the rollout adds to the perception of poor management by the government as taxpayers weigh the opportunity cost of spending $27. 5bn of public money at a time when infrastructure in Queensland needs repair. The NBN work also adds to pressure on skilled labour, already in such short supply, at a time when trades people are needed for reconstruction. Labor has recognised the squeeze and will streamline Section 457 visas to bring in outside skilled workers and offer financial support to workers who go to Queensland. Deferring infrastructure projects will also help to reduce labour demands.

The government's rapid response to the disaster, with $2bn to be released immediately, is welcome. The Prime Minister may have been overshadowed in the early days of the crisis by the composure of Premier Anna Bligh, but in the end the buck stops with Canberra and Ms Gillard has crafted a workable package that balances Canberra's obligation to meet 75 per cent of reconstruction and her promise to deliver a surplus. Some have argued she should have cut herself some slack and continued in deficit rather than impose a levy. We disagree. It is important, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, for the "footprint of government" to be checked at a time of capacity constraints.

A levy is never easy to sell to taxpayers but, as John Howard found, it can make financial sense. It will be up to Ms Gillard to ensure her flood levy makes political sense.







THE amount spent on Australia's failed bid to host the football World Cup in 2022 was known. What the $45 million was spent on in particular was not. Now, following a freedom-of-information search by the Herald, some detail has emerged on where the money went. Some, but not all: as we reported yesterday, $11.4 million is still unaccounted for. That bald statement makes the situation sound overly dramatic, but the public still needs a detailed account - to be reassured that all the spending can be justified. It is surprising that the government, a major sponsor of the bid, has had to wait so long to be told where the public's money went.

There will obviously be many who will criticise spending such a large sum on a sporting festival at all. It could have built a hospital ward or two, or a few kilometres of highway. Others, who may not object to the process in principle, will criticise the lack of success - and in truth, if asked what Australia got for its millions, the candid answer will have to be: apart from the experience of making a bid, not much.

But in bidding for the World Cup, failure was always a possibility. Despite its keenness to compete in almost any sport, Australia's enthusiasm for and its competitiveness in football are relatively new, and despite its successes, it is not yet an established football name. Regrettably it also has to be conceded that Australia's innocence in the ways of the football world may well have reduced its ability to compete. Other countries are prepared to go further than Australia is to persuade FIFA delegates of the merits of their case. They do so because the World Cup is a gigantic prize which if well managed can bring tangible benefits to host nations: economic stimulus through the construction of facilities and stadiums, a higher profile through the vast publicity, and increased tourism during and after the event.

It is the nature of big sporting festivals - the World Cup and the Olympic Games being the obvious examples - that government support is an essential condition for a bid to proceed. The federal government was right to back Australia's bid for the World Cup, and once the lessons of this failure are absorbed, should consider doing so again when the opportunity arises. But it must also insist on transparency and accountability for the funds it contributes to such a high-profile enterprise.





BARACK OBAMA, the consensus seems to be, is coming back. Instead of being downcast at his party's showing in the congressional elections in November, he has been energised. His deft handling of the shooting of the congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was one sign of continuing vigour. Another was Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Aware of continuing negative comparisons of America's alleged economic decline with China's relentless growth, Obama has tried to do a Kennedy. The Soviet Union had shocked and unnerved the US by launching the first satellite in 1957, then the first manned space probe in 1961. Days after the latter, President John Kennedy announced the moon project - the highest of high-profile national agendas which galvanised US opinion behind him by giving Americans a national competitor. On Tuesday, Obama declared: ''This is our generation's Sputnik moment.'' Perhaps it is - but there are significant differences.

There is no Sputnik equivalent, for a start. China, as the President said, now has the world's largest solar research facility, and its fastest computer. And it is building very fast trains and the tracks for them - much quicker than the US. It has tested a stealth fighter. But … is that all? None of these developments is a strategic threat to the US, as Soviet space technology might have been. Other countries have enjoyed technological

advantages over the US in one area or another at various times, yet the US remains the world's largest economy and its only superpower.

Certainly the US worries about the challenge from China, (and possibly also from other rapidly developing countries such as India, Brazil and Russia) but it is diffuse, multi-faceted and difficult to symbolise in one piece

of technology like Sputnik, or confine to one strategically important theatre, like space. Instead of the space race, Obama has given Americans the everything race.

The other difference is money. In the early 1960s, despite Vietnam War-induced deficits, the US budget was not yet under pressure. These days it is under serious pressure, including more than $US12,000 billion in debt, incurred in part to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to stimulate the economy after the financial crisis. How serious is the US debt position is a matter of some debate; without doubt, though, it is a contentious political issue, and one Obama had to address in his speech, promising a five-year freeze on domestic spending.

Given Obama's overriding political imperative is to cut spending, it is hard to see his latest Sputnik moment sending Americans over the moon.






PRIME Minister Julia Gillard made a compelling emotional pitch yesterday for a ''helping hand of mateship'' to rebuild flood-hit communities. The budgetary and economic justifications for a one-off flood levy on most taxpayers are much less convincing. The aim is to raise $1.8 billion to help cover the Commonwealth's share of reconstruction costs, estimated initially at $5.6 billion. No one disputes the need to help the victims of floods across eastern Australia, which Ms Gillard said was ''the most expensive natural disaster our nation has ever seen''. The question is whether the program is not, in fact, perfectly affordable and achievable without the levy.

Ms Gillard left unspoken Labor's need to keep its promise of returning the budget to surplus by 2012-13. Faced with opposition hysteria about the federal debt, the government has tied its political fortunes to this promise. During the election campaign, Treasurer Wayne Swan vowed a surplus would be delivered in three years, ''come hell or high water''. He now says the impact of the floods is ''unprecedented in economic terms'', while Ms Gillard describes the disaster as ''an extraordinary event that demands an extraordinary response''. Who could begrudge paying a modest levy in the circumstances, especially if the government cuts its spending by $2 for every $1 raised by the levy? Greater rigour in assessing spending is welcome, but it remains to be seen how the Greens react to the targeting of carbon abatement programs (although many are not cost-effective).

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott predictably sees the levy as another ''great big tax''. This line of attack shamelessly ignores the Coalition's own plan for a levy to cover its maternity leave policy and its record in office of imposing half-a-dozen levies to cover everything from John Howard's guns buyback scheme and Ansett employee entitlements, to sugar, milk and rice industry restructuring and the East Timor mission. The latter levy was to avert a small deficit and, when finances improved, did not have to be imposed.

Ms Gillard stressed yesterday that the economy was strong. So, then, is the budget outlook. Former Coalition treasurer Peter Costello rightly insists revenue streams can cover the flood bill (which implicitly discounts fears about debt). Last May's budget showed a $16 billion improvement on the 2009 forecast of a $57 billion deficit. The peak debt estimate was cut by 64 per cent. The government felt able to promise a return to surplus before the next election. If a $42 billion stimulus program was affordable in response to the financial crisis - on top of a similar fall in revenue - why is a $5.6 billion program so exceptional as to require a levy, except to protect the politically sensitive surplus forecast of $3.1 billion in 2012-13?

Ms Gillard ruled out borrowing as ''the soft option''. She said rebuilding programs would add to capacity constraints and the government must take some demand out of the economy, even while warning that the floods would cut GDP growth in 2010-11 by 0.5 per cent. In a $1.3 trillion economy, $1.8 billion is of little account.

The levy is at least highly progressive in exempting low-income earners and the money goes to areas of real need. The impost is still ill-timed, with business alarmed at flatlining consumer spending and retail activity (and middle and high-income earners account for most of that). Consumer sentiment has plunged, while the floods and rebuilding effort are set to accelerate price and wage inflation. If that drives up interest rates, consumers will suffer a triple blow, almost certainly deepening the divide between the commodity and consumer sectors of a two-speed economy.

Many people who are liable for the levy have already donated to flood relief. The depths of public compassion may result in acceptance of the levy, but the government will need to convince Australians it isn't just exploiting their sympathy to protect its 2012-13 surplus for political reasons.






TEN years ago this newspaper noted that technologies that were separating things which once went together, such as sex and reproduction, were also extending the concept of rights. After it became possible for human beings to be conceived by donor sperm, many children born from this process began to grow up wondering about their identities. Their anxious questioning quickly became the assertion of a right: the right to know their biological parentage, and, by doing so, to know more fully who they are. A counter right was sometimes invoked by others, especially those involved in the in vitro fertilisation industry: the right of donors to privacy, thus ensuring their anonymity.

Victoria's regulation of fertility treatments has gradually, and properly, come to recognise the primacy of the first right. As The Age has long argued, the law should give priority to what is in the best interests of children conceived by such treatments, and it is clearly in a child's best interest to know, and if possible have a relationship with, his or her biological parents. Removal of guaranteed anonymity may have discouraged some potential donors, thereby creating a supply problem for the IVF industry; that difficulty, however, does not justify removing the rights of children.

Not all children conceived by donor sperm, however, possess the right to know the donor. Only those born after 1997 have an absolute right to information. Those born between 1988 and 1997 have a right to information if the donor agrees, and before 1988 sperm donors were completely anonymous. The plight of children conceived from the latter group's sperm has become a new battleground of the law.

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Among those children is Kimberley Springfield, who asked the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to obtain her donor's identity from a medical institution and then to write to him, advocating the purpose and benefit of the voluntary register of donors the registry maintains. In other words, Ms Springfield wants to know who her father is. But the registrar refused, and she is contesting that decision in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Tribunal senior member John Billings has reserved his decision, but if he does not find in Ms Springfield's favour, State Parliament should further amend the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act to ensure that she and others like her have the same rights as those born in more recent years. As Ms Springfield has written: ''I cannot fathom going through life never knowing where I have come from, my ancestry and identity.'' Nor should she - or anyone - have to.






Dog is not supposed to eat dog, and with Rupert Murdoch's News International there is the added element of fear

At the end of November 2009 an employment tribunal awarded massive damages – nearly £800,000 – against the News of the World over a "consistent pattern of bullying behaviour" under its former editor Andy Coulson. At the time of the ruling, Mr Coulson was running David Cameron's press relations and was within six months of walking through the front door of Downing Street. It was therefore an irresistible story – up there with the misdeeds of Damian McBride, Alastair Campbell … and even Malcolm Tucker. In fact, virtually every newspaper in the country ignored the judgment, originally reported in this paper. Apart from features in the Independent on Sunday and the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, the case was simply buried.

Why the silence? The most benign explanation is that dog is not supposed to eat dog – the partially observed code that newspapers don't write about other newspapers. With Rupert Murdoch's News International there is the added element of fear. The company is simply too large and powerful to upset. Plus, as events now demonstrate, the posh bit of the company – with its former prime ministers, bankers and editors on its boards, and its upmarket broadsheets and TV news – also had a paramilitary wing which stood primed to use illegal means to snoop on, and bring down, anyone it chose.

We can now see evidence of how that fear of upsetting a media megapower spread far beyond rival newspapers. MPs have confessed that the Commons committee which had been probing the Coulson affair pulled its punches out of fear that MPs' own personal lives would be turned over. The chief executive of News International felt confident to refuse a formal request to appear before a Commons committee – and the MPs meekly deferred. Former NoW staff would happily talk about what went on at the paper, but only if guaranteed anonymity. The Metropolitan police shied away from any sort of thorough investigation. And the industry's regulator, the Press Complaints Commission, approached the whole affair with a tenacity that made the three wise monkeys look positively intrusive. It is doubtful that anything short of an independent judicial review or an investigation by a different police force would truly get to the bottom of what's been going on.

All this makes a very large company like News Corp quite unlike any other major organisation, company or institution in public life. It has not hitherto been subject to any of the normal scrutiny – from press, regulator, parliament or police – that other businesses have to put up with. And this is where the phone-hacking story and News Corp's bid for BSkyB intersect. There are some – and, for all we know, the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt may be among them – who believe in their hearts that there are few such matters that can't be sorted out by competition law. But the press is not a normal market: it is distorted by the very exceptionalism of the power that newspapers wield. Hunt has quite needlessly given himself the task of negotiating undertakings directly with the Murdochs. He should read the words we publish today of one of the most respected Australian editors, sacked just over two years ago. He says of any undertakings offered to Hunt: "Such assurances should be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, a whole shaker of the stuff. News Corp is a company only interested in outcomes. It has no interest in process. And it will pretty much do or say whatever it takes to achieve its ends."

Some commentators have accused the rival papers opposing the BSkyB deal of self-interest. It would be pointless to deny a measure of concern about surviving the predatory attentions of one who would willingly see the New York Times or Melbourne Age die in order to boost near-monopolistic positions. But don't hold out hope that the Huddersfield Daily Examiner would hold him to much account thereafter.





The government is determined that the state ceases to run forests directly – an approach shaped by ideology

Britain's forests are not yet out of the woods, despite yesterday's seductively reassuring consultation paper on their future. This asks the public whether it agrees with a series of banal statements: among them should ministers protect nationally important landscapes, and should charities be allowed to care for trees? The answers, of course, are yes – but yesterday's proposals for the Forestry Commission's future fall well short of guaranteeing that its good work will continue.

The consultation paper is not as terrifying as some had feared. It rejects selling all commission land to the private sector, and proposes that the commission keeps its present role overseeing the country's forests, whoever owns them. There is no plan for a chainsaw massacre of England's ancient oaks. But nor, among its options, is there a proposal for leaving the commission unchanged on the grounds that, however flawed, it does quite a few things well. The government is determined that the state ceases to own and run forests directly – an approach shaped by ideology and financial circumstance before practical understanding.

It is true that the commission has caused much environmental damage in the past – replacing ancient deciduous woods with commercial conifers – and that many other woods, not in state hands, are well run. It is also sensible to identify plantations of little environmental or cultural value, and consider selling them. This process was already under way when Labour were in power, and is accelerating: the government is already selling 15% of the commission's estate, the maximum allowed under present legislation. But even this land gives visitors pleasure, and there is no certainty that so-called higher access rights, for people such as bikers and horse riders, will be protected.

Much more important is the fate of the commission's current and former ancient woodlands. The government proposes giving most of the former to charities. Some groups, such as the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, will improve them. But without the commission's commercial forestry it is unclear how bills will be met. The consultation is silent, too, on the need to preserve programmes to replant former ancient woodlands, now under conifer, with broadleaf trees.

Nor is it obvious how community groups are supposed to fund the purchase of other – smaller – commercially valuable woods, many of which are up for sale under the existing disposal plan.

The government is right that it matters more how woods are run than who owns them. But there is a link. Before it is broken, we should understand the consequences.






An outgrowth of Queen Mary, University of London, where Prof Peter Hennessy mixes high constitutional theory with low gossip

The establishment is notoriously rooted in SW1, and rarely glimpsed east of the City. But on a cold January night this week, mandarins past and present joined their former political masters – David Miliband, Nigel Lawson and David Owen – and current students to fill the People's Palace in Mile End. They came to hear 93-year-old Denis Healey discuss being chancellor, under the auspices of an outfit which provides a unique link between the study and practice of politics. The Mile End Group is an outgrowth of Queen Mary, University of London, where Prof Peter Hennessy mixes high constitutional theory with low gossip to reveal how Britain is really run. His former student Jon Davis is steadily institutionalising the Hennessy approach, by persuading arch-insiders to attend group meetings. Time and again, speakers open up – even servants of the security state. The newly ennobled Lord Hennessy's session on nuclear weapons next week is sure to shed light on a few dark secrets. Respect for age is an indispensable part of the mix. The most experienced officials of all are now retired and ready to talk, and so are elder statesmen like Douglas Hurd, who addressed the group the night after Mr Healey with the kind of openness a younger politico could not afford. Now that Whitehall plays musical chairs with top officials, the civil service's institutional memory is weakening. By reconnecting present and past, a group concerned with Britain's hidden wiring is doubling up as a constitutional hard drive.






As it has become certain that China overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy in 2010, both countries need to consider new directions for managing their economy. China's gross domestic product grew faster than expected — by 10.3 percent in 2010 — pulling down Japan from the No. 2 position that it had enjoyed since 1968. The Cabinet Office is scheduled to announced Japan's preliminary GDP data for 2010 on Feb. 14.

It is predicted that China would overtake the United States as the world's largest economy in about 20 years. But China's per capita GDP is about one-tenth Japan's ($3,734 versus $39,810 as of 2009). Despite its recent tight-money policy, China's economy is apparently overheating. Rising property and food prices are fanning inflation fears.

China faces long-term problems such as economic divisions between the rich and poor and between urban and rural areas, environmental pollution, and a weak social welfare net. Its economic growth was driven by exports. Inevitably, how to achieve a balanced growth should be China's top priority.

China also should be aware of its responsibility as an economic power in the international community. It should not repeat such behavior as restricting exports of rare earth elements. China is now the world's No. 1 emitter of carbon dioxide; the U.S. is the No. 2 emitter. Together they account for more than 40 percent of global CO2 emissions. It is clear that China, along with the U.S., must accept international obligations to cut CO2 emissions.

Japan has succeeded in increasing its GDP over the decades. But people are worried about their future because of the stagnant economy, and the dwindling and graying population. It is high time that the government focus on improving the happiness of people as measured by factors such as sense of security, conveniences of daily life, reliable medical and nursing care services, quality of the environment and ease in taking holidays. It also must find ways to improve people's well-being while saving natural resources.





NHK's new president, Mr. Masayuki Matsumoto, a former vice chairman of Central Japan Railway (JR Tokai), started his three-year term Tuesday. It is unfortunate that confusion preceded his selection by NHK's 12-member board of governors. Mr. Matsumoto learned that he was a candidate for president of the public broadcaster only two days before the board announced that it had chosen him. Board chairman Mr. Shigehiro Komaru resigned Tuesday.

It is hoped that Mr. Matsumoto will do his best to enable NHK to fulfill its task of producing quality programs free from pressure over audience ratings and political interference. He should exercise leadership to create an environment in which NHK workers can freely exchange opinions and give full play to their creativity while making sure that they uphold the integrity as journalists and public broadcast employees.

The board of governors on its part should re-examine its process of selecting the new president. It started the selection work in earnest only in December. On Dec. 8, Mr. Komaru asked then NHK President Shigeo Fukuchi to continue his job. Mr. Fukuchi, 76, who much earlier had expressed his desire to retire because of his age and health, declined. On Dec. 19, Mr. Komaru asked former Keio University President Yuichiro Anzai to become president. But following a rumor that Mr. Anzai attached conditions regarding perks and power over personnel affairs, Mr. Komaru asked him to turn down the offer on Jan. 10. The next day, Mr. Anzai announced he had declined the offer, expressing displeasure.

Communications minister Yoshihiro Katayama declared that he had no intention of meddling in the selection process. But it is reported that before Mr. Katayama assumed his post, the Democratic Party of Japan government was eager to have a former official of a major electronic manufacturing firm appointed as the new NHK president. This apparently applied a brake to the board's selection process. To ensure transparency, the board needs to set down a clear procedure for selecting the NHK president. It should also make it a rule to make public a detailed record of its discussions after the selection is over.






LONDON — Hu Jintao, given a head-of-state welcome in Washington, tried to show a friendly face toward America. He brought gifts in the form of contracts to buy American products, although most of these contracts had been closed earlier and some at least involve the purchase of American technology that the Chinese will doubtless replicate.

While admitting that there were differences of opinion on human rights he made no substantive concessions. He made no definite commitment about allowing the Chinese currency to appreciate, but seemed to accept that domestic demand in China should be allowed to expand.

Li Keqiang, the Chinese vice premier, who may be destined for the top slot in Beijing, has been on a European tour bringing gifts and contracts. In Edinburgh he presented the zoo with two pandas in a new piece of panda diplomacy. He announced that China intended to buy European bonds and Chinese companies would buy shares in European petrochemical companies. He made it clear that China supports European integration and wants the euro currency to flourish. To Spain he held out the prospect of China buying such consumer items as wine and olive oil.

Powerful people bearing gifts are inevitably distrusted, but the Chinese charm offensive is based on simple self-interest. The European Union is China's biggest trading partner while China is the second-largest trading partner for the EU. The Europeans are less worried than the Americans over the exchange rate and by other trade friction issues, although there have been some awkward spats such as that over Chinese textile exports to Europe.

Economic issues predominate in the relationship between China and the U.S., and China and Europe, but China also pursues political policies that pose potential threats. China is expanding its influence throughout the developing world, buying up land and resources. China backs autocratic regimes that suppress human rights and democratic parties.

China is producing increasing numbers of not only well-trained engineers, but also articulate economists. The new Chinese intellectual elite will demand an influential role in the world and poses a challenge to the intellectual complacency of developed countries.

The Chinese remain ready to punish any country that befriends the Dalai Lama and criticizes Chinese abuse of human rights. The Chinese attempt to blackmail governments into not sending official representatives to the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony in Oslo for a peaceful Chinese dissident was counterproductive and petty. The only countries showing "solidarity" with China were authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records.

The Chinese government wants the EU to end the embargo on arms exports imposed following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Some EU countries, notably France, argue that the embargo is out of date and ineffective. Military technology has become increasingly globalized and it is difficult to differentiate between systems suitable for civil and military use. The embargo, in their view, is a pointless irritant.

Others including Britain think that ending the embargo would be seen as condoning abuses and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reintroduce it.

Opponents of lifting the embargo are conscious of U.S. and Japanese concerns over China's military and naval buildup, and the potential threat to Taiwan. Any relaxation of the embargo could lead to the export of military high technology to China at a time when the Chinese are thought to be developing a missile designed to threaten U.S. carriers.

The Chinese claim they pursue peaceful policies and that there is no current military threat to China in Asia. So why does China need aircraft carriers and more submarines? Much of China's new weaponry looks more offensive than defensive.

The Chinese military leadership seems prone to saber-rattling. Why did the Chinese let it be known on the day that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gatese arrived in Beijing it had tested a new stealth fighter?

The Chinese Communist Party asserts its control of the Chinese military, but the military may be ready to push the party leaders around if their demands and interests are not given the priority that they think these deserve.

The Chinese regime seems unable or unwilling to curb nationalist outbursts especially but not exclusively directed against Japan. Perhaps they see these as a way of letting disaffected elements blow off steam and of diverting discontent over the increasingly unequal Chinese society and the ubiquitous prevalence of corrupt practices. Such nationalist fervor could get out of hand.

The Chinese government also hopes to divert attention from its failure to impose restraint on North Korea. Does this failure stem from a wish to keep North Korea as an irritant to South Korea, Japan and the U.S. and as a way of pinning down U.S. and Japanese resources? Or does the failure stem from a Chinese fear of the consequences for China of an implosion in North Korea? Or have the Chinese come to the conclusion that they cannot in fact control this rogue state? Whatever the answer, the Chinese government should recognize the threat posed by a nuclear ministate on its borders, which, because of the nature of its regime, could decide to exercise a suicidal nuclear option with horrific consequences for Asia including China.

How should the free world deal with a modern China that is ruled by a corrupt Communist Party intent on maintaining its centralized power?

Can China cope through economic growth alone with growing economic disparities and with an aging population distorted by a one-child policy and inequalities between town and country?

How can the arrogance stemming from the belief that China is not only the center of the world but is likely in due course to overtake U.S. GDP be curbed?

We need to be pragmatic but consistent in our relations with China. A dialogue without threats or appeasement is needed, but we should stick to our democratic principles and not succumb to Chinese blackmail over human rights or Tibet. We should be skeptical about Chinese intentions. Above all we must not fall victim to either a Chinese charm offensive or bullying.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.







Indonesia, Southeast Asia's largest economy, increased the depth and breadth of its ties with emerging economic giant India by signing joint venture agreements on Tuesday that will commit US$15 billion worth of new investments and more than double bilateral trade to $25 billion in 2015 from $12 billion last year.

With the agreements signed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono during his visit to New Delhi earlier this week, Indian companies will develop mineral resources and build basic infrastructure such as railways and airports in Indonesia.

The investment projects Indian companies will implement are precisely the kind of investment Indonesia badly needs to harness its natural resources and develop infrastructure to improve logistics and the interconnectivity of the various islands within the world's largest archipelagic country.

The lack of infrastructure such as roads, ports, airports and power has been the biggest barrier to new investment in Indonesia. It is not an exaggeration to say that without significant improvements in infrastructure, the country will never be able to realize potential growth of seven to eight percent.  

Most analysts predict that with the present infrastructure, Indonesia's economy may burst at the seams if it is forced to expand by more than 6.5 percent.

The economy grew by an estimated 6 percent last year, a dramatic rise from the 4.5 percent in 2009.

India and Indonesia, both members of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies, have two things in common: Large populations and thriving democracies, though sometimes messy ones.

The recent agreements between the two countries show that India's insatiable appetite for raw materials like minerals and products such as rubber and palm oil, together with Indonesia's abundant natural resources, make the two economies complements to each other in many areas.

The main difference is that India, like the other emerging economic powerhouse China, has persistently expanded by almost 10 percent over the past decade, while Indonesia has muddled about between 4.5 and 6.7 percent.

Indonesia-India economic ties have been expanding rapidly, especially after the signing of a joint declaration on strategic partnerships during Yudhoyono's visit to India in 2005 and the free trade agreement between the South Asian country and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in August of 2009.

Indian investors have had a long history in Indonesia, operating in the textile, steel, motorcycle and mining industries, and Indian businesspeople are known to be more capable in adjusting themselves to Indonesia's economic, social and cultural environment when compared to their counterparts from developed nations.

In 2005, Indonesia launched a strategic partnership agreement with China, and economic linkages between the two have since expanded in leaps and bounds. Chinese investors have poured tens of billions of US dollars into oil, bauxite, nickel mining and smelting, fisheries, power generation, agro-business and infrastructure in various provinces in Indonesia. The two-way trade now exceeds $30 billion.

One year later, Indonesia launched a comprehensive strategic partnership with another Asian economic powerhouse, South Korea, followed by a similar pact with Japan, the world's second largest economy, in July of 2008.

The benefit of these partnership agreements is that they include broader and better-targeted programs than conventional economic cooperation pacts usually do. They also encompass programs of action in human resource development and institutional capacity building through training programs.

Comprehensive cooperation with China, India, Japan and South Korea has placed Indonesia strategically within the global supply chain.





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 percent of calorie intake globally.

Cereal stocks amounted to 428 million tons in 2007/2008 but stand currently at 525 million tons.

However, they are being seriously drawn down in order to meet demand. On another front, oil prices are at around US$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 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 percent increase in agricultural production worldwide and a 100 percent increase in the developing countries.

First is the issue of investment: The share of agriculture in official development assistance (ODA) dropped from 19 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in 2006, and now stands at around 5 percent — 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 5 percent, when this should be at least 10 percent; 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 com-modities 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 favor of biofuels divert some 120 million tons 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 liberalization 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 percent of the world's poor.

We must also reach a consensus on the very lengthy negotiations of the World Trade Organization (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.

Without long-term structural decisions and the necessary political will and financial resources for their implementation, food insecurity will persist.

The writer is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).






From a content-analysis perspective, the amount of coverage a particular issue gets in the media often determines how a country prioritizes that issue, and reflects the degree of urgency with which this issue is addressed.

The tax corruption cases focusing on former tax official Gayus H. Tambunan have dominated Indonesian media headlines lately, as has the torture of Indonesian migrant worker Sumiyati in Saudi Arabia.

But, a different treatment appears to have been given to Papua. While the issue of Papua continues to be regarded as "a pebble in the shoe for Indonesia," no proper attention from its government, civil society or media has been paid to remedy these problems.

This could be interpreted as "a degree of complacency and exhaustion" on the part of the Indonesian public, as poverty, conflict and atrocities in Papua seem to dominate the stories it sees about this region.

The government is also apparently overwhelmed by the complexity of problems in Papua, with no effective solutions identified yet.

Hardly any achievements have been made in Papua worth acknowledging. An American diplomat in Jakarta described this situation as a "web", where one problem or issue is related to the other.

A foreign donor staff also said it was extremely difficult to work with people in Papua. I sense he was also frustrated in handling issues in Papua.

It is somehow ironic that the rallies initiated by the Papua People's Assembly (MRP) and attended by thousands of people in Jayapura in June-July 2010, which resulted in 11 recommendations, were not seen by the government as a "serious warning" that more serious and concrete approaches were needed.

Two alarming messages came out of these recommendations.

First, the people proposed international parties mediate in the settlement of Papua's problems, which signaled deepening distrust in the central government.

Second, they said Papua's "special autonomy" had been a failure, despite the fact this policy was deemed the only hope and means available for the central government to win the hearts and minds of the Papuan people.

"Without any progress, instability and the internationalization of Papua will continue to pose threats."

A well-implemented special autonomy should serve as a trump card for the Indonesian government to win diplomacy, amid the internationalization of Papua, which has intensified lately.

Most foreign countries have stipulated that they will only support Papua's integration with Indonesia if its "special autonomy" is implemented effectively.

After the long march last year, another problem arose when several Papuan elites and members of the Papuan Independence Front met US Congressmen in Washington in September 2010.

The meeting focused on Papua's "special autonomy" and human rights violations issues. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono responded by sending three coordinating ministers to Papua and West Papua for talks with local government officials to collect information on the region.

The meeting resulted in a decision to establish a special board to supervise the acceleration of development in Papua.

However, until today, no concrete measures have been taken by the board. The meeting itself was criticized by local NGOs as being centralistic, lacking participation from the grassroots, and oversimplifying Papua's problems.

The Yudhoyono administration also ordered an audit of trillions of rupiah worth of special autonomy funds that have been poured into Papua and West Papua.

It is ironic, however, that before the audit has been completed, the President has already made a new commitment to increase the budget for the two provinces in 2011.

I share Neles Tebay's concerns (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 16, 2010) of a possible backlash to this policy, because the absence of a thorough audit of past funding will only breed further corruption.

Without any tangible improvement to the government's initiatives to resolve Papua's problems, people in the province will continue to face their own additional domestic affairs that will potentially trigger further conflicts and social instability.

One of the divisive issues centers around the provincial legislative council (DPRP) demanding the Constitutional Court revoke the direct gubernatorial election, which contradicts the original law on special autonomy for Papua.

Members of the DPRP insist that the central government's decision to amend Article 7 of the 2001 law and introduce a direct election was a result of "intervention and political maneuvering".

Another domestic affair is related to public grievances on the result of the recent trial of three Army soldiers who were convicted for torturing civilians in the strife-torn regency of Puncak Jaya.

They were only sentenced to between eight and 10 months in prison and escaped human rights violation charges.

Finally, the election of MRP members has come under the spotlight after the head of church synods demanded a postponement to the process, citing the cultural body's failure to help promote special autonomy.

The election process has been criticized for allegedly being dominated by security and political interests rather than those of native Papuans (the Post, Jan. 19, 2011). Before the election takes place, church leaders demanded talks with President Yudhoyono concerning the failure of Papua's "special autonomy".

The central government is racing against the clock to take concrete actions to deal with Papua. Empty promises will only extend the list of "government lies".

Without any progress, instability and the internationalization of Papua will continue to pose threats with a higher degree of complexity.

Finally, it is also crucial for civil society groups to keep pushing the government to put Papua at the top of their agenda and for the media to give extensive coverage to Papua to help restore hope for betterment in the province.

The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.






Bad news about the food crisis facing the world as a result of global warming marked the start of 2011. The threat was voiced by the CEO of flour giant PT Bogasari, Franciscus Welirang, on the sidelines of a work-plan meeting for development programming at the JCC in Jakarta recently.

The crisis is a continuation of the disaster in 2010, and will match or exceed the previous crisis in 2008. As an impact of climate change, global food production continued to drop, triggering price hikes, including wheat by 65 percent, corn by 35 percent and soybeans by 30 percent, not to mention the chili pepper prices.  

We have understood that global warming is a major cause of heat waves, floods, drought, tropical winds, rising sea levels and the extinction of biodiversity. Global warming also contributes substantially to the increases in the number of diseases and death, especially in countries that lack adaptive capacity, including Indonesia.

As a nation that believes in God, with Muslims making up the majority of the population, Indonesia has begun to build and manifest a theology of global warming and climate change.

The theology suggests that natural resources, especially energy, have limitations (ajalin musamma), as mentioned in the Koran 46:3, 30:8, 22:32 and 13:2. Therefore, these must be managed wisely and sustainable energy conservation must be promoted.

There are at least three principles laying the foundation for this theology. First, the Earth is a place of ideal life, as stated in the Koran 55:10, 7:24 and 7:74. Second, the sky (atmosphere) is a protector of life as quoted in the Koran 2:22 and 21:32. As a material that serves as both a habitat and guardian of life, the Earth and sky should be managed and utilized properly. Arbitrary treatment could potentially destroy life, both directly and indirectly. Third, global warming is anthropogenic, which means it is a result of erroneous human behavior in managing natural resources and the environment.

As we know, fossil-based energy sources such as coal, oil and natural gas have been used as sources of energy and produce huge emissions, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and various other toxic gases, into the atmosphere. These various gases are responsible for climate change and global warming, better known as the greenhouse effect. At the same time, deforestation is widespread.

The third principle emphasizes that caring for the Earth and the sky is a religious duty (Koran 7:56 and 28:83) and becomes a prerequisite for realization of the goals of sharia (maqashid shari'ah).

In failing to take care of the Earth and sky, the five basic tenets of the good of human life (al-dlaruriyat al-khamsa), which are to maintain religion (hifdz al-din), keep the soul (hifdz al-nafs), keep the lineage (hifdz al-nasl), keep the mind (hifdz al-'aql) and maintain property (hifdz al-mal), will not be fulfilled.

According to the World Health Organization, climate change was responsible for 2.4 percent of diarrheal diseases and 6 percent of malaria infections in low-income countries in 2000. Climate change has also caused 150,000 annual deaths, and will double by 2030.

Islamic boarding schools (pesantren) can play a pivotal role in promoting awareness of climate change among Muslims in the country. There are several reasons why pesantren could be very a important locus in manifesting the theology of global warming.

First, sociologically, pesantren has a community-root base. It is recognized by prominent anthropologist Clifford Geertz, who identified pesantren as one of the sub-cultures of Indonesia. This is related to the existence of pesantren as a main place of socio-cultural community creativity.

Moreover, most pesantrens are located in rural areas and have always lent a hand to local farmers and fishermen, who experience the most severe impacts of global warming. Pesantren can play an active role in building the farmers' and fishermen's confidence and skills to survive the adverse impacts of global warming.

Second, theologically, pesantren holds strong to the concept of siding with nature and the environment. A weak point of pesantrens is their lack of access to detailed knowledge about both the environment and the technical skills required to handle it, especially with issues of global warming and renewable energy technologies. The theme of global warming and the environment are alien to pesantrens.

There are several things that can be done to encourage active and maximum participation of pesantrens in fighting climate change. First, describe the theology of global warming in greater detail, down to the grammatical rules of everyday behavior about how to be (fiqh) environmentally friendly.

Second, promote local government policies that favor the environment. Third, establish an environmental education curriculum. Fourth, drive an environmentally friendly education community. And fifth, build partnerships with other faith communities in the development of the theology of global warming.

Geographically, hundreds of pesantrens are located in the hills and mountains. This has a great potential for responsible forest conservation activities including, reforestation using renewable energy recourses and conservation, in this case the forest waste-based and micro-hydro electricity.

There are also hundreds of pesantrens situated in coastal areas with abundant sunlight and wind.

These pensatrens can be empowered to use renewable energy technologies such as wind turbine energy, sun-photovoltaic (solar cells) and solar-stirling engines.

The writer is program coordinator of the Research Institute for Sustainable Energy (RISE) of Pesantren and Community Development Association, Jakarta.







It seems a distant memory that Indonesia was once predicted to implode. What was once a nation that dominated the international headlines because of its political strife, economic volatility, and ethnic conflicts has rebuilt itself into one of Southeast Asia's most dynamic economies and stable countries.

While Indonesia might still make prime-time news for outbreaks of violence, those isolated episodes have not shaken the commitment of its more than 240 million citizens to uphold democratic government, advocate a market economy and build a terror-free society.

In 2009, Indonesian civil society groups quickly denounced a bomb attack on two luxury hotels in Jakarta. Today, there is no turning back the clock on structural reform and vigilant and responsible citizenship.

Through policies aimed at making government more accessible, creating more value in the economy, and distributing wealth more equitably, Indonesia seems ready to assume a higher international profile, in both politics and business.

When observers comment on the dawn of an Asian century characterized by waking dragons and emerging tigers, they are remiss not to mention the Garuda, the large mythical bird that serves as Indonesia's national symbol.

These economies will not only lift the region back on its feet but will also spur rapid development and sweeping social change across Asia.

Indonesia is determined to achieve the potential befitting a country of its size and significance. It hopes to increase the value of its US$700 billion economy to $1 trillion by 2014 if not sooner.

Both the government and its citizens believe they have no more than 15 years before the momentum for accelerated change wanes, the natural resource base declines, and its population starts to age. By then, the window to become a great nation alongside China and India will regrettably fade.

Having weathered several crises and realizing the urgency of the task at hand, the government has adopted various policies and measures that hold up the country as a model of balanced and sustainable development not only for the region but also for the rest of the world.

As the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia engages in interfaith dialogue, cooperates with security agencies to help dismantle terrorist groups, and supports peace efforts in the Middle East.

The country, which is the world's third-largest carbon emitter, has pledged to reduce emissions by 26 percent from business as usual by 2020 and has announced a two-year moratorium on forest clearing, one of the biggest culprits driving climate change.

As a founding member and 2011 chair of ASEAN, Indonesia plays a critical role in regional integration
by 2015 and will advise member states, based on experience, on transitioning to democracy and a market economy.

The country has also reaffirmed its commitment to monetary discipline and fiscal prudence in line with G20 objectives. In fact, Indonesia inflation has been under control and its debt-to-GDP ratio has shrunk from 83 percent in 2001 to 26 percent 10 years later.

As a nation in which half of the population is under 30 years old, Indonesia is focusing on education to transition from an agriculture-based to a large-scale industrial and ultimately to a knowledge-driven economy. Education spending makes up for 20 percent of the national budget, roughly $25 billion, the largest share given to any sector.

Reliant on private investment, Indonesia has targeted "smart capital" or long-term, value-additive investment that creates jobs, spreads growth, reduces poverty, and promotes environmental sustainability.

As an economy competing for foreign direct investment, Indonesia has redefined economic nationalism by raising productivity of its assets for maximum benefit to its people.

By 2025, much of the world's economic output and the resulting political clout are predicted to shift to Asia. Doomsday scenarios are now long forgotten, and Indonesia has become such a huge contributor to this change that many analysts foresee the country's inclusion in the so-called BRIC economies.

With all these major developments in Indonesia, the world could never have predicted that the Garuda economy would have reached such heights while staying under the radar.

The writer is the head of the Investment Coordinating Board.








A few days ago, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) experienced the importance of connectivity and close cooperation with China.


They took a 600-kilometer road trip, traversing Thailand, the Lao People's Democratic Republic and China, before flying from China's Jinghong to Kunming for the China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting. In an inspection tour to see the Kunming-Bangkok Highway, the officials gave high evaluations of the 1,750-km road, which now serves as a major transport artery for China-ASEAN trade.


Better connectivity within ASEAN and between ASEAN countries and China was one of the major themes for the foreign ministers' meeting held in China on Jan 25-26. To give impetus to the building of the ASEAN community and to s