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Saturday, January 29, 2011

EDITORIAL 29.01.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 29, edition 000742 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





























































































































5.      100 YEARS AGO TODAY  
















2.      HIGH TIME




















2.      CUT JUST 1 CENT FROM $1?




















































































It is shameful that the UPA Government should have taken recourse to misleading the Supreme Court in such a brazen manner while defending the decision of the Prime Minister to appoint Mr PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner. It was common knowledge even before the three-member committee (comprising the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition) that selects the CVC had met that Mr Thomas, one of the three bureaucrats short-listed for the job, was among those accused of involvement in the palmolein import scandal and had a criminal case pending against him. When the committee met to select the CVC, this point was raised by Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj but was brushed aside by the Prime Minister who was determined to appoint Mr Thomas; the Home Minister expectedly concurred with the choice. Ms Swaraj had no other option but to record her dissent, which she did. Between then and now, there have been innumerable stories about Mr Thomas's alleged involvement in the palmolein import scandal; how his former boss K Karunakaran had stalled court proceedings; how the stay now stands vacated following the latter's death; and how, despite such a major charge pending against him, the former Telecom Secretary had risen through the bureaucratic ranks, thanks to the Congress. After stoutly defending Mr Thomas's appointment and mocking at the judiciary for raising questions about his 'suitability', the Attorney-General has now told the Supreme Court that this crucial information was not mentioned on the note circulated among the selection committee members. That's hogwash. The Department of Personnel and Training, which reports to the Prime Minister, has full records of each and every bureaucrat. If the note did not record Mr Thomas being chargesheeted in the palmolein import scandal — fresh information suggests facts were indeed excised — then the DoPT as well as the Prime Minister owe an explanation.

It is absolutely stunning that the Prime Minister should feign ignorance every time he is caught on the wrong foot. When the 2G Spectrum scam was exposed, we were told that the Prime Minister was unaware of what was happening in the Telecom Ministry or what his Cabinet colleague was up to. That claim now lies in tatters. Similarly, finding that he has painted himself into a corner over Mr Thomas's appointment as CVC by insisting that he alone should get the job and not any other bureaucrat with an unblemished service record, the Prime Minister has done what he does best: He has once again claimed that he was unaware of facts. What, then, is the Prime Minister aware of? Does he even know what's happening in the Government he heads? Is he aware of the shenanigans of Ministers who presumably report to him? Or is it that he is just not bothered and couldn't care less? This increasingly appears to be true. Secure in the belief that, given his image of being a man of unimpeachable integrity, he will get the benefit of doubt no matter how serious the allegation, the Prime Minister seems to have convinced himself that he can fool the nation not once or twice, but all the time. Mr Thomas should not be spared and made to quit the CVC's office. But the Prime Minister shouldn't be spared either: He must explain his conduct.







The Cricket Association of Bengal's failure to spruce up Eden Gardens in time for the prestigious India versus England World Cup match, scheduled for February 27, is appalling, to say the least. But it is also reflective of our collective failure as a nation to learn lessons from the past. In an embarrassing decision for Kolkata, the International Cricket Council on Friday afternoon decided to shift the venue to another location, possibly Bangalore, after the CAB failed the January 25 inspection. Photographs taken on January 24 revealed that much of the stadium still looked like a construction site and in many ways resembled those taken of the Commonwealth Games Village and stadia days before the event. The CAB's failure to ready the stadium in time for the match is little more than a shameful replay of the Commonwealth Games fiasco. Indeed, the parallels between the debacles are sickening. In typical Indian fashion, authorities have been quick to pass the buck — in this case, the BCCI has said that the World Cup is an ICC event and the Board was not 'involved' in it. Of course, it is too much to expect India's national governing body for cricket to be 'involved' in such petty affairs as the hosting of the World Cup in the country! The CAB, on the other hand, is now complaining about inadequate time to deliver results. But does anybody care about the fact that the CAB has missed its deadline, not once but twice, already? It seems like Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya's attitude in recent months has been that of a high-school mischief-maker — deadlines, like rules and records, are meant to be broken.

Mr Dalmiya's letter to Mr Shashank Manohar, president of the BCCI, in response to the debacle and the reaction that has followed the ICC's decision to shift the venue of the match is a classic example of all that is wrong with the management. For one, Mr Dalmiya has been complaining about how other venues have been given until 20 days before the game to hand over the stadium while the match was taken away from Kolkata 30 days before D-day. He has also been prompt in pointing out that others have been granted longer extensions and expressing 'shock' at the ICC's decision, insisting he was under the impression that the organisers were satisfied with the work done at Eden Gardens. This is astonishing since an Interim Evaluation Report filed as long as back as December 6, 2010, clearly lists several construction problems and mentions that the venue will not be ready on time — a warning that has obviously been ignored by a callous CAB. Since Friday afternoon, Mr Dalmiya has spent much time pleading with the ICC and the BCCI, and has even sought the intervention of the Chief Minister of West Bengal, but not once has he owned up responsibility for the mess that is Eden Gardens.









Islamist terrorists pose a serious threat to the free world. The West and Russia must work together to defeat this sinister challenge.

The blast at Moscow's Domededovo Airport, which killed 35 people and injured up to 180 last Monday, was likely to have been facilitated by a security lapse which allowed people carrying explosives to enter the airport. Russian leaders are understandably upset. This is not the first time that the airport has featured on the terror map. Two Chechen suicide-bombers had taken off from it in separate planes on August 2004. They killed themselves and 88 others in the mid-air blasts they set off. There were then loud demands for tightening security at the airport, particularly since the two, both women, had been detained shortly before boarding but were released by the police. The blast on January 24 suggests that attempts at revamping security that might have followed, have not been adequate.

Investigations will reveal how the bombers — there were reportedly two of them — could enter the airport with the explosives. One hopes that such human lapses and communicational and infrastructural inadequacies that might have enabled this to occur, will be exposed and preventive measures taken. At one level, Monday's attack is a part of Al Qaeda's accelerated attempts to spread terror throughout the Western world. While no organisastion has claimed credit for it till the time of writing, the nature of the attack and the history of Chechen terrorist strikes in Russia, point to the Islamic Caucasus Emirate linked to Al Qaeda and active in Russia's southern Caucasus region.

Russia, which has repeatedly suffered severe terrorist attacks in recent years, straddles both East and West. Among the Western countries, Spain, Britain and Sweden have been the only ones actually hit on their own territories. Blasts on four suburban commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, left 191 people dead and 1,876 wounded. Suicide-bombers struck London's underground mass transit system killing 52 people and injuring over 700, on July 7, 2005. On December 11, 2010, Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, a 28-year-old Swede of Iraqi origin, set off two explosions in Stockholm, injuring several people besides killing himself.

Britain has been the target of several abortive terrorist plots, a couple of which came dangerously close to being pulled off. France and Germany have both been on the terrorists' strike map. Five French citizens were among seven persons kidnapped in Niger on September 16, 2010 by Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb, the North African wing of Osama bin Laden's terrorist outfit. The AQIM, which claimed responsibility, also did so in respect of the death of two Frenchmen this month following an abortive rescue attempt. In September 2010, again, the French authorities claimed to have uncovered a suicide-bombing plot against the Paris subway linked to the AQIM.

Germany's Interior Minister, Mr Thomas de Maiziere, announced on November 17, 2010, that his Government was enhancing security throughout the country, particularly in airports and trains. Machine-gun toting policemen were deployed in airports and stations. Germany's move was in response to a tip-off by a 'foreign partner', generally identified as the United States, and was in sharp contrast with its response to a similar tip-off by Washington, DC in September last year about an Al Qaeda plot to carry out coordinated Mumbai-style attacks in major cities in Britain, France, Germany and, possibly, the United States. Mr Maiziere had then said in a statement that "there are currently no concrete indications of imminent attacks in Germany".

The change in attitude followed the discovery of explosives in planes at Dubai and East Midland airports on October 29, 2010 following tips from Saudi intelligence in July and October 9 and 28, warning of mid-air terror attacks. Despatched from Yemen in United Parcel Service and FedEx aircraft to addresses of defunct synagogues in Chicago, bombs containing PETN explosives in ink cartridges of Hewlett-Packard printers were traced only after Saudi intelligence had provided the tracking number of the packages to their American counterparts. Meanwhile, one of the planes carrying a bomb went through Germany's Cologne Airport undetected.

The threat of terrorist attacks continues to stalk the US. Nearly seven months after an American of Pakistani origin, Faisal Sahzad, failed to set off a car bomb in New York's Time Square on May 1, 2010, the FBI, in a sting operation, arrested on the night of November 26, 2010, a Somali-born teenager, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who was trying to explode a car bomb in Portland, Oregon.

The accelerated global surge in Islamist terrorist violence has several immediate goals and causes. According to French authorities, the threat to Paris's subway system might have been connected to France's vote to ban burqas. Equally, it might have been aimed at compelling France to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. In an audio recording on January 19, 2011, Osama bin Laden reportedly said that President Nicholas Sarkozy's "refusal to remove his forces from Afghanistan" was "nothing but a green light" for the killing of French hostages that the AQIM had taken. The AQAP, which claimed authorship of the bomb plot foiled on October 29, 2010, stated that it wanted to disrupt global air cargo systems and inflict maximum economic loss. The Stockholm blast was clearly aimed to secure the withdrawal of the 500 Swedish troops deployed in north Afghanistan.

The challenge Al Qaeda and the Taliban pose to the West on specific fronts reflects a more fundamental one they pose to the culture of modernity shaped in the matrix of European history by the Renaissance, Reformation, the rise of nation states, the waxing of overseas trade and establishment of colonies, the industrial revolution, and the 18th century Enlightenment ushering in an age of ideologies and arguments.

A war for the world's future is under way. What will be perceived as a victory for the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan will give a massive boost to the self-confidence of Islamist fundamentalists the world over, just as the mujahideens' victory over Soviet troops in 1989 had done. It had made them believe in their own invincibility. It had also massively enhanced the attractions of both to young Muslim men world over seething with resentment of one kind or the other against the world. Hence, the rise of organisations like the AQIM and AQAP. The West and Russia have a tough battle on hand and must act together to win.








There is never a wrong moment for doing the right thing. Ekta Yatra may have been strangulated through arrests and lathis, but the voices of one billion Indians in support of national assertiveness in Kashmir can no longer be wished away

The campaign by the BJP that aimed to lead thousands of its youth wing members to Lal Chowk in Srinagar to hoist the Tricolour on Republic Day and which was foiled by the obdurate resistance of the Chief Minister of J&K under clear instructions of the Centre, is a strategic move by the party to bring balance back to the Kashmir policy of the Centre that was seen to be veering off course after the inept handling of stone throwing mobs by the greenhorn Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah.

It has been a serious concern of the BJP that the anointment of the younger Abdullah under the National Conference Government propped up by the Congress is taking the same treacherous road that has been tread each time the parties run out of ideas or a crisis is thrust upon the first family of J&K. The recent eruption of violence in Kashmir, the quickie solutions offered by the Centre through a troika of mediators and the cut-piece, all-party delegation notwithstanding, the BJP is mindful of the evolving theatre and concerned that Kashmir should not have more actors than necessary and within that, that there should be no room for more villainy than we have seen so far.

Many news reports have suggested that there has been strong public support to the yatra ever since it was flagged of from Koltaka, mirroring figuratively the journey of one of India's proudest sons and one of the founding fathers of the BJS, the forebear of the BJP, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who died trying to enter the valley. Some sections of the media has responded with some degree of consternation as to why the BJP needed to do this now, insinuating that there was brownie-point scoring underlying this exercise and more importantly why there were no similar attempts in the past, and particularly in the duration of the NDA regime.

To take the second argument first — that it wasn't done before — is really no disqualification for doing it now: there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. That point about organising such a campaign in the duration of the NDA is patently disingenuous; neither the situation nor the accompanying circumstances merited this response then and which remain rooted in the present set of conditions that have been created by the combination of the powers at the Centre and the State and the real and present danger of accommodating more separatist sentiment within a cloaked argument for autonomy.

On a TV show during the campaign, I encountered representatives of the National Conference and the PDP, both parties which have umbilical connections with each other and in varying degrees with the Congress. It was astounding to see them argue against the BJP Yatra without once explaining their own stasis. I charged that it was in the interest of the NC and the PDP to sustain the fragility of the situation and that the parties were really just shadow boxing the separatists. It remains one of the ugliest truths that the entire political class in Kashmir is the beneficiary of unrest and cultivates it in one subtle manner or other. The criminal status quoist attitude of the principal actors on the political stage is just another reason nothing moves; or if it does, it is always one step forward and two steps backwards. The larger impact of the yatra effort is missed by them for it serves to remind them that it has fallen to the national Opposition party to bring Kashmir centrestage in a manner that injects the serum of seriousness into an issue which is continually juggled between sub-contracted agencies which have held the Valley and its aspirations hostage to their familial power play.

The BJP leadership is seized of the criticality of the situation and is alive to the influences and pressures of the geo-political dynamics in the region. The BJP is only too aware of the growing clout of China, the difficulties of America and the dangers of desperation in Pakistan. It connects the dots in west Asia, sees the emerging picture of Islamic extremism and notices the beginnings of the new great game. It is thus that the BJP is carefully and cautiously and consciously trying to reassign weight to the elements that would not only protect but pre-empt any sudden shifts of policy on Kashmir. It is trying to build a framework which would act as a bulwark to foreign interests in the pursuit of our internal affairs.

The BJP's yatra was a huge responsibility for the party and it has discharged it well enough to cause fervour and ferment where it was needed. The job is not done. It has only begun. Even as it wound its way through 11 states, the massive mobilisation created echoes of support all through the country. The Internet is ablaze with all kinds of opinion on the issue and today, after being thwarted, the angst is only serving as a contrast to the Government's pusillanimity on Kashmir. The youth are engaging with the issue — and not just outside the Valley, but inside it as well. The questions that must be asked are being asked. The government is being forced to revisit the issue and see another perspective. The public discourse is rebalancing itself. A group of students from Kashmiri Gate crashed into the hunger strike meeting called by a BJP leader in Delhi in protest against the detainment of BJP leaders and for 20 minutes launched into a diatribe castigating everybody involved in keeping Kashmir in ferment. Their spokesman had no kind words for the Congress, or Pakistan or the politicians of Kashmir — but he did mention the promise that was held out by then Prime Minister Vajpayee when he visited the Valley. Yousuf, he said his name was, reminded me that 50,000 Kashmiris collected to hear Mr Vajpayee on that day but the hope evaporated as soon as the NDA was out of power, he added — perhaps for effect, perhaps to serve the truth.

On the other hand, the suspicion expressed by a section of media and some perennial skeptics that this was mere posturing on the part of the BJP would do better to attend to the commitment shown to the planning and execution of the campaign by the party on the whole, securing as it did the combined leadership of both the leaders of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha as well as the Lok Sabha. The bucolic response of the state government in detaining them and then interning them in the Punjab and finally arresting them along with thousands of youth on their second attempt has created new benchmarks for evasive administrative behaviour which confounds reason as well as rationale. That the yatra was blocked at the throat of the Valley is not a cause to despair for it would remain just a footnote to this historic attempt. What would be remembered, instead, is the resolve of a people and a party to illustrate the fallacy of the policy that the Congress follows, and has continued to follow in Kashmir since Independence to the detriment of the nation.


The writer is a BJP spokesperson and can be contacted on







Omar Abdullah may have prevented the raising of the national Tricolour at Lal Chowk using extraordinary force, but he and the Congress have ended up deepening the polarisation of Indian society

On Republic Day, Lal Chowk in Srinagar was under undeclared curfew. Hundreds of heavily armed police and paramilitary men maintained round-the-clock vigil on the normally bustling street. Concertina coils blocked every route that could possibly lead anyone to the Clock Tower where supporters of the BJP's youth wing, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), had vowed to hoist the Tricolour at the culmination of its 14-day "National Unity March." The bigger worry for the security personnel was the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), whose activists had planned to return the saffron party's compliment by hoisting the flag of "independent Kashmir" on the Tower. Clearly, it was a war of symbols.

But January 26 came and went without any flag being unfurled at Lal Chowk. The three-way standoff between the New Delhi-backed coalition government in Srinagar, the BJP and separatists ended peacefully enough. But, not without adding a serious dimension to the debate on Kashmir.

The theme of the BJYM's Ekta Yatra was "complete integration of J&K with the union of India." This is the ideological cornerstone of the party that seeks to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution that guarantees special status to J&K. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, the newest player of the old Kashmiri mainstream politician's game of one-foot-in-India- the-other-out, came forward to reject the BJP's political symbolism on a seemingly plausible logic which underscored the need to somehow, and at all costs, retain the status quo because the alternative would be a return to the unrest one saw in the second half of 2010.

Omar pushed hard his placatory-of-secessionism line that the BJP singular act of raising the national flag would lead to all-round chaos landing J&K into the arms of stone pelters, terrorism and Pakistan — in that order. Though he maintained that he wasn't against flag hoisting per se but its timing, the scare mongering which he intended, quite gripped the English-language media of Delhi and its clones in the states. Common Kashmiris, besieged in the backdrop of shutdown call by separatists and tight security arrangements, watched the developments with curiosity. As Kashmir University's law faculty teacher, Prof Sheikh Sowkat Hussain, put it, "We were thankful to the BJP for announcing a march towards Kashmir on January 26. This only brought the disputability of the Kashmir into focus. The common Indians ask why it is impossible to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk."

The BJP started the yatra from Kolkata for two reasons. First, Kolkata is the city of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, the original spokesman of "India First" in Kashmir and had opposed the special status of J&K which Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah tried to enforce by introducing the permit system for all Indians intending to visit the state. Mookerjee's mysterious death at the young age of 51 in Srinagar is still recalled as a political crime committed by the Empire of appeasement which thrives in New Delhi. The central government did not try to negotiate a way out with the BJP by organising even a token meeting with a delegation of BJP leaders. In 1992, when the BJP held its first such symbolic event, the then government had the sagacity to make it possible for the then party president, Murli Manohar Joshi, to have his way, albeit in a small way under government protection. Dr Joshi was flown in an Army helicopter to Srinagar to have his ceremony because Pakistan-backed terrorists had quite blocked the National Highway between Jammu and the capital.

Observers say that BJP's Kashmir policy has remained linear and unambiguous. The three yatras to J&K since 1951 had the common aim of complete integration. BJP's Parliamentary Party Chairman LK Advani writes in his book, My Country My Life: "My party, first as the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and later as the BJP, has been all along opposed to Article 370. Perhaps no other issue has figured as regularly in our party resolutions, and as many times, as Jammu and Kashmir's full integration into the Indian Union." Advani quotes a resolution passed in Jana Sangh's Kanpur conclave in January 1966 titled as "abrogate Article 370".

"Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. Pakistan has aggressively occupied one-third of the state since 1947. To get that aggression vacated and secure the liberation of Pak-occupied part of the state is the duty of the government of India... the question of the constitutional integration of the part of Jammu and Kashmir (which is in our hands) with the rest of India is a purely internal affair of India. The temporary and transitional Article 370 of the Indian constitution on the basis of which Jammu & Kashmir has a separate constitution of its own is a big hindrance in the way of such integration. It has created a psychological barrier between the people of the state and their counterparts in the rest of India, which has been exploited all these years by anti-national elements and Pak agents to the detriment of India's vital interests. Its abrogation and application of the Indian Constitution in full to Jammu and Kashmir, is an essential prerequisite for the normalisation of the situation within the state."

This time round, The BJP found that India's position on Kashmir is under graver threat externally and internally than anytime earlier. The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, during his detention in Jammu repeatedly referred to former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri's assertion that they had reached on an agreement with India on Kashmir during Musharraf regime. Internally, Omar Abdullah says on the floor of the House that J&K has only acceded to not merged with the Indian union under various conditions, which remain unfulfilled from the Indian side. He is vociferously taking up issue of internal autonomy, which was consigned to the dustbin by the BJP in July 2000 when it led the NDA regime at the Centre. At the time, Farooq Abdullah, as Advani puts it, allowed the issue to lapse to save his ties with the NDA. But now the BJP has clearly lost that leverage.

-- The writer is Srinagar correspondent of The Pioneer







More national flags are hoisted in the Kashmir valley than elsewhere in India. Instead of dull symbolism, the BJP would do well to launch programmes to highlight the corruption and nepotism of the Omar Government

The country's principal Opposition party's Ekta Yatra to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar resembled a march to conquer enemy territory, giving all the impression that Tricolour is normally not allowed to be unfurled in Jammu and Kashmir even on occasions like Republic Day. The fact is that the Kashmir valley hosts the highest number of the national flag ceremonies on Republic and Independence Days each year than any other district in India.

People in Delhi and elsewhere would be surprised to know that no less than 450 such flag hoisting ceremonies are organised in the 10 districts that fall within the Valley region. Besides the famous Lal Chowk of Srinagar, where the BJP's Yuva Morcha activists were heading in climax to their torturous expedition, there are more than 10 spots in the city alone where the national flags ceremoniously hoisted on the two national days. As for Lal Chowk, flag raising was done every year by the paramilitary forces, BSF and CRPF, until 2007 when their commandant-headed bunker moved out.

Other places in Srinagar that regularly have the Tricolour hoisted on R-Day and Independence Day include Palladium Cinema Chowk, Needous Hotel, Radio Kashmir, TV Station, Telephone Exchange and almost near all the bunkers and posts of the paramilitary forces. In every district, tehsil and block headquarters, the state ministers, district magistrates or tehsildars hoist flags in addition to Army organising their own functions separately at brigade and section headquarters.

So ordinary Kashmiris find it hard to understand why the BJP was up to so much fuss. People wondered if the saffronites were not up to their old rhetoric-oriented politics. The party had vowed to address the issue of Kashmir within the framework of "humanity," when Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Srinagar in 2000. It was an imaginative and bold promise which paved the way for a peace process with the separatists. Later, on April 18, 2003, he also announced a "fresh hand of friendship with Pakistan" from Srinagar.

It is high time the national Opposition party stops looking at the Kashmir issue though a telescope erected on the soil of Hindu majority Jammu and Kathaua where it has considerable support. A solution to the Kashmir issue is necessary for regional peace as well as progress of the country. While on the one hand, BJP leaders vow to ensure the unity of the State, on the other they stoke the flames of division along communal lines by raising the issue of "discrimination" against Jammu and Ladakh. In the 2008 elections, as a fallout of the Amarnath land row, the BJP won 11 seats in the State Assembly, mostly in Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts; up from just one seat it got in the 2002 election.

The party's discrimination theory was punctured by the State Finance Commission (SFC)'s latest findings, which has concluded that Jammu, Kathua and Samba were among the most developed districts of the State. Actually they are more developed than the average Indian district. Even Leh was far more prosperous than nearby Kargil which, because of its Muslim majority, doesn't exist in the BJP's scheme of things. So, instead of trying to simulate phony patriotism by raising issues like "denial of democratic space", the BJP would have done better had it capitalised on the State's governance deficit.

What Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley faced in Jammu, from where they were bundled out to across the Punjab border, is daily recurrence for Kashmiri activists and politicians who dare to raise their voice against the misrule of the National Conference-Congress combine. The party hardly raised the issue of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's repeated absence from Srinagar when the State was on flames.

On September 13, 2010, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), at its meeting in New Delhi, had acknowledged "trust deficit" and "governance deficit" as the two biggest problems afflicting the approach towards J&K. Ironically, the eight confidence building measures announced a fortnight later did not announce any step to bridge the "governance deficit".

Even in the two years since Omar Abdullah assumed office, the backbone of the state administration which comprises important commissions, the State Accountability Commission and Vigilance Commission are yet to be constituted. The Information Commission saw its first chief just a few days ago after much squabbling.

Surely, the BJP can turn over a new leaf if it supports democratic voices within J&K and lends support to the political and emotional empowerment of Kashmiri population. That is the only way to show a humane face of India to a people who have so far just seen either a mal-administered, unresponsive Government or a gun-totting soldier representing India's face.








THERE could not have been a more ominous start to India's campaign to host the cricket World Cup next month. That Eden Gardens, this country's iconic, as also the largest, cricket stadium has forfeited its right to host a World Cup match is a comment on how we manage our affairs.


By all accounts, it is the Jagmohan Dalmiyaheaded Cricket Association of Bengal ( CAB) that is to blame for the fiasco. The CAB had more than a year to build the two spectator galleries and make some alterations in the pavilion building. But the officials failed to make the cut, allowing the International Cricket Council to snatch away one of the four matches from Eden Gardens.


Don't forget here that the original deadline for venues to get the construction and other work done was November 30. Leave alone meeting it, the CAB also missed the extended deadline of December 31 and again, of January 25. It needn't be stressed here that CAB must have known right when the World Cup was allotted to India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on April 30, 2006, that Kolkata would get to host some important matches.


The ICC can't be expected to heed CAB's explanations. After all, the 50- over World Cup is ICC's favourite baby, also fetching it the maximum revenue.


CAB would do well not to blame Board of Control for Cricket in India politics for the embarrassment. It is another thing that the BCCI should have maintained checks guarding against the sort of thing we have before us.


The Kolkata fiasco should be reason for the BCCI to reassess the preparations for the World Cup matches to be held in India. Let not the Indian cup dream sour even before the tournament begins.



THE Union government must realise that the best way to deal with the controversy concerning the appointment of the chargesheeted P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner ( CVC) is to persuade him to quit. The proceedings before the Supreme Court so far have shown that it is very difficult for the government to back the appointment without inviting blame upon itself.


There seemed to be an easy way out when Attorney General G E Vahanvati submitted that the fact that a charge- sheet was pending against Mr Thomas did not find mention in the documents placed before the committee which cleared the appointment. This could have led to the quashing of the appointment on the grounds that relevant facts and material were not considered before it was finalised.


But now that the Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj has stated that she had raised the issue of the pending case while recording her dissent to Mr Thomas' appointment, this defence taken by the Centre will not wash. The Centre will now have to go back to the unconvincing arguments it has made in the past on this account.


Rather than harm its credibility further, it's best that the government makes Mr Thomas quit even if this may be easier said than done should the CVC, who is a statutory authority, choose to dig in his heels.


THE closure of BBC Radio's Hindi service — that will break the hearts of millions of listeners across the country — is yet another instance of tradition and romance losing out to the imperatives of the market — the BBC has cited a fund crunch as the reason for the move. The end of the service — which was started way back in 1940 during the Second World War — was in many ways inevitable given the rise of new media, television and FM radio.


Tuning in to short wave for BBC's Hindi service has been a part of the daily routine of innumerable households across the country for the last 70 years. The loss that the closure of the service will mean for such people is incomparable to anything else in the television era.


The BBC Hindi service was the medium through which people witnessed many crucial political events — be it India's Independence or the assassination of Indira Gandhi.


Its winding up means the end of an era.








AQUEER thing happened with this writer the other day. I had driven to office in the morning but while returning from work forgot about the car in the parking and happily went back home in the Metro. While that made it clear how the Metro had got internalised in my system it also made me aware once again about what the Metro signifies for the people of Delhi, both lay citizens as well as those in the government.


When a citizen waits for a train at a clean Metro station and sees the train arrive, with its automatic doors opening to usher him in, the state that runs the service tells him: " You are an esteemed, probably tax paying, citizen who deserves the best. So here we are to serve you well." This message is imbibed subliminally by the citizen passenger. So while on the station or in the train he is at his best behaviour.

Being treated with regard and care, he responds by not littering the train or soiling station walls with paan stains.


Often he even offers his seat to an elderly man or a woman though he may not be occupying a reserved seat.




The same citizen can be trusted to behave differently when he is on a dirty Indian Railways platform or a rickety Delhi Transport Corporation ( DTC) bus.


When he is standing on a railway platform with garbage and filth strewn on the railway tracks before him or in a rusty DTC bus with torn seats, the state tells him, " You must not forget that you are in a third world country. So don't have too many expectations and take what we are offering you with gratitude." Being cut to size, the citizen gets his own back at the state. He adds to the filth and dirt on the railway station, bribes the ticket collector to get a reserved berth and is at his rowdy and uncivilised best in the DTC bus.


This exchange between the state and the citizen greatly determines the latter's attitude towards his public duties. What the Indian state has ended up doing by abdicating its basic responsibilities towards the citizen since Independence is to have got the worst out of him. This means that the same citizen who would have paid his taxes, discharged his duties in case he was in government with efficiency and honesty, voted for the best candidate on the ballot box regardless of his caste or religion is today tempted, often even egged on, to be indifferent towards anything other than his petty selfish concern.


It is not often acknowledged that as people go, most of us are fence sitters.


There are people who would do the right thing regardless of the age or country in which they live, there are those who will break the law even in the most civilised country but in between these two extremes lies the common mass of humanity that acts as the environment expects and demands him to. In a society where the law knows how to enforce itself, this mass of humanity does the proper thing, as happens in the developed countries. On the other hand, the same mass of people become inefficient and corrupt and break the law when the state and society as a whole sets poor standards and the law conveys the impression that only the very unlucky get caught of wrongdoing.


This phenomenon explains the stark contrast between the hope with which this republic was born and the cynicism that pervades the public realm in the country today.




You may argue the other way round and say that the state functions as per the will of the people through the exercise of their democratic right and if the people chose to be conscious of their duties, the state would be forced to deliver better. However, it must be remembered that the relation between the state and the citizen is an unequal one since the former that wields power is in the position of a giver. When the giver fails on nearly every count, the citizen, is forced into a state of cynicism where he can't exercise judiciously even the one option he has to make himself heard — voting sensibly.


That a good section of the middle and upper classes don't go out to vote is only the flip side of this phenomenon.


As far as change is concerned, the situation is akin to the debate over what came first, the chicken or the egg. In other words, should the state change its ways first or should the people change before they can force the state to alter its functioning? This may be difficult to answer but what is uncontestable is that any change has to occur through the instrumentality of the state. This makes the role to be played by the ruling class critical.


It must be stressed here that notwithstanding the scams, the poor civic amenities provided by the state and the poverty in today's India, we are headed in the right direction. The nadir that the Indian republic and democracy had to reach, it seems, is past. Liberalisation and all that it has brought in its wake means we are on an upward curve, even if it may not be a very steep one. If we continue steadily, a time can be visualised — perhaps the mid 21st century — when many of the public ills that Indians have to suffer today would be eliminated in a big way, if not totally. After all, doesn't every year see us going one step forward, even if it is a small one — a Right to Information Act here, a fundamental right to elementary education there?




The only problem with this proposition is that the change it promises is too slow in coming. By the time such change has a distinct effect, a generation or two would have lived their lives. Millions of poor people would have been done through existence battling the ravages of poverty, millions of better off people would have been denied the quality of life that their counterparts in developed countries take for granted at present.


It is here that the progressive minded citizen has a critical role to play. The ruling class that is status quoist in its attitude needs to be pressured into showing a greater sense of urgency about the process of change. The expansion of the media in the last decade has made this possible with citizens becoming more aware of their rights. But this exercise needs to be carried further and could require citizens sometimes coming out on the streets to get their due from governments.


To return to the Metro, it needs to be seen as a metaphor for change, as a template of the quality of service a

state run enterprise can render provided it has the will. The Metro, notwithstanding the occasional glitches it witnesses , debunks the notion prevalent in India about there being something inherently wrong with any state run institution, of inefficiency and corruption being inseparable from it.


It wouldn't be such a bad idea for governments around the country to organise trips to Delhi for their staff — the sort that don't work in schools, hospitals and secretariats — a sort of a Metro pilgrimage, that changes their idea of work. For, they are often inefficient and corrupt because they know no better. It would help disabuse them of the notion that ' iss desh mai sab chalta hai ji', ( in India, everything goes),' with which they go about their jobs. The air- conditioned ride they get around the historical city could serve as a bonus.









It's all in the jeans. So say mothers ruing rebellious daughters or fashion DNA decoders. A new survey will vouch for that: what women want most is a pair that fits perfectly!

Time was when hardy, tent-material trousers were thought unladylike and reserved for soot-covered colliery boys. That is, until miners' clothing became a sartorial goldmine.You can bet your best bell-bots that this gender-bending fashion innovation rivals the wheel's invention. Think. Had the humble garment not become a readymade style statement, Mick Jagger wouldn't have zipped on drainpipes. Teenage rebels without a cause wouldn't have had a leg - or ripped leggings - to stand on. Nor would women shedding voluminous skirts have known beauty is skinnies' deep. Or sung: These boot cuts are made for gawking...That means we'd have been denied the sight of Hollywood's Megan Fox setting billboards afire, wearing Armani tights and a tattoo. Ooh, it doesn't bear shrinking.

Marvelling at today's varied jean(s) pool, buying this fashion staple shouldn't lead to a series of wardrobe malfunctions, right? Wrong. Consumer research analysts have let the cat out of the baggies: most women say they've never found the right match, and we're not talking matrimonials. A third fear buying jeans, which turn out too short, too long, too tight, too loose, too casual or too classy. Flared, hipster or waster, women shop till they drop but get no satisfaction. Clearly, the denim's in the details. So's the devil.

Is that why a study finds jeans to be the top unworn item in a girl's closet? Well, it's a fact that a pair can mean trouble. If wearing low-rise jeans raised howls in Kerala, UP's khap-wallahs think jeans-sporting young couples are the most likely to elope! But look on the stone-washed bright side. Count how many causes denim worship serves. One, jeans promote justice, by being worn in a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence. Two, they aid scientific enquiry. A student in Canada sported an unwashed pair for 15 months to study the possible health effects. Bacteria did him no bodily harm, so the experiment concluded that it was "okay not to wash jeans"! The third benefit, then, is that you economise. Imagine the dosh saved on detergents. Over many unlaundered years, the savings can't but reimburse the cost, however astronomical, of a designer label. Posh.

Finally, jeans fight crime. The creation of a Varanasi-based 'innovator', pants duly power-packed can give an electric shock to thieves trying to filch your wallet! Attach a battery-operated kit to denim, and there's a jolt from the blue. The other day, US prez Obama told Americans they needed to out-innovate India. Well, if a desi school dropout can be such a genius, US competitors shouldn't even try to out-generate his pickpocket-proof current. Women, then, are powering themselves in the right direction in their quest to be a cut above the rest. More so, given more and more of them today are wearing the pants in the house. And outside. Yehi hai right fit, lady.








The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) had assured, on national television, a report on the Commonwealth Games investigation within 90 days. After all, they said, time is of the essence in such investigations. That deadline passed on January 18, 2011.

There is no report yet. And it is not coming anytime soon. Many of you will shrug your shoulders and say "So? We knew that? Were you stupid enough to take that deadline seriously?" It is true, i was stupid. Some of us in the country are stupid. Stupid enough to care. Stupid enough to think that politicians are here to service society. That leaders are accountable and, if in the wrong, will be tried and punished just like an ordinary citizen.

Yet, nobody powerful gets convicted unless there is a stroke of luck or his powerful enemies bring him down. The CAG is either under-resourced or lazy or scared to take on the big guns, or maybe all of these together. The CBI is no different. A CBI raid on politicians equates to some CBI officials coming over to your residence for a cup of tea. Offer them plum transfers and the CBI guys might even make the tea for you.

Contrast this with China where the punishment for the corrupt can be death by firing squad. Not only that, the family of the convict gets a bill for the bullets, just to emphasise the point that no one steals the nation's money. This, in what is not a democracy.

There are two reasons our leaders roam scot-free despite all their crimes. I call it the King and Robin Hood system. First, our leaders are like little kings. They are elected but they are not accountable. Just like erstwhile kings, once in power, they are free to use the kingdom to their advantage. The laws are meant for the common people, not for them. Yes, our kings keep changing through the election process. However, whosoever gets the seat is free to raid the republic. We are not a democracy; the more apt name would be kingocracy. And our politicians being tried, punished and made to bring their money back from Switzerland would not be very king-like at all.

The second reason is the Robin Hood factor. Robin Hood stole from the rich and distributed to the poor. This led him to acquire heroism despite being an outlaw. In the same way, our little kings cultivate their constituencies like Robin Hoods. Especially within their caste or community support base, they are local heroes. They could distribute anything from free televisions to alcohol to get votes. In fact, they don't even have to distribute much, as people love them anyway. They are often local icons for a particular caste or region, being the big guys who made it.

When A Raja landed in Tamil Nadu after his resignation, hundreds of fans mobbed him at the airport. In Karnataka, B S Yeddyurappa continues to be backed by Lingayats. We know there are still people who will vote for Suresh Kalmadi or Ashok Chavan. Why does that happen? In a country where common people's lives border on the pathetic - half the population doesn't have electricity or clean drinking water - just seeing one of your own doing well can be uplifting. It works as Bollywood stars work, relatable yet aspirational at the same time.

Similarly, a voter thinks - look at that senior minister, he is from my caste, speaks my language and his village is near my own. I am his fan! With such an emotional bond, even the biggest revelations of corruption become highly irrelevant. In fact, they threaten the hero-fan relationship. Thus, misdemeanours are often ignored. Robin Hood continues to enjoy support, steals massive amounts at the top, and offers little more than small freebies and a chance to be a fan down below.

Thus, the king overpowers the weak laws and the Robin Hood continues to keep his support. The looting never stops. How do we fix this?

Frankly, it isn't easy. Most of India doesn't know the concept of the politician being a service provider, not a king. Awareness programmes explaining democracy need to come first before, say, programmes asking people to go out and vote.

Next, we citizens must demand an independent, constitutional authority that can prosecute the kings. It can be an offshoot of the judiciary, but whatever it is, the top guy cannot be under a politician's control. This is the number one priority if we have to have any hope of killing corruption. This requires all the politicians to come together, in a non-partisan manner, and pass new laws that actually reduce their unchecked powers.

Of course, it is tough. However, if people demand it, and make it a bigger election issue than, say, religion and caste, it can happen. If not, prepare for even bigger scams. India needs new forefathers, the few genuine leaders who will put forward the principles and systems of a new, modern India. Otherwise, this old King and Robin Hood system will continue to rob India under the watchful but impotent eye of the CBI and the CAG. Now will someone complete their homework and at least do that report please?

The writer is a best-selling novelist.






Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution', which forced its president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to end his 23-year-long rule and flee the country, has created a ripple effect through the Arab world. Popular protests demanding political and economic freedoms have broken out in Egypt and Yemen. Spread of the contagion to other places such as Algeria, Jordan and Morocco is being predicted in the days ahead. Taken together, there is reason to believe that the wave of popular demonstrations could lead to a fundamental churning in the region.

Common structural deficiencies in these countries are a key feature propelling the protests. Unrest has taken place in the backdrop of rising unemployment, institutional corruption and lack of political liberty. As in Tunisia's case, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Syria are ruled by long-standing autocratic regimes that yield little or no political space to the opposition. Any sign of dissent is severely dealt with, creating a sense of frustration among the people. In such circumstances, successful regime change in Tunisia has served as a powerful trigger. The idea that the Tunisian experience can be replicated elsewhere seems to be gaining currency. Catalysed by modern technology such as social networking websites and mobile phones, people across the region seem to be realising the potential for change.

True, change could usher in more conservative regimes. Nonetheless, it will mark the beginning of a debate for greater democratic rights. Some autocratic governments facing protests are known to have cordial relations with the West. This should not make the latter intervene in any manner. The expression of dissent slowly sweeping across the Arab world is rooted in the region, and that is how it should remain.Authoritarian regimes are limiting in terms of popular aspirations. That is why the present round of demonstrations holds the potential of a political reconfiguration in the Arab world.








The Arab world is ablaze. But the spectacle of immolated bodies serving to topple dictatorships is neither becoming nor desirable. Popular protests signal systemic problems and there must be change, but it cannot be revolutionary because that is by definition sudden, radical and disruptive. The Arab world deserves better. They require a process of systematic and organised change towards a clearly delineated set of goals.The problem is no one knows what these goals are. Tunisia - where it all began - might see the return of exiled leader Rachid Ghannouchi, who may fill the power vacuum. However, there is no certainty about what he believes in. He claims to be a moderate but has made comments suggestive of Taliban-style curtailing of women's rights. Lack of clarity about what Arab opposition leaders stand for is matched by how fractured the opposition is. Ghannouchi admits he doesn't know who Tunisians support. Mohamed ElBaradei is another returnee to his native Egypt.While some elements of the disparate, ideologically divided opposition look to him, the largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, opposes him. In short, there is protest, but Tunisia and the rest of the Arab world lacks a Vaclav Havel - an organic leader representing the masses because he is at one with them.

Even if against all the odds Tunisia does change to become a democratic, secular state, the rest of the Arab world's leadership is now aware of the powder-keg it is sitting on. Different regimes will take active measures to dissuade or address the causes of unrest.Jordan announced a $550 million subsidy package in the wake of Tunisian protests. Others have been less enlightened in their response.
Egypt has shut down electronic communications and put in place a media blackout. But, despite the variety of measures, the effect will be the same: current leaderships will ensure protests do not spiral into revolution.








WASHINGTON: Win the future. With that stirring call in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama urged America to shape up for competition with China and India, which were thundering ahead in growth and development.

Well, thanks. We Indians are mighty pleased that you consider us to be a future competitor but, as things stand, um, you Americans needn't worry too much. True, we are growing impressively but when it comes to competitiveness, or offering an enabling environment for business, we are still way down in global charts. That's because we have a serious 'governance deficit', as Azim Premji, Keshub Mahindra, Bimal Jalan and other leading citizens rued in a recent letter to the government.

With China, however, America probably has a more pressing problem. China's foreign exchange reserves are close to $3 trillion, they hold around a trillion dollars worth of US government bonds; they are investing hugely in highways and new energy sources and smart railways, boosting their infrastructure in general; and they are expanding research, often with the help of young people trained in the US.


Training people with a renewed emphasis on education at all levels and intensifying research must be America's way forward to meet future challenges from emerging nations."This is our generation's Sputnik moment," said the president, referring to the late 1950s when a Soviet satellite by that name spurred America on to a furious race in science and technology. Yes, but training doesn't begin or end with school, does it? Isn't how children are raised at home equally important for training minds?


A minor firestorm has been generated in the media here with the publication of Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She says the Americans have it all wrong by bringing up their children indulgently. The Chinese tiger mother, on the other hand, insists on a strict, sometimes harsh, upbringing for her child because all work and no play unless monitored for performance, will make Jack successful.

While raising her own children as a tiger mother, Chua frequently had to argue with her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, the son of a psychotherapist, who like the Chinese-American Chua is a law professor at Yale but holds different views on child-rearing. He would plead with her not to insult, humiliate or frighten the children into submission. But she would yell at her little daughters during piano practice: "If the next time's not perfect, i'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!"

Their two daughters performed excellently in school and in music. But when the younger one was asked what title she would like to give her mother's book, she suggested: "The Perfect Child and the Flesh-Eating Devil".

I can see several ambitious parents in India's cities nodding their heads in approval of the tiger mother. Kids need discipline. But are children raised in a near-perfect style essential to the success of a society or nation? Or are free minds and self-confidence more effective in producing persons who can make society competitive?

The jury is still out on the matter. Point to note: China, with its millions of tiger mothers, has done well of late and shows some potential of becoming the leading nation of the world one day. America, however, has been the world's leading power since the middle of the 20th century despite its supposedly lax style of child-rearing.

In the field of knowledge, the US lead may have declined slightly but is still massive. Shanghai's
Jiao Tong University made a ranking of the world's leading universities: out of the top 20, as many as 17 are American. Nobel prize winners in science are mostly American, with Germans and the British coming a distant second and third.

The same picture comes up when we look at new inventions and innovative ideas. Just in the last couple of decades, the internet, email, Facebook, Twitter and the iPad all came from America, not China or India. Tiger mothers did not raise those who introduced such innovations, like
Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

An absolute decline of America may well be nigh. But they are not quite there yet.







The overthrow of a government in Tunisia, and the street protests and self-immolation from Algeria to Yemen, indicate that an impossibility may be taking place: Arabs are taking to the street. The Arab world has been the black hole of democracy. No other part of the world has been as resistant to regime change in favour of representative government than the band of nations stretching from Morocco to Oman. Latin America, once the continent of the junta, is a democratic redoubt today. Most of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, regions that gave the world noxious dictators like Mobuto Sese Seko and Ferdinand Marcos, have experienced waves of political reform. The Arab world has been noticeable for its seeming imperviousness to such explosions of democracy and its inability to even generate indigenous and isolated liberal revolutions. Instead the Arabs are ruled by motley crew of petro-monarchies, thinly-veiled military dictatorships and one-party oligopolies.

All bad things must come to an end. The extent of the ripple effect of Tunisia's 'jasmine revolution' remains unclear — including what sort of governmental structure will arise in Tunisia itself. However, it is now clear that the once monolithic firmament that was Arabian polity having been cracked will henceforth be vulnerable to the power of the protest.

What US military power has struggled to create in Iraq is now being accomplished by the simplest of things: food prices, Facebook and a fed-up public. The question is how long the façade will continue and what will replace it over the coming decades. Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, will now be crucial to the future of the jasmine revolution. The present regime has beaten off, and quite savagely, what seemed to be far more potent threats before including sustained Islamicist terror campaigns. The street protestors remain relatively moderate in size and the loyalty of the security services shows no signs of strain. But countries like Jordan and Algeria are already offering political concessions to their people in an attempt to contain public disaffection.

Arab democracy can also expect only lukewarm support from the West: in most of these countries the most likely winner of a free and fair election would be distastefully illiberal groups like the ultraconservative Muslim Brotherhood. What is clear is that the long-standing assumption that nothing can shake Arab authoritarianism has been consigned to the dustbin. The question of what will follow has been added to the great questions of the international system.







January 29, 1948. It had been a demanding day. He could not have complained, though. It was he, after all, who had turned each day of his into a gruelling work-machine.

Yet, this one had been exceptionally so. Visitors had come, as usual, including the staff photographer for Life, Margaret Bourke-White.

The riots' fury had abated but the air over New Delhi still carried frenzy.

A group of survivors from a brutal attack on India-bound refugees at the railway station in Gujarat, Sind came that afternoon to where Gandhi was staying. Birla House on Albuquerque Road (now Gandhi Smriti, Tees Janvari Marg) was a house of anxiety, of anguish. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru would come, fatigued but fighting. As would deputy prime minister Patel, dejected but dauntless. And people — regular people — would gather there, particularly in the evenings when Gandhi would join a public prayer and speak for some 30 minutes (or less) to the congregation.

The 79-year-old man was supposed to be snatching a few minutes' rest before his prayer meeting on  January 29 when the Bannu group arrived, demanding to meet him.

Confronting Gandhi, one of the angered men said:

"Why do you now take rest?...You have ruined us…We are beside ourselves with grief…"

"My grief is not less than yours…"

After they left, he resumed working at his papers. The draft new 'constitution' for the Congress was occupying him. That took care of the remaining hours of the afternoon and evening.

In his post-prayer remarks to the congregation, Gandhi asked those present: "Why do you presume that because I am a friend of Muslims I am an enemy of Hindus and Sikhs?"  He referred to his conversation with the enraged visitors from Bannu and said: "One of them — I did not ask whether he was a refugee — said I had done enough harm already and that I should stop and disappear from the scene… He said that I might go to the Himalayas… I cannot run away because anyone wants me to run away. I have not taken to service at anyone's bidding. I have become what I have become at the bidding of God. God will do what He wills. He may take me away. I shall not find peace by going to the Himalayas. I want to find peace in the midst of turmoil or I want to die in the turmoil. My Himalayas are here."

Two sentences from that speech of his stand out:

"He may take me away."

And "My Himalayas are here."

What was that "here"?

It was a country, his country, one that was calling him its Father. It was free now but divided, a society that was hurt and angry. Run by leaders any country could have been proud of, his deeply beloved political heir Jawaharlal Nehru and his unconditionally trusted lieutenant Vallabhbhai Patel. Gandhi worried that the temperamental differences between these two stalwarts would hurt the governance of a traumatised India.

The prayer meeting — his last — over, Gandhi wound his way back to his ground floor room at Birla House. Pyarelal records, on reaching his room, Gandhi said "my head is reeling" and then, pointing to the unfinished draft Congress constitution, said to his niece-in-law Abha, "Yet, I must finish this". He worked on that and other papers until late. It is 9.15 pm when he prepared to lie down. Plans for a possible visit to Wardha for a meeting with all his lieutenants and associates being organised by Rajendra Prasad was also on his mind.

Grand-niece Manu describes the same scene thus: "Bapu was extremely exhausted…he said, 'My head is reeling. I am again and again getting the thought, Where am I? What am I doing? How can one bring peace in this present atmosphere of violence ?'"

Pyarelal and Manu tell us that an agonised Gandhi then lay himself down and while waiting for the end-of-day call by his son Devadas , repeated a verse from Nazir:

Hai bahaar-e-baagh duniyaa chand roz

Dekh lo is kaa tamaashaa chand roz

(Short-lived is the splendour of Spring in the garden of the world/Watch the brave show while it lasts)

Gandhi and a ghazal? And on just 'the day before'?  He never ceases to surprise. Pyarelal  and Manu have separately recorded [Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase  (1958) by Pyarelal and End of an Epoch (1962) by Manu Gandhi] that a little after this, 48-year-old Devadas Gandhi came in for the end-of-day conversation (in Gujarati, of course) between father and son. Others present in the room would not quite go away when the two were speaking but they gave the two 'space'.

Devadas writes : "There was more conversation… and I would have invited the usual 'crowd', even at that hour, had I tarried. So, preparing to leave, I said: 'Bapu, will you sleep now?' 'No, there is no hurry. You may talk for some time longer if you like.' As the talk continued, a severe fit of coughing convulsed Gandhi. Manu asked him to try a penicillin lozenge.  He declined. No surprise there. When he got his voice back, he said to Manu: '…If I die of a lingering illness… it will be your duty to proclaim to the world, even at the risk of making people angry with you, that I was not the man of God that I claimed to be… If someone were to end my life by putting a bullet through me — as someone tried to do with a bomb the other day — and I met this bullet without a groan and breathed my last taking God's name, then alone would I have made good my claim…'"

Death, that of the countless hundreds of thousands killed in riots, and very clearly, his own imminent one, had dominated his thoughts on this, the 'day before'.

But was he readying to go? He certainly was not.

"He may take me away," yes.

A line in the same ghazal says Kuuch kaa saamaan kar… (Put your things together for the long journey). He had done that. No difficult task that, for him.

But being ready is one thing. Wanting to go is another. He did not want to go. At least, not yet.

Margaret Bourke-White had asked him earlier that day: Did he still cherish the wish and hope to live the full span of life? He had lost that wish, Gandhi said, in view of the prevailing darkness. He was, however, groping for light. If things took a turn for the better and the people responded to his call and co-operated to usher in a new era of peace and amity, he would again wish — indeed, he would be "commanded" to wish to live the full span.

He wanted to play his part, to be on his fast-moving feet again. There where "his Himalayas" were.  Where work was. Where three bullets waited too, ready to stop him on his path. Only, as Ramchandra Gandhi has put it, to be stopped by him instead in their tracks.

(Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor)

*The views expressed by the author are personal





Does the government seriously expect to conceal the names of Indians who have stashed their money overseas? Can it really be treated as a mere tax evasion matter? And does the public believe that the list of Indian account holders at Liechtenstein's LGT Bank is packed with gun-runners and dons in shiny suits? Such unrealistic expectations are reducing the problem of offshore black money to a domestic political tussle. But potentially, it's a global governance issue.

It isn't just criminals who stash money offshore. Big corporations do it too, legitimately. Last October, for instance, it was claimed that Google uses financial manoeuvres colourfully known as the 'Double Irish' and the 'Dutch Sandwich' to funnel revenues to the Bermudas and save billions in taxes. The disclosure elicited admiration, not outrage, because Google had legally slashed its tax liability.

However, the Supreme Court wants to know if the Indian money in Liechtenstein is linked to terrorism and crime. The government's reluctance to disclose names suggests that a political figure is criminally compromised, perhaps by kickback money. But don't expect gangs of thugs to be outed. Drug cartels, gun-runners and hawala operators dislike tax havens, which often have stringent laws against money laundering, as in Switzerland. They prefer high turnover banking centres like New York. It is easier to lose yourself in a crowd than in an exclusive club, which is what a tax haven is.

So much for unrealistic public and political expectations. On its part, the government cannot hope to conceal the names, pleading that disclosure would violate international treaties under which they were obtained. The people's right to know trumps external obligations. Technically, of course, the government is right in regarding this as a tax evasion matter, since almost all the names on the Liechtenstein list are probably just tax dodgers, not terrorists. But there's more to it.

Tax evasion is an issue in India because these funds were not disclosed. Elsewhere, outflows to tax havens are legitimately disclosed and taxed. But governments are generally uneasy about the lack of transparency which is a feature of most tax havens. Hence the concerns about money laundering, kickbacks and the diversion of funds to finance crime and terrorism, which should be addressed.

This can't be done bilaterally. India has signed 79 double taxation avoidance treaties, but only five of them permit the exchange of banking data. Perhaps a multilateral mechanism is required to enforce transparency and uniform banking procedures across borders. There are about 40 tax havens out there, which constitute a segment of the global trade in banking services. There are bargaining mechanisms to regulate the flow of wealth in other forms - intellectual property and trade goods, for instance. Why not one for banking?

The big powers would not propose such a thing. Too many of them have used tax havens for ignoble purposes in the past. But a proposal can be moved by India, which has consistently been the loser in this game, having lost colossal sums in taxes, weathered the Bofors scam and suffered decades of terrorism. India is about to assume a larger role at the United Nations. Can we begin to play the part and bring a serious global governance issue to the table?

(Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine)

*The views expressed by the author are personal








Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the Supreme Court on Thursday that the three-member panel that chose the Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas did not know much about him. They had, he said, access only to his bio-data, which did not mention details such as the fact that the candidate they were reviewing for the post of the country's top anti-corruption watchdog had a high-profile corruption case lodged against him. Nor did they know, Vahanvati asserted, that the state government had eventually sanctioned Thomas' prosecution. (They would have known, though, that Thomas was secretary in A. Raja's telecom ministry, the decisions taken by which will be major subjects for corruption investigation for the foreseeable future.) This was in response to close questioning by the SC, which wanted to ensure that the CVC Act's requirements for a suitable candidate had been met.

Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha and one of the three members of the selection committee — the others were the prime minister and the home minister — disagreed, insisting that she had spoken about the palmolein case in which Thomas was embroiled. Swaraj had dissented from the committee's choice, which is supposed to be made "by consensus"; by her version of events, the decision to go by majority vote rather than the required consensus becomes even more worrying. But, even if the committee was not properly briefed, questions will have to be asked about the degree to which the government performed the necessary background checks required for a high constitutional post; and about the seriousness with which the government's representatives on the committee took the task of finding an officer in whom experience and perceived integrity were sufficiently combined to allow him to do her job properly. For reasons beyond Thomas' case, the Centre must explain how such standard drills were compromised, if indeed they were.

As the SC pointed out in cross-questioning, there will have been many eligible officers. Given that fact, it makes the UPA's choice of Thomas ever more puzzling. The government, on January 18, in an affidavit before the court, had chosen to defend Thomas and the manner of his appointment.

It's clear now that, irrespective of whether or not Thomas is guilty — and he has not yet been found so — the government is guilty of both negligence and arrogance. It must stop defending itself now, for such defence will necessarily be inept; and begin expressing regret and beginning repair for this inexcusable series of events.






Whether or not what's happening in the streets of Arabia turns out to be its 1989 moment, it's clear that this is a post-American turmoil. The US, which Arab nations like Egypt and Jordan count as an ally, has never seemed so helpless. However, this can be no more than one catalyst among many, starting with the dictatorial politics of much of the Arab world where corruption, rising prices and expectations of an Internet-savvy younger generation were bound to breach the dikes sooner or later. Maybe it had to come at this moment, after wasted decades of popular failure to get a grip on government. The Arab street has been getting steadily angrier for almost 30 years, and finally that anger — ventless and fearful till now — is spilling on to the closely guarded public space.

When the Tunisian uprising ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the question of a domino effect across the Arab Middle East and Africa had still seemed premature. Now, however, the domino effect seems to be here, with even Libya's Muammar Gadaffi — the region's longest-serving ruler and the strictest prohibiter of protest — sounding nervous. Egypt most closely resembles Tunisia — a faltering economy, official corruption, an ageing ruler with an old monopoly on power. The numbers clashing with the police haven't been seen since the 1970s bread riots. Yemen, the most impoverished Arab nation, is of course the basket case of the Arabian Peninsula. However, in resource-rich Algeria, opposition activity had gained strength from the loosening of the political system.

Right now, the protests seem spontaneous and centre-less. Much of the Arab world is indeed either undemocratic or insufficiently democratic. But an eye must be kept on the hint of uncontrollable spirals. If people secure for themselves a better life and responsible governance, no one will complain. However, any uprising is attractive in its nascent stage. It's when patterns of interest begin to be imposed on them that real questions and real dangers arise.






In the Twenty20 era, cricket is prone to acute anxieties, mostly about the viability of its longer formats. As the recent Ashes and India-South Africa Test series attest, those anxieties may be overdone — when the contest is keen and the talent sound, the five-day version can be said to be in good health. The debate about the future of the one-day format may, however, be a more open one. And with the World Cup just weeks away, be sure that there will be ample readings about the 50-over game. Yet, as cricket's biggest show comes to the subcontinent, the sport will also showcase its distinct engagement with venues.

Place matters to a cricket match in more ways than just playing conditions, and the history of a stadium inevitably exerts its shadow on the match summary. To be a cricket fan is to be familiar with the specifics of major venues. Therefore, it's a little disappointing that a key World Cup match (India-England) has been confiscated from Kolkata's Eden Gardens for delays in getting its renovation completed in time. Eden Gardens has a long history of great matches (the India-Australia Test of 2001, when the hosts won after being made to follow on) and discerning, enthusiastic spectators. To settle down to a game of cricket amidst the roar of almost a lakh people roaring their enthusiasm and disappointments is a routine every cricketer, and even viewer, prepares for beforehand.

Therefore, it's shocking that the local association failed to keep to the schedule. It's also unfortunate because Eden Gardens crowds, with their appreciation of history, would have liked to make up for a most unfortunate record in the World Cup. The last time a World Cup match was given to the stadium, an India-Sri Lanka semi-final in 1996, the spectators failed the occasion, and the match was prematurely deemed over. They need a chance to make amends.







It has been interesting to watch the BJP silently repackage itself. And it is not just about its own "good governance" chief ministers. The party has tried to ride the public anger against "corruption" and a culture of fishes and loaves. The courts seem to be in no mood to spare the Congress-led UPA government on any front — at least three crucial cases have seen the government mumble, buckle or backtrack, only to be embarrassed further: the matters of 2G spectrum allocation, the CVC's appointment and black money. With the government prone to embarrassing self-goals, despite a robust mandate and more than three years left in office, the opposition is, or should be, on a roll. The BJP, as the principal beneficiary, has been keen to build on it and has seemed (despite the rupture in the campaign, thanks to the Karnataka chief minister) on the razor-sharp path of battling "corruption".

The focus seemed to suggest a silent change of tack. Far from the attacks mounted when Digvijaya Singh spoke of a threat to

Hemant Karkare's life, there was cool distance from Aseemanand's revelations, no defence of several people being investigated for terror who don't have names like Khan. Three BJP/ NDA states' tableaux at the Republic Day parade were also interesting, unabashedly showcasing minority faiths in their states — Buddhism in Gujarat, Muslim Bidri workers in Karnataka and Sufi cult followers in Bihar. Tableaux which would have been mocked as "pseudo-secular" some years back were proudly and cleverly waved in.

But recently, its flag-march to Srinagar (or eventually, Kathua) conveys the impression that the party has again tried to be too clever by half, or just let itself down once again. The ostensible commonsense argument that the Indian flag can be and should be unfurled breezily in any corner of India was stretched in mock innocence to India's northernmost state and a terribly ugly situation was only just averted, as BJP workers were diverted to Punjab. The cover for what was done was impeccable — there was Shyama Prasad Mookerjee's example to invoke, and the more recent but unstated example of Murli Manohar Joshi (with Narendra Modi in tow) unfurling the Tricolour in the barren January cold of Srinagar two decades ago.

One of the striking things in Kashmir as you speak to ordinary people (and not just the Hartal Conference) is the immense goodwill that Atal Bihari Vajpayee enjoys there. His call to conduct dialogue in the ambit of "insaniyat" (or humanity) drew several people to him and his regime and he followed it up with a slew of small, medium and big actions, in defiance of the resistance he may have faced from within his party. But peace moves and the thaw that followed the unseemly "eyeball to eyeball" build-up at the India-Pakistan border truly ushered in a phase of calm and routine to the Valley. For instance, the decision to run a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar was a radical move that proved to be a winner. But now, in a bid to perhaps make a point to the RSS vanguard, the leaders of the BJP in Parliament, articulate and savvy, were forced to board buses to nowhere on a journey that did not make a point. If anything, it served as a dog whistle that not just the BJP faithful, but even those traditionally wary of the BJP, heard loud and clear.

"Nationalism" has been the most controversial of ideas to have bound people, and also

divided them at other times. The 20th century in Europe saw

"nationalism" become a edgy word from one World War to

another. There is an entire body of work on when nationalism emerged and to what extent it is tied to ethnic issues, ideas of a culture, geography or a shared past. In the case of countries like India that gained independence in the mid-20th century after the overthrow of colonial powers, however, it denoted a shared civic idea of coexistence, of living

together, bound with a shared history. The American and French Revolutions' ideas of power, of sovereignty, being ultimately wrested in the hands of "the people" was given primacy as Indians began the preamble to the Constitution with "We the people".

However, the principal opposition party, through its various avatars and finally, 31 years ago, born as the BJP, has displayed a fundamental unease with the idea of several coexisting as "one". "Oneness" was prone to be interpreted as a fuzzy or woolly idea that no one fully appreciated, till of course the Gujarat riots of 2002 managed to push its politics outside the state. That forced the BJP to once again not push for a unitary or uniform interpretation of unity, if only for the sake of blunting an edge the Congress-led coalition seemed to have gained — that a significant section of the electorate would vote for them for no other reason than simply not voting for the BJP.

BJP leaders also admit privately to how gleefully they look forward to the diminishing of the Left's strength in the forthcoming state elections in West Bengal and Kerala, so that nothing would stand between them and mopping up the votes of those angry with the Congress.

But all of that is premised on the ability of the BJP to emerge as a party that is actually not secretly obsessed with ideas of exclusivity, silently yearning to work on the three issues it had earlier pushed on the backburner (a Ram temple at Ayodhya, ending the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, and enforcing a uniform civil code). It is important for it to be able to connect to contemporary issues; to at least appear distant from its earlier image of just standing for "cultural nationalism"; or taking the "threat to internal security" to mean "Indian Muslims are jihadis". It may not be a very clever idea to just respell old slogans — like Jai Shri Ram as Bharat Mata ki Jai. It won't be a nationalist enough thing to do.

Indians deserve better.








The brutal Sonewane murder underlines again the need for effective policies for the cooking-fuel and energy needs of poor Indians. The roadmap for these has developed in terms of details but has been known in its main contours from the Fuel Policy Committee of the mid-1970s to the expert committee on an integrated energy policy of the Eleventh Plan. While it is true that, since the mid-1970s, poverty, severe and chronic malnutrition, and the reliance on non-commercial fuels has gone down, millions of people — largely women and girl children — collect fuel for cooking and lighting, at the expense of a lot they could do for themselves. In the process they severely undermine their health from fumes, as also create other sustainability issues. Clean energy is needed to literally sustain life.

If there is a focus on the problem, with a good beginning and dogged pursuit, solutions are possible, with large gains both immediately and from the elimination of the problem. Like in ending hunger, a lack of focus and giving in to short-term pressure not only wastes resources, but makes it almost impossible to solve the real problems — and in fact creates problems, as the events of the last few days show.

In the 1970s and 1980s, we developed the largest rural electricity systems in the world. For the balance — and for those who were de-electrified, like in Bihar, through theft of lower-level equipment — government committed to electrifying all villages (was it by 2010?). But about 20 million poor households don't get connections even in electrified villages. Each household must be entitled, as the Planning Commission's (PC) energy policy committee has said, to a life-line of 30 units of electricity at a highly subsidised rate. This, incidentally, is only around 75 billion units of electricity, nothing to a mall-guzzling, luxury-mansion, nine-per-cent-growth culture. Economists like me, now an almost extinct species, say everybody else must pay the full cost.

We must provide clean cooking energy to all households within 10 years. Again, this is not much. My friend Kirit Parikh, who is very good at creating numbers from nowhere, says this only needs 55Mtoe (million tonnes of oil equivalent). This could be from liquefied petroleum gas (13Mtoe in the future), natural gas, biogas or kerosene. We will come to biogas later, but again that's not too strenuous. We would make the household have a claim for that with a ration system. We could use coupons, smart cards, or whatever is easiest, and empower them. Sure, some of that will be sold, since some will want cash and not fuel, but they will be better off.

The whole business of fast-growing plantations was thought of in the 1970s and is again highlighted by the energy expert committee. In fact it could be linked with NREGA. There are many other possibilities. When I was power minister, I wrote to each state asking it to implement, with GoI funds, 7,500 MW of projectised mini-hydel electricity, which could be used to feed cooking energy to the poor at almost no running cost. We love to build photovoltaics at Rs 20 a unit since land costs money and solar panels eat land — but even in Gujarat we have not built up the capacity of hydel power in that lovely structure, the Narmada Main Canal. Each

village could also have its own village plantations. The PC talks of wood-based gasification; and then there's the old reliable, dung-based biogas. A lot can be done.

But we entitle everybody — for they are all poor, aren't they? Then of the entitled, many don't need kerosene. So now they don't even go through the motions of delivering through the poor, and then collecting; the mafia take it directly from the pumps. As a regulator describes it, you don't see any kerosene stoves in towns, nor do you see anybody collecting anything from the outlets in jerry cans. It goes straight to

the other channel.

We are talking, now, of the small sum of Rs 12,000 crore. When I shout from my cottage "Don't call a rural person poor by using an urban poverty line I worked out 30 years ago," I am asked by a powerful policy adviser to be more liberal — whatever that means. A retired PSU chief says that the difference between the severely undernourished of 20 per cent and 70 per cent is an "academic exercise". But the trouble is that when you don't do your sums, and focus your delivery architecture around that, Rs 12,000 crore gets siphoned away — and the poor, severely malnourished girl still has to go to collect the twigs and damage her lungs with the smoke. We have the sacrifice of another honest Indian to remember, and to ensure it doesn't go in vain.

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








The Ekta Yatra of the BJP's Youth Wing covered 3500 km and passed through 12 states. It was a peaceful display of nationalism. The Yuva Morcha wanted to assert every Indian's right to fly the national flag on every inch of Indian soil.

"Why do it in Kashmir and not in Chhattisgarh?" asked J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. A good question, which he himself should endeavour to answer. The chief minister of no other state had an objection to hoisting of the national flag. It is only he who objected. The environment he created in the Kashmir valley is such that an attempt to hoist the national flag in Srinagar will "provoke" the separatists. It will be seen as an anti-Kashmiri move. He, therefore, launched a war on the Yatra.

The national flag is a symbol of India's honour and pride. Pandit Nehru described it in the Constituent Assembly as "a flag of freedom not for ourselves but a symbol of freedom for all people who may seek it." The member from the Anglo-Indian community, Frank Anthony said that "while this is a symbol of our past, it inspires us for the future. This flag flies as a flag of the nation and it should be the duty of and privilege of every Indian not only to cherish and live under it but if necessary, to die for it."

The Supreme Court, while hearing the case of Naveen Jindal, now a Congress MP, described flying the flag as free speech, intended to highlight nationalism, patriotism and love for the motherland. The use of the national flag to express these sentiments is a fundamental right. When several separatists met at an auditorium in New Delhi three months ago to assault the very idea of India, calling it an unnatural nation-state that is bound to disintegrate, they openly advocated the segregation of its territory from the Indian union. This seditious exercise was described as free speech. The Central government expressed its inability to take any action. However, the Chidambaram-Omar combination, while expressing their inability to take action against seditious speeches, decided to prevent the exercise of nationalistic free speech when it came to carrying the national flag in Jammu & Kashmir.

Many have asked the question as to why anyone should have an objection to the carrying of the national flag. The answer indeed is intriguing as I endeavour to search for it.

Along with two of my colleagues, I landed in Jammu on the afternoon of January 24. Some policemen entered our aircraft and handed me an order, ostensibly under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which read as follows: "Whereas it has been reported that Shri Arun Jaitley is also landing in the district and there are inputs that the persons of these profile individuals (sic) is proning (sic) to create law and order problem besides heightening tension in the district. Moreover, the security forces are extremely tied up with the law and order duties and maintaining very high level of vigil and surveillance that any further assignment connecting (sic) with the law and order problem are (sic) providing necessary security as per SOP to the high profile individuals under security cover, may not be possible."

We were, therefore asked to leave the district and the state of Jammu & Kashmir. I had no doubt on the receipt of this order that it was illegal. The intention of the state government was suspect as its grammar. How could the power to issue a prohibitory order be used to extern us from the state?

We were there only to address a public meeting in Jammu and return. We were illegally detained at the airport for over six hours. We were not allowed to move out of the airport. After this illegal detention, we were misinformed that we were being taken to prison, and were "abducted." We were put in separate vehicles and driven for the next two-and-a-half hours and dropped outside J&K, at Madhopur in Punjab, at midnight. Fortunately, our political colleagues in Punjab became aware of our presence at the border and arrived in large numbers to put us in their vehicles and find suitable lodging for us.

The next afternoon, we re-entered the state carrying the national flag, along with Anurag Thakur, the president of our youth wing, and were arrested for violation of the same prohibitory orders.

Several important political and constitutional questions arise with regard to the steps taken by the state government. Jammu Division is not a disturbed area. Why is the holding of political rallies prohibited there? Can CrPC's Section 144 be used for externing the two leaders of the parliamentary opposition from the state? Where is the source of power to physically put the two of us, along with our colleagues, in a vehicle, and without a legal order in writing throw us outside the state? Can the power under Section 144 of CrPC to issue prohibitory orders be utilised to arrest people for holding the national flag in Srinagar — even a solitary political worker? Where is the source of power for committing all these illegalities? In Srinagar all those who reached the Lal Chowk and the Dal Gate holding the national flag were arrested and physically assaulted. Some have even suffered fractures. I have personally brought this to the notice of the CM and DGP of the state.

The BJP Yuva Morcha's exercise has energised the BJP cadres. It has exercised public opinion. The political consequences of the debate apart, what was the message that the Chidambaram-Omar duo was trying to convey? They hijacked trains to prevent political workers from reaching the Jammu border. They shabbily treated the leaders of opposition with the utmost discourtesy, detaining them illegally and deporting them without authority in law. They reduced the republic to a relic: on Republic Day, holding a national flag became a ground for arrest and torture. Why did they do so?

Omar Abdullah wanted to convey a message to the Valley: "I stopped the BJP rally." He wanted to increase his acceptability there even if it created an adverse opinion against him in the rest of the country. The home minister apparently agreed without realising the long-term consequences. He joined Omar in psychologically surrendering to the separatists' psyche. They converted the flying of the national flag into a prohibited activity. The fact that many BJP workers reached Lal Chowk and flew the national flag even at the cost of their personal safety was an assault on the arrogance of the state administration.

The Ekta Yatra is over. But the political debate continues. How do you politically and emotionally integrate the state of J&K with the rest of India? Is it by weakening the political and constitutional relationship, something that started in 1950, or by strengthening it? Most of India knows the answer. I only hope that the Chidambaram-Omar duo abandons living in denial.

The writer is the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha







I worked in The National Standard in Bombay then. I had joined The Indian Express in Madras in 1945. Ramnath Goenka bought The National Standard in 1946 and he brought a number of sub-editors and press workers from Madras. I was one of them. The office of the paper was situated in Sassoon Dock in Colaba. On January 30, 1948, I was on the afternoon shift which would have ended at 8 pm.

When the horrifying news came on the teleprinter, my mind went back to my meetings with the Mahatma. His grandson, Kantilal Harilal Gandhi, who was a friend from my student days in Mysore, had taken me to meet him a few times. The Mahatma had wanted to meet his friends, because, as he told him, "I will judge your character according to the company you keep." The Mahatma asked me what I wanted to become. "A journalist," I had replied. "Oh, out to change the world, eh?" he remarked.

But there was no time to reflect. Pothan Joseph was the editor. He told me to take charge of the edition, because there was no knowing when the night chief sub-editor would be able to turn up. To a young journalist not yet 24, this was a big challenge and responsibility. It was quite a task to keep track of the flow of news. Apart from PTI (or was it still API?) we had UNI, AP of America, UPI and any number of feature services flooding us with reports and statements. Joseph had told me: "Don't disturb me until I finish the edit, which I expect to do by 11 pm." We had an assistant editor called V.B. Kulkarni who was given the task of producing a life sketch of the Mahatma. He was able to come up with a fine piece of some 4000 words in just a couple of hours.

The night shift chief sub-editor, who was senior to me, came in well after 8 pm. But I continued to function as chief sub-editor of the night shift as well. We had a very enterprising chief reporter called B.S.V. Rao. His team was able to track down the relatives and friends of Nathuram Godse in Bombay, Poona and other towns well before the police could. Our man in Poona traced a photographer who had shot Nathuram's portraits several years earlier. Luckily the studio owner had kept the negatives and so we were able to publish photos of the assassin.

It must have been 9.30 or 10 pm. A frail elderly figure approached my desk with a sheet of paper in his hand. Irritated to be interrupted, I asked: "What is it?" He replied: "My tribute to Bapuji." In my youthful arrogance I said sharply: "Today, everyone is issuing their own tribute to Bapuji." The man said very gently: "But I am his son." I looked closer and it was indeed Harilal Gandhi.

I knew I should have left aside everything I was doing and attended to him, especially since I knew his son Kantilal in Mysore. But I was more concerned with coping with the flow of copy. I just called out to B.S.V. Rao to handle him. I seem to recollect that we published his statement — but if I am asked now what it contained I would not be able to say.

The next day the police chief of Bombay came to our office and complained strongly to me that we had published photos of the wrong man. I asked him to give his objections in writing and that we would publish his version. But no such letter came. The police chief was jealous that we had published photos of the assassin long before his force could identify him, and he wanted to find out if we knew about the conspiracy in advance.

The writer was a journalist and media adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi






Courting trouble

Pakistan's supreme court, known for its crusading habits, is annoyed once again. Taking suo motu notice of corruption in a government insurance company, a bench headed by the chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was quoted as saying by The News on January 26 that "the culture of not arresting big fish should end, adding that plundering the national wealth has become routine practice, which needed to be stopped forthwith. 'Thieves have gathered to save thieves,' he said." Daily Times added: "Chaudhry said... that it seemed that efforts were being made to hush up all the corruption cases as the responsible people were not being arrested. The CJP gave these remarks while hearing a suo motu case regarding alleged violation of rules by former chairman of National Insurance Company Limited (NICL), Ayaz Khan Niazi, in the procurement of land on highly enhanced rates and causing a huge financial loss to the national exchequer."


Over 4,000 employees of Karachi's power grid, whose services had been terminated, were reinstated. The News reported on January 25: "In a major breakthrough, the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) agreed to reinstate over 4,000 employees who were sacked a few days ago in a downsizing drive. The MQM arranged that these KESC employees visit its headquarters in Karachi and used the opportunity to its advantage, with The News reporting on January 26: "MQM founder, Altaf Hussain said that if incidents of street crimes and kidnapping... were not stopped in the Punjab, then a martial law should be imposed in the province. He said this while making a telephonic address from London to the recently-reinstated KESC workers who visited the MQM headquarters... He asked the people of the Punjab to support the MQM in future. He added that the MQM had entered Punjab and will prevent all such crimes like kidnapping for ransom, rape and extortion of money."

This was bound to annoy the PMLN, which views Punjab as its pocket borough. Dawn reported PMLN and MQM traded barbs the next day in parliament: "Legislators of both parties erupted in cacophony after PMLN leader Ahsan Iqbal said that MQM's 'London-based leader' was a foreign national, but was talking of military coup in Pakistan."

Muharram over, violence remains

The News reported on January 26 of twin suicide bomb attacks in Lahore and Karachi: "Eleven people were killed in Lahore and three in Karachi when two suicide bombers blew themselves up amid tight security deployed in connection with the Chehlum of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA)... A teenaged boy blew himself up at the Ghora Chowk, Lohari Gate, in Lahore where the security was already beefed up due to the Urs celebrations at the mausoleum of Data Sahib situated nearby. Shortly after the Lahore blast, a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden motorbike into a police van in the Malir 15 area of Karachi, killing at least three people, including two policemen and wounding four others... Witnesses said a 14-15 years old boy, wearing a shalwar kameez, came walking towards the police picket and blew himself up."

American diplomats under fire

The Express Tribune reported on January 28 that "two cases, including one for a double murder, have been registered against US diplomats involved in a dramatic shooting and hit-and-run incident, which claimed the lives of three men in Lahore on Thursday. One diplomat has been charged for murder for killing two men on a motorbike allegedly in self defence... while a companion of the diplomat, who is also an American citizen, crushed to death a bike rider in a hit-and-run incident, following the shooting. The accused diplomat, Raymond Davis, opened fire at the two men... after which he fled from the scene. Two of his companions, who were in a Land Cruiser, tried to follow him but in an attempt to avoid a traffic jam entered the wrong side of the road and hit a motorcycle, killing one person."






Ill-timed books are an interesting subculture. Dow 36,000 omes to mind. It was written by James Glassman and Kevin Hassett and published in 1999, just as the tech bubble peaked. Now we have Evgeny Morozov's The Net Delusion — sub-title 'The Dark Side of Internet Freedom' — hitting stores just as the Facebook-armed youth of Tunisia and Egypt rise to demonstrate the liberating power of social media.


Morozov — born in Belarus, educated in Bulgaria, living in California — is a rumpled, bespectacled 26-year-old ("I am embarrassingly young," he told me) with no driver's license and an outsized brain. He's funny and talks very fast, as if the words issuing from him are trying, in vain, to catch up with the thoughts zipping through his head like electrons around an atom.

These thoughts, as gathered in his exhaustive book, go like this: Cyber-utopians, not least Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have spawned a dangerous illusion by suggesting the world can blog, tweet, Facebook, YouTube and Google its way to democracy and freedom.

In an age where "The best and the brightest are now also the geekiest" — Morozov can turn a sound-byte — the so-called "Google Doctrine" has, in the author's view, become a seductive trap. The reality, he argues, is that too often the Internet "empowers the strong and disempowers the weak."

Far from favoring the oppressed, Web 2.0 gives new tools to the oppressor in cracking down on some opponents — "One stolen password now opens data doors that used not to exist" — and lulling others into passivity — "All they want to connect to is potential lovers, pornography and celebrity gossip." Kremlin ideologues, he notes, have become very adept, sometimes with sexy shows, in forging "digital captives" distracted from politics.

The fact that social media is dominated by US corporations allows repressive governments from Belarus to Beijing to hatch persuasive conspiracy theories conflating, say, Twitter with American government plots, especially when, as with the Iranian uprising of 2009, there are publicised contacts between US State Department officials and the company.

A big Clinton speech on Internet freedom, like the one she made in January, 2010, may only expose dissident bloggers to added danger by making them appear as the long arm of American subversion — or so Morozov contends. A 69-page bibliography attests to his reading in unearthing arguments against cyber-delusions.

I think Morozov is brilliant and his book is a useful provocation. I also think he's dead wrong.

Sure, the first decade of the 21st century has seen anti-Western authoritarianism hold its ground, and there's no question the people running repressive systems are quick studies who've learned to exploit, or suppress, a revolutionary technology that challenges them. Still, they're swimming against the tide. The freedom to connect is a tool of liberation — and it's powerful.

I am writing this on my return from Tunisia, where Facebook gave young protesters the connective muscle to oust an Arab dictator, and as I watch on YouTube images of brave young Egyptians confronting the clubs and water-cannons of President Hosni Mubarak's goons.

"All they have, all they have," says one bloodied protester of the brute force he's encountered. Yes, when all you have is a big hammer — and that's what's left in the arsenal of decaying, nepotistic Arab regimes — everything looks like a nail.

The truth is these men — add the 23-year rule of the ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to the reigns of Mubarak and Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya and you have almost a century of despotism — are relics to whom a wired world has given the lie.

Organisation, networking, exposure to suppressed ideas and information, the habits of debate and self-empowerment in a culture of humiliation and conspiracy: These are some of the gifts social media is bestowing on overwhelmingly young populations across the Arab world.

Above all, the Internet's impact has been to expose the great delusion that has led Western governments to buttress Arab autocrats: that the only alternative to them was Islamic jihadists. No, the Tunisian revolution was middle-class, unIslamic and pro-Western. The people in the streets of Cairo are young, connected, non-ideological and pragmatic: They want a promise that Mubarak won't stand in the presidential election this year or hand power to his son, Gamal, who, by the way, has a nice pad on London's chic Eaton Square.

As the Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei told my colleagues David Kirkpatrick and Michael Slackman, "I am pretty sure that any freely and fairly elected government in Egypt will be a moderate one, but America is really pushing Egypt and pushing the whole Arab world into radicalisation with this inept policy of supporting repression."

Enough already! If Clinton was serious in announcing that a US priority is now to "harness the power of connection technologies and apply them to our diplomatic goals," and if she truly sees the Arab world's foundations "sinking into the sand," the moment is now to back change in Cairo.

And I can't think of better atonement for Morozov's errors than for him to apply his brilliance and Web savvy to the cause of Egyptian and Tunisian democracy. roger cohen








Even by the government's extraordinary obfuscation on the 2G/CVC scandal, its behaviour in the Supreme Court on Thursday was a new low. The government's arguments to justify the appointment of PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, so far, have ranged from impeccable-integrity-cannot-be-a-criterion to it's-the-government's-prerogative-to-appoint-officials. When that didn't wash with the Court, the government tried a new one on Thursday, that the committee which appointed Thomas (comprising the Prime Minister, the home minister and the leader of the Opposition) was not aware of the charges against him in the palmolein import case in Kerala when he was the state's Chief Secretary. This is truly extraordinary. For one, Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Opposition, made it clear in the meeting that she was opposing Thomas for the job on this count—so even if the Prime Minister and the home minister were genuinely ignorant about this, it was brought to their attention by Swaraj and they chose to overrule her, even after she gave her dissent in writing. Two, if such important appointments are being made without all facts being made available to the decision makers, this is an even more serious indictment—did Thomas's CV mention that he had been telecom secretary under A Raja and that he sought to scuttle the CAG probe by saying the CAG had no right to question 'government policy'?

Given what this episode says about the government's ability to go to any extent to brazen its way out of a problem, the Court needs to take a view on this—this is not the first time the government has twisted facts and given contradictory information to the Court on the 2G/CVC scandal. In response to the Court asking why A Raja said he'd accept applications till October 1, 2007, and then only processed those received till September 25, 2007, para 88 of the government affidavit said "there was no preponement of any cut-off date. It was rather a case of batch-wise processing of applications … no application was rejected ..." And yet, in para 83, it said it didn't have enough spectrum for all applicants so "it was not even theoretically possible to accommodate all the applicants". Which para is the Court to take seriously? Para 92 says no advice was given by the law ministry while para 86 says "the press release was issued after obtaining legal advice"! It should be interesting to see how the government deals with the Court's remarks on what it said on Thursday, given how it has pretty much exhausted all excuses ranging from integrity being irrelevant to appointments not being in the Court's purview.





In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad," said Friedrich Nietzsche. And it seems the government is working to live up to this ideal. The All India Council for Technical Education's (AICTE) latest notification placing restrictions on the length of MBA programmes that business schools are allowed to run, the curriculum, fee structures and admission criteria have raised the hackles of the administrations at B-schools. AICTE's new regulations, aimed at 'regularising MBA admissions and curriculum', essentially serve to limit the independence of B-schools that run post-graduate diploma in management (PGDM) programmes. B-school associations, which together have over 750 institutions under them, have decided to challenge these stipulations in court. Although not all the guidelines are bad—having a standardised test to ensure a fair level playing field across schools may actually be a good plan. But instead of using it as a barrier to entry, the schools may do well to consider using it like American schools use the GMAT, as one of the many predictors of success among applicants.

The idea of defining the duration of an MBA programme is ludicrous—why is 24 months any more effective than the 21 months that an MBA at Harvard Business School runs? That the schools cannot decide their own fee structures, according to the guidelines, is another major stumbling block. Higher education institutes, even the illustrious IITs, are perpetually starved of funds—a recent petition by the IITs to raise fees was politely turned down by the HRD under the garb of 'inclusive education'. In such circumstances, giving states control over what schools can and cannot charge is an example of the environment of 'over-regulation' that exists in India, recently highlighted in the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy report. But the most serious issue of all, with the AICTE's notification, is the section of 'designing a common syllabus/curriculum model'. MBA programme are designed to encourage critical thinking, innovation, entrepreneurship, original thought... none of which can be put under the umbrella of one size fits all. Attempting to have a 'common syllabus', therefore, is facetious. Given that only ISB and IIM-A (of which ISB is independent of government) feature in international rankings, it appears that government intervention, when it only serves to 'standardise and sanitise' without understanding the nuances of education, becomes the tipping point between mediocrity and even more mediocrity.





An industry leader referring to recent media reports on the wage rates going up rapidly in China ('…China has reached a turning point in manufacturing…', The Economist, July 2010) said to me that this is good news for his company and the Indian industry. I was somewhat taken aback at this simplistic interpretation. Wage rates are only one of the measures of competitiveness. An equally important measure is labour productivity. And in the battle of productivity, unfortunately, India is losing.

There is no doubt that India's manufacturing competitiveness has improved in the last two decades. India's manufacturing labour productivity, as measured by output per unit of labour cost, has grown by around 5% per annum (in real terms) over the past decade, a commendable achievement by any standards.

But is that enough? Any manufacturing sector benchmark cannot ignore the fact that India's biggest competitor is China, which no doubt led to the comment on wage rates. The competitiveness of the Chinese manufacturers is being driven home, pun intended, by their rapidly growing dominance not just in the international markets, but also increasingly in our home market. There is little doubt, as many Indian firms claim, that the Chinese players have an advantage from overt and covert government support (e.g., lower cost of capital, power and land, export subsidies, weak yen, etc). But equally important driver of their competitiveness is their high labour productivity. The fact is that during the same decade when India's labour productivity grew by 65-70%, Chinese manufacturing labour productivity grew annually at 12-13% to add up to a whopping 180% (based on EIU figures). So, despite increasing wage rates, they continue to be more competitive.

It is interesting to note that India started losing the productivity race to China just over 10 years ago. In 1996, India's average productivity for organised labour, as productivity of unorganised labour is difficult to measure, was higher than for China (EIU figures). In 1998, China drew level. Since then, China has increased its labour productivity at 2 to 3 times that of India. Of course, as with many of these comparisons, we have to be cautious about the figures, but the growing gap between the two countries seems pretty clear. What did China and other developing countries with similar performance do, and what lessons can we draw?

An obvious lever is improving the manufacturing management practices. On this dimension, anecdotal evidence suggests that in peer to peer comparisons, India is at least at par with China and other developing countries, if not better. There are three other key levers that drive productivity improvement: (i) higher level of capital that allows moving up the value chain and using higher skilled workforce, (ii) higher scale of operations possible due to superior infrastructure (that allows large scale plants to serve more distant markets) and government- or market-induced industry consolidation and (iii) strong clusters that provide a variety of productivity benefits and overcome impact of wage increase.

Manufacturing industries have seen several quality and productivity improvement programmes—Toyota Production System, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, flexible automation, lean manufacturing, etc. The Indian industry has embraced many of these techniques in its '1st wave of productivity improvement programmes'. This has reaped dividends as Indian industry improved its competitiveness and emerged as the second-fastest growing manufacturing economy in a world of low inflation and high growth. But after the recent economic crisis, as tightening labour markets and growing inflationary pressures led to rising wage rates in developing countries, the next battle for competitiveness has begun with productivity emerging as the trump card.

The challenge of improving productivity in India is compounded by the nature and composition of our labour force. In the next 15 years, as per different estimates, India needs to generate over 100 million manufacturing jobs, many of which will be low-skilled, migrating workers from rural to urban centres. Improving productivity levels of a stable workforce is so much easier than that of a rapidly growing one with low level of skills. At the same time, with rising education and awareness levels, workers today are more conscious of aspirations, rights and options. They are not willing to be treated simply as 'hands and legs' and 'settle' for management-driven decisions and want more say in the management of their firms.

No doubt clusters will have to play a critical role in meeting India's productivity challenge. Clusters allow consolidation and co-location of suppliers, shortens production cycles and allows just-in-time inventory, delivers lower logistics cost and creates higher skilled workforce. They have been a key force in improving productivity and capability in every manufacturing economy. But, given India's context, the twin levers of using capital to go up the value chain or building larger scale plants can be deployed only selectively.

India will have to add new fourth and fifth 'people levers' to the three levers of clusters, capital and scale and implement its own unique approach to meet this challenge. The fourth lever will be to bridge the massive skills gap. The Prime Minister's National Council on Skills Development has set the target of skilling 500 million Indians by 2022 as a core national agenda. This has to be linked to the productivity imperative and include appropriate curriculum design and continuous education, and not done in isolation to improve basic employability. The fifth and final lever, perhaps the most complex in many ways, is adopting a 'people-centric' approach to manage our workforce. Engaging all the employees to 'own' their organisation's productivity improvement programme and not treat it as just a top management's initiative. Aligning the country's and the firm's productivity challenge with the individual worker's aspiration for greater participation. There are many fine examples of Indian companies that have done this successfully. India Inc has to build these individual successes into countrywide 'second wave' of productivity improvement. Ensuring its success will determine whether we win or lose the battle of productivity.

The author is managing director, Boston Consulting Group, India. These are his personal views





Asia's rise up the economic ladder has been accompanied by a few embarrassments. The latest is the revelation about the region's contribution to global illicit financial flows.

A recent report by a Washington-based think-tank, Global Financial Integrity (GFI), on illicit financial flows from developing countries during the last decade (2000-08), has turned the spotlight on Asia. China is found the largest source of illicit capital flows followed by Russia and Mexico. Among other Asian countries, Malaysia (5th), the Philippines (12th), Indonesia (14th) and India (15th) figure among top-20 largest developing countries producing illicit flows.

'Illicit' is a relatively new entrant in the capital and financial market terminology. Illicit flows—according to the report—include capital that is accumulated or transferred illegally and contains all unrecorded or unreported transactions that abet accumulation of foreign assets by residents in violation of existing regulatory norms. The conceptual domain of the definition is sweeping and tempts one to conclude that the estimated flows include the wealth stacked in undisclosed accounts in Swiss banks and other tax havens. That though may just be wishful thinking. As the report admits, there are several transactions, particularly hawala, which are impossible to trace through imbalances in different categories of official statistics. The latter also do not capture revenues from black market transactions at prices different from usual market prices and which could eventually find their way into foreign assets in clandestine manners.

Even though the GFI's illicit capital estimates will be less than what they actually are, they provide some valuable insights on countries exporting such capital. Asia is a sizeable exporter of such flows, accounting for almost 45% of total flows during 2000-08. Almost 90% of illicit outflows from Asia are outcomes of what the report calls 'trade mispricing'—under-invoicing of exports and over-invoicing of imports. Exporters understate value of their exports and keep the balance funds in the recipient country. Importers act opposite. Both end up having surpluses enabling acquisition of foreign assets. Almost 75% of illicit capital generated by trade mis-invoicing—$445 billion out of $597 billion—is seen to flow out of Asia.

The report pays particular attention to five Asian countries—China, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and India—for their role in contributing to exports of illicit finance. Though China is the largest exporter of illicit finance from trade channels, the rate of growth of the outflows is slowing. This could be due to changes introduced in foreign exchange transactions that have simplified transfer of such exchange abroad and reduced incentives for availing of informal channels.

While China might be looking forward to more success in curbing illicit flows in the medium term, similar prospects appear rather grim for Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Capital outflows are increasing sharply from these countries. There are several reasons common to the three that augment the flows. Political instability, corruption and income inequality are some of these. All three factors are strong incentives for stashing capital overseas. China and India are not bereft of these 'virtues'. For India, the report notes that greater trade openness has created larger opportunities for trade mis-invoicing since invoicing and documentation procedures have not reformed in line with trade policies.

Notwithstanding the methodological shortcomings, conclusions of the report have important takeaways. First, flight of capital has assumed serious proportions in Asia. Economic growth in Asia appears to be creating new opportunities for greater rent-seeking. Some of these opportunities manifest in accumulation of capital abroad. Capital accumulated abroad represents a loss for source economies. The capital lost, ranging from annual average of $241 billion for China to $11.6 billion for India [Malaysia ($32.6 billion), the Philippines ($12.1 billion) and Indonesia ($11.6 billion) are either well or marginally above India] could have made significant differences to development capacities of the countries, had they been deployed in formal channels at home.

The second issue that can hardly be overlooked is the gap between policies and procedures in developing Asia. This seems to be rampant across the region. Unfortunately, China, India, Indonesia and other large emerging markets do not appear to have modernised or streamlined their rules and procedures as much and as fast as they should have. Their systems fare poorly compared to those in industrialised Asian economies like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. The results of inefficient systems are reputations of being 'not-too-good' places for doing business, perpetuation of corruption and encouraging illegal flight of capital. Costs of opaque and tedious procedures in trade and foreign exchange are much more than what these countries think.

—The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views






Amid all the controversies surrounding the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, one thing is clear: he did not qualify — and was clearly not fit — for the job. By insisting before the Supreme Court that the 'full facts' relating to Mr. Thomas were not placed before the high-power committee to finalise the appointment of the CVC, Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati might have tried to draw a veil over the roles of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, members of the committee along with the Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, in a shockingly bad selection process, which he claimed "will not vitiate" Mr. Thomas's appointment. At the time of the selection, a charge sheet was pending against Mr. Thomas; and the Kerala government had granted initial sanction for his prosecution in the palmolein import case. Is it believable that the Prime Minister and the Home Minister were ignorant of these damning facts while making the decision to appoint Mr. Thomas as CVC — the country's highest institutional authority to probe charges of corruption? Or did the Prime Minister choose to overlook these facts? Mr. Vahanvati's weak defence is that the relevant papers and file were not placed before the committee by the Department of Personnel. Ms Swaraj strongly disputes this plea of ignorance, asserts that both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister were aware of the details of the charges against Mr. Thomas, that she specifically called attention to them, and even entered a note of dissent. She will refute the government's factual claims in an affidavit before the Supreme Court.

The latest development leaves Mr. Thomas without a fig leaf of protection. Evidently, his appointment, overriding the objections of the Leader of the Opposition and ignoring facts that were in the public realm, was for politically expedient reasons that would not see the light of day. That the CVC chose not to step down despite several adverse observations made by the Supreme Court is shameful enough. That the government has shielded him up to this point and officially claimed that his appointment was 'not vitiated' despite the highly coloured circumstances of the selection is shocking. For Mr. Thomas to continue in his post a day longer will be to flout all norms of institutional propriety and clean governance. The Congress might try to cut its losses by pressuring him to resign. But if he exploits the complicated procedure for the removal of the CVC under the provisions of the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 to cling on to office, the Prime Minister and the already beleaguered United Progressive Alliance regime will have a greater political price to pay.





The world's economy may be recovering from what was the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, but all is not well on the employment front. The most critical factor that ensures a sustained recovery is the creation of jobs, and in this area clear evidence emerges from the Global Employment Trends 2011, published by the International Labour Organisation, that despite improvements in key macroeconomic indicators such as the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), unemployment remains stubbornly high. For instance, the annual GDP growth rate, which was 5.3 per cent in 2007, fell to 2.8 per cent in 2008, and dropped further to (—)0.6 per cent in 2009. As recent figures put out by the International Monetary Fund reveal, the world economy rebounded to 5 per cent growth in 2010 and is likely to grow by 4.5 per cent in 2011. This, however, has done little to bring down unemployment rates. From the pre-crisis figure of 5.6 per cent (2007), the rate rose to 5.7 per cent in 2008 and to 6.3 per cent in 2009, marginally moderated to 6.2 per cent in 2010 and is predicted to register 6.1 per cent in 2011. In absolute terms, 177.3 million people were jobless in 2007 and the number swelled to 205.2 million in 2009.

That the labour market continues to be slack does not augur well for sustained economic recovery, given particularly the ILO's observation that this was also caused by the lag between productivity gains and real wage growth. Considering the linkage between wages, consumption, and aggregate demand and its importance in keeping an economy on growth trajectory, the world can ill-afford risking jobless recovery. The situation calls for judicious continuation of fiscal stimuli, rather than fiscal consolidation in the developed economies. For the developing world, which has lower unemployment rates, the ILO strikes a note of caution on vulnerable employment. For South Asia, which has the largest number of vulnerable workers (in 2009, the figure stood at 508.7 million out of the 1.5 billion in the world), the current phase of better economic performance is also the appropriate time for states to put in place effective social protection measures for such workers. One of the positives of state-led programmes such as India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is their potential to serve as building blocks for a comprehensive social protection framework. A basic social protection floor, including monetary support for the unemployed and the low-paid, will be a critical state intervention to create fairer and better-functioning labour markets.








The Indian ruling class faced its severest crisis of credibility in 2010. Its past caught up with it and skeletons and scams were spilling out of its closets. The scams have a symbiotic relationship with the black economy. The number of scams is growing and so is the size of the black economy, which has reached a mind-boggling level of 50 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, that is, it annually generates Rs.33 lakh crore in black income. While the 1980s saw eight major scams, in the period between 1991 and 1996 there were 26 and during 2005-08, there were around 150.

There has been an exponential growth in the average amount of money involved in each scam. Bofors was the biggest scam of the 1980s, estimated at Rs.64 crores. It was dwarfed by the Harshad Mehta scam in 1992 involving a loss of about Rs.3,000 crores (Janakiraman Committee Report). Many felt this was a gross underestimation. In the period between 1991 and 1999, about 2,500 new companies floated in the stock markets disappeared with public money, much like the robber-barons of the United States in the period between 1870 and 1890. The loss to the public ran into thousands of crores of rupees but the governments of the day did not prosecute the promoters of the companies that disappeared. This emboldened the corporates to indulge in even greater manipulations in the just concluded decade. In 1991, when Harshad Mehta was fixing the market and the issue was raised in Parliament, the then Finance Minister said he would not lose sleep over it. This signalled to the speculators that they could manipulate with impunity. One of the biggest scams followed, which impacted the Reserve Bank of India and the entire financial system. The Unit Trust of India crashed in late-1990s due to manipulations by sharp operators.

The Satyam scam in 2009 is estimated to involve upwards of Rs.7,500 crore. The losses due to the mining operations in Bellary and elsewhere are reported to run into thousands of crores of rupees. Finally, the mother of all scams, the allotment of 2G spectrum in 2008, is estimated by the Comptroller and Auditor General to involve a loss of Rs.1,76,000 crore. Even if that is a notional figure, in 2008 itself various analysts had estimated the loss to be upwards of Rs.50,000 crore. Cases of irregularities in land allotment and diversion of food materials from the public distribution system are pouring in and these involve the loss of thousands of crores of rupees.

Clearly, not only is the number of scams growing but the money lost by the public per scam is increasing exponentially. Minor scams hardly draw public attention even though they affect the citizen's daily life, such as examination paper leaks, rotting foodgrain, police recruitment irregularities, and so on.

The other major recent scams pertain to the Adarsh Society, the Commonwealth Games and Madhu Koda. Then there are the Citibank-related fraud, charges against certain former Chief Justices of India, impeachment proceedings against two High Court judges, provident fund scam investigations against High Court judges in Uttar Pradesh, the Medical Council of India fraud, the deemed universities imbroglio, Indian Premier League manipulations, the Sukna land scam involving some of the seniormost Army officers, and so on. The list is endless.

The Bofors case and the Quattrocchi affair were on the verge of closure for obvious reasons, but have erupted in a big way with the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal order implying that bribes had been paid. The cases against Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mayawati and other former Chief Ministers and Ministers are on the back-burner, leading to charges of political misuse of the Central Bureau of Investigation. There is hardly an agency of the government that retains its credibility in the public eye. So, eight agencies are investigating the 2G scam but there is demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee. Not that the four JPCs that were constituted earlier had achieved much, but the hope is that a determined Opposition would be able to ferret out the truth under public pressure.

Reports that the Emergency-related papers are not traceable, the admission by the Union Home Minister that the Bhopal papers in the Warren Anderson fiasco are missing, the indictment of Vedanta by the Saxena Committee report investigating illegal mining in the Niyamagiri hills, all point to a system that has been so manipulated by the crooked businessmen and pliant politicians and the executive that it is collapsing under its own weight.

Today, policy failure is writ large and governance is failing all around. This is due to the growth in size of the black economy from about 4 per cent of GDP in 1955-56 to the present 50 per cent. The implication is that illegality in the country has grown and touches almost every economic activity. This is only possible if it is both systemic and systematic. The public sector and the private sector, that encompass every section of society, are now suspect. It is suspected that many have their hands in the till. Included here are Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, Ministers, top industrialists, military personnel, judges, bureaucrats, policemen, professionals and so on.

For illegality to flourish on such a vast scale, those involved in overseeing the functioning of society have to be systematically complicit. It cannot be that one day rules are broken but not the next day. Systems have been set in place to routinely commit illegality and make payoffs to the functionaries of the state. For instance, police collect hafta and posts of Station House Officers are sold. Industry plans evasion of output much in advance of production. Thus, tax rates and controls remain immaterial.

Underlying this vast illegality is a 'Triad' involving the corrupt business class, the political class and the executive. Since the mid-1980s, the criminal has also entered this Triad, leading to growing criminalisation. Many businessmen, legislators and so on have criminal cases pending against them. Policemen commit criminality in a routine way, and so on. For such a system, a Binayak Sen who points fingers at them becomes an anti-national. What a shame!

The growing rot over the last six decades has been exposed by the Niraa Radia tapes. They reveal how illegality has become a routine matter for the ruling elite. Glib talk of "15 per cent man" or of fixing Cabinet appointments is not just idle gossip. Those manipulating the system have known this and much more, but the value of the Radia tapes is that there is confirmation of what the public could only guess till now. The tapes confirm the functioning of the Triad.

The lack of independence of some of the media biggies who are now like businessmen, stood exposed with the expose of paid news: but is out in the open more clearly. Their link with the manipulative system and cosy relations with favourite businessmen and politicians are in the open. Those who have not yet been exposed feign surprise and try to cover up for their colleagues by suggesting that the media are not powerful enough to fix things. That is just another fix.

Rivalries amongst politicians, businessmen and media groups have helped lift the veil just a bit, and even that is hugely damaging to the state. Those who have been exposed shamelessly deny wrongdoing, hoping that they would be eventually bailed out since those in glass houses cannot afford to throw stones. They feel that they can cover up and deny wrongdoing till the last — as in the case of the Commonwealth Games scam or the 2G scam. Legal delays, threats and political and money power come into play to keep truth under the wraps. (The Bofors case remains shrouded in mystery since 1987.)

The ruling class knows how to manipulate the system (as in the S.P.S. Rathore case). This is feasible since most of the investigation mechanism and some wings of the judiciary are pliable. Cases can be spoiled deliberately, as the courts have themselves often lamented. Further, the Radia tapes reveal that the intelligence and investigative agencies know a lot about the wheeling and dealing by the Triad; but this information is not made public.

The moot point is whether these agencies have been reporting what they dig out to the higher authorities who should be keeping the Prime Minister briefed. If that is not happening, there is a failure of the system. Alternatively, if the Prime Minister knew but did not act, is he also complicit? Either way, one can infer that scams are allowed to take place. It is also known that information is used politically vis-a-vis opponents and friends. Further, how many more scams are currently taking place, about which the Prime Minister may know but about which he may be keeping his own counsel?

Is honesty divisible among financial, social and political matters? Can one be financially honest but dishonest in other spheres? Is it honesty when scams are allowed to take place but one personally does not take any money? Honesty is not just individual but systemic, and if the number of scams grow in size and numbers, can the head of government escape responsibility given the huge social and political consequences? The scams do not just lead to financial losses but to policy failure (like the current high food inflation) whose cost is a multiple of the direct financial loss. Honesty has to be indivisible.

(The author is Chairperson of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the author of The Black Economy in India (Penguin India). He could be reached at








The protests rocking the Arab world this week have one thread uniting them: Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite channel whose aggressive coverage has helped propel insurgent emotions from one capital to the next.

Al Jazeera has been widely hailed for helping enable the revolt in Tunisia with its galvanising early reports, even as Western-aligned political factions in Lebanon and the West Bank attacked and burned the channel's offices and vans this week, accusing it of incitement against them.

In many ways, it is Al Jazeera's moment — not only because of the role it has played, but also because the channel has helped to shape a narrative of popular rage against oppressive American-backed Arab governments (and against Israel) ever since its founding 15 years ago. That narrative has long been implicit in the channel's heavy emphasis on Arab suffering and political crisis, its screaming-match talk shows, even its sensational news banners and swelling orchestral accompaniments.

"The notion that there is a common struggle across the Arab world is something Al Jazeera helped create," said Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University who has written extensively on the Arab news media. "They did not cause these events, but it's almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera."

Scrutiny, criticism

Yet Al Jazeera's opaque loyalties and motives are as closely scrutinised as its reporting. It is accused of tailoring its coverage to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza against their Lebanese and Palestinian rivals. Its reporter in Tunisia became a leading partisan in the uprising there. And critics speculate that the network bowed to the diplomatic interests of the Qatari Emir, its patron, by initially playing down the protests in Egypt.

Not since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when American officials accused it of sympathy for Saddam Hussein and the insurgency that arose after his downfall, has Al Jazeera been such a lightning rod. This time, its antagonists as well as its supporters are spread all over the Arab world.

This week, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, accused Al Jazeera of distorting his positions, inciting violence and trying to destroy him politically. The station had broadcast a special report based on leaked documents that appeared to show Mr. Abbas and his allies offering Israel far-reaching concessions on Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. The reporting set off angry demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and in response, Abbas loyalists attacked Al Jazeera's office in Ramallah.

In Lebanon, Sunni supporters of the ousted Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, set fire to an Al Jazeera van and menaced a crew in the northern city of Tripoli, accusing the channel of sympathising with their Shiite opponents.

There is little doubt that Al Jazeera takes sides in the Palestinian dispute, portraying Hamas more favourably than its rivals — and it is more open about Arab anger at Israel than some other outlets. Even the station's fans concede that it has blind spots and political vulnerabilities.

On Egypt

On January 25 afternoon, as the street protests in Egypt were heating up, Al Jazeera was uncharacteristically slow to report them, airing a culture documentary, a sports show and more of its "Palestine Papers" coverage of the leaked documents.

Many Egyptians felt betrayed, and Facebook and Twitter were full of rumours about a deal between Qatar — the Persian Gulf emirate whose Emir, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, founded Al Jazeera in 1996 — and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who visited the Emir in Doha last month. Within a day, Al Jazeera was reporting from the streets in Cairo in its usual manic style.

Al Jazeera's freewheeling broadcasts have long made it the bête noire of Arab governments, and in some earlier instances they have succeeded in reining it in.

In 2007, the channel received orders to soften its blunt coverage of Saudi Arabia after Qatar and the Saudis mended a smouldering political feud. That remains a weak point for Al Jazeera — as for most of the pan-Arab press, which is largely owned by Saudi Arabia.

Yet for all its flaws, Al Jazeera still operates with less constraint than almost any other Arab outlet, and remains the most popular channel in the region. To many Arabs, Al Jazeera's recent exposé on the Palestinian Authority documents — sometimes called "Pali-leaks" — is of a piece with its reporting on protests against autocratic Arab regimes.

The Palestinian Authority is widely seen as a pawn of Israel and the West, an institution with little popular support that is kept alive by force, much like those Arab dictators. If Al Jazeera is often accused of institutional sympathy for Islamists, that is at least in part because Islamism has become the most powerful popular force in the region (though not, curiously enough, in the recent protests).

On Tunisia

And Al Jazeera has been widely admired for its aggressive coverage of the Tunisian uprising, which was largely ignored in most Western outlets. The channel succeeded despite serious obstacles: the Tunisian government had barred its reporters from the country, and a Tunisian born-anchor, Mohammed Krichen, arranged for an old friend, Lotfi Hajji, to work under cover as Al Jazeera's eyes and ears on the ground.

Mr. Hajji, a freelance journalist who also calls himself a human rights activist, was followed and harassed by the secret police almost constantly.

After the uprising started, local contacts began sending Mr. Hajji amateur videos of police violence over Facebook. Al Jazeera began showing the grainy cellphone videos on its broadcasts, as part of what the station sympathetically labelled "the Sidi Bouzid Uprising" after the town where a young man started it all by setting himself on fire on December 17.

Each time Al Jazeera broadcast the videos, more would flood into Mr. Hajji's Facebook account, in a cycle that blew the seeds of revolt across the country.

"During the era of Ben Ali a lot of journalists wouldn't dare broadcast these images — like a video of a policeman beating a common citizen, because the police might come for them," Mr. Hajji said. "But being a human rights activist pushed me to show what was really happening."

Two years ago, an amateur journalist reporting for a Web site was jailed for showing film of an uprising in the Tunisian city of Gafsa; with no coverage in Facebook or Al Jazeera, it never spread to other towns.

As the protests accelerated this month, some Tunisian officials protested that Al Jazeera was hyping the unrest because of its anti-Western agenda: its managers wanted to see a "moderate" Arab regime fall, even if the protesters were not Islamists, like those in so many earlier revolts.

But that seems unlikely. Al Jazeera's producers knew they had a story line that their audience would love.

Since the fall of Tunisia's autocratic President, Al Jazeera's reporters and producers have spoken with pride of their role in the events. They also recognise that their reputation as a catalyst carries risks.

"I think we should be careful — I mean we shouldn't think that our role is to release the Arab people from oppression," said Mr. Krichen, the anchor.

"But I think we should also be careful not to avoid any popular movement. We should have our eyes open to capture any event that could be the start of the end of any dictator in the Arab world."— © New York Times News Service






The threat of the Greenland ice sheet slipping ever faster into the sea because of warmer summers has been ruled out by a scientific study.

Until now, it was thought that increased melting could lubricate the ice sheet, causing it to sink ever faster into the sea. The issue was a key unknown in the landmark 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pinned the blame for climate change firmly on greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

However, the impact of rising sea temperatures on melting ice sheets is still uncertain, meaning it remains difficult to put an upper limit on potential sea level rises. Understanding the risk is crucial because about 70 per cent of the world's population lives in coastal regions, which host many of the world's biggest cities, such as London, New York and Bangkok.

Published on January 27

"The Greenland ice sheet is safer than we thought," said Professor Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds, northern England who led the research published on January 27 in Nature.

Shepherd's team used satellite imagery to track the progress of the west Greenland ice sheet as it slipped towards the sea each summer, over five years.

Researchers had feared that more melting from the surface of the ice in hotter years would in turn provide more meltwater for a slippery film at the sheet's base. More melting would mean more slippage and a greater rise in the sea level.

But they discovered that, above a certain threshold, the slipping began to slow. On-the-ground studies and work done on alpine glaciers suggest that higher volumes of meltwater form distinct channels under the ice, draining the water more efficiently and reducing the formation of a lubricating film.

The Greenland ice sheet studied by Shepherd's team is up to 1,000m thick. If the entire ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise by a catastrophic seven metres, but this is likely to take 3,000 years if warm air blowing over the ice is the only way in which the ice melts.

Shepherd said most of the Greenland ice cap was on land and not in contact with the sea, unlike the west Antarctic ice sheet. That ice sheet contains enough water to push up sea level by six metres if it all melted. He said the next scientific question to answer was whether warmer oceans would erode the edges of ice caps, causing them to fall rapidly into the ocean. "The real threat now is from the oceans melting the west Antarctic ice sheet, which is 3km-4km thick, of which 1km-2km is below sea level." Shepherd said his work was helping to reduce uncertainties about the consequences of climate change. Asked if he thought his work suggested the wider risks of global warming could be discounted, he said: "Not at all."— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011




The near-daily violence in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, last year wounded the highest number of people in a decade including nearly 2,300 women and children, an international Red Cross spokeswoman said on January 28.

More than 6,000 patients were treated at the Keysaney and Medina hospitals last year, compared to the 2,800 admitted in 2008, said the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which supplies the hospitals with medicine and pays staff salaries.

A U.S. group that works to prevent civilian deaths says Somalia is more dangerous for civilians than Afghanistan or Iraq. ICRC spokeswoman Nicole Engelbrecht said the number of people wounded last year is the highest since 2000, when record-keeping began.

"Severely wounded people arrive at all hours,"said the head of ICRC's Somalia delegation. Aid groups and Mogadishu residents have repeatedly decried the combatants' indiscriminate shelling of populated areas. Mogadishu suffers frequent barrages of mortars, rockets and artillery shells exchanged between Islamist insurgents and pro-government forces who protect the sliver of land controlled by the fragile government. Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation into chaos.— AP






The saga of the appointment of P.J. Thomas as central vigilance commissioner on September 7, 2010, has wound the government up in knots as it faces probing questions. This is entirely its own fault. Since the appointment turned into a controversy, government spokesmen at the highest levels have given the appearance of stalling and giving precedence to technicality over substance. The question whether the three-member appointment committee consisting of the Prime Minister, home minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha was officially made aware by the department of personnel and training that Mr Thomas had been chargesheeted in Kerala's controversial palmolein case, and that the Kerala government had indeed sanctioned his prosecution, is an important one. Attorney-general Goolam E. Vahnavati told the Supreme Court that these pieces of vital information were not placed before the appointment committee when it met to take a view. By implication this means that were the appointing authority aware, Mr Thomas would not have been made CVC. How did it come about that significant material was not placed before such an eminent committee, or was it withheld? These questions open a can of worms and have serious implications for the manner in which the government functions. The facts will be established when the record is perused by the Supreme Court. But it is easy to see that even if the attorney-general is shown to be right, and the papers before the appointing authority did not include vital information which would impact Mr Thomas' selection, it was common knowledge that the Kerala cadre IAS officer had been dragged into a corruption scandal while serving in the state as civil supplies secretary.

Ordinary common sense suggests this was strong ground for Mr Thomas' exclusion from the panel of three shortlisted for CVC. Even now there is time for the government to extricate itself from the hole it has dug for itself. All it needs to do is to summon the nerve to say it was wrong, and rescind the appointment by taking the plea that the appointment process was vitiated as relevant material needed to judge a candidate's impeccability was absent from consideration. The country's highest court has hinted as much. Many might then still make allowance for the administration and say it had the good sense to own up a mistake and withdraw. Of course, such an option will not be available if the attorney-general is proved to be mistaken on facts. Then the present CVC will have to go and the government would be deprived of the cushion of having some saving grace.
In Kerala, Mr Thomas is seen as an upright officer. Many might agree with his defence that he has been a victim of vendetta politics between the Congress and the CPI(M) in Kerala. (The CPI-Mdid act strangely — first by dragging him into the palmolein case, then elevating him to chief secretary when it came to power in Kerala, and later allowing his prosecution). It is true that Mr Thomas did obtain a clearance from the then CVC. This paved the way for his appointment as telecom secretary at the Centre. But none of this means that he should be CVC, a constitutional authority tasked with looking at governmental corruption and with the power to issue directions to the CBI. Mr Thomas was obliged to recuse himself from the 2G spectrum scam for he was himself telecom secretary when alleged irregularities of enormous proportions occurred in that department. How can the chief watchdog against corruption be a person at whom anyone facing trial can point a finger? Ideally, Mr Thomas should resign on his own right away. Only if he is discharged in the palmolein case can he be considered for high constitutional positions.






"God help those
Whom, God inevitably knows,
Have helped themselves..."
From Dakoonama
by Bachchoo

I was in the decrepit toilet of a South London pub called the Prince of Wales where I had gone to see a man about a dog. The PoW is the sort of pub in which you can a buy a joint of packed branded-name meat for half the price it commands in the very respectable supermarkets. The clientele of the PoW have a sort of Robin Hood philosophy.
It was snowing outside and the ceiling of the toilet was leaking rather copiously so one had to tilt one's body to the side while executing one's business or risk getting very wet.

Caught in this undignified pose, my mobile phone rang.

As I was expecting semi-urgent calls, I answered it.

"It's Rob", said the voice and it was a full two seconds before I recognised it. I know more than a couple of Robs and none of them had any telephonic tryst with me, but this one made me jump. I recognised it as the voice of my beautiful and talented eldest daughter's boyfriend and instantly panicked in case he had some unwelcome news to report. Had she fallen in the snow and broken a limb? Was she stranded in Timbuktu?
His tone was apprehensive but not in the least foreboding.

"Oh. Hi, what's up?" I asked.

"Tam and I are going away for a short holiday break to Bath and I want to ask your permission to propose marriage to her", he said.

I had to gather my thoughts and regain my breath. This was an unexpected ceremoniousness from someone of this, what I think of as a callous, or at the least informal, generation.
"We have been together for four years now and I thought..."

I said I was delighted. He recalled the joke I never played on him but which he must have been told about by Tamineh. For my own sadistic reasons, when my daughters were teenagers, say 16, and started to bring boys who were their friends home I would threaten to ask the said boys in stern terms if their intentions were honourable: "Now then, young man, I demand to know if your intentions are honourable".
I don't think I ever actually went so far as to address any of the young men thus, but had a satisfactory time holding the threat of such embarrassment over the girls and having them plead with me to refrain from any such thing. (I would also threaten to declaim the poetry of T.S. Eliot loudly in an exaggerated Indian accent when their friends were gathered: "Apreelll is croolisht munth/ Breeding lilucks..." etc. and using the threat, extract all sorts of concessions about modifying their speech and altering the aspects of domestic or scholastic behaviour which I felt were wanting.)

Since Rob and Tamineh have bought a flat together, I suppose I expected them to announce either an engagement, a pregnancy, a change of job or some progress along the grihasth path in good time. What I didn't expect was a polite and formal Victorian application of decorum. It was delightful and I was glad he did it. I stepped out of the toilet, a little wet from the leaking ceiling and bought a very generous round.
I kept Rob's secret for the two days before Tamineh was proposed to and when she told me I congratulated her and said what daddies the world over say. And it was only then that from within some unplumbed depth of my personality that the Indian father emerged.

I began to think whether it could or would be a Parsi wedding and concluded that it couldn't unless one found some very unconventional Dastur to do the needful. I began to wonder for the first time in my life (I have four daughters, all unmarried) about a dowry, whether it was appropriate in this context — probably not — and where it would come from if it was.

Even while I was entertaining these thoughts and anxieties, my wonderful daughter asks me "Dad, can't we have an Indian wedding?"

Now that means a lot of different things to different people, but it conjured up a dread of what it might mean to Tamineh: a fantasy of some bedecked Rajasthani palace with a thousand guests jetted in from London. She was perhaps thinking of the much reported "Indian" wedding of a TV comic called Russell Brand or of Brad Pitt and his wife (they already have three children??) who have announced their intention to have some such ceremony.
How am I going to tell her that these huge weddings are held in India by Indians with advertised extravagance in order to spend "x" crores of rupees and receive "20x" crores of rupees in fake and falsified non-taxable wedding presents, thus converting "black" money into "white"? How am I to tell her that I have no black money (or for that matter blue or red or purple money) to convert into anything, despite having for years been a commissioner of programmes for TV on Channel 4, because unlike in some countries, Britain doesn't (alas?) allow its TV channel commissioning editors to take bribes?

No, I won't be able to do a Rajasthan palace wedding for Tamineh — or for Shireen, Jahan or Tir. They'll have to live with that. They've all had a damned good school and university education — Tir is still at grammar school, a place she won through academic endeavour (and by having the appropriate intelligence and creative genes) — and have started on promising careers.

I had better stop this line of reasoning before I start to sound like a family-planning advertisement.
It stands to reason that Rob's parents will want a say in all this and they may plump or push for a church wedding. Tam's wonderful mum was born a Christian and I shall have no objections on the grounds that Zoroastrianism, according to the Christian texts themselves, in the persona of the three Magi, put their imprimatur and approval on the birth of Christ and that spectacular intervention of Ahura Mazda in the affairs of men by begetting the divine-prophet-man-child.

That the Christian world has forgotten or ignored our endorsement for the coming faith is as may be. If there is a Christian wedding I will prepare, as father of the bride, a little speech which points out our Zoroastrian endorsement and intervention in the affairs of all. My intentions will be impeccably honourable.






I watched this season's most publicised movie, Dhobi Ghat with enormous interest. Of course, when Aamir Khan is backing a film project, it goes without saying that every conceivable media platform is thoroughly, systematically and totally carpet-bombed. With his wife's virgin effort as director-writer, Aamir spared not a single effort, stopping short of climbing up the Qutub Minar and declaring his undying love for second wife, Kiran Rao. Aamir could successfully teach courses at Harvard on how to market a product — he is that brilliant! But the more interesting aspect of this particular promotion was the cleverly-calibrated positioning of Kiran Rao. This is where Aamir's genius lies.

As a debut movie, Dhobi Ghat is respectable enough. But it certainly does not generate shock and awe, nor can it be considered a major breakthrough film that is a game changer (Dil Chahta Hai falls into that category). It is delicate and subtle in the familiar arthouse tradition, but not powerful enough to be touted as a cinematic coup for the first time director.

The question to ask in all fairness is: Would Dhobi Ghat have received as much attention had Kiran Rao not been Aamir Khan's wife? The answer is a flat no. But, what the hell. What's the point of being married to the most powerful man in Bollywood and not leverage the relationship? I hugely enjoyed the spin! All those cutesy stories about how she insisted on Aamir auditioning for the film… I mean… we are talking AAMIR! Or, what a hard time she gave him on the sets by subjecting him to reverse discrimination. All these nuggets of modern-day equations in a very contemporary marriage really tickled our imagination enough to go watch the film. And that, my dears, was the intention all along! I took in a few of their television interviews and read the print versions, just like thousands of others (there was no escape from these two last fortnight). The entire strategy was faultless — they held hands, referred to one another as "my love", and trotted out the same spiel interview after interview, without once looking bored or jaded. Now, that's a feat!

Finally, after watching the 95th interview (same coy, adoring glances from Kiran, same self-deprecatory anecdotes from Aamir), I felt exhausted. But hey — let's hand it to them — this is what is known as true professionalism. Each oft-repeated quote and recycled cliché sounded fresh, spontaneous and new! Hats off to the two of them for their dedication to the product. For, without that, Dhobi Ghat would have been dismissed as yet another slightly confused, well-intentioned movie. Aamir, perhaps anticipating just such a response, preempted criticism by informing those who weren't going to "get it", that the movie was not for everybody! It was a delicate and refined cinematic experience meant for those evolved, educated cineastes capable of appreciating his wife's genius. If such condescension annoyed a few critics, Aamir was instantly condoned — he is Aamir, after all.

When I walked out of the multiplex after catching a late evening show, my daughters were sniffling away — they had fallen deeply in love with Prateik.

Their emotions are entirely understandable. Prateik is adorable as Munna, the dhobi who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star someday. Casting Prateik was an inspired choice, and one must congratulate Kiran for not succumbing to spouse pressure and casting Aamir for this pivotal role (according to the lovey-dovey couple, Aamir was lusting after it).

It is the characters of Munna and Shai (played with admirable finesse by Monica Dogra) that linger after the viewing, and leaves the audience somewhat relieved that Aamir's Arun does not hijack the story, nor does Aamir the superstar hog the script. In fact, most viewers agreed that just about any unknown could have played Aamir's part and there isn't a single memorable scene that stays from his segment of the interlinked narrative. One actually waits hungrily for Prateik to appear on the screen… and break our hearts.

For me, it is pure sentimentality and nostalgia (I knew and loved Prateik's mother, the late Smita Patil). But beyond mush, it is evident to anybody how instinctive and inspiring Prateik is as an actor. There is nothing studied or filmi about the boy. He is an absolute natural who projects an almost heart-breaking level of innocence and vulnerability. Kiran has written Prateik's role exceedingly well, devoid of even a single false note. Can't say the same about Aamir's Arun, who mouths the most ridiculous lines about Mumbai ("My muse, my beloved, my whore…"). It is also pretty apparent that Aamir is not entirely comfortable speaking English and is far more himself when the dialogues are in Hindi.

But beyond the movie and how it fares commercially lies a deeper message for women in cinema. There have been other successful directors like Aparna Sen and Kalpana Lajmi here, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha overseas. The one thing that separates them from Kiran Rao is the Aamir factor. These ladies did not have the backing and clout of a superstar-spouse… and that is the biggest difference. Today, Kiran is fully sorted as a filmmaker, regardless of how her first film performs at the box office. She can write her own ticket, name her price and effortlessly get the next project… and the next… off the ground. She may or may not sign her superstar husband next time (she should go solo after the heavy-duty togetherness of this project), but with or without Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao is officially on a roll. Good for Kiran. An intelligent spouse should never underestimate the power of two. Look at Hillary and Bill Clinton! In the movie business, it works in exactly the same way. If Angelina Jolie decides to turn director someday, she'd be seriously dumb not to get Brad Pitt involved… and they are not even officially a couple.

Frankly, Kiran Rao and Aamir occupy a pretty unique slot — I can't think of another power couple in the movie world who enjoy the same profile. Tom Cruise comes to mind, but Katie Holmes, his better half, is a glamourous actress, not a determined director. It would be interesting to monitor Kiran's next move, rather, movie! This one had her cutie husband declaring publicly that he had fallen in love with his wife one more time after reading her script. How will Aamir top that? Who knows? As they say in Bollywood, "Dil to pagal hai". Kiran sounds smart enough to check-mate her mate many times over. Perhaps, that is the asli secret of their successful partnership?

— Readers can send feedback to







The apostle of non-violence and communal harmony, Mahatma Gandhi, believed in actions steeped in moral courage and sanctified by the "absolute truth". He abhorred petty opportunistic politicking or mere symbolism. However, when it came to the national flag, even the great Mahatma felt that "a flag is a necessity for all nations. Millions have died and lived for it", further admitting that "it is no doubt a kind of idolatry which would be a sin to destroy", and exhorted that for all "to whom India is their home... to recognise a common flag to live and die for". It is indeed an inalienable right, in effect a fundamental one, for any Indian citizen to hoist the national flag in any part of the country, especially on a day of national celebration.

The tiranga, our beloved tricolour, symbolises the Indian state as nothing else can, and all Indians, both at home and abroad, revere it as an embodiment of our nationhood and pride. Prima facie thus there will be many Indian citizens who, in keeping with their natural nationalistic inclinations, may agree with the leading Opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) initiative to hoist the tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day 2011.

However, this seemingly innocent patriotic act needs to be seen in total perspective, bearing in mind the violent events in troubled Srinagar over the last year where 110 people including youth and children died in senseless violence engineered by Pakistan-inspired and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) funded separatists. With an uneasy peace limping back to Srinagar and a semblance of much-needed normalcy on the horizon, most non-partisan analysts will unanimously agree that the BJP youth wing's Ekta Yatra towards Srinagar for hoisting the flag at the Lal Chowk was more than ill-advised. It was political opportunism directed at galvanising its traditional votebanks across the country rather than about instilling any nationalistic pride.
This planned misadventure is reminiscent of a similar event enacted by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi in 1992 when under very heavy security cover he planted the national flag (according to some sources upside down and on a lamp post) in

Lal Chowk in a meaningless gesture.

Flag-hoisting has to be a spontaneous gesture with full local and joyous participation. The BJP would have earned as many brownie points as it desired if it would have accepted the youthful Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah's invitation to join the official Republic Day celebrations at Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar in large numbers.
Security forces are critically over-stretched on such days and irrelevant politicking during such periods makes the task of terrorists easier. Lal Chowk, nonetheless, is as much a part of India as indeed Chandni Chowk in Delhi, Marine Drive in Mumbai, Hazratganj in Lucknow, Anna Salai in Chennai or any other famous or infamous street in India.

Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India, like any of the 28 states of the Union. Nevertheless, it must be appreciated that its total emotional integration with the rest of the country will take some more
time considering Pakistan's continuing sinister games in the Valley.

Thus, the entire nation, especially the leading political parties, must rise above narrow partisan and electoral agendas to heal the wounds of Jammu and Kashmir and bring it fully into the national mainstream.
It is a matter of time that our brethren in the Valley will realise that Pakistan is a failing state bent upon wreaking economic havoc and creating political instability. Thus, the entire Indian state has to rise in unison to stave off the machinations of Pakistan. On the other hand, India needs to be crystal clear and determined in its resolve in dealing with all issues vis-à-vis Pakistan, which should be reminded, if necessary, of its own faultlines. And any seditious activity by the separatists must be put down firmly and speedily by the Jammu and Kashmir administration.
The status of and conditions in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the growing Chinese presence and influence in this region needs to be factored in our security calculus.

A few months back, former chief minister Farooq Abdullah had emphatically observed in the Lok Sabha that they desired a Jammu and Kashmir as it existed in the times of Maharaja Hari Singh.

The interactions of the Interlocutors Group with the common people in Jammu and Kashmir has shown some positive trends and nothing must be done by either the political parties or any organisation of the state to disturb the fragile peace in the Valley. Thus, sacred national symbols must never ever be planned to be used as political props or in pursuit of narrow political agendas.

India confronts many cascading security challenges to its aspirations which can be met only by unity of action and a steely resolve tempered by maturity and wisdom of a large multi-cultural and multi-religious state. Peace and progress in Jammu and Kashmir is a litmus test of our statesmanship to ensure that our sacred tricolour eternally flies in all glory, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar raised the Defence Intelligence Agency and was deputy chief of the Integrated Defence Staff






In depression-hit UK, one of the biggest stories exploding right now is over phone hacking — only this time the accused are from the private sector, i.e., journalists are being accused of eavesdropping on private conversations in search of scoops. Finally the Rupert Murdoch empire is being held responsible and the News of the World, a tabloid, stands in the dock. Scotland Yard is being urged to investigate, and even Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, is reported to have, in the past, complained to the police that perhaps his phone was being tapped. This is not really as laughable as it would normally be because already the communications director (and a former editor of the News of the World), Andy Coulson, attached to David Cameron, the present Prime Minister, has been forced to resign in fear of "becoming" the news. Questions are being raised whether he was aware of the phone-hacking that was allegedly going on while he was still editing the paper. Of course, the fact that a range of technology now exists to listen into conversations makes the issue even more intriguing.
The speed with which Mr Coulson's resignation has come makes one appreciate that in these uncertain times it is better to get rid of controversial figures in the government especially if you are running a coalition. There may be a lesson or two for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government back home in India.

Meanwhile, the so-called "funniest" stories worldwide are always about gender bias. Sigh. (Think of all the jokes you've ever heard about mother-in-laws and women drivers…). Recently, a leading football commentator in the UK lost his job because he was recorded, inadvertently, mulling over whether a female "linesman" understood what offside was and in another case requested a woman sports commentator to put her hand down his trousers... Only jokingly, of course! And we thought Indian men are sexist! Nonetheless, people have been quick to leap to his defence and have stated that the lady concerned had even been photographed in her underwear in a lad's mag. The proper response to such weak rebuttals is "so what?" No matter what the women do out of their free will, why do they have to be subjected to sexist behaviour?
But women are battling for recognition in every area and not just on the football field. Even at the so-called egalitarian economic forums. At Davos this year there is now a strict norm that there must be at least a 20 per cent attendance of women leaders (and not just wives and girlfriends). Therefore, one in five attendees have to be a female. At last, some people are beginning to wake up and realise how boring life is without women! But 20 per cent? I find this figure a little astonishing: Shouldn't it have been 50 per cent? How long will it take for that last bastion of male bonding to melt? Or, like in football, will it take a rude shove to get the chauvinists out…?
In some places, of course, gender equality is managing to make its presence felt. For instance, at the Costa Book Awards this week in London, at a glittering evening at Quaglino's, the judging panel headed by Andrew Neil chose Jo Shapcott's beautifully written new book of poems, Of Mutability, for the top Book of the Year prize. There were five of us in the final list — each having won in our own categories — but there is little doubt that Shapcott's work has a particular luminance to it, especially as it deals with her own battle with breast cancer. She has been a hugely significant poet, winning over the years the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Collection, the Forward Prize for Best Collection and, twice, the National Poetry Competition. I am thrilled at her success because I really do not see too many people reading poems today and I hope her win will make all the difference.
Shapcott's personal story is also extremely poignant and perhaps her struggle has made her into the fine poet that she is. She lost both her parents at the age of 18 but went on to hone her skills — reading and writing and perfecting her poetry. The diagnosis a few years back that she had breast cancer gave birth to this book in which she has also acknowledged the doctors who helped her. Meeting her was completely delightful as she seemed so content: celebrating both life and death in her book. This is what made the Costa competition unique. Each of the books that evening had passionately differing stories to tell. For instance, Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes examines, among other things, the holocaust, Maggie O'Farrell's book The Hand That First Held Mine looks at the problems of women — while mine, Witness the Night, of course, dealt with gendercide… all tough narratives.

Obviously, struggles like that of Shapcott, which end in triumph over adversity, are always the most exciting and inspirational stories.

This message was reinforced when I saw The King's Speech, a fairly pedestrian film in many ways, but it is making waves with 12 Oscar nominations. Of course, the Brits do period drama extremely well and somehow anything to do with royalty gets fast tracked to the awards. However, the film is often unadventurous, using a pedantic effort to introduce an oral history lesson. For example, in case we have forgotten, the strange turn of events that brought King George VI to the throne, following the abdication of his brother to marry the much-divorced Wallis Simpson.

Though I enjoyed it (up to a point) I simply couldn't see what the fuss is all about. It is a competent film yet neither overwhelming nor brilliant. Even Colin Firth, sadly, only ends up looking slightly perplexed as he stammers his way through life. Don't forget, however, it is the same momentum that pushed Slumdog Millionaire to the Oscars and is shoving The King's Speech upwards and forward now. Otherwise, comparatively, Black Swan is a far more disturbing and innovative film. But then, it has a negative ending… and in today's age of depression we need a upper not downer. What do you say?

The writer can be contacted at










President Barack Obama needs economic gains to get back his mojo. The battle to create American jobs is now at the heart of his 2012 re-election strategy and will twist aspects of his foreign policy. But someone should have shared James Carville's famous admonition:


"It's the economy, stupid!" with longtime India hand Anish Goel who has been ousted from the White House for trying to go beyond short-term business deals to embedding an over-arching geopolitical strategic relationship with India.


Goel, a brilliant missile scientist with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a science and economics officer at Foggy Bottom (US state department) before moving to the National Security Council (NSC). He was promoted as senior director for South Asia in the NSC and manned the India desk. Goel's exit, after a power struggle, threatens to throw the gears of foreign policy into reverse. Goel was one of the few remnants in this administration from the team that worked on the India-US civil nuclear energy deal.


"Goel toiled for years as an expert on the India desk and briefed Obama. He was passionate about the region and sparred over how New Delhi must be seen as a geopolitical strategic partner for Washington instead of a never-ending purveyor of Boeing and Lockheed defense deals. He didn't nickel-and-dime the relationship," harrumphed a former US South Asia hand.


At Goel's prodding, intelligence and law enforcement cooperation broadened, gathering momentum after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Goel's exit puts Obama's Harvard Law School buddy Michael Froman, deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, in charge of framing Obama's India policy blueprint. In contrast to the cerebral Goel, Froman who is a former Citigroup managing director has a more one-dimensional commercial view of the relationship.


On cue, Obama took a triumphant tour this week of Schenectady, the birthplace of General Electric with job creation czar, GE's CEO Jeffrey Immelt. He crowed that the White House had helped broker a slew of deals in India, billions of dollars of contracts for companies like GE and Boeing. Obama said; "This plant is what that trip (to India) was all about. That new business, that power-turbine sale halfway around the world is going to help support more than 1,200 manufacturing jobs and 400 engineering jobs right here."


During Obama's visit to India the two countries committed to a total of $15 billion in deals. Flush with deal-making success, Obama is now sending his salesman-in-chief to India next week. Commerce secretary Gary Locke will be in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore from February 6-11 with 24 American companies to try and score new deals in defense, aviation and civil nuclear trade.








It seems like open season on leopards. Over the last two months, leopards accused of attacking people in Haryana, Maharashtra and Orissa, have been killed by hysteric mobs. On December 18, a leopard attacked three farmers in a village near Gurgaon, Haryana. Panicky villagers hammered it with iron rods and lathis, and later, one of them shot it dead.


On January 9, in Karad, Maharashtra, a leopard was spotted atop a house. When a crowd of people gathered, the cat snuck into an empty building. Instead of trapping it inside, the mob stoned it. The angered cat charged out and in the ensuing melee, six people were injured.


The leopard collided with a man, and was shot by a police official. A few days later, on January 13, a leopard was spotted in a forest plantation, about 5km from Bhubaneswar. Before the forest officials could arrive, a mob beat it to death, reportedly instigated by a local television reporter who wanted dramatic visuals.


Conservationists have urged the National Board for Wildlife, National Tiger Conservation Authority, and the Ministry of Environment and Forests to act against the people involved. In virtually all the cases reported by the press, the leopards were provoked to attack; left alone, they would have quietly skulked away.


One way of preventing an excitable mob from harassing a cornered animal is to impose curfew until the animal is safely out of the way. The other is for the police and forest departments to work in tandem. The former controls the crowd while the latter either traps or tranquilises the animal.


It is often surmised that leopards "stray" into villages and towns because infrastructure projects such as dams and mines deprive them of home and prey. Some activists have called for the restoration of connectivity between forest fragments and a stop to further forest loss. These are inherently sound conservation goals, but we also need to know what causes such man-animal encounters?


Leopard researcher Vidya Athreya carried out research in the agricultural fields of Junnar, near Pune, and Akola district in eastern Maharashtra and has some lessons in ending the man-animal conflicts.


The foremost learning is that it is not the absence prey inside the forests, but the abundance of prey in the towns that encourages leopards (and wolves and hyenas) to live alongside humans. It is futile to manage leopards without first cleaning up the garbage and thereby controlling the numbers of stray dogs and pigs who live off the garbage. Moreover, livestock must be secured in paddocks for the night, which the Akola people now do and hence there are no conflicts.


Elsewhere, when leopards are spotted in the fields, the forest department hauls the animals away to a forest. But this has been found to pose a threat to human life. In Junnar, in the early 2000s, when leopards that had not hurt anyone were pre-emptively captured and relocated, they began attacking people. Why such a seemingly benign action provokes the animal into attacking remains unknown. Despite this evidence, relocating leopards remains the tool of choice.


As juvenile leopards reach adulthood, these highly territorial animals need to find new land to claim as their own. It is only natural that they explore agricultural areas adjoining forests, where there is food and shelter. If left unmolested, they may settle down to live with humans without causing a problem.


The irrigation projects of the mid-1980s changed cropping patterns in this part of Maharashtra: tall, dense sugarcane stands began to dominate the landscape.


This is also the time when the locals say that leopards began to live amongst them. Yet, over the last 20 years, the people suffered little anxiety. Astonishingly, leopards are even hunting in Akola town because of the concentration of stray dogs and feral pigs. Studying situations such as this, we've learnt that leopards are quite at home in the absence of forest and wild prey.


Further insights into the lives and needs of these cats that live with humans will enable better management of leopard-man conflict in the future.











The world is fixated with the rivalry between the two top Western and Eastern powers. America is still calling the shots in economics and politics, but we know how the story ends: the Chinese, or rather East wins, the West loses. Wrong. "The world we are moving into in 2011 is one not just with many more prominent nations, but one with numerous centres of power. It is, in short, a neo-medieval world," says Parag Khanna of the New America Foundation


in his new book How to Run the World which turns on its head much of the assumed reality of 21st Century power.


A foreign policy advisor for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, Khanna says life is now a retreat to medievalism. In the Middle Ages, corporations in Bruges and Venice competed for resources and wealth. Khanna extends the neo-medieval metaphor to suggest that today we see a blurring of boundaries: family businesses like India's Reliance are asserting themselves as the backbone of the world economy and Persian Gulf royalty control global investments. Khanna talked to Uttara Choudhury about how globalisation is diffusing power from the West, from states, to companies, religious groups, to billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates, George Soros and celebrity do-gooders like Bono and Angelina Jolie.


Your book is blunt about saying the 'American century' is over. What is our new reality?


Instead of a world of just great and lesser powers, the emerging landscape looks a lot like the Middle Ages a millennium ago. That was the last time in history when, like today, both East and West were powerful at the same time. The Song dynasty in China invented paper money (of which they have plenty today!), the Chola empire in south India ruled the seas from East Africa to Indonesia, the Arab-Islamic community was at its peak as the Abbasid caliphate stretched from Andalusia in Spain to Central Asia, while the Holy Roman Empire marked an unstable period in Europe. But rather than talk about the East replacing the West, the Pacific displacing the Atlantic, or China subverting America, I believe the world will be complex, multi-polar, and multicivilisational — all regions will be important at the same time.


You point out that Westerners have complacently forgotten one of the eternal axioms of world affairs: one who has the money makes the rules. China is challenging the role of the US dollar by calling for a neutral currency. Do you think this will come to pass?


We are clearly in an up-for-grabs era of economic management, one in which mixed models compete to pull their countries ahead. The response to the financial crisis looked more Chinese and European than American. Beijing controls its currency value to keep exports cheap, maintains strong oversight of the financial sector and selectively curbs imports to maintain high employment. Even George Soros has remarked that he is impressed by the the 'Beijing Consensus'.


But the growing importance of China's currency doesn't need to lead to currency competition, but rather can be an impetus to create a neutral currency basket based on the Yuan, Dollar, Euro and Yen. I think this is an important cause to pursue global financial stability.


Your book argues that India needs to shift its approach to Kashmir the way China has won over Taiwan — by buying its loyalty.


The Manmohan Singh government came to power a half-decade ago promising over $5 billion in rehabilitation spending for Kashmir — at the time, it seemed as though the situation would turn a corner in terms of stability. But today the situation has again fallen into a fragile and dangerous state. Indian leaders need to fulfill decades-old pledges to win over Kashmir the way China has increasingly done with Taiwan. This would be more feasible if India and Pakistan declared the so-called Line of Control the official border before pursuing goodwill missions across it. Opening official borders in the long term means more than unofficial ones in the short term.


Do you think what the colour line was to the 20th century, the faith line might be to the 21st century?


It's true that loyalties are strengthening beyond money, power and kinship, and toward faith. Islam is spreading today, its appeal equally political and social in Egypt and Lebanon, where the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah are political parties and welfare providers. Christianity, too, is rerooting itself in Africa, Latin America, and even China, while millions of Americans are joining evangelical mega-churches. But I don't believe there will be one fault line, either political or religious. Instead, there are many identities flourishing such as the cause-driven or generational. Faith will certainly be important, which is why I include it in the set of actors that needs to be part of future mega-diplomacy.


You have said there is little in Obama's vision for the coming years, as reflected in the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategic review, to indicate anything beyond America muddling through. What should America do to stay relevant in the world?


America can lead again if it focuses on helping others help themselves. This is what America's post-World War II strategies achieved in Europe and Japan, ultimately making them self-sufficient powers and to this day America's only genuine allies in the world. The same can now happen in Africa, where the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, begun under the Bush administration, slashed tariffs on African exports and boosted programs to counter AIDS. America is heavily invested in developing Africa's energy infrastructure — the continent may soon provide more oil to the US than the Middle East.


The way to embed this grand strategy of self-reliance is to focus on regional institution building, encouraging countries to engage with their neighbours the way Europe has done through the EU. Obama has made relations with ASEAN a priority, but he needs to follow through to help Southeast Asian nations collectively negotiate better with China, manage their natural resources and maintain regional stability. America should deepen its relationships with India, Korea and Japan to keep itself indispensable for Asia's future.


Can Generation Y change the world?


For Generation Y, impatience is a virtue. It intuitively supports greater trade, faster communication, multiple identities, and subscribes to postmaterial values such as equality and ecology. Generation Y consisting of people under 30, sees problems functionally, not nationally. They take for granted that working for corporations such as Google, or NGOs such as Oxfam and the Bill Gates Foundation, means participating in political agendas that operate without official approval, yet the work is as diplomatic as that of a foreign ministry. They will reshape governments and other pillars of the establishment. Generation Y will own mega-diplomacy.










One can only be pleased about young Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's brave words against corruption. Addressing the state-level conference of Departmental Vigilance Officers (DVOs) in this city on Thursday he has done well to focus on his own and bureaucracy's duty in curbing the evil. He has blamed the officials for "sitting with their eyes, ears and mouths shut to the corruption and nepotism around them." At the same time he has not disowned his own responsibility: "Today we are number two (in the list of most corrupt states of the country)…In this battle to stop corruption we are equally responsible…Although the responsibility lies with me…The buck stops here…The buck of responsibility. So be it. The buck stops with me. But it starts with you (officials)" He has made certain other observations which are relevant in any such battle. Who will disagree with him when he says: "It is not good enough to trap somebody taking Rs 5000 when we cannot trap somebody taking in lakhs. This is pretty much the story today?" He has echoed the popular perception: "From highways, where trucks are queued up for minting money, to ration cards, state subjects, land mutation to illegal electricity connections ---there is an endless list. It is this corruption that irritates people." Again, one will admire his candid admission: "It is an area of continuing concern for me and a lot of personal dissatisfaction for me. We have not done as much as we should have…We have not been able to make a sufficient dent. We really need to make more efforts to check it (the 'monster' of corruption) and it is to be checked from the top." He has reiterated that there ought to be a transparent transfer policy and its strict implementation. "No premature transfer should be encouraged" as frequent transfers are a means of corruption.

The air in the country as a whole stinks with the talk of black money these days. Right from the highest political functionaries and the court in the land down to the common man everyone is stunned by the confirmation of what has been believed for too long: there indeed is unaccounted money deposited by Indians in foreign banks. Institutional mechanisms are being strengthened to get it out of its closets. This development underlines the importance of words in any struggle against wicked phenomenon. The words are important because these reveal a person's intentions. However, these gradually lose their meaning if not translated into reality. Sooner they are given practical form the better it is. Otherwise the danger is that widespread cynicism gets strengthened that the men at the helm just pay a lip service whenever they talk of removing ills of society.

A case in point is Rajiv Gandhi's stirring speech against middlemen at the Congress plenary session in Mumbai in 1985. It had raised a hope that died rather too soon. Mr Abdullah should keep that in mind if he wants his sentiment against corruption to win. He has echoed the phrase "the buck stops here" that was popularised by former American President Harry S. Truman. It needs to be recalled that the US leader would keep a sign with the phrase at his desk to keep reminding him of the fact that he alone as the President is personally responsible for the way the country is governed.







A first-hand description of the scene in and around Mansar lake in a recent Sunday magazine of this newspaper is an eye-opener. As the water body is drawing crowds there are problems galore some of which can indeed be resolved with the visitors observing certain don'ts. First a look at the picture as it has been captured: (a) picnickers leave behind left-overs and packaging material in the open after having their meals; (b) plastic bags are much in use despite an official warning to abandon them; (c) a cafeteria, tea shops and scores of eateries have been permitted to come up within the lake basin only a few yards from its waters; (d) a brand new toilet black has been built by the Surinsar-Mansar Development Authority (SMDA) just above a temple which can be hurting for religious sentiments of many; (e) the eastern end of the picnic park is like a bazaar; (f) boat riders are clueless about the depth of the waters; and (g) the south-western shore has been cleared of its vegetation to make way for air-conditioned tourist huts. This is not all. There are attempts to encroach upon the dry bed. At least at one place domestic animals are found to have been kept. This in turn raises apprehension that with the receding waters the exposed dry land may gradually be transformed into real estate. Already too much concrete is around posing a question or two to the eco-system. Moreover, the area meant for spotted deer, Nilgais, rabbits and peacocks resembles a prison cell in the absence of a free open jungle. The mobility of the animals is restricted. As a fall-out the deer look like oversized goats and Nilgais resemble hybrid cows --- as if thoroughly domesticated and thus unfit for their natural abode.

For such sad state of affairs we as citizens must also share the blame for our indifference. Why should we forget that cleanliness is next to godliness? The utilisation of plastic bags is a threat to not only the water reserve but also animals in its vicinity. How long are we required to be told that we must drop their application for our good? It is basic etiquette that after consuming our meals we wind up our shop neatly. We should dump the waste in dustbins. So far as the lake administration and the Government are concerned they should never lose sight of the fact that Mansar is a Ramsar site. The Ramsar Convention, so named after the town of Ramsar in Iran, is actually the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands that is, to stem the progressive encroachment on and loss of wetlands now and in the future, recognising the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands and their economic, cultural, scientific and recreational value. Does this need any further elaboration? Fortunately for us the global fraternity is aware that Mansar's main threats are from "increasing visitors, agriculture runoff, bathing and cremation rituals." It also understands that its conservation is focussed on awareness-raising. When we compare it to the situation as it exists on the ground the only message for us is to learn fast by avoiding actions that are detrimental to our reputation.









Having successfully scuttled Parliament's winter session it's onto the Budget session now. And you can be sure that the Bharatiya Janata Party will leave no stone unturned to try to stall work during the crucial budget session. The Marxists for once have indicated that they won't be any part of the BJP tactics, unlike its role as a fellow staller with the BJP-led Opposition during the winter session.

The present Congress dispensation at the Centre did not cover itself with glory either during the last session and the omens are not particularly propitious of the next one. Scams, ministerial ineptitude and the silent war within the UPA, with men like Sharad Pawar believing in his innards that he may still be able to see the back of Sonia Gandhi - wishful thinking at the very best even as he continues to be a key Minister in the UPA-led Government using every ploy to undo the Sonia Manmohan Singh combine, at the very least in Maharashtra, and by being the dog in the manager in some other States.

The BJP, unlike the NCP, the enemy without the UPA fold, has a clear-cut agenda : to harass a Government headed by a Prime Minister who, politely put, is "prime" in name only. Dr. Manmohan Singh may have performed well in the economic field in the first few years of his government but seems clueless these past few months about holding the price-line in check. Considering that he has an army of economic experts to back him up it's a wonder that the 'aam aadmi' should be facing the worst of times even as the PM and his Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee never tire of telling us of our upward moving growth rate. "We may not overtake China's growth rate but we shall be nearbouts," government spokesmen never tire of repeating even when I and my friend the aam aadmi is expected to produce Rs. 70 for a kg onions, Rs.65 for tomatoes, Rs. 200 kg for garlic Rs. 300kg for mutton not to mention the prices of other edibles, cereals, greens et al.
Add to this the UPA's theatrics about routine things like a Cabinet reshuffle. A serious reshuffle would mean removal of deadwood and induction of fresh minds; it would normally show the exit door to Ministers known to be corrupt, some even indicted. But after months of speculation poor Manmohan Singh, so utterly hamstrung by the diktats of his leader, Sonia and the heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi, gives us the same old wine in the same old bottle.

A Cabinet Minister indicted in the Maharashtra housing scam has been given charge of a more important portfolio. And remember the long months of cajoling it took the UPA boss to persuade alliance partner K. Karunanidhi to let her sack A. Raja, the Telecom Minister, who masterminded the mother of all scams while selling the G-2 spectrum.

Rarely have we seen-yes, even for country which figures high in the list of most corrupt countries in the Transparency International's "honours" list - senior Indian Defence personnel, Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals being accused (some punished already) for brazen acts of corruption. If you ask me, all these scams civilian and military, represent just the tip of icerberg. If the inquiries already instituted move forward we may be in for greater shocks.

What with worthies like the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the man named the Vigilance Commissioner of India are faced with charges that would make every Indian's head hang in shame. Add to it the names of corrupt Chief Ministers etc we might well have to innovate to have a five- year plan for disposal of the existing cases listing the unsavoury shenanigana of our ruling elite. May be two or three such plans will put the demon of corruption to rest.

Be assured, dear reader, when Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee presents the budget for the next financial year we will be asked to tighten our belts further. Having already feathered the nests of politicians and bureaucrats very well two years ago, as well as the fact that economic growth of the past two or three years has added to classes constitute less than half the population. The people below the poverty line make up for a staggering 36 per cent. Those just above the poverty line, not including senior citizens and the unemployed urbanites, account for another large chunk of the deprived population.

The farmer who is supposed to have been helped in many ways must still face an uncertain future considering that his return from the farm to the mandi to the marketplace. Then our food export to foreign lands offer the middleman another bonus when the same food has to be reimported at astronomical prices; it could be wheat, rice, sugar, onions etc.


The important thing is that the middleman and politician must share the booty. You may have starvation deaths committed by the thousand by our farmers and yet find the government not moving its little finger to push that "pending" file for construction of storages, silos etc. Procured wheat and rice might rot in the open, eaten by rats but it cannot be made available to the starving farmers. Why, because there is no money in that for the politician, the bureaucrat, the middleman. The Minister will sure enough order import of substandard wheat from Australia at prices 20 percent higher than you got when you were exporting to tell us he is a man of action after all.

Terrible thoughts when the nation is celebrating the republic's birthday., What a majestic sight it made, all those horsemen in their regimental finery clip-clopping down Rajpath, all that shining armour, all those smartly turned out soldiers filing past the presidential dais. Looking at that spectacle who would imagine that we are a sick nation, regardless of our pride in our Indianness, ruled by mindless people who cannot think beyond the 'kursi'. The end all and be all of their, lives.

All these shortsighted men and women who cannot look beyond their little noses. I am wondering what was the big point the BJP was out to prove by insisting on that Yatra to Srinagar's Lal Chowk to hoist the tricolor. Even visibly impaired can tell the BJP bosses that the tricolor continues to fly over Srinagar's Secretariat, that they do have a R-Day parade at Bakshi Stadium in Srinagar in freezing and not unoften in snowbound conditions.
Their own senior leaders couldn't be unaware of Kashmir's special status within the Union which sees the State flag, a ploughshare on a red background, flying alongside the tricolor. They will also recall, if they care to, that their own partyman, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, as Prime Minister visited Lahore to meet Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and that later Vajpayee invited Gen. Musharraf to Agra for talks on all issues including Kashmir.
And may I remind them of the sorry figure which one of their tallest leaders, and then party chief, Murli Manohar Joshi cut on a similar yatra to Srinagar's Lal Chowk, Stopped at Jammu he was taken unheralded in a helicopter to Srinagar and helped by CRPF to hoist the flag on a bamboo stick there. It all ended in a few minutes before he was airborne again to Jammu after having achieved the "feat". How stupid can our politicians be. And in the case of the BJP its leaders also seem to suffer from memory loss. A depressing Republic Day week for me personally.








The country hailed its wise and secure monetary and fiscal policies as the chief reasons to protect its economic interests and not slide into a crisis. But a year later India finds itself riddled with a serious crisis of unending inflation and rising prices of essential commodities that threaten to destabilise the economy, particularly the agricultural sector.

Considered analytically, this is not a recent phenomenon. It has been happening for many years now. The genesis of the trend could be traced to the economic reforms, started two decades ago when the reshuffling of Indian economy began, leading to the major shift of the focus from agriculture to trade, commerce and industry.
Not that agriculture was not neglected prior to the economic reforms, but the shift to the industry under reforms had many attractions. Globalisation opened the floodgates for new technologies to enter. And new technologies triggered a myriad of opportunities in business, trade, commerce and manufacturing sector. Gradually India had to create new space and rules within its political, economic, administrative and social framework to accommodate and promote the proliferation of new patterns and trends in its economy. As a result, traditional occupations began to lose their appeal.

Urbanisation began to take its toll not only on the fragile environment but also on agriculture as hordes of rural youth deserted agriculture and started migrating to the growing urban centres in search of "better" opportunities and larger incomes. Lack of requisite manpower and labour compelled the older population involved in agriculture to cut down on agricultural production.

Economic liberalisation coupled with a flexible and supportive monetary policy helped pump in more money into the economy both from within and outside. There is today more money with people but they have to pay higher price for food as the food production didn't go up in proportion to the increase in money supply. Added to it, more and more land under cultivation is being taken away by industrial complexes, commercial establishments, residential layouts and massive urban infrastructure development causing further decline in agricultural activities.

The vegetable scenario is grave because essentially the vegetables are grown in the peripheral urban areas and these areas are vanishing due to urban sprawl, real estate business and infrastructure development. Besides the amount of water available for growing vegetables is dwindling as ground water resources are depleting due to rise in industrial and domestic consumption. Also the top soil in the agricultural lands in these peri-urban areas is being converted into sand and sold in the urban centres for building construction purposes. Sadly the agricultural lands around the cities and metropolitan areas are gradually turning barren affecting the environment and consequently agricultural and vegetable cultivation.

Another, much less noticed, but a significant development in the food industry is its wide diversification into a major commercial business. A variety of vegetables, cereals and pulses are being diverted in large quantities to the commercial production of various types of snacks and munchies packed in attractive packets and pouches and sold in millions around the country. This has also affected both the availability and prices of certain vegetables, pulses and cereals for the large number of consumers.

It's thus apparent that the policy makers are caught in a piquant situation to handle the present scenario. The emerging new economy is focused on a global India leaving behind the old economy, traditional occupations and conventional lifestyles battling against rising food prices, unabating inflation and an uncertain future.
High food prices are not limited only to India, and it is becoming world phenomenon. Violent protests in Tunisia and Algeria this month announced that food inflation has reared its ugly head again in these countries as well. But, while rising food prices may be universally unwelcome, especially in low-income regions, they may be a necessary evil if global food production is to rise to the sustainable high levels required to feed the planet's growing population.

Those who vilify speculators for inflating the cost of wheat, cattle and sugar risk opening the door to a far worse fate - a world in which food is so cheap that more farmers can't afford to produce it. When adjusted for inflation, agricultural markets are just barely coming back to their relative cost in the 1980s, and are less than half their 1970s peaks.

In contrast, markets like copper and oil have recently traded at their highest ever on an inflation-adjusted basis. Even with increased efficiency, that suggests prices should be moving higher - not lower - if the world is to improve the security of its food supply.

The recent chatter about food price increases was sparked in part by news this year that an index of global food prices tracked by the United Nations had hit an all-time high in December. This revelation reignited policymaker debate over the plight of low income nations, and sparked comparisons with the crop price surges of 2008, when riots over food shortages plagued many emerging market economies.

The recent debates also unleashed a wave of government initiated studies into what measures may be taken to roll back the prevailing high food prices in order to avoid a repeat of the 2008 food crisis. But such moves, however welcomed by consumers over the short term, may prove to be detrimental over the longer term, if global food output is not incentivized to the maximum degree.

This issue is complicated further by the fact that rising material and input costs have eaten into farmer profitability even as improved technology and heightened efficiencies have lowered overall production costs.
This theme of producers not being able to fully realize the "benefits" of higher overall retail food prices is best captured by stripping out the effects of inflation on current crop prices. Once crop prices have been adjusted for inflation, it is clear that current values - although well above the low prices seen during most of the past decade - remain well below their inflation adjusted highs seen during the mid-1970's.

While consumers may be faced with nominal crop prices that may be at or close to their highest levels ever, producers are to a large degree presented with real prices that remain well below such elevated levels.
This situation for crop producers contrasts strongly with the economic environment facing the producers of industrial commodities, such as crude oil, copper and gold, where inflation-adjusted prices have coincided with the ascent in nominal prices to multi-decade high levels in recent years.

These contrasting producer landscapes mean that, while copper miners and oil refiners may be faced with one of the most economically attractive environments on record - and therefore should be fully incented to boost output wherever possible - crop growers have theoretically seen much better days in terms of economic returns, and so may not be receiving the same signals to expand output aggressively.

What's more, these same producers are faced with rising fuel, fertilizer and seed prices, as well as increasingly expensive land and labour costs, which have served to squeeze profit margins and promote a more cautious outlook with regard to crop output expansion. Expansion opportunities will be pursued, if the crop economics make sense, but it may require a sustained period of high prices before meaningful commitments to output increases take effect. INAV

(The writer is former Additional Director General, Indian Council for Agricultural Research)








Quick dissemination of technological information from the agricultural research system is one of the critical inputs in transfer of agricultural technology. The information and communication support during the last 60 years has mainly been conventional. The extension personals of the department of agriculture disseminated the technological messages to the farmers who are spread across the whole state. This conventional extension system has not been able to reach majority of the farmers because the farmers' needs are more diversified and the knowledge required to address them is beyond the level of grass-root extension functionaries.
Jammu and Kashmir is a hill state having varied topography and great diversity in cultural, social and economic practices of its different regions. However, agriculture remains the backbone of the economy of the state with over 65 percent of its population depend on agriculture and allied sectors. The majority of districts in the state comprise of 2-3 different agro-ecological situations. This diversity adds further to the challenge of effective transfer of need based technology to the village level especially in the hilly areas where farmers are living at high altitudes and the frequent contacts with the experts is relatively difficult.

It is now possible to find a solution to this problem by using the potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for meeting the location specific information needs of the farmers. As an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) initiative, Cyber agricultural extension mechanism is an appropriate information delivery mechanism affordable to rural farmers. Cyber extension includes effective use of internet, multimedia learning systems and computer based training systems to improve information access to the farmers, extension workers, research scientists and extension managers. MANAGE, Hyderabad has been working as pioneer institute in the field of cyber extension.

The three main problems faced by the agriculture system in India especially by farmers of hilly regions include non-availability of quality inputs, lack of scientific knowledge and deficient market access. The information and communication technology can be a great help in solving these problems. The creation of a national database of seed of different crops available at various government research institutions, state universities, seed farms can help the farmers throughout the country in getting timely supply of quality seed. The latest knowledge about the scientific practices can be provided to the farmers for solving their immediate problems through Kissan Call Centre (Toll free No.: 18001801551) and Short message service (SMS) on mobile phones. Cell Phone is the cheapest and most important ICT tool for remote and hilly areas. The farmers can get timely information on weather forecasts and thus reduce agricultural risks. This would avoid the unnecessary movement of farmers from their home village to data centre for different purposes and thus save their precious time by accessing all information at village level. It is, however, essential that information available at such online sources should be demand driven rather than supply driven. The challenge is not only to improve the accessibility of communication technology to the rural population but also to improve its relevance to local development. Therefore, the extension functionaries at district level should be taken into confidence before final packaging of the 'practices' or 'technologies' for each crop. The experiences and results of various trials would also be indicated in the proposed package of practices. The extension functionaries may then keep the concerned researchers informed on the field feed back electronically. This way ICT will help both the researchers and farming community to talk to each other on regular basis.

For providing remunerative price to the farmers for their produce, several network sites and portals are already working like AGMARKNET in India. All the information about the markets, arrivals of different products and prices can be obtained from this site which helps farmers in making decision by their own about where to sell the produce and at what price. The facility of online trading and e-commerce is also available.

Modern information and communication technologies including the Internet are now available at block levels. In some areas it is possible to have farmers and rural residents as direct Internet users while in other areas the capacity of intermediary organizations (such as extension officers, NGOs, etc.) need to be built up or assistance to be given for the establishment and promotion of community information centres linked to the Internet.
The cyber extension, however, is not for replacing the existing systems of communication. It just helps augment, in big way, the reach and two way interaction among the key stakeholders. It would add more interactivity and speed to two way communication. Besides, it would widen the scope of extension, improve quality, subtract cost and reduce time, reduce dependency on so many actions in the chain of extension system.










The UPA is clearly hurtling from one embarrassment to another in recent months and the teflon coating that distinguished the Prime Minister from others is fast wearing off. It is not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's personal integrity that is under a cloud but his failure to check corruption in his team is taking its toll.

The image that is emerging is that of an increasingly helpless prime minister who is not in full command. Be it the 2G scam in which Dr Singh was pulled up by the Supreme Court for sitting over Janata Party leader Subramaniam Swamy's complaint against then Telecom Minister A. Raja's questionable decisions which defrauded the country's exchequer by a whopping amount, or the Commonwealth Games scam where too the organizing committee of CWG was given a long rope as corruption allegations piled up or the case of the selection of the controversial P.J. Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner by a committee of which the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha were members, the UPA government is faced with acute loss of face.


Attorney General Vahanavati's shocking claim during a Supreme Court hearing on Thursday that the committee that finalized Thomas' appointment was not aware that he had been chargesheeted for corruption in the palmolein import case smacks of appalling lack of homework of the governmental machinery. With Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj who had opposed the appointment in the committee meeting now declaring that she will file an affidavit shortly to show why she had opposed the selection and contending that she had at that time brought the chargesheet against Mr Thomas to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister, there's fresh embarrassment for the government.


Dr Manmohan Singh must realize that the tremendous goodwill that he has enjoyed over the years is beginning to erode and he needs to re-establish his credentials through a pro-active approach. The country is looking for strong, decisive action and effective governance from a prime minister whose erudition, sobriety and personal integrity are of the highest order. 









The Punjabi immigrant narrative is one of success stories, of accomplishments, prosperity and honours. It has no place for ugly realities that crop up from time to time. In the Southall suburb of London, Punjabis long had their base. It is where the largest gurdwara in the UK is located, and home to an estimated 60,000 Punjabis, mostly Sikhs.


It has also become a place where homeless park themselves for the night. What has come as a shock to many is that these homeless people who sleep in rough circumstances (thus called 'rough sleepers') are members of the immigrant community that has long considered itself immune from any of the tribulations that it associates with the West.


Interviews with these dispossessed persons have shown that while some of them are abusers, of alcohol as well as drugs, most want to work. Some are eligible for benefits, but don't know how to go about it, since they have never been on welfare. Some are illegal immigrants, and thus are afraid of authorities. Most want to hide their pathetic condition from people back home, who they still hope to support. By doing so, they also allow their problems to be swept under the carpet.


It is indeed shocking that the local authorities have turned apathetic to the plight of these poor people. Even the immigrant community, with a few notable exceptions, has turned a blind eye and a British politician of Indian origin has gone to the extent of saying that their problems are "self-inflicted". The community that has a proud tradition of helping the needy now needs to look within and extend a helping hand to those for whom the immigrant dream turned into a nightmare. The newly-formed Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team, and the local gurdwaras are providing the right leadership. The number of those affected is still small, and thus manageable. The British government too needs to examine how it can help the 'rough sleepers', three of whom have already succumbed to the ravages of poverty and extreme weather.









There is relief no doubt at the end of the 11-day long spell of lawlessness in and around Jind in Haryana, where a section of people held the state to ransom, torched public property and disrupted rail and road movement. But the relief is unlikely to last because the squatters apparently enjoyed sufficient political patronage to reduce the police to a state of impotence.


It is comic to find the police filing complaints against 'unknown people' after those who were squatting on railway tracks all these days chose to leave. There is every indication that the police will again turn a blind eye if the group decides to take the law into their hands yet again.


The protesters were demanding a fresh probe into the Mirchpur incident, in which a Dalit and his teenaged daughter were burnt alive in April last year; and the Chief Minister would have us believe that the agitation was called off following his appeal to maintain communal harmony. While the Chief Minister needs to be complimented for taking the initiative, it is not at all clear why he had to wait for 11 days to make that appeal.


Fortunately, the squatters have been more open and served another ultimatum, declaring that the state government has exactly two more months to ensure that most of the accused are set free. They also claim to have received an assurance from the Chief Minister that the Dalits would be 'persuaded' to withdraw their complaint. The assurance, if true, would amount to interference in the administration of justice. But the Chief Minister is himself a trained lawyer and would be aware of the limitations of his powers. The executive has no business to interfere in an on-going trial, specially after its own police investigated the case and filed the charge sheet against the accused. It can, however, delay or derail the prosecution and ensure that culprits get away for lack of evidence.


The state government and the police have a duty to ensure that justice is delivered. But judging by their reluctance to take action against lawless protesters and the manner in which they have soft-pedaled the mob violence at Mirchpur, it would appear to be wishful thinking.

















The first decade of the millennium has faded into eternity with the world witnessing unprecedented violence attributable to the expanding footprint globally of jehadi terrorism, economic upheavals caused by a severe recession and deepening chasms in the world community to manage the world's environment and climate. Through all this turmoil, the UN stood a mute spectator to the unwarranted nuclear ambitions of some nations like North Korea, Iran and Mynamar, besides not being able to thwart the irresponsible assertiveness of the emerging superpower China.


Nearer home, the Af-Pak region has continued in its downward spiral of extreme and daily doses of violence with the beleaguered Afghan President Hamid Karzai being forced to reintegrate some among his deadly enemies from the Taliban to broker an uneasy peace for the survival of the Kabul government. India's terror-exporting neighbour, Pakistan, continued with its myopic and self-destructive anti-India stance while dangerously sliding into fundamentalism. The assassin of the liberal Pakistan Governor Salman Taseer being hailed as a Ghazi (religious warrior) and showered with rose petals a couple of days ago even by lawyers in Lahore symbolises the Pakistan of today struggling for a moderate Islamic identity.


Nevertheless, the last decade was one of promise for 'India Unbound' to realise its vast potential in the coming years. Even though facing varied challenges, India unmistakably stands at the threshold of its long-awaited destiny, notwithstanding the deplorable efforts of some political parties in India to shake the very foundations of certain institutions for which India is respected the world over.


However, not much can be ever achieved in these highly violent times if India does not accord adequate attention to security matters to ensure a secure and safe environment within and around us. This aspect, for the past many years, has not been given the importance it deserves and the minimum acceptable combat capabilities of our armed forces have been slipping to alarmingly low levels vis-a-vis our potential adversaries. This aspect has to be addressed by the government with the urgency it deserves for capital acquisitions and military capabilities take a very long time to develop.


It is a basic security imperative for the Indian armed forces to maintain a reasonable and deterrent capability to cater to a two-front threat in a nuclear overhang in the worst-case scenario. The massive infrastructural development in Tibet, increasing Chinese presence in Khyber-Pakhtunwa, parts of occupied Kashmir and in the restive Baluchistan underscore a growing Pak-China military axis directed against India and should be a cause of much security concern to us.


In the last one year and a half or so, fortunately, in the areas of internal security and intelligence, under a determined Home Minister, some overdue steps have been initiated which need to be followed up with vigour to combat not only the formidable terror threats from outside our borders but also the alarming Maoist/Naxal threats from within the Indian heartland where out of 619 districts, nearly 220 have been grossly affected. The growing violence perpetrated on governmental assets and innocent villagers by the Naxals is a grim reminder of serious voids in our internal security preparedness.


The Indian security forces, including the BSF and the CRPF, need to gear up to counter the alarmingly growing internal security threats by motivational leadership, penetrative intelligence at the grassroots level, ensuring adequate prophylactic measures and innovative tactics against these anti-national elements, who also now reportedly have established links with their counterparts from Nepal, the Lankan LTTE and, not surprisingly, with Pakistan's ISI.


The excellent example of the Indian Navy, now overseeing anti-terrorist operations emanating in the maritime dimension, along with the Coast Guard and the new Coastal State Police set-ups could be replicated in the hinterland also by the ground forces. Since 2010 was virtually a terror-free year for India, except Jammu and Kashmir, the notorious ISI with its henchmen of Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen will plan to go into an overdrive all across the country and also try to reignite unrest in the Valley, using innocent youth and children.


Also, in concert with its dormant cells of SIMI in India, it will endeavour to mastermind blasts and violence wherever our security falters. The security of our countless strategic assets, critical infrastructure and institutions has to be fully geared up. Meanwhile, the government must also speedily implement the major recommendations of the various national commissions on police reforms to energise the police and the para-miltary forces.


With ten years having elapsed since the last major security review (post Kargil), the government may wish to carry out an all-encompassing security review to look at all challenges to the country in the coming decade, including the military, internal security, nuclear and space dimensions. Thus, the establishment of a National Security Commission to look into all these critical aspects is recommended.


As we endeavour to strive for a multi-faceted relationship with a now friendly Bangladesh, notwithstanding its old linkages with the Pakistani armed forces and the ISI, India must establish a professional relationship with that country's security organs. Bangladesh's efforts to curb extremist activities and its successful drive against terrorists need to be appreciated not just in South Asia but the world over. India's healing touch is also required in Sri Lanka, Mynamar and, importantly, in Nepal too.


A nuclear-armed Pakistan, despite being in danger of imploding and becoming dysfunctional by the day, refuses to see reason and continues to be the incubator and exporter of terrorism to India, Afghanistan and the world over. Until the ISI and the Pakistan army wash their hands clearly off their erstwhile 'strategic assets', namely the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqanni network, pro-Taliban warlords like Gulbuddin Hekayatmar and its sponsoring of home-grown terrorist organisations like Jaish-e-Mohd, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Sipahe-e-Sanghvi, peace and stability would not return to Pakistan.


India, therefore, has to be vigilant 24/7. The US continues to reward Pakistan with generous financial and military aid despite its continuing delinquent acts in the subcontinent and thus Pakistan remains selective, duplicitous and on a high horse in the war against terror in this region. Meanwhile, India must, politically and economically, venture out to frontiers, as yet significantly untapped, with South American nations, Iran, South Africa, Vietnam, Central Asia and the European Union. The year 2010 witnessed the rare phenomenon of leaders of all the permanent Security Council members visiting India, thereby acknowledging India's emergence on the world stage.


Notwithstanding the siege within and myriad external challenges in its march forward, India stands to play an increasingly significant role globally in the years ahead as long as we can successfully manage the diverse formidable challenges to our security.


The writer was the first Chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency. 








There was a breed of British officers who on completing their service with the Indian Army chose to stay back rather than return to the native land. Colonel Mac was one of the flock. Having spent over half a century in the subcontinent, he proudly claimed to be a natural Indian and settled down in a wayside town in the North-East.


A diehard professional, known to be stickler for traditions, he had extended an open invitation for anyone in olive green to call on him. Coincidentally, I happened to be transiting through the remote town to take up my maiden assignment in the unit. Enthusiastic to make a sound debut, I thought it opportune to take a few tips from the seasoned soldier.


The Colonel was attired in his Sunday best and was excited to have a keen greenhorn of the same regiment as a visitor. He complimented me profusely for choosing to join Infantry, the "Queen of Battle". Over meticulously laid out tea, he shared the salient traits of my regiment. "Our men are tough as rock, easy with trust but never accept betrayal," summed up the Colonel. As war clouds were building up, the veteran's recipe to "live to fight another day" was: " Personal weapon is the most valuable limb of the body; hence handle it with extreme care. The closer you remain to Mother Earth, the safer you are. And treat the buddy like a Siamese Twin." After a pause he went on to add: "An officer leads by example and his location is always at the head of the pack".


While taking a walk through his bungalow, Mac stopped by the shoe rack and pointed to the neatly laid out footwear. With a mischievous smile, he let out the secret of his charismatic personality, attributing it to strict pecking order. "The seniormost is a pair of fleets with which I start the day and last one in the lineup, the dancing shoes, are to wind up the evening". While showing me one of the family photographs, he expressed regrets about his son not joining the Army. "He is a bloody poopy civilian! Even had a heart attack recently," lamented the old man.


As I prepared to take leave, he narrated an anecdote while escorting me out to the gate. Recalling his days as a young Lieutenant, he said the first prized acquisition then, was a bicycle. He reminisced that the owner of the bicycle store in a particular military station was a retired Sergeant. As part of freebies by way of accessories, the Sergeant gave a choice of either a "stand" or a "carrier'. The metaphoric justification was that as an officer one had the option to either pursue a "career" and go up the ladder, or take a "stand' to abide by one's conviction.


Elaborating further he continued: "In case you keep taking a 'stand' all through your service, then be prepared to end up as a Major. On the other hand, as a 'career' seeking individual, there is a good chance to rise to be a General". "What sir, if one wants to pursue both," I asked.


Mac took a deep breath, and patting my shoulder softly, whispered: "You mean burning candle at both ends? Perhaps a hybrid product, a Major-General". Firmly pumping my hand, the veteran wished me God's speed and happy hunting with the parting words: "Life offers choices! For a soldier the only choice is 'Service before Self', a price one ought to be proud to pay, for the faith reposed by fellow countrymen".










The intense competition brought about by economic reforms has left one definite advantage for the Indian consumer, and that is, a quick delivery system in the private sector. Pizzas are delivered at your home in half an hour, internet connections are installed within 24 hours and a car loan is sanctioned within 48 hours.


However, the movement of files in government offices still remains sluggish. War widows have to wait for months to get pension. Scheduled Castes students have to pass through a rigorous exercise to get a caste certificate issued. Compensation to the 'refugees of their own land' is delivered after years of the acquisition of land. An ambulance rarely reaches the patient in time. Trains and public transport buses usually run behind schedule, sometimes 12 to 24 hours late.


India is known to have the best of laws and regulations in the world, yet they help little to deliver services to people in time. For this reason a World Bank survey in 2007 ranked India at 134 out of a total of 175 countries. The rank rose to 120 in the 2008 survey.


The report states that it takes 35 days in India to start a business compared with an average of 17 days in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries and two days in Australia. The official cost to start a business is high at 74 per cent of per capita income compared to 9 per cent in China, 43 per cent on average in East Asia and 47 per cent on average in South Asia.


It notes that rigidity in labour laws imposes significant costs. As a result, India has failed to create almost three million formal manufacturing jobs due to certain provisions in the Industrial Disputes Act. In the case of registering property, India ranks 110th, taking six procedures and 62 days, compared to one day in Norway, 32 days in China and 47 days in Brazil. The costs of registration are high at 8 per cent of property value compared with 3 per cent in China and 5 per cent on an average in South Asia.


There is a widespread perception that governments are not delivering what is expected from them. In a country like India, where the socially and economically weaker sections of society have fewer alternatives to public services, there is a growing demand to improve the delivery system in the public sector. Governments are not only required to do the right things but are also expected to do them right, more efficiently and effectively. Enhanced government effectiveness not only improves the welfare of the citizens in the short-term but also in the long run. Conversely, the failure to deliver welfare and social security services, especially to the disadvantaged, adversely affects the health and productivity of people and also brings down the country's competitive advantages in a globalised world.


Traditionally, governance structures in India have been characterised by rule- based approaches. There are a plethora of rules and regulations in the governance business, rules for budget estimates, accounting procedures, for conducting enquiries, awarding punishments and observing protocols in the services, but there are no rules for making a civil servant responsible for the delivery of services.


In fact, there are many outmoded rules and procedures that restrict the civil servants from performing effectively. The civil servants spend a lot of time in maintaining and clarifying their jurisdictional rights and boundaries, clearing their decisions through increasingly complex internal processes and coordinating their activities through a number of agencies wasting energy and resources.


With the focus on processes, systems in the government are oriented towards input usage, about deployment of resources, staff and facilities in a programme or project, and not towards completing the job efficiently and effectively. With top-down approaches, thinkers and doers are usually separate emphasising more on control and less on performance. The success of schemes, programmes and projects is generally evaluated in terms of money spent and compliance of rules. This has led to a situation in which civil servants are rarely held accountable for the outcomes.


The biggest challenge, therefore, confronting the government is how to deliver the services to the people in a time-bound and effective manner. The recent Vidhan Sabha elections in Bihar have reiterated that it is the development plank that is going to win future elections. In the democratically elected governments promises made to the people through the electionmanifestos have to be translated into government programmes to address the woes of the people.


The Preamble of the Constitution promises to secure justice, "social, economic and political" for the citizens of India. However, despite a number of ambitious Five Year Plans, one-third of our citizens live in poverty, 28 per cent are illiterate and 58 per cent are deprived of basic amenities of sanitation.


There has been no dearth of programmes and schemes. For example, the government has launched several programmes intended to help the poor such as the public distribution system, Antodaya, school assistance, mid-day meals programme, Integrated Child Development Services, Food for Work Programme and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, but they are not delivering benefits to the masses as desired.


Bihar has shown that given the opportunity and resources, people can bring up productivity and the Gross Domestic Product. The Bihar Chief Minister's novel idea to move the Right to Service Bill to ensure smooth functioning of the delivery system of public utility services is a step forward in the direction of bringing justice to the people. Surely, such legal framework is required to be emulated in all states to end the sufferings of the countless poor people at the hands of powerful babus.


In Punjab, though the Governance Reforms Commission has suggested a number of reforms, how many of these are implemented remains to be seen. It is high time that the government brought up the Right to Service Bill to ensure the delivery of services within the prescribed time limit on the lines of Bihar Rajya Sewa Dene Ki Guarantee Vidhayak Bill.


The proposed Bill envisages to provide 46 most common identified services to the citizens within the stipulated time limit (see box). The Act is also to notify designated officers responsible for the delivery of these services, making a further provision for the quick disposal of appeals and fixing responsibility for those causing unnecessary delay and deficiency in service. The officials at fault may have to pay Rs.500 to Rs.5,000 as penalty after the deadline is over. The government may also award compensation to the aggrieved citizen out of the penalty imposed on the civil servants, besides taking disciplinary action.


Only a law of this kind can provide relief to the people who have to wait inordinately and make multiple trips to government offices to seek public utility services. The Act is likely to tackle red tape in offices, bring transparency and weed out corruption to a large extent. The Right to Service Bill will also make the RTI Act more meaningful and useful as information alone is not enough. The information will have to be supplemented by giving people the right to demand service. The Act can, therefore, go a long way in the implementation of decisions.


Besides, there is a strong need for reinventing governance in India. While the freedom to compete is the driving force that keeps the markets vigorous and dynamic, the absence of competition among government organisations is mainly responsible for the inefficiency or low productivity in government systems. Countries across the globe are reforming their economies and undertaking privatisation and deregulation. In the US alone, since 1905, there have been ten commissions aimed at trying to make the federal government more efficient and effective.


The urgency for reinventing governance is dictated as much as by the imperatives of global developments as by the forces of new technology and communication, bringing out global competition, by shrinking distances and rendering conventional approaches and practices of administration obsolete and dysfunctional. Towards this end, a number of measures have to be taken for the simplification of rules and procedures, delegation of enhanced powers, better enforcement and accountability for speedy delivery of goods and services to the people.


Reinvention is not just about finding faults or monitoring results. It is about replacing large, centralised and top-heavy bureaucracies with decentralised, entrepreneurial organisations that are driven by competition and accountability to people for the services they deliver at the public expense. Voting in favour of governments that work, people have shown that they want better schools, better hospitals, lower crime rates, better public transports, and if governments want to deliver, they have to govern differently, in a business-like manner.


Leading business houses are getting rid of layers of middle management for years. Now the governments should also do so. Creating regional offices and promoting officers and transferring them to the head offices is more than harming the delivery mechanism. In fact, once a ministry, department or a division is created, it is difficult to abolish it even if its functions become redundant.


Reinventing governance is a challenging task which cannot be accomplished without an intense political will. The public servants are to be reoriented to their jobs through continual learning, shifting paradigms, setting standards and applying innovative methods. They should be clear about the differences between outputs and outcomes.








It is indeed good news, coming amidst hopelessness. Rare consensus between bitter political rivals, National Conference (along with its Congress ally) and the Peoples Democratic Party, has yielded positive result that augurs well for them both, as much as for the state and its future. Unanimity over the selection of GR Sofi as the state's first Chief Information Commissioner has implications that go far beyond its immediate direct result. It has taken two long years for Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and leader of opposition Mehbooba Mufti to sit across the table to perform their constitutionally ordained duty of filling up a key institutional position. Interests of the state and its people have suffered immensely between 2009 and 2011just because the two of them had allowed their petty personal differences prevail over their greater responsibility bestowed upon them by their respective high positions. Who, between them, is more responsible is really not as important in retrospect as it is to acknowledge the significance of what they were able to together achieve on Thursday in their very first purposeful get-together. That they can do it (with or without prodding by others) is no mean achievement considering how key decisions have been languishing for want of a similar interaction. A case in the point is the long pending composition of the supposedly all-important State Accountability Commission. The ruling coalition's clumsy bid to by-pass the constitutional procedure and go through the motion of selection procedure in the absence of the leader of opposition was rightly shot down by Governor NN Vohra who is a reputed administrator of considerable experience. The pettiness behind this sordid action embittered an already strained relationship between Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.

PDP's boycott of the last session of the state legislature held in Srinagar preceded by its boycott of the all-party meeting convened by the chief minister to discuss turmoil in last summer indicated total breakdown of even minimum level of contact between the government and the opposition. To nobody's surprise, they were both overtaken by fast moving developments on the ground and squeezed out of political space that they enjoyed since the 2008 assembly elections. Whether it is retrospective wisdom or some backstage prompting from New Delhi, the ruling side seems to have displayed considerably different mindset in the matter of selecting the state's first CIC. Perhaps because of their relatively younger age group and not so long experience in the field, Omar and Mehbooba appeared to be disinterested in learning their respective parts of the lesson from the past history. In particular Omar failed to demonstrate the level of tolerance and accommodation required of the stature associated with the high position held by him. His reluctance to formally recognise Mehbooba as the leader of opposition in the state assembly said it loud and clear. Procedural impediments could have been sorted out if only there was genuine will to do it. There are numerous precedents across the country where this has happened. The chief minister appeared to be more happy with carrying his dynastic baggage (of intolerance) than shedding the burden to enable himself cut a refreshingly different profile befitting his time and his generation. Although Mehbooba could as well be faulted on this score but Omar's position placed greater responsibility on his shoulders. It was for him to take the first step. However, if how their first real interaction on Thursday is any indication to go by, things might change for the better of everyone.

Assembly elections in 2002 and 2008 had thrown up a great opportunity to rid this state of its baneful tradition of political intolerance. Emergence of a substantive, solid block of democratic opposition (though restricted to mainstream sphere) offered promising prospects. It offered a gray area in the arena where it has always been only black and white, with the ruling class claiming monopoly over the so-called 'national interest' and the opposition being dubbed as 'anti-national' and suppressed with (and for) the 'pleasure' of the masters in New Delhi. Genuine dissent and discontent flowed through other channels. Neither the NC nor the PDP are viable to make do on their own. They need each other to serve larger interests of the people they claim to be representing. The Congress has its own axe to grind which is, probably, a political given. But circumstances seem to have made even the Congress leadership realise the need for changing track in J&K. Deputy chief minister Tara Chand's consent to selection of GR Sofi, mooted by Mehbooba and endorsed by Omar, indicated that much. It now depends on all the three major players to maintain this fragile rare harmony even while pursuing their legitimate partisan interests.  






The manner in which undeclared restrictions have been imposed and movement of common masses restricted particularly those of the ailing people and their attendants is highly deplorable and the onus of providing facilities to the people lies on the Jammu and Kashmir government. This has become a sort of routine affair in most parts of Kashmir valley and some parts of Jammu region that people are forced to stay indoors and not allowed to take their ailing family members and relatives to the hospitals and health centres in their areas. The situation on this front is worse in Srinagar city particularly when there are apprehensions of some trouble or there is a call for strike or protests from any of the political parties or the separatist groups. Whole of Kashmir valley is put under undeclared curfew restrictions and not even a single soul is allowed to venture out of the house. During the past few years when unrest has continued for months together the patients were stranded in the hospitals or their houses as nobody was allowed to move to and fro for reaching their destinations. That is the main reason why most of the patients stayed put in the hospitals and their houses. The attendants and patients faced the problems of provisions and it was the local population which came to their rescue and provided them with food and other essential items for their survival. Many of them may have breathed their last in the process in the absence of proper and timely medical help. The government and its agencies have not bothered to find out whether the patients required immediate medical attention or not and curbs on restrictions were enforced without taking into consideration the elements humane approach to the entire problem. This was also happening at a time when hospitals were thronged by a large influx of people who were injured in the clashes, violent protests and firing incidents by forces. It is unfortunate that at this juncture some of the injured were discriminated against and were not allowed to be shifted to the medical centres when they required urgent medical attention. Under the given circumstances when the situation is restive, the government has to show its human face also and provide medical attention to all those in need of it and allow free movement of at least its ambulances and other vehicles carrying ailing people to the hospitals. The apathetic attitude of the authorities has also attracted attention of the government and they have been forced to take to streets and lodge their protest against the government's failure in coming to the help of ailing masses or failure to save a precious human life. Under these circumstances, the government and its agencies have to lend a helping hand and not to shy away from its responsibility. An attempt to ignore the precious lives of its own citizens, the government is going to earn the ire of the people on daily basis.






THE Aligarh Muslim University vice-chancellor has written to the government to provide protection for his institution. He was reacting to the emergence of a group of Hindu terrorists who have reportedly made the university one of their targets.

Not long ago, Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted that 'saffron terrorism' was a fact in India and that it should be faced squarely. Initial reaction to Hindu terrorism in the country was that of disbelief. The BJP alleged that the talk of Hindu terrorism was meant to deflect focus from allegations of corruption the Congress was facing. The RSS even went to the extent of saying that "a Hindu cannot be a terrorist".
Yet the confession by Swami Aseemanand before a magistrate has changed the tone of even the RSS which says that "radicals must quit RSS", an admission of the presence of extremists in their midst.
The BJP condemns selective leaks by the Central Bureau of Investigation on bomb blasts allegedly committed by 'Hindu terrorists'. But the confession of the Swami leaves no room for any doubt or denial of terrorism — a stand which Pakistan took for years before the Frankenstein of terrorism stalked the land.
The Swami, who first alleged that he was being framed in a government conspiracy, has now spilled the beans. He confessed his involvement in court under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code to make the evidence legally binding. No amount of pressure has worked on him to withdraw his statement. The Swami named Indresh, an RSS leader, as the brain behind the Hindu terror module that executed terrorist blasts in Ajmer, Hyderabad, the Samjhauta Express and twice in Malegaon.

Funds were provided by Joshi, another RSS activist. Two other RSS hands, Sandeep Danga and Ramji Kalsangree, joined them to avenge the 'bomb attacks on Hindu temples'.

After several meetings the group of extremists prepared the roadmap for the terrorist attack on Hyderabad, Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif and Aligarh University.

The Swami has said in a 26-page confessional statement: "I suggested that the first bomb should be placed at Malegaon as it is closer to our location and also has 80 per cent Muslim population. I also said that since at the time of independence the Nizam of Hyderabad wanted to go with Pakistan, Hyderabad should be taught a lesson and hence a bomb should be placed there."

After the 2006 Malegaon blast the Swami has said that Joshi told him that "his men have executed the plot". The Swami has admitted that he chose Ajmer Sharif "where Hindus go in big numbers so that Hindus are scared of going there". He has also said that a bomb should be placed in AMU because many Muslim youths study there. "My suggestions were accepted by everyone," said the Swami.

The cloak-and-dagger story in which even a former intelligence officer was involved is not about a few persons from the RSS. The plot goes deeper. That the CBI is trying to unravel it is not adequate. The government has to devise means to fight against the Hindutva philosophy of the RSS. For a secular country, any fundamentalist thought is an attack at its very roots.

Fundamentalism spread in Pakistan — and it is spreading in Bangladesh — because neither the government nor the liberal elements thought much of it in the beginning. Only when the violence and killings mounted did Pakistan wake up. India has to take the menace seriously. The reopening of the Malegaon blasts case is a step in the right direction.

On Dec 22, 2006 Maharashtra had filed a 2,200-page charge sheet against 13 men in a special court. However, following pressure from political parties then Maharashtra deputy chief minister R.R. Patil announced the transfer of the case to the CBI for a fresh probe. The CBI said that it had no fresh evidence in the case. The new material should give the agency a chance to pursue the case vigorously.

It must be an act of providence how the Swami's conscience was pricked. He was detained at jail in Chandigarh where a Muslim was serving a sentence for the Malegaon blasts. The Swami was touched by the care the Muslim prisoner gave him during his illness. The prisoner bore no rancour.

"The Muslim boy, Kaleem, pierced my conscience. I understood that love between two human beings is more powerful than the hatred between two communities," said the Swami. He has reportedly written to the President of India and the President of Pakistan, admitting his crimes and seeking penance.

It is a shame that the 13 Muslims imprisoned on the allegation that they were responsible for the Malegaon blasts have not yet been released. Only Kaleem has been. The Maharashtra police are embarrassed. Their explanation is that they were 'wrong'. Those who prosecuted them and even produced the 'accomplice', who became a government witness, should be punished. But it is a futile demand because I have not seen anyone from the police ever being punished for fabricating a case or prosecuting the innocent.
Is it not time when both countries joined hands to eliminate terrorism from the region? The argument by one country that it does not face such a terrible situation as the other does is futile. True, there is a difference, but only a shade. Maybe India has not yet been a victim of open terrorism as Pakistan has from the jihadis within and without. But India now has Hindu terrorists and Muslim terrorists apart from the Maoists. This situation has the potential for the spread of large-scale terrorism.







Today, on Republic Day, I watched a blind man saluting the Indian flag. He was the chief guest for the flag hoisting, and as I saw him standing there, I knew how hard he'd worked to come to where he had reached. He had worked night and day to better himself, not to cry out with self pity when his wife had left him standing on his mother's doorstep in Bombay and rushed back to Kuwait, and now Alwyn D'Souza, the man who was visually impaired stood tall.

Hard works pays and I would like to devote this column to others who over the ages have expressed their thoughts on the same subject:

William Feather, publisher and author, said: "The prizes go to those who meet emergencies successfully. And the way to meet emergencies is to do each daily task the best we can; to act as though the eye of opportunity were always upon us. In the hundred-yard race the winner doesn't cross the tape line a dozen strides ahead of the field. He wins by inches. So we find it in ordinary business life. The big things that come our way are seldom the result of long thought or careful planning, but rather they are the fruit of seed planted in the daily routine of our work."

For Sir Theodore Martin, the nineteenth-century Scottish biographer: "Work is the true elixir of life. The busiest man is the happiest man. Excellence in any art or profession is attained only by hard and persistent work. Never believe that you are perfect. When a man imagines, even after years of striving, that he has attained perfection his decline begins."

In the opinion of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist and historian: "The glory of a work-man, still more of a master workman, that he does his work well, ought to be his most precious possession; like the honour of a soldier, dearer to him than life."

Henry Ford, the automotive great, believed that "nobody can think straight who does not work. Idleness warps the mind. Thinking without constructive action becomes a disease."

Author Jacob Korsaren gave this advice: "If you are poor, work. If you are burdened with seemingly unfair responsibilities, work. If you are happy, work. Idleness gives room for doubts and fear. If disappointments come, keep right on working. If sorrow overwhelms you and loved ones seem not true, work. If health is threatened, work. When faith falters and reason fails, just work. When dreams are shattered and hope seems dead, work. Work as if your life were in peril. It really is. No matter what ails you, work. Work faithfully – work with faith. Work is the greatest remedy available for both mental and physical afflictions."
Psychiatrist W. Beran Wolfe put it this way: "If you observe a really happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching  for happiness as if it were a collar button that had rolled under the radiator, striving for it as the goal itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours of each day."

Former President Calvin Coolidge was certain that "all growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work. Work is not a curse; it is the prerogative of intelligence, the only means to manhood, and the measure of civilization."

And perhaps the Greek playwright Antiphanes summed it all up when he said: "Everything yields to diligence..!"



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After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Think now

History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors

And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,

Guides us by vanities.

T S Eliot: Gerontion


Ian Morris, a polymathic Stanford university professor is a classical archaeologist by training who has written an ambitious book titled "Why the West Rules – For Now: the Patterns of History and What They Reveal About the Future" (Profile Books, £20), which would be as widely read as Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and Francis Fukuyama's The End of History. Geography, he claims, explains the arc of world history, a point he hammered home in a recent article, Latitudes, Not Attitudes. In Why the West Rules, he elaborates his thesis over 700 pages with all the paraphernalia of scholarship of footnotes, diagrams, charts, on how western pre-eminence came about through accidents of geography, technology and social change, and how these factors are universal.


 Morris believes that since time immemorial, some crucial factors – geography, climate, or culture – made the East and the West unalterably different and this determined that the Industrial Revolution would happen in the West and push it further ahead than the East. Morris acknowledges that the East led the West between 500 and 1600 and this development couldn't have been inevitable and western rule was, therefore, an aberration. But Morris reminds his audience that the West led the world for 9,000 of the previous 10,000 years and, therefore, the West's rule couldn't be dismissed as "a mere aberration". To make sense of the past, present and the future it was necessary to have a wider perspective of history, the anthropological-archaeological awareness of the past and a social scientist's methodology of comparative studies, a multidisciplinary approach that hasn't been attempted earlier. This is a huge task and therein lies the flaw.

But begin with the beginning. The East and the West are geopolitical constructs. The West, according to Morris, extended from south-west Asia to the Mediterranean basin, Europe and in the last few centuries to America and Australia.

The primacy of the West is not because of its supposed superior values like "democracy, tolerance and the rule of law" (this came much later) but because of "the domestication of plants and animals began in the western core around 9500BC, some 2,000 years before it did in the East". Settled communities meant that these societies could expend more time and energy to the development of new technologies like new kinds of ships that could cross seas and impassable oceans that would help discover new worlds.

As Morris sees it, "It was not Greek philosophy, Roman law, Judaeo-Christian monotheism or European Enlightenment that enabled West's rise to global power but the brute fact of location, interacting with universal laws of biology and sociology." Morris shows how this interaction played out with the emergence of modern man and the rise of nation states and the Industrial Revolution. This happened alongside the decline of the East that succumbed to superior western powers and influence.

Morris tells us that the development of society is governed by universal laws. But what are these laws? Human beings are constrained by biology and evolutionary psychology could explain some patterns of their behaviour but is there a single sociological law that is truly universal that would explain all aspects of human behaviour? Of all the social sciences, it is economics that comes closest to formulating law-like principles based on reason. But over the past few years, evidence from psychology has persuaded many economists that reason does not always have its way; that it is both emotion and reason that play a role in taking crucial decisions and of the two, it is the "feeling" that tilts the balance.

But forget the past that is relatively easy to reconstruct the way you want it by skipping over inconvenient facts. What of the future which is the main thrust of this massive exercise? Morris produces a graph that shows social development. It suggests the era of western dominance will end not later than 2013, perhaps a little earlier. Driven by India, Brazil and other emerging countries, the global economic shift that is underway will continue even if China falters or collapses. Whatever happens, the US will still be around even if has to borrow heavily to fund a position in the world it can no longer afford. Besides, the US will have its awesome military power to enforce its interests and threaten other countries with tariff and currency wars.

Morris is weakest when it comes to predicting the future, which, he believes, will be shaped by technology that is "expanding at infinite speed." He is convinced that humans are approaching "a massive discontinuity" because of the fusion of humans with computers and robots, or the emergence of silicon-based life forms that will wipe out the old forms, including the distinction between east and west. Technology may take over large areas of life but it will never control the irrational human mind.

At the end, you really don't know what to make of the book: history or meta-history, science or science fiction or simply a well-told yarn? Read it all the same.






Shuttling between Calcutta and Delhi, I have made a discovery. There are airports, aeroplanes and flights galore, but no passengers. Not once have I heard that word cross any lips save those, perhaps, of innocents from the interior who are new to the wonders of air travel. For everyone else, there are only guests.

"Guests for Bhubaneswar!" fluted the red-uniformed young lady as we waited in a long line at Delhi's new but already infamous Terminal 3 to check in. "Guests are reminded that the Varanasi flight has been delayed," a disembodied voice rippled through the gleaming halls. "Only First and Business class guests this way please," said the man in khaki, firmly pushing me away, while I wondered at this gradation of hospitality.


 Inside the aircraft, Vijay Mallya's booming voice added to confusion. He had instructed his staff, he said, to treat us like guests in his own house. Surely he meant "paying guests", that oxymoron that was invented to make genteel English ladies fallen on hard times feel better by hinting that the lodgers they were forced to take in for money could be passed off as guests? In India where gentility and sensitivity are of less concern, boarding houses masquerade as guest houses and lodgers as guests for tax reasons.

Euphemisms speak of insecurity, aspiration and an inability to face facts. Perhaps one of the best-known British examples comes from the Welfare State after the Second World War completed (almost!) the egalitarian process that the First World War had started, and lowly municipal rat-catchers craved a higher status. They were re-designated rodent operatives. By officially abolishing the term "coolie", India's self-important and class-conscious bureaucrats tried to achieve the same effect. But, alas!, it makes no difference to the poor man weighed down with luggage on railway platforms whether he is called coolie or porter providing he gets enough customers and fair payment.

Quentin Crisp, the English writer and raconteur who titled his memoirs, The Naked Civil Servant, called euphemisms "unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne". Thus, when Justin Timberlake tore Janet Jackson's costume during a half-time performance at Super Bowl, he airily dismissed it as "wardrobe malfunction". The late prime minister, Chandra Sekhar, once called a parliamentarian he regarded as redundant as a "Stepney". Some euphemisms can be sophisticated, and I can't decide whether I prefer Churchill's "terminological inexactitude" or Peter Wright's "economical with the truth", since popularised by the nickname, "Tony 'Economical with the Truth' Blair". Both are better than "misspoke" for a lie. Some like "challenged" are kindly meant though not very logical. Some – "wind" or "doing your business" — reflect orthodox distaste for bodily functions. But "naturist" is a nice word for a nudist. Shedding clothes is going back to nature.

The sad part about most euphemisms is that they are seldom inspired by an innocent desire to please. There is usually a commercial calculation. Those who are beguiled by an English garden flat often find themselves in a dark and dank basement. Far from being an inspired artist, the occupant of a studio tends to be an impecunious student in a bed-sitter, which is what a studio was before promotion. Recently, I saw "pre-owned", meaning plain second-hand, cars for sale in Gangtok.

Predictably, the deceitful world of statecraft bristles with the most euphemisms. Ethnic cleansing is the grim reminder of the massacres and population transfers we witnessed in the partition riots. Enhanced interrogation is what they did in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and possibly also do in Guantanamo Bay detainment facility where, too, prisoners of war become unlawful combatants. Even "detainment facility" throws dust – or is meant to – in one's eyes. At a less grim level, industrial action means a strike; working to rule is not working at all; tactical withdrawal stands for retreat; and revenue augmentation for higher taxes.

It's the same with travellers. I have not the least objection to being a passenger, providing announcements are audible, flights are on time and airlines don't charge exorbitant prices for inedible on-board food. I also find it galling when the check-in lady responds to my request for a Row 11 (slightly more leg room) seat with a sweet "Sorry, Sir, other guests have taken them!" Taken all six, I ask. "Yes Sir," she replies, "all six." Then I board the plane and find passengers, sorry, guests, in only three of the six seats. Mercifully, the air hostess doesn't mind when I move into one of the three empty seats. I am a guest after all.  







Go to any social gathering in the Bay Area, California and you're sure to hear the words "start-up," "net worth," and "earn-out," even before you've been handed your first glass of Pinot Noir. It's about as inevitable as going to a farmhouse party in Gurgaon or New Delhi and being asked by a fellow guest you've just met where you live.

Other words you get used to hearing in the Valley, as it is called – even if the social gathering is a child's birthday party – are "ideas," "opportunities," "innovation," "dreams," "leveraging," and that all-exciting one "wealth creation." Oh, and it's the parents' vocabulary I'm talking about here — though I'm sure those young minds growing up hearing that lexicon are equally at ease with it.


 In a more radical entrepreneurial enclave, say, in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Stanford or Cupertino, the heart of the Silicon Valley, you may even begin to hear exotic-sounding words you've probably never had occasion to use before — "boot-strapping," "disruptive change," "terrain traction," "game-changer" "scalability" "agile development" "lean start-ups" and "rapid prototyping".

Meanwhile, the meanings of some words you've known since childhood change completely — clouds aren't just the fluffy things you see up in the sky and an angel no longer has wings.

This is "the Valley", the land of possibilities and start-ups, of Facebook, Google and Apple — and I'm not talking about those that grow on the trees planted equidistantly along the edges of the rambling garden that envelopes Steve Jobs's brick home in old Palo Alto.

Over time, if you've been passing the quirky Facebook offices on your way to buying coffee or groceries, or biked on weekends along the neat boulevards of the Google offices, you truly do begin to understand the meaning of the word "possibilities". Less than 10 years ago, Googleplex didn't exist in its current overwhelming landscape and Facebook wasn't even a baby thought in its creator's head.

But again, it isn't just your vocabulary that changes here, on America's Left coast, with its liberal outlook that welcomes new ideas and creativity and produces exciting technological innovations and game-changing products with an almost alarming regularity. It's your outlook.

So in this part of sunny California, expect practically everyone you meet to either be an entrepreneur (stereotypically in the technology field) or have been one in a past life; and if neither of the above, at least living with the dream of starting up their own venture "next year". The rest – doctors, lawyers, teachers – are ancillary to the start-up dudes.

Perhaps it is the multi-cultural mosaic of nationalities, ethnicities and cultures California attracts that creates the distinctive sub-culture of encouraging entrepreneurship and creativity. Or perhaps it's just viral — risk-taking is in the air you breathe, the water you drink. Seriously. If you recall the state's history, prospecting and risk-taking were an integral part of its psyche during California's gold rush in the 19th century.

Something about all these successful start-ups seems to attract more entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs to the Valley. It is now a symbiotic relationship. These people and the companies they created were incubated in the ecosystem of the Silicon Valley, loosely defined as the mid-Peninsula area between San Francisco and San Jose. And they weren't even the first to make it big. That honour probably goes to David Packard and William Hewlett, back before the Great Depression when they, with their Stanford professor and mentor Frederick Terman, set up from a one-car garage in Palo Alto what is now a $115-billion company.

Just as post-renaissance Paris attracted poets and artists and generated fine literature, art and music, becoming a throbbing artistic hub of sorts, and New Orleans became the basic DNA of the great American jazz tradition, the Bay Area has become the unofficial headquarters of entrepreneurship as we know it, symbolising its success (even though failure is more likely).

What is it that keeps it going? Clearly, an ecosystem extremely conducive to entrepreneurship — made up of a combination of proximity to top academic institutions (which include preppie Stanford and hippie Berkeley), a demographic of intelligent, sharp, mostly-young people with an appetite for serial risk-taking, inspiring role models and accessible mentors — and enough venture capital to go around.

Which results in a buzz you can practically feel in the crisp Californian air. If you have innovative ideas, big dreams and ability and a vague sense of how to access funds, then go ahead and write up your business plan – preferably on the back of a paper napkin while sipping your latte at a local Peets café – and your start-up could be the next Google or Facebook.

What is more amazing is that because in the digital world, borders are permeable, this buzz has infected India, giving its smart, educated youth new role models — tech-savvy and articulate innovators and wealth creators belonging practically to their own generation, as opposed to the stodgy stream of doctors-lawyers-engineers who defined success in their parents' generation. Admittedly, as brilliant in their fields, but not half as "cool".

But it isn't the "cool" factor that makes entrepreneurship acceptable as a profession to parents today. What gives it legitimacy are the success stories right here, in India. It kinda is about the money, honey.

Indians, with their innate entrepreneurial spirit rooted in necessity and scarcity, have spent centuries perfecting their unique, quirky creativity, jugaad, a word that defies definition. Today, with the benefit of international exposure, sophisticated technology, maturity and polish, the canny entrepreneurial spirit and persistence behind that jugaad are mutating it into something more professional.

When I relocated to New Delhi last year I was struck by how many entrepreneurs I was beginning to meet right here, in India, the land of family businesses, large industrial houses and what we used to call Lala companies. These new-generation entrepreneurs were not just in software and hardware and computers and the internet. Their start-ups ranged from solar energy and green ventures to e-education, hospitality, e-travel, organic food, health and fitness to ... stand-up comedy.

So what is it that has changed in India that is generating more of the new-G entrepreneurship?

Starting today, on the last Saturday every month, this column aims to offer readers a 360-degree view of entrepreneurship. It will be as much about those electrifying partnerships when brilliant people work together and bring out the best in each other as about garage gambles that take off — or don't. It will explore and analyse the entrepreneurial spirit that chases that big pie in the sky – and occasionally gets it – when that combination of ability, persistence, luck (and that hint of madness that successful founders insist plays a catalytic role) come together.

Over the series, the column will paint and detail the entrepreneurial landscape — and analyse it. It will also attempt to understand what it takes to build the ecosystem and what is missing, track current trends and challenges entrepreneurs face in different geographies and cultures. If you believe start-ups will be the game-changers of the future, make sure you keep reading.







The harassment of women on the street is ubiquitous in our lives today. So ubiquitous, in fact, that most women tend to gloss over it or forget about it as soon as it happens. But will silence force the next uncle ji on the street to stop talking only to your chest instead of to you? Will silence stop that young punk from making lewd remarks when you pass? And most important, will silence stop you from wondering if your clothes were a tad too tight, or that maybe you were out on the street too late at night … whether it was somehow your fault?

Clearly, silence isn't the best way to deal with street sexual harassment. That's why I was happy to hear about Blank Noise — a volunteer-led collective that triggers public dialogue on the issue of street sexual harassment. "Blank Noise is built on people's lived experiences and contains multitudes of conversations, opinions, testimonials and arguments," said Jasmeen Pathija, the young founder of this unique public art project.


 Blank Noise began as a student project in 2003 at Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bangalore, where Pathija studied. "We conducted a four-month workshop with women from different walks of life, in which they just spoke about growing up, how they and the people around them reacted to their changing bodies and so on. This culminated in an audio installation, but I realised that women had few spaces where they could share life experiences," she said. Two years later, Pathija started blogging, and once when she was harassed, she took a photograph of the man who'd teased her, and uploaded it onto her blog.

"I felt a growing confidence in the simple act of lifting my camera to a face I feared," said she, "but this sparked a vociferous online debate. What constituted street harassment? How was it different from flirting, or genuine appreciation?" The debate caused a rebirth of Blank Noise, a project that sought to address street sexual violence through sustained public interventions.

Today, this five-city, 100-plus volunteer project has four blogs, two Facebook groups, a YouTube channel and a Twitter account. Its aim is not vigilantism: "It's about changing the attitudes of our society towards street sexual harassment. It's about getting our society to take collective responsibility of this issue. And it's about reducing the sense of shame and guilt that many victimised women feel," Pathija said. Blank Noise has initiated a lot of interesting public campaigns to this end: "I Never Asked For It" is a drive for collection of the clothes that different women were wearing when they were harassed. "Y R U Looking At Me?" was a street project across cities, in which women stood at busy intersections wearing placards and tackled ogling head on. "Action Heroes" celebrates the stories of women who fought back the perverts who tried to tease them on the streets. "Often when girls who've been traumatised by street harassment call us, we direct them to our Action Heroes blog. Reading about the women who fought back helps them to feel that they too can do it!" Pathija said. And then there's "Are You a BN Guy?" — a campaign to gather the support of men who are sensitive to the problems that women face every day on the street.

As I browsed through the countless experiences that women had had on the streets of some of our biggest metros and the scores of comments that each story generated, I had a sense of a dam bursting. By providing a forum where people all over the country could discuss street harassment, Blank Noise had certainly removed some of the deafening silence that usually surrounds the issue.






The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor says he is maintaining "an anti-inflation stance". That is understandable. But he also says other things: the current account deficit is unsustainable, the fiscal deficit too high, the overseas debt too large, and credit growth too rapid. Put it all together and the message can only be that the economy has to slow down.

The usual way in which a large gap between imports and exports is bridged is by slowing demand, for both domestic and imported products, by raising the cost of money. Similarly, there is only one way to slow down credit growth from the 24 per cent so far this year, to the RBI's desired level of 20 per cent: raise interest rates. That will dampen demand for everything from housing and cars to fresh capital equipment.


 Companies that can't borrow domestically, in the quantity and at the price they want, look to borrow overseas. But if the external debt is too large (and India's ratio of external debt to GDP is more than twice or thrice the level of most other developing economies), fresh overseas borrowing too will have to be squeezed.

Finally, there is the fiscal deficit, which is scheduled to drop from 5.5 per cent of GDP this year to 4.8 per cent next year — without the cushion of this year's bonanza from the spectrum auction (which fetched 1.5 per cent of GDP). Add the burden of 30 per cent higher daily wage payments under the rural jobs guarantee scheme, a higher subsidy on oil and fertiliser because of rising world oil prices, and the cost of new entitlements like the right to food. Given these demands on the fisc, the deficit contraction due next year will be a stretch. It could be done if petroleum product prices are raised, but that seems unlikely with Jaipal Reddy as petroleum minister. In any case, higher fuel prices will also fuel inflation, and spur further monetary action by the RBI (which most analysts already expect in March and beyond).

In short, if this year's GDP growth ends up at 8.5 per cent, it would be unrealistic to expect more than 8 per cent next year — especially since there will be no agricultural kicker, and no advantage of a set of low base-year figures. Even 8 per cent may be achievable only with a normal monsoon and other favourable factors. That wouldn't be bad going, but it is not the 9-10 per cent growth for 2011-12 that the prime minister forecast earlier this month (at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas).

Bear in mind that industrial growth in the latest four months for which data are available (August-November) was no more than 6.5 per cent. The government's chief economic adviser has already said that the months from December will see even worse growth numbers for industry. Although the RBI in its assessment has pointed to other data (strong credit growth, good indirect tax collections and so on) to assert that "the risk to growth is on the upside", the over-all scenario suggests the opposite; what we may be staring at is a slowdown.

For the last few years, the assumption in much of the economic discourse has been that India is on an assured path of rapid growth. That does seem true, but the future may see nothing better than the average growth of the last eight years (8.4 per cent); possibly less. For 9-10 per cent growth, the system needs what the government has been fighting shy of: further reform measures to free up markets, vastly improved delivery of services by the government (like public health), proper physical infrastructure, and much less corruption.







Today, Pakistan is South Asia's sick man. This year – the financial year ending on June 30 – if the Pakistani economy grows at all, the rate of increase will be no more than the rate of growth in population. This means that there will be no increase in average income and, for most of the population, income per head will decline. This will add another 10 million to the pool of poverty, bringing the total to over 70 million. In the immediate future, the national output is likely to increase at a rate less than one-half of that expected for Bangladesh and one-third of that projected for India.

I pointed this out to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari in a recent meeting. He responded by saying that by comparing the performances of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan I was comparing apples and oranges. India had had a democratic system of government for more than 60 years and Bangladesh had been under democratic rule for a longer period than Pakistan. He said he had inherited a damaged economy and a dysfunctional political system from a military dictator. His government's first priority was to provide the country with a political system that was fully representative of the wishes of the citizenry.


 My purpose for bringing to the attention of the Pakistani president the divergent tracks being followed by the major economies of mainland South Asia was to suggest that there were public policy lessons to be learnt from the development experiences of India and Bangladesh. However, upon reflection I thought that the president was raising a valid point: the importance of a democratic system for sustained economic development. One thing that stood out in India's case – and to some extent also in the case of Bangladesh – was the continuity in the making of economic policy. In a democratic system policy makers would not be allowed to make sudden changes in the direction of policy unless it was warranted. The Indian electorate punished Indira Gandhi when she put the country under an emergency. It rewarded the Congress party when it gave up, during a period of deep financial crisis, the discredited "license raj" in favour of a more open economy. In Pakistan, however, the roller coaster political ride – alternating between civilian and military rules – had also resulted in wide swings in the economic priorities pursued by those in power.

Other than this explanation based on the impact of development in politics on economic performance, are there other reasons why Pakistan is lagging so far behind Bangladesh and India? What has the country not done that its neighbours have to better the lives of their citizens? There are three telling differences between the direction of economic policy taken by India and Pakistan and two when we compare Bangladesh and Pakistan. Taken together, these five provide some ideas to the policy makers in Islamabad as they struggle to pull the economy from the edge of a precipice. Let me start with the three things Indians have done differently compared to Pakistan.

It was perhaps a combination of Mahtama Gandhi's emphasis on self-reliance and Jawaharlal Nehru's attraction to socialism in the style of the Soviet Union that kept India from becoming dependent on external flows for financing development. Today, more than six decades after the two countries achieved Independence, the Indian rate of domestic savings and its tax-to-GDP ratio are more than twice that of Pakistan. Islamabad has had to go repeatedly to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to save itself from bankruptcy. India needed to do that only once in the last quarter century.

New Delhi put a great deal of emphasis on developing public sector institutions of education, training and learning in a number of sectors. The famed institutions of administration and technology have produced skilled people who have led some important parts of the Indian economy. They also constitute the core of the community of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), who are playing an important role in transforming the Indian economy at this time. Pakistan does not have a single such institution in the public sector.

The third important difference is that the Indians have allowed the development of scale in the modern sectors of their economy. Consequently, some of the Indian firms are now of the size and competence to challenge those in the West. The Indian firm has arrived on the international scene. That may have happened in Pakistan's case too but for the nationalisation undertaken by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the early 1970s. He was, in a way, adopting the Indian socialist model of economic management without realising that India built up the state sector through investment, not expropriation of private assets.

The two differences that stand out between Bangladesh and Pakistan are in the areas of industrial policy and the treatment of women in the workforce. Dhaka adopted a model of development that put small enterprises at the centre of the economic stage. Such micro-lenders as the Grameen Bank and BRAC were able to provide small amounts of capital to hundreds of thousands of small entrepreneurs, most of them women. These enterprises contributed to the development of the ready-made garment industry which, in turn, encouraged the participation of women in the workforce. This development model, focused on women, has produced the most rapid demographic change in South Asia. The increase in the median age of the population was more rapid in Bangladesh than any other South Asian country.

There is, in other words, enough experience available in South Asia for policy makers in Pakistan to formulate a development approach to pull their country out of tremendous economic difficulties it faces at this time.

The writer is former finance minister of Pakistan and former vice-president, World Bank







At last count, 11 people had been arrested for cremating Yashwant Sonawane alive in Malegaon. Some years ago, eight people were judged guilty of shooting S Manjunath in Gola Gokarnath. The motive was the same. Sonawane and Manjunath were interfering with the oil adulteration mafia.

These murders were crimes waiting to happen. The ultimate responsibility for those murders lies with the makers of the bizarre subsidy policy that created the underlying motive. The stakes in the oil adulteration business are large — more than enough to ensure people will kill to keep it running.


 The financial logic created by bad subsidy policies is easily explicable. Crude oil consists of various hydrocarbon compounds. It is refined through fractional distillation. By heating to specific temperatures, heavier and lighter compounds can be separated.

Lighter, more volatile compounds such as petrol evaporate out at lower temperatures while heavier compounds like kerosene, diesel, paraffin and lubricants separate out at higher temperatures. The vapour is collected and further cleaned and refined.

Kerosene and diesel are next to each other on the separation scale. Kerosene is a little more volatile and also a dirtier fuel with more impurities. The cost of production is almost the same with kerosene marginally cheaper.

The aviation industry is by far the largest kerosene consumer since kerosene is used as an aviation turbine fuel (ATF). It is also used for cooking stoves, gensets, and lanterns. Diesel has a wider utility range encompassing internal combustion engines, railway engines, industrial boilers, turbines, gensets and so on.

Kerosene and kero-diesel mixes can run diesel engines but only at lower efficiency and at the cost of higher pollution. In free markets, where kerosene and diesel cost much the same, there is little incentive to substitute kerosene for diesel. The marginal cost difference doesn't compensate for lower efficiency and extra wear-and-tear.

India's policy imposes price controls on diesel and kerosene and, thus, introduces many distortions. An artificial distinction is made on the basis of end-user. Kerosene for household purposes is labelled "kerosene" and supposedly marked with a blue dye Household kerosene is retailed at Rs 12-13/litre and distributed via public distribution system (PDS). "ATF" is priced at roughly thrice the cost while being exactly the same substance.

Diesel is sold at roughly the same price as ATF. Since the petrol decontrol, the price differential between petrol and diesel has widened to around 35-40 per cent. In free markets, the petrol-diesel price differential is 5 per cent. In nations with stringent pollution controls, the retail price of diesel is sometimes higher than petrol because it requires extra cleaning. Diesel-petrol mixes can run petrol engines, though efficiency drops and wear and tear increases.

The margin for diverting PDS kerosene to the ATF market, or to adulterating diesel, is about 200 per cent. The margin for adulterating petrol with diesel is around 35 per cent, which is substantial in itself. The market has vast volumes. The standalone diesel adulteration business is supposedly worth Rs 10,000 crore and that may be an under-estimate.

Given such attractive margins and huge volumes, the odd murder should hardly raise eyebrows. The racketeers have the resources required to corrupt as many state functionaries as they deem necessary, and to eliminate those who refuse to take a cut. It appears that only two out of the vast hordes of officials involved in the system were brave enough, honest enough and arguably, stupid enough to require elimination rather than falling prey to intimidation or accepting kickbacks.

The raids and arrests are an eyewash. The big fish will lie low for a bit; some bottom feeders will be punished. Adulteration will thrive. Until and unless the policy changes, no amount of policing will prevent the recurrence of similar crimes.

Change the system. Eliminate the absurd distortions. Or else, live with the occasional murder and the day-to-day stench of corruption.







Baijnath, who used to drive our car, has seen better days. A few years after he came with me to Bangalore from Delhi, his driving licence, which is his lifeline, came up for renewal. He could have got it done by himself but I chose to accompany him to the local Regional Transport Office (RTO). That helped.

I had by then developed the art of dealing with public officials in Karnataka. They were somewhat different from their counterparts in New Delhi or Kolkata. In New Delhi, I could get things done by using my journalistic identity and going straight to the senior official in residence. I could also approach a tout and for a per-determined sum get the job done with speed and predictability. In 15 years, I have done both and marvelled at the smooth way the alternative system operates.


 The Kolkata model is the same but less predictable. And in any case, you can't get anything done in Kolkata in a single visit. The alternative route thrives in Karnataka too but walking up to an official and speaking in good English, while looking respectable, helps you get the job done even without having to introduce yourself as a journalist. To use that channel in Delhi, you have to be a VIP. And a journalist, in Delhi's pecking order, is at least a petty VIP.

So the first time, when Baijnath was staying with me and I took him to RTO, his driving licence got renewed like a dream. I also got mine renewed the other day through the legit route outlined above, without being able to drop the journalistic calling card since I had retired. But my retiring has made a big difference to Baijnath's life. He no longer works with me – I can't afford him – and has moved out to a semi slum.

Getting the driving licence renewed this time was an altogether different experience for him. The big catch was establishing proof of residence. He approached a tout, in a couple of days produced a tenancy agreement on stamped paper with the owner of the semi-jhopri where he lived and eventually got his driving licence in two weeks by being poorer by Rs 1,200! When he told me this the other day, there was visible relief on his face. He said, "What if I had not got the renewed licence before the old one expired?"

If you think establishing proof of residence is a problem only with the illiterate or the semi-literate, then you are mistaken. Our son, who is in Mumbai trying to build a career in film making, lives in a similar no man's land as Baijnath. Several youngsters slum it in an apartment in Andheri, there being a constant turnover. There is an agreement with the landlord but that persona almost invariably changes every 11 months. It takes almost two months to get in hand the tenant's copy of the agreement. So there is really a nine-month window every 11 months during which you have to satisfy officialdom that you don't live on the pavement.

There is also a problem with these agreements. In most cases, the broker – usually you see little of the landlord – gives you a signed photocopy of the stamped agreement. In most cases, officialdom needs an "original" stamped agreement to verify the copy. Even if you were able to produce one, banks sometimes ask for a registered agreement in case you want to open an account. Some are willing to accept a notarised one, some aren't.

All these travails came home to roost for our son and I when recently he had his wallet pickpocketed on a local train. With it went the bank ATM card and, worse, his PAN card. (He was too upset for me to ask him why on earth he was travelling on a local train with his PAN card.) Now he has to carry his passport while travelling by air or rail (a ticket bought on the internet requires proof of identity). A duplicate PAN card will be sent to him only at his Bangalore address, where he lived when he had first applied for it. To receive it, he will have to leave work and be in Bangalore for two weeks or more. Or he will have to apply for a change of residence with proof of residence in Mumbai. There are ways of getting round each or all of these but only with subterfuges. If some mishap causes him to lose his passport, then, in the 61st year of the republic, he will stand in danger of being unpersoned.

A lot of these travails of ordinary and not so ordinary folks will end once that great gift from heaven and Nandan Nilekani, the unique identity (UID), comes into being. Then you could be homeless and still have an identity and armed with it you could do many things, even without a proper proof of residence.

But hold it. Deliverance can still be denied. Officialdom will go by the UID because it will be difficult to forge. It will identify you biometrically, with the help of machines that will read the iris of your eyes and the fingertips of your hands. Now, says a news item, the biometric identification and verification will be difficult if you are old and afflicted with cataract, or if your labourer's hands are so rough that the fine lines on them are in good part gone. Then there will be only one solution: choose not to be born illiterate and homeless in Independent India.








The cellphone is an empowering device. But that empowerment proved to be fatal to Additional Collector of Nasik district, Yashwant Sonawane. On the eve of Republic Day he could have chosen to look away, or pretended to be going off duty. But he saw kerosene being stolen from a tanker, tried to stop it, and then as evidence took a picture on his cellphone. The culprits were caught red handed on camera, and hence they burnt Sonawane alive with that same kerosene.


A conscientious government officer paid with his life, for the simple act of trying to stop oil pilferage. He has joined the several martyrs who dare to expose the truth by either asking a simple question using right to information (RTI), or blowing the whistle on the nexus between contractors and politicians.


More than a dozen people have been killed for using RTI to expose various scams. Several others have been beaten up, and hundreds more threatened with dire consequences.


This gruesome murder of an Additional Collector in broad daylight for just confronting a thief, is pointing to utter lawlessness. The mafia doesn't like interference and certainly no snoopers. If you are an onlooker, you risk your life.


The kerosene adulteration of diesel is a ten thousand crore rupee racket and hence a high stake game. Over the years, various means have been tried to plug loopholes in kerosene distribution.


But the biggest loophope is at the distributor end. Petrol pump distributorship often obtained with political patronage is where the leakage happens. Petrol, diesel, kerosene, jet fuel and LPG are all produced at the refinery at the same cost.


Hence they all should have the same price. But kerosene is sold at one third the price through PDS ration shops. It is meant for poor people, but half of the 4 million tonnes meant for ration shops never makes it. It gets stolen and then mixed with the much higher priced diesel and the sold in the black market.


This is an elaborate black market economy and needs complex coordination. It is true that this huge gap between kerosene and diesel price is the root cause of black markets and oil mafia. But you can't blame the kerosene subsidy for Sonawane's death. It was the oil cartel which killed him. The oil mafia, as also milk and sand mafia is used to doing their own thing with impunity. Maybe in Mumbai or Thane they may seek to use the cover of darkness. But just about hundred kilometres away in Nasik, there is no need to hide, or put on any charade. Unfortunately Sonawane stumbled into their cosy setting and spoilt their party.


Naturally he had to be punished most severely, so that it would be a deterrent not only to other senseless citizens but also government officers.


Forget about kerosene pilferage, under such circumstances, next time you see someone stealing water from a municipal pipe would you bother? It happens all the time in Mumbai. Whether it is the huge water pipeline from Tansa, or taps of municipal gardens. You can see pilferage everywhere. But most citizens just look away.


Why risk your life? Or break a limb? Remember, nobody killed Jessica?


No, that won't do. A true tribute to Sonawane, so that his death may not be in vain, is for us ordinary citizens not to be afraid to poke our noses. It could be traffic offenders, or queue breakers. No more tolerating lawbreakers, big or small. No more looking away. No more letting mafiosi rule.








THIS newspaper had earlier called on Mr Thomas to quit as the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). Not because he is morally tainted but because the leader of the Opposition had not endorsed his choice for the constitutional post. The simple fact is that the Left, which had brought the charge of improper palmolein imports against the late K Karunakaran, into which case Mr Thomas was dragged, never stopped his rise in the ranks of the civil service in Kerala, and even promoted him to the rank of chief secretary. Nor did this case prevent Mr Thomas from being appointed as a secretary to the government of India. He enjoys a clean reputation among his colleagues. So, the government had a legitimate case to recommend his name for the CVC's post. But once the leader of the Opposition, one of the three members of the selection committee — the other two being the Prime Minister and the home minister — objected to his name, it should have been dropped. Having failed to observe this basic requirement, the political leadership, the law ministry and the law officers representing the case in the apex court have all messed up. While what the attorney general (AG) told the court was that the palmolein case was not on the files placed before the selection committee nor in its minutes, it was widely reported in the media as the government claiming ignorance of the palmolein charge. What the AG told the court was technically correct. But it was politically untenable. But there was no one to control the political damage and set the record straight: yes, the leader of the Opposition had raised the palmolein case in the selection committee but the objection was overruled and the committee recorded her dissent without listing its specificity.


 Similarly, it is ridiculous to see the government being defensive on respecting its international treaty obligations to protect the confidentiality of names obtained from foreign countries in relation to black money. Why doesn't it undertake to follow the counsel of the court or of the leader of the Opposition on the subject? Ms Swaraj might be a feisty politician, but she is a responsible part of the system of parliamentary governance.






WITH an estimated 40% of subsidised kerosene being diverted for adulteration of diesel or sale in the black market, and ever reducing use of the fuel for lighting, the economic case for subsidising kerosene is non-existent. But the political case remains unassailable, according to petroleum minister Jaipal Reddy. Then, at least, reform the way in which the subsidy is administered. . 30,000 crore is the cost of the subsidy per year. With this money, the government can create an effective system of transferring cash directly to the intended beneficiaries of subsidy while leaving the pricing of the fuels to the market. Once prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene are stripped of subsidy and differential taxation, their prices would converge, killing both the incentive to adulterate fuels and the criminal empire that has been built on adulteration. And the poor can buy whatever kerosene they need from a competitive market with the subsidy they directly receive from the government as cash. Conditional cash transfers are the emerging global norm for efficient administration of subsidy, whether for food, schooling or fuel. Of course, identifying deserving beneficiaries is a challenge. Thereafter, making sure that they do get the money without the transfer process suffering major leakage is another. In this majorly underbanked country, transferring money to individual bank accounts of the poor is not a viable solution. However, transfer of money to stored value cards that are distributed to beneficiaries is eminently feasible. The government can transfer its subsidy periodically to these stored value cards.

Ideally, it should be possible for the beneficiaries to use their cards to make payments directly through card swipe machines. For that, these devices would have to be ubiquitously available in rural areas. That calls for connectivity and power. The money that is being wasted — . 12,000 crore, 40% of the kerosene subsidy — on diverted kerosene is enough to build the requisite rural connectivity. All that is required is the political will to dismantle the patronage network built on the current system of differential pricing and physical distribution.







CAN a person be defined by footwear? Are those who wear flip-flops invariably fickle, or are those who prefer brogues always unintelligible? Plenty of fantasies have been built around the messages supposedly tiptapped by shiny stilettoes and flirty kitten heels, but a wider correlation between less exciting footwear and their owners is yet to be established. Divining the inner soles of those who sport jackboots or sneakers, pumps or waders, therefore, generally becomes quite a difficult feat. The ongoing conclave of the world's political and business leaders in snow-clad Davos, however, may provide a few clues. Winterwear's homogeneity — cashmere overcoats and scarves, leather gloves and woolly or furry headgear — has enveloped East and West, corporates and officialdom, in a warm mantle of sameness there. Not so, footwear. Notwithstanding conventional outerwear and the uniformly conservative business suits, with snow on the ground at the Swiss retreat, that is the level at which the cowboys are being distinguished from the mules, the loafers from the runners, the trainers from the waders. Denied the podiatric camouflage of monks and oxfords thanks to the weather, if the risk-averse can be identified by their discreet rubber soles and the adventurous by their flexible runners; naturally, the social climbers would be equally apparent from their flashy high-tops and the outand-out footpads by their silent sneakers. This is clearly a valuable new avenue of investigation.


In most of India, snow cannot be used as the great revealer unfortunately, but there is always the ubiquitous rainy season. A close perusal of conventional footwear during a wet spell would easily set the perennial flip-floppers apart from the indeterminate floaters and the cautious gumshoes from the plain slippery customers. That could save managers a lot of sole-searching when certain parties vote with their feet during a crisis.





AS THE Congress readies for its annual meeting next month, public interest is running high. An online survey by, an influential news portal, showed that corruption is the issue netizens want the Congress gathering to address most. Other issues netizens want the session to tackle are the widening gap between rich and poor, the skyrocketing cost of housing, the health system, pensions and education. In another online poll, 70% of respondents urged officials to declare their assets and emphasised the role of the Internet in preventing corruption. This is the third consecutive year corruption has been the top issue on the eve of the Congress meeting…."


Are you impressed, if a little baffled perhaps, that Congress is focused on corruption after all? Well, sadly, the Congress above refers to the National People's Congress of China and the press report of Xinhua News Agency, dating about a year ago, referred to a meeting in Beijing!


Well then, even if China is way ahead of us in financial, political, defence, space and manufacturing muscle, many of our problems are very similar. In fact, the only area where we have a little more than China is in the area of corruption. Yes, as Transparency International rankings, 2010 will tell us we (at 87) are a little more corrupt than China (78). But where we differ is in what we are doing about it and what China is doing about it.


In recent years, there has been unprecedented crackdown on corrupt government officials in China. Huang Songyou, the former vice president of the Supreme People's Court, was awarded a life sentence in January last year for embezzlement and taking bribes amounting to slightly over half a million dollars in return for favourable court rulings.


Shortly thereafter, Yu Renlu, former vice chief of the civil aviation administration was dismissed and booted out of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) for "serious violations of discipline and law", according to CPC's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and the ministry of supervision.


In fact, this New Year, China has announced a renewed effort to fight increasing corruption in the country. According to reports, in 2010 alone, its war against corruption resulted in no less than some 5,000 higher-level Chinese government officials — mostly above the county head level — being punished for corruption. Further, according to CCDI, again in 2010 alone, some 1,44,000 cases of corruption were investigated, leading to penalties for more than 1,46,000 lower-ranking government officials! Most of these cases pertained to officials involved in corruption, bribery and acting against the public interest — much like our own.


In contrast, according to the data from our National Crime Records Bureau, in 2008, of the 8,554 cases that came up for investigation with state anti-corruption/vigilance department under Prevention of Corruption Act and related IPC sections, a measly 268 were punished by the respective departments and 65 sacked! Nothing underscores this parody more than the recent press report about an IAS couple in Bhopal — Arvind and Tinu Joshi — who is said to have amassed assets worth . 360 crore; and what is more, according to press reports, '…in 1998 he [Arvind Joshi] was asked to pay the state . 1 crore that he had allegedly made off Bhopal gas leak victims by overcharging for bed-sheets and curtains in hospital purchases'! If true, this would mean the government's policy is, 'if you are not caught thieving, you keep the booty; if you are caught, you will have to return it'! Talk of disincentives and incentives for corruption in China and India!

UNFORTUNATELY, our political parties do not seem to recognise the opportunity of a lifetime staring them in the face. Any government which now acts tough and comes down hard on the corruption will become a candidate for mass adulation. In short, the glory of a resurgent India is up for grabs. Sadly, there may be no takers.


Our system vilifies the Naxalites, Maos, Bodos and such for taking to arms in the face of little government benefits ever reaching them, rather than engage in discussions . Of course, these groups are wrong. And of course, engaging in discussions is the only civilised thing to do. But doing the civilised thing calls for reciprocal civility.


When the country talks, the political parties and the government should listen. If they don't, we shouldn't be surprised if we find increasing violence all around. The call to address corruption is nearing a crescendo. If we let this opportunity to take the corruption bull by the horns go, the country will be headed only one way, that is, downhill, on the way to a large banana republic. That is why the government should listen to this crescendo of public opinion sooner rather than leaving it too late.


Some very well-meaning personalities seem to suggest that as a people, we are obsessively preoccupied with corruption; perhaps implying 'after all China is no less corrupt'. These people are often so high and mighty that they may almost never have stared at corruption at the day-to-day level at close quarters. After all, if two obscure IAS officers have amassed . 360 crore till they have been 'caught', surely the situation is scary?
    And lastly, the Chinese being corrupt or not can hardly be a source of consolation for what we are. Notwithstanding their corruption, they are able to lay an 1,142-km Golmud-Lhasa high-speed railway line at an average altitude of 10,000 ft, and frequently at nearly 17,000 ft, in four years flat. Can we match that? Sure, China has problems; but they are addressing them. One also frequently dismisses all of China's successes to the account of their non-democratic regime, while chalking all our failures to democracy's account. Not all democracies need to be corrupt. Nor can a9% growth be an answer to all our ills.


First, that growth is despite all our ills —so imagine the potential. Second, that 9% may not sustain for long if the country continues to be plundered. Yes, we are a rich country if non-descript babus can loot . 360 crore of the country. But even we can't afford any more plunder.







TECHNOLOGY marketing veteran Randy DeMont, who heads global sales at enterprise software giant Hitachi Data Systems —part of the $96-billion electronic behemoth Hitachi — was recently in India to unveil a new data centre technology, stuff that brings the firm closer to its vision that information technology must be virtualised, automated, cloud-ready and sustainable. While talking to ET, DeMont, who has headed Hitachi's Americas sales and Unisys' marketing earlier, argues passionately about virtualisation, the efficiencies that the firm's new solutions offer and the latest technology trends.


Speaking about the new data centre solution, DeMont says: "Customers who had invested in our previous generation products, realised significant business benefits. A 24X7 non-disruptive business operation, for example, that bought in a lot more reduction in storage expenses because they were able to increase utilisation. However, customers have been telling us that they need to bring in even higher levels of operational efficiency because that forms the bulk of the cost in storage management. The second thing is they realise there's huge pressure on enterprise data centres to reduce power and footprint (the space they occupy) and improve cooling," he says.


 "Our new platform really addresses these issues," he says. "It is a virtual storage platform and the amount of automation that we have built in is quite significant. The client needn't provision storage to applications, needn't worry about performance, needn't worry about capacity," he explains. Asked to quantify the benefits, DeMont says: "We have been able to showcase they can reduce storage spend by 70%. If you look at the data centre footprint reduction, we are able to show clients a 30% drop. And if you take energy consumption, we have been able to show another 30% reduction in energy cost. So, the pluses are significant."


DeMont sees a step-up in technology spend with focus towards virtualisation. "The adoption of our virtual technology has been a competitive advantage over the last six years. We are adding a couple of 100 new accounts every quarter for the last two years. And these are big accounts: Nokia, Siemens, Lloyds Bank and Abbott," he says. These big accounts, DeMont feels, have decided to favour his firm's technology because in a difficult global economy, they faced demands from business that asked them to grow with reduced IT budgets. "And the only way we could do that is by virtualising the storage environment."


 Some customers are nevertheless freeing up tech spends from the recession-invoked freeze. "We are beginning to see an improved economy and going to invest in projects that we have had to put off. We do think we are benefitting from a global economy that's spending more on IT infrastructure."


On the future of storage technology, he says he sees more spend on the operating expenditure than on capital expenditure, using technology as a service model. "Cost of storage investment and capital expenditure represents a part of a firm's total cost. But if you break it into all its components, the operating cost exceeds the capital expenditure. So, the operating expenditure incurred by your products should be dramatically lower." Elaborating, he says the automation Hitachi is putting in changes to lower the human intervention in storage applications.
    DeMont feels there are common trends between markets in India and the US. "Universally, we are seeing demand for digitising and preserving long-term content, making patient healthcare records electronically available. And that's happening all across, whether you are in India or in Singapore. The initiative is universal."
    India naturally holds unique opportunities, too. "In the last 12 months, we have seen customers actually change the way they make technology investments. Predominantly, we have seen banking and finance in the forefront of adopting these (read: virtualisation) technologies. But now I am seeing the government sector showing a lot of innovation. A classic example would be the UID project. If you look at the volume of data that would be generated for this project, it would need massive scalability. We are talking about preservation of data. So you really require a technology that would provide them availability for today's business, and then preservation for long term. That's the kind of high-tech requirements coming in even from the government sector today."










IN For Love of the Game, Kevin Costner plays Billy Chapel, a washed-up baseball player who flashes through his career to reclaim his game and Lady Love. As he signs on the final baseball he's ever going to autograph the once-famous player nursing his injuries adds that he's retiring for 'Love of the Game'. Of course, he has to go out and play the most perfect game. And a final Hollywood moment, he also has to get back his lover at the airport!


Real life is completely different. Still, it can be no less inspiring than the schmaltziest Hollywood flick, as shown by the saga of Gil Meche, a 32-year-old right-hand pitcher who recently turned down a $12-million contract for the sake of his self respect.


Three years ago, Meche made it to the American League's All Star team. That's when the Kansas City Royals signed up star pitcher for a $55-million fiveyear contract. He delivered on performance for two years. But by 2009, his body had begun to crumble just as Chapel's does in the movie. Last season, he made nine starts without victory. That's when he made that extraordinary decision.


He went to the manager and said he did not want any paycheck that was due to him. No settlement, no buyout, no strings, he said. "When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it," he said. "This isn't about being a hero — that's not even close to being what it's about," he added without flourish.


"It's just me getting back to a point in my life where I'm comfortable. Making that amount of money from a team that's already given me over $40 million for my life and for my kids, it just wasn't the right thing to do," he said. But that defied the stereotype of the megastar athlete out to wring every dollar from his seemingly extortionate contract.


Also for the love of the game, Meche turned down surgery for his chronically aching shoulder. As a divorced father of three, he believed his children — ages 7, 5 and 3 — needed him more than his teammates did.


Fortunately, in his display of the right stuff, Meche is not alone. Recently cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar turned down a lucrative liquor endorsement so as to send out the right kind of message to kids and youngsters.

Predictably, another iconic player who promptly signed up did not seem to have such compunctions!)


Ultimately, it's about self-respect, something so precious yet costs nothing and the scarcity of which is entirely self-made.







The solution to the problem of criminal elements indulging in pilferage and adulteration of petroleum products is to do away with the present subsidies on kerosene.

Yet another adulteration scam, yet another precious life lost enforcing the law and yet again, the exasperating sight of politicians and officials skirting around the main issue that caused the scam in the first place. Will we ever learn? The brutal murder of Mr Yashwant Sonawane, Additional District Collector, Malegaon, while trying to prevent pilferage of kerosene, is identical to the killing, five years ago, of another honest oil company official, Mr Shanmugam Manjunath, for exposing the adulteration of motor fuels. The murder of Mr Manjunath caused outrage then, just as Mr Sonawane's killing has now, but no lessons were learnt thereafter; in fact, the incentive for anti-social elements to indulge in pilferage and adulteration of petroleum products has, if anything, become greater today. And the reason is not lax enforcement or absence of the 'marker' system for fuels — they are just additional causes — but flawed policies on pricing and subsidy of petroleum products. When you have diesel selling at Rs 42.06 (in Mumbai) per litre and kerosene, a product with similar characteristics that qualify it as a good adulterant, at Rs 12.27 a litre, there is obviously great incentive for anti-social elements to pilfer kerosene for adulteration with diesel. That motor fuels are freely adulterated with cheaper, subsidised kerosene all over the country is an open secret; yet, the government continues to look the other way.

The Petroleum Minister, Mr Jaipal Reddy, has ordered oil companies to revive the 'marker' system and urged greater use of technology in tracking fuel consignments. The fact, though, is that oil companies are already using GPS technology to track trucks that carry petrol, diesel and aviation fuel where it is their responsibility to reach the products to the retail outlets. In the case of kerosene, though, it is the responsibility of the respective State government appointed contractors to take delivery at the oil depots for onward transport to PDS outlets. So, there is little that the oil companies can do to prevent pilferage of kerosene once they are loaded on to the tankers. 'Markers' are expensive chemicals that can, at best, prove adulteration but they cannot actually prevent it.

So the best, and probably the only, solution to the problem is to do away with the present method of subsidising kerosene. There are more efficient ways of reaching subsidy to the poor. A couple of committees appointed by the government in the recent past have suggested a smart card system to ensure that subsidy on kerosene reaches the target population. Another suggestion is to deliver the subsidy in cash or to deposit it in the bank accounts of those it is aimed at. The government should seriously consider implementing these suggestions that will also help it reduce the soaring subsidy bill, stop adulteration of fuels and, importantly, prevent senseless murders such as that of Mr Sonawane and Mr Manjunath.






The current inflation in milk is partly because of a skewed pattern where limited resources are pressured to meet rising demand while in many regions the lack of remunerative marketing avenues forces farmers to sell their cattle.

Why doesn't one hear of farmer suicides in Gujarat? Some would believe it is because Narendra Modi is a good Chief Minister. A less naïve explanation may have to do with Amul. The dairy cooperative procures about 10 million litres of milk daily from its 2.5 million active farmer-members, who cover half of Gujarat's 5 million-odd agricultural households (including those not owning land).

Amul now pays its farmers roughly Rs 380 for every kg of fat. For buffalo milk, typically containing 7 per cent fat, the effective price comes to Rs 26.6 a kg or Rs 27.4 a litre (one litre=1.03 kg). The average Amul farmer supplying four litres, thus, receives over Rs 100 in cash daily, round the year.

For many farmers, this Rs 100 would only supplement their income from regular crop agriculture. But, unlike cotton or wheat, that generates bulk money once or twice a year, milk brings in a steady flow of cash. While not enough to marry off one's daughter or buy new farm equipment, it ensures the farmer does not have to go to the moneylender to meet day-to-day household expenses.

Liquid insurance

It is this role — as a source of liquidity and a hedge against crop failure — that makes milk unique from the farmers' standpoint. But it is also unique from a wider perspective. Few people in the world take to milk the way Indians do. Part of this is linked to its strong association with purity and good health, fitting in with a vegetarian tradition that is more 'lacto-vegetarian' than pure 'vegan'.

For a significant section of the country's population — especially spanning the Vaishnav-Jain-Arya Samaj belt of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, and the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh (UP), Bihar and Madhya Pradesh (MP) – milk is the sole source of animal fat and protein. Even for others, it is a coveted food, being the main ingredient of sweet delicacies from rasogollas to shrikhand and payasam.

Milk's special status in Indian diets can be seen from the Table, which gives its share in household food budgets across different consumption (proxy for income) classes. Milk accounts for nearly 15 per cent of an average rural family's food spend, with this ratio at over 18 per cent in urban India. That makes it, next to cereals, the most consumed food. But unlike cereals, milk is a 'superior' food: As peoples' incomes rise, its share in the food basket goes up, even as they relatively cut back on rice and wheat. Even the humblest of Indian households, given a chance, would choose to spread their chapattis with desi ghee rather than vanaspati.

This kind of appetite for milk has huge implications for demand, more so in a scenario where the country's real per capita income continues to grow at an average six per cent. Given an income elasticity of demand of 1.2-1.3 for milk, it would mean a doubling of consumption requirement to 220 million tonnes (mt) or so by 2020. Meeting this demand poses challenges, but it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for poverty alleviation.

MEETing the challenge

One way to look at it is: Here is one commodity that Indians love to consume and will only increasingly do so. But it is also something that is amenable to production by the most ordinary of rural folk. Take Amul's Valsad union, which today gets 80 per cent of its milk from tribals – who, until a generation ago, had no tradition of rearing milch animals. By introducing them to modern dairying, financing the purchase of cross-bred cows and providing a market for their milk, the cooperative has made these communities less dependent on eking a livelihood from collecting minor forest produce.

There is no reason why what Amul has achieved in Valsad, Panchmahal or parts of Surat cannot be extended to other tribal-dominated areas, notably in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. There could, arguably, be no better strategy to counter Maoist insurgency than to invest in a sector that can provide daily cash income to millions of people, currently victims of a development approach that only 'develops' others. All it takes is to create marketing links – for a product with no dearth of consumers and where farmers can claim two-thirds or more of the retail price.

A good example to cite here is Hatsun Agro Product Ltd, which today procures 4.5 lakh litres of milk daily from the Naxalite-prone Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts of Tamil Nadu (TN).

Co-operative failure

It is in this context that the National Dairy Development Board's (NDDB) role merits scrutiny. During 2009-10, the total procurement by cooperative dairies, at 258.65 lakh kg per day (lkpd), formed a mere 8.4 per cent of the country's production of 112.54 mt. Moreover, 70 per cent of this 258.65 lkpd was accounted for by four States — Gujarat (90.54), Karnataka (35.65), Maharashtra (31.51) and TN (22.77) – that produce less than a quarter of India's milk. As against this, UP, MP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal — together having a 56 per cent share in output — contributed just a fifth of overall co-operative procurement.

The current inflation in milk is, no less, a result of this skewed dairy development pattern. On the one hand, rising incomes are fuelling demand for dairy products. On the other hand, the supply to meet it is coming from the old milk-sheds that are being more intensively drawn on to produce at a higher cost. This, even as there are large swathes of the country, where the lack of remunerative avenues to market their milk is leading farmers to send their buffaloes to the slaughterhouse. NDDB's efforts at redressing the imbalance have borne little fruit so far: Its much-hyped 'new generation co-operatives' collectively procured a measly 7.85 lkpd in 2009-10 — that too, from nine States.







It is not often that one encounters people who show extraordinary courage in standing up to the corrupt, sometimes paying the price with their lives. Why are such persons not honoured by the Centre?

On the evening that the country was informed of its latest list of Padma awardees, Maharashtra witnessed a brazen and blood-curdling happening. Yashwant Sonawane, Nashik's Additional Collector, was burnt to death for standing up to the "oil mafia".

Horror and outrage pervaded our newsroom, as the story unfolded, followed by indignation. Haven't we heard this before? IOC officer S. Manjunath was killed in 2005, after a run-in with the oil adulteration mafia. There was a similar feeling of outrage then too, and in fact, some of us were so moved that we voted into a television countdown for the "Indian of the Year" to get Manjunath voted. But he was not. Two years before Manjunath's tragic death in Uttar Pradesh, there was Satyendra Dubey who was killed in Bihar, when he questioned corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral highway project.

Tragic irony

Sonawane's death, on the same eve as the Padma awardees announcement, is a tragic irony.

The list is dominated by, among others, the head of a cigarettes-to-agri-products company, and another candidate who in his lifetime has sold some six businesses! But wonder why the Centre does not honour people such as Manjunath or Dubey, even if posthumously?

It is not often that we encounter people who stand up to corruption and not pay a bribe, especially when daily life throws up difficult situations — where the hindi euphemism of "chai-paani" (a payment as bribe) — does not elicit a protest, but resigned compliance.

A couple of years ago, a young Maharashtrian widow who worked as a domestic help did the proverbial pillar-to-post running around Government offices to get Rs 1 lakh-odd due to her, following her husband's death.

All the forms she had to fill were in Hindi or English, with no help offered to get it translated into Marathi. A strange situation in a State that is witness to violence in the name of local people.

The twist in her tale came when her employer, an "outsider" i.e. non-Maharashtrian, got involved and pursued the case through perfectly legitimate channels and ensured that the full payment came to the widow. Only to learn the next day, that a fellow-Mumbaikar in the Government office who dispensed the cash to the widow help, took Rs 100 payment from her — without rhyme, reason or receipt! The young widow paid up, fearing her Rs 1 lakh would get stuck again.

A scenario that could be true of any city in the country, where even young people (expected to be more idealistic) do not flinch from making a small payment to jump a train queue, and larger players pay to get clearances and approvals.

Against such a backdrop, all the more reason for the Padma list to have those ordinary people who showed extraordinary courage in rising above corrupt systems.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The saga of the appointment of P.J. Thomas as central vigilance commissioner in October last year has wound the government up in knots as it faces probing questions. This is entirely its own fault. Since the appointment turned into a controversy, government spokesmen at the highest levels have given the appearance of stalling and giving precedence to technicality over substance. The question whether the three-member appointment committee consisting of the Prime Minister, home minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha was officially made aware by the department of personnel and training that Mr Thomas had been chargesheeted in Kerala's controversial palmolein case, and that the Kerala government had indeed sanctioned his prosecution, is an important one. Attorney-general Goolam E. Vahnavati told the Supreme Court that these pieces of vital information were not placed before the appointment committee when it met to take a view. By implication this means that were the appointing authority aware, Mr Thomas would not have been made CVC. How did it come about that significant material was not placed before such an eminent committee, or was it withheld? These questions open a can of worms and have serious implications for the manner in which the government functions. The facts will be established when the record is perused by the Supreme Court. But it is easy to see that even if the attorney-general is shown to be right, and the papers before the appointing authority did not include vital information which would impact Mr Thomas' selection, it was common knowledge that the Kerala cadre IAS officer had been dragged into a corruption scandal while serving in the state as civil supplies secretary. Ordinary common sense suggests this was strong ground for Mr Thomas' exclusion from the panel of three shortlisted for CVC. Even now there is time for the government to extricate itself from the hole it has dug for itself. All it needs to do is to summon the nerve to say it was wrong, and rescind the appointment by taking the plea that the appointment process was vitiated as relevant material needed to judge a candidate's impeccability was absent from consideration. The country's highest court has hinted as much. In Kerala, Mr Thomas is seen as an upright officer. Many might agree with his defence that he has been a victim of vendetta politics between the Congress and the CPM in Kerala. (The CPI(M) did act strangely — first by dragging him into the palmolein case, then elevating him to chief secretary when it came to power in Kerala, and later allowing his prosecution). Ideally, Mr Thomas should resign on his own right away. Only if he is discharged in the palmolein case can he be considered for high constitutional positions.





It is not just legislators of the ruling party, but even his own staff who are deserting Chief Minister Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy. Though no one really knows why Congress MLAs are shifting their loyalties to Mr Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, one reason why staff in the Chief Minister's Office is also leaving could be that — like the rest of us — they don't want to work for free. The way it works is that all CMO staff in the previous regime are repatriated to their respective departments and new appointments are made by the new CM. Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy, however, has simply sat on the files endorsing the appointment of CMO staff for the two months since he was appointed, with the result that the staff's salaries have been withheld for two months. The somewhat high-handed behaviour of the Chief Minister's trusted personal secretary has not endeared him to many and could be another reason why there is little enthusiasm for working in the most powerful office in the State. Some PR lessons on how to win friends and influence people are clearly required here.


Telugu Desam chief Mr N. Chandrababu Naidu is both a happy and an unhappy man. Happy because the survival of the Congress government in the state rests in his hands — a dream come true for any Opposition leader. If he wants, he can dislodge the government (a move being eagerly awaited by the Jagan Mohan Reddy group). But he does not think the time for this is ripe and is waiting for the political situation to turn more advantageous for him. The enforced wait is making him unhappy because it means the continuance in office of his bete noire Mr Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy, a native of his own Chittoor district. He was reminded of the advantageous position he is in when former Congress minister J.C. Diwakar Reddy called to invite him to a family wedding. "The Congress government's future is in your hands, sir, the ball is in your hands," Mr Diwakar Reddy reportedly told him. Hearing this from a senior Congress leader had Mr Naidu glowing. "Yes, the ball is in my court," he replied happily.


The tourism minister, Mr Vatti Vasant Kumar, will soon earn his doctorate degree, probably the first person with the august qualification in the Kiran Kumar Reddy Cabinet. But it almost didn't happen. The doctorate was a long cherished ambition of Mr Kumar's but for one reason or another he did not complete his thesis. Then he became minister for rural development in the Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy Cabinet and was fascinated by the success of self-help groups. This, he decided, was the right subject for his doctoral thesis. The sudden death of YSR in a copter crash, the appointment and later resignation of his successor K. Rosaiah, which culminated in N. Kiran Kumar Reddy becoming CM, changed Mr Kumar's fortunes. He was shifted from rural development, which was in tune with his doctoral thesis, to tourism and culture. Annoyed at the change of portfolio, Mr Kumar lodged a protest and refused to take oath of office. He was induced to accept only after it was promised that the portfolio would be changed. His one consolation is that he was made guardian minister for Visakhapatnam, which is helpful since he is doing his doctorate from Andhra University.






 "God help those

Whom, God inevitably knows,

Have helped themselves..."

From Dakoonama

by Bachchoo

I was in the decrepit toilet of a South London pub called the Prince of Wales where I had gone to see a man about a dog. The PoW is the sort of pub in which you can buy a joint of packed branded-name meat for half the price it commands in the very respectable supermarkets. The clientele of the PoW have a sort of Robin Hood philosophy.

It was snowing outside and the ceiling of the toilet was leaking rather copiously so one had to tilt one's body to the side while executing one's business or risk getting very wet.

Caught in this undignified pose, my mobile phone rang.

As I was expecting semi-urgent calls, I answered it.

"It's Rob", said the voice and it was a full two seconds before I recognised it. I know more than a couple of Robs and none of them had any telephonic tryst with me, but this one made me jump. I recognised it as the voice of my beautiful and talented eldest daughter's boyfriend and instantly panicked in case he had some unwelcome news to report. Had she fallen in the snow and broken a limb? Was she stranded in Timbuktu?

His tone was apprehensive but not in the least foreboding.

"Oh. Hi, what's up?" I asked.

"Tam and I are going away for a short holiday break to Bath and I want to ask your permission to propose marriage to her", he said.

I had to gather my thoughts and regain my breath. This was an unexpected ceremoniousness from someone of this, what I think of as a callous, or at the least informal, generation.

"We have been together for four years now and I thought..."

I said I was delighted. He recalled the joke I never played on him but which he must have been told about by Tamineh. For my own sadistic reasons, when my daughters were teenagers, say 16, and started to bring boys who were their friends home I would threaten to ask the said boys in stern terms if their intentions were honourable: "Now then, young man, I demand to know if your intentions are honourable".

I don't think I ever actually went so far as to address any of the young men thus, but had a satisfactory time holding the threat of such embarrassment over the girls and having them plead with me to refrain from any such thing. (I would also threaten to declaim the poetry of T.S. Eliot loudly in an exaggerated Indian accent when their friends were gathered: "Apreelll is croolisht munth/ Breeding lilucks..." etc. and using the threat, extract all sorts of concessions about modifying their speech and altering the aspects of domestic or scholastic behaviour which I felt were wanting.)

Since Rob and Tamineh have bought a flat together, I suppose I expected them to announce either an engagement, a pregnancy, a change of job or some progress along the grihasth path in good time. What I didn't expect was a polite and formal Victorian application of decorum. It was delightful and I was glad he did it. I stepped out of the toilet, a little wet from the leaking ceiling and bought a very generous round.

I kept Rob's secret for the two days before Tamineh was proposed to and when she told me I congratulated her and said what daddies the world over say. And it was only then that from within some unplumbed depth of my personality that the Indian father emerged.

I began to think whether it could or would be a Parsi wedding and concluded that it couldn't unless one found some very unconventional Dastur to do the needful. I began to wonder for the first time in my life (I have four daughters, all unmarried) about a dowry, whether it was appropriate in this context — probably not — and where it would come from if it was.

Even while I was entertaining these thoughts and anxieties, my wonderful daughter asks me "Dad, can't we have an Indian wedding?"

Now that means a lot of different things to different people, but it conjured up a dread of what it might mean to Tamineh: a fantasy of some bedecked Rajasthani palace with a thousand guests jetted in from London. She was perhaps thinking of the much reported "Indian" wedding of a TV comic called Russell Brand or of Brad Pitt and his wife (they already have three children??) who have announced their intention to have some such ceremony.

How am I going to tell her that these huge weddings are held in India by Indians with advertised extravagance in order to spend "x" crores of rupees and receive "20x" crores of rupees in fake and falsified non-taxable wedding presents, thus converting "black" money into "white"? How am I to tell her that I have no black money (or for that matter blue or red or purple money) to convert into anything, despite having for years been a commissioner of programmes for TV on Channel 4, because unlike in some countries, Britain doesn't (alas?) allow its TV channel commissioning editors to take bribes?

No, I won't be able to do a Rajasthan palace wedding for Tamineh — or for Shireen, Jahan or Tir. They'll have to live with that. They've all had a damned good school and university education — Tir is still at grammar school, a place she won through academic endeavour (and by having the appropriate intelligence and creative genes) — and have started on promising careers.

I had better stop this line of reasoning before I start to sound like a family-planning advertisement.

It stands to reason that Rob's parents will want a say in all this and they may plump or push for a church wedding. Tam's wonderful mum was born a Christian and I shall have no objections on the grounds that Zoroastrianism, according to the Christian texts themselves, in the persona of the three Magi, put their imprimatur and approval on the birth of Christ and that spectacular intervention of Ahura Mazda in the affairs of men by begetting the divine-prophet-man-child.

That the Christian world has forgotten or ignored our endorsement for the coming faith is as may be. If there is a Christian wedding I will prepare, as father of the bride, a little speech which points out our Zoroastrian endorsement and intervention in the affairs of all. My intentions will be impeccably honourable.







I watched this season's most publicised movie, Dhobi Ghat with enormous interest. Of course, when Aamir Khan is backing a film project, it goes without saying that every conceivable media platform is thoroughly, systematically and totally carpet-bombed. With his wife's virgin effort as director-writer, Aamir spared not a single effort, stopping short of climbing up the Qutub Minar and declaring his undying love for second wife, Kiran Rao. Aamir could successfully teach courses at Harvard on how to market a product — he is that brilliant! But the more interesting aspect of this particular promotion was the cleverly-calibrated positioning of Kiran Rao. This is where Aamir's genius lies.

As a debut movie, Dhobi Ghat is respectable enough. But it certainly does not generate shock and awe, nor can it be considered a major breakthrough film that is a game changer (Dil Chahta Hai falls into that category). It is delicate and subtle in the familiar arthouse tradition, but not powerful enough to be touted as a cinematic coup for the first time director.

The question to ask in all fairness is: Would Dhobi Ghat have received as much attention had Kiran Rao not been Aamir Khan's wife? The answer is a flat no. But, what the hell. What's the point of being married to the most powerful man in Bollywood and not leverage the relationship? I hugely enjoyed the spin! All those cutesy stories about how she insisted on Aamir auditioning for the film… I mean… we are talking AAMIR! Or, what a hard time she gave him on the sets by subjecting him to reverse discrimination. All these nuggets of modern-day equations in a very contemporary marriage really tickled our imagination enough to go watch the film. And that, my dears, was the intention all along! I took in a few of their television interviews and read the print versions, just like thousands of others (there was no escape from these two last fortnight). The entire strategy was faultless — they held hands, referred to one another as "my love", and trotted out the same spiel interview after interview, without once looking bored or jaded. Now, that's a feat!

Finally, after watching the 95th interview (same coy, adoring glances from Kiran, same self-deprecatory anecdotes from Aamir), I felt exhausted. But hey — let's hand it to them — this is what is known as true professionalism. Each oft-repeated quote and recycled cliché sounded fresh, spontaneous and new! Hats off to the two of them for their dedication to the product. For, without that, Dhobi Ghat would have been dismissed as yet another slightly confused, well-intentioned movie. Aamir, perhaps anticipating just such a response, preempted criticism by informing those who weren't going to "get it", that the movie was not for everybody!

When I walked out of the multiplex after catching a late evening show, my daughters were sniffling away — they had fallen deeply in love with Prateik.

Their emotions are entirely understandable. Prateik is adorable as Munna, the dhobi who dreams of becoming a Bollywood star someday. Casting Prateik was an inspired choice, and one must congratulate Kiran for not succumbing to spouse pressure and casting Aamir for this pivotal role (according to the lovey-dovey couple, Aamir was lusting after it).

It is the characters of Munna and Shai (played with admirable finesse by Monica Dogra) that linger after the viewing, and leaves the audience somewhat relieved that Aamir's Arun does not hijack the story, nor does Aamir the superstar hog the script. In fact, most viewers agreed that just about any unknown could have played Aamir's part and there isn't a single memorable scene that stays from his segment of the interlinked narrative. One actually waits hungrily for Prateik to appear on the screen… and break our hearts.

For me, it is pure sentimentality and nostalgia (I knew and loved Prateik's mother, the late Smita Patil). But beyond mush, it is evident to anybody how instinctive and inspiring Prateik is as an actor. There is nothing studied or filmi about the boy. He is an absolute natural who projects an almost heart-breaking level of innocence and vulnerability. Kiran has written Prateik's role exceedingly well, devoid of even a single false note. Can't say the same about Aamir's Arun, who mouths the most ridiculous lines about Mumbai ("My muse, my beloved, my whore…").

But beyond the movie and how it fares commercially lies a deeper message for women in cinema. There have been other successful directors like Aparna Sen and Kalpana Lajmi here, Mira Nair and Gurinder Chadha overseas. The one thing that separates them from Kiran Rao is the Aamir factor. These ladies did not have the backing and clout of a superstar-spouse… and that is the biggest difference. Today, Kiran is fully sorted as a filmmaker, regardless of how her first film performs at the box office. She can write her own ticket, name her price and effortlessly get the next project… and the next… off the ground. She may or may not sign her superstar husband next time (she should go solo after the heavy-duty togetherness of this project), but with or without Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao is officially on a roll. Good for Kiran. An intelligent spouse should never underestimate the power of two. Look at Hillary and Bill Clinton! In the movie business, it works in exactly the same way. If Angelina Jolie decides to turn director someday, she'd be seriously dumb not to get Brad Pitt involved… and they are not even officially a couple.

Frankly, Kiran Rao and Aamir occupy a pretty unique slot — I can't think of another power couple in the movie world who enjoy the same profile. Tom Cruise comes to mind, but Katie Holmes, his better half, is a glamourous actress, not a determined director. It would be interesting to monitor Kiran's next move, rather, movie! This one had her cutie husband declaring publicly that he had fallen in love with his wife one more time after reading her script.

How will Aamir top that? Who knows? As they say in Bollywood, "Dil to pagal hai". Kiran sounds smart enough to check-mate her mate many times over. Perhaps, that is the asli secret of their successful partnership?

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YET another killing of a Tamil Nadu fisherman within 10 days, that too in a barbaric way by the Sri Lankan Navy, is a reflection of the extent to which President Mahinda Rajapaksa allowed his armed forces to be brutalised in its fight against the LTTE and his firm belief that India will not go beyond issuing statements condemning the killings. After all it was India that bailed out Sri Lanka, in association with China and Pakistan, when it was arraigned by the international community for gross violation of human rights, particularly of its Tamil citizens, two years ago. Unlike the 500-odd Tamil Nadu fishermen shot dead by the Sri Lankan Navy in the last three decades, N Jayakumar, 28, the latest victim, was asked to jump into the sea from his boat. As he hesitated, the naval officers boarded his boat, tied a rope around his neck, pushed him into the sea and dragged him by their vessel until he died. M Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, wrote his customary protest letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who in turn promised to take up the issue with the Sri Lankan President. SM Krishna, External Affairs Minister, repeated parrot fashion "this is not acceptable." That ended his responsibility. The fishermen are no longer content with the charade our political class has been playing out. Tens of thousands of fishermen have not ventured into the sea since last Sunday when Jayakumar's body was brought ashore. K Bharathi, president of South Indian Fishermen's Welfare Association, wanted the government to issue the fishermen gun licences and train them in handling arms for self-defence. M Kathirvel, president of the Pushpavanam fishing hamlet from where Jayakumar ventured into sea last Saturday only to be brought back in a coffin, said the entire population has decided to set sail in their boats to seek asylum in Sri Lanka as they did not want to lead a life in constant fear of being brutally killed by the Sri Lankan Navy. These are ominous signs for New Delhi; it must go beyond issuing statements and sending demarches to the Sri Lankan envoy.

The crux of the fishermen problem could be traced to the government of Indira Gandhi, ably assisted by Sardar Swaran Singh, then External Affairs Minister, gifting Kachchativu, a tiny islet in the Palk Bay which had been an integral part of Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu, to Sri Lanka in 1974, without even consulting the State government. Under Article 3 (c) of the Constitution, before ceding any territory of any State, a Bill should be introduced in Parliament and the President should refer it to the State legislature "for expressing its views thereon." No such procedure was followed in the case of ceding Kachchativu to Sri Lanka. The unconstitutional cession had drastically reduced the area of fishing for Indian fishermen in the Palk Bay. On 4 July, 1974, K Krishnamoorthy, secretary of the Tamil Nadu unit of the erstwhile Jana Sangh, filed a petition for the issue of a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ to restrain the Union government from ceding Kachchativu to Sri Lanka as no cession of Indian territory can take place without a constitutional amendment. It was the heyday of Indira Gandhi's 'committed judiciary' and keeping with the spirit of the times Justice P N Bhagavati of the Supreme Court dismissed the petition without any hearing. Unless the Sri Lankan government means business and restrains its Navy from wanton killing of Tamil Nadu fishermen, a new state government in which the Congress is not an ally, could still challenge the gifting of Kachchtivu.



NOTHING disproves the theory that all that matters is splashed on the front pages more than Somali piracy flourishing despite it no longer being "newsworthy" ~ as it once was. For 2010 registered the highest level of activity off the Horn of Africa, and further away from the continent's eastern coastline, since the menace took root over a decade ago. The figures released by the International Maritime Bureau are scary: 49 vessels hijacked, 1016 crew members taken hostage, and millions of dollars paid as ransom to have vessels and crew released. A 10 per cent increase in the number of attacks on shipping was reported, much violence too: all that despite a fair number of warships of different navies patrolling the regional waters. In fact the pirates are now using modern technology and are expanding their operational zone with impunity. The economic impact is staggering, the anti-piracy manoeuvres and enhanced insurance premiums push up the price of commerce. Sadly, the international community has miserably failed to come up with a credible counter-piracy gameplan (many insist that only restoring a semblance of government in Somalia will make that possible), there is only limited coordination among the warship patrols and no unanimity on how to take legal action against the pirates who are occasionally captured. And no "regime" is in place on resisting the demands for ransom ~ the sole objective of piracy. The United Nations has taken a few initiatives, but so far backed off from trying to put in place something on the pattern of its peacekeeping missions.

The fallout for India is ominous, much more than the trauma suffered by Indian seamen (and their families) at the pirates' hands. After moving towards Seychelles, the pirates are now bold enough to venture rather close to Indian shores. Responses to distress calls have been launched from Mumbai, now a Coast Guard station (likely to be followed up by a naval base) has had to be set up in Lakshadweep. The government ignored the plea the navy made many years ago to take the lead in coordinating and spearheading the international anti-piracy exercise. Even in term of "solo" patrolling the Indian role has hardly been pro-active, a token presence. The implications are strategic too ~ the upgraded anti-piracy action of the Chinese navy furthers its "encirclement policy". New Delhi simply refuses to look far out to sea.



SINCE missing deadlines is now more the rule than an exception, it makes little difference if Nepal's politicians have failed yet again ~ this time to meet President Ram Baran Yadav's call for formation of a national government by 21 January. The political scene has changed drastically after the United Nations Mission in Nepal closed shop on 15 January. Despite an extended mandate, the Mission was unable to fulfil its task of integrating and rehabilitating more than 19,000 former Maoist combatants and monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies as envisaged in the landmark November 2006 Comprehensive Peace Treaty that ended 11 years of rebellion. Since 22 January, a special committee headed by the Prime Minister has taken over these responsibilities. But this was not without dissent from the Nepali Congress whose proposal to keep the Nepal army out of the committee's purview has been brushed aside by Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Lawmakers cannot afford to drag their feet on the formation of a government based on consensus, one that will last at least till the completion of the statute drafting to meet the fresh May 2011 deadline. By virtue of the Maoists having a clear majority in the assembly, they should be given the opportunity to head a government. The Nepali Congress should have no reason to oppose a Maoist return to power since the combatant issue, the main point on which it has been objecting, has now been taken care of. It is time to dispel the atmosphere of distrust and get down to specifics. Nepal has had enough of dithering.








THE Constitution requires the government to present an annual financial statement before the Lok Sabha ~ this is what is popularly called the Budget. In recent years, the Budget has  become a media event, with television channels bringing in "experts" to pontificate without enlightening us in any way. Desperate to fill in 24 hours of TV time, they have made the Budget "an event to remember", but with little substance in the discussions.
Unfortunately, Parliament has found it difficult to find time ~ and the will ~ to debate this annual financial statement with the seriousness it deserves. India has invented a parliamentary tool called the guillotine ~ a process of approving lakhs of crores of rupees of expenditure without discussion. This mockery of democracy needs strongly to be highlighted. It is reassuring that the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Ms Meira Kumar, has been trying to impart some seriousness into the discussions.

In a speech on 5 July last year, she spoke of the importance of the budgetary process in its entirety. People expect much greater transparency and accountability in governance, she said. "With ever-increasing government spending, enormous amount of outlays on programmes for improving the basic quality of life of the common man and changed systems of public finance and service deliveries for achieving better outcomes, the tasks of financial committees and the CAG in modern times have become more extensive and complex". She stressed  the importance of "reform to make it more relevant, transparent and effective, meeting the expectations of stakeholders in the changed scenario of the 21st century".

Parliament, she said, has to "approve macro-economic budgets which authorize performance-linked expenditure along with efficient assessment and collection of taxes. Macro-economic budgeting involves relying on not just public investment by government but equally, on pricing policy and monetary policy". Today, the "Budget papers" include not only the demand for grants, appropriation bill and the finance bill, but equally important documents like the Finance minister's speech, the macro-economic strategy to be pursued, performance and outcome budgets, statements on gender budgeting, along with statements with reference to the Financial Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2002". This is a big challenge for Parliament. The Speaker makes a useful suggestion to meet this challenge.

"While the demand for grants of the various ministries are scrutinized by the departmentally-related committees, the rest of what constitutes the budget, the financing of public expenditure in its macro-economic dimensions, involving tax and borrowing proposals as well as price and monetary policy, is not examined at present by any committee of the legislature at the budget proposal stage. We need to consider if these matters should continue to be left to the general debate in the House or whether a strategy paper could be circulated by the Ministry of Finance about a fortnight before the budget session which could be examined by the Estimates Committee with technical support by the CAG. The committee could report its concerns and findings to the House before a better informed general debate on the budget is taken up. The capacity of the Estimates Committee and its secretariat staff to undertake technical work of this nature will naturally have to be built up."
The Speaker, clearly aware of the results of recent research on this subject, also pointed out that large and increasing amounts are being spent through transfers to societies, panchayats etc. "There are serious gaps in the accountability framework of these implementing agencies and the CAG's present mandate for audit of these agencies is also limited. Audit is frequently faced with situations where auditees do not comply with CAG's request for records/information. This not only delays the audit process but also seriously impacts the quality of audit examination and thwarts possible disclosure of serious irregularities, frauds and embezzlements". 
It is encouraging that the Speaker has made such statements. However, it is disappointing to note that the media has not covered this most important advice from the Speaker.

Indeed, she has also contributed to improved debates in the Lok Sabha through a very important ruling. According to a report dated 28 April 2010, the Speaker ruled that a cut-motion can be moved on a demand for grants even when the guillotine has been applied. Article 113(2) of the Constitution gives MPs the right to seek a cut in budget. She said that while the cut-motion was provided as a constitutional right, there was no rule to bar the cut motion in demands for grants which were not debated (guillotine). She said it was only a parliamentary practice, pointing out that the Constitution referred to any demand, and did not distinguish between debated and non-debated demands. This is a very important ruling in terms of the rights of MPs, and the Speaker must be complimented on her decision which protects the democratic rights of MPs in the light of parliamentary practice.

This too has received little attention in the media coverage of the Budget. Why is it that our media covers the views of stars, but avoids discussions on important subjects like those raised by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha? 
 Democracy is more than just elections. It requires that all citizens accept the verdict of the ballot. But it also requires that those who win the right to govern, do so within a framework that recognises the rights of those who voted against them. They have won a right to govern, not to flout the rights of citizens to dissent. The right to dissent, the right to debate, if not protected, will erode democracy. This requires information, research, analysis, a respect for facts and a tolerance for differences. It is essential that our politicians do not push issues beyond a point, simply because they enjoy a majority. Today, even a minority can hold up the House and prevent Parliament from functioning. Is this responsible political behaviour?

The Speaker has made her point in a dignified manner. It is now up to members to live up to the standards she has quietly set.

The writer is a former Director of the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies in Bangalore






Story Of A Forged Rs 1,000 Note

In the Court of Dr Thornhill, Chief Presidency Magistrate, Mr Charles Harding, a bookmaker, appeared on Thursday last to show cause why he should not be  prosecuted under Sections 500 and 211, I.P. Code, for having defamed and made a false complaint against Babu Radhica Mohan Roy, son of the late Mohini Mohon Roy, vakil and zemindar.

The complainant alleged that he went to the defendant's office and wanted a book bet on Vavasor for a place in the Viceroy's Cup for Rs 1,000. The bet was accepted and a Government currency note for Rs 1,000 was paid to the defendant. Subsequently he latter passed a Rs 1,000 note to another bookmaker, and, it having been discovered to be a forged one, the defendant informed the police that he had obtained it from the complainant and got him arrested.

The complainant stated that he had drawn his Rs 1,000 note from his bank on the 23rd ultimo and that the same note was deposited by the defendant in his own bank on the 3rd instant.

As a result of this false information he was arrested by the police, harassed for a couple of days, and was at last discharged by Mr Halliday, the Commissioner of Police. Further, the defendant had damaged his reputation in the estimation of his friends.

The defendant, in his explanation, stated that when the complainant handed over to him the note, he satisfied himself that it was for Rs 1,000 and then put it into his pocket. He alleged that the manner in which it was given to him was suspicious, but it did not strike him till some time after. On the 3rd instant, he paid another bookmaker named Simpson, Rs 1,800, in one note for Rs 1,000 and eight notes for Rs 100 each. At the time, Mr Simpson observed that the note was darkish. Defendant said he would hold himself responsible for it. On the 11th instant, another bookmaker named Jackson brought the note to defendant and said that his bankers, the National Bank of India, had said it was a forgery. The defendant then paid Jackson Rs 1,000 and took the note in question to the police.

On the 13th instant, complainant called at his office again and was taken to Superintendent Ellis. They at last went to Waterloo Street Thana, whee Harding signed a declaration to the effect that he had got the note from Roy.

The Magistrate: The complainant said he gave you another note which he drew from the Bank on the 23rd ultimo, and that you deposited the same note in your Bank? ~ That note could have been got by someone else besides the complainant.

Mr Martelli, for the defence, said that the complainant was warned off the race-course for running an Australian horse as a country-bred. Mr Harding had reasons to suspect him, and therefore made the complaint bona fide.
Mr N.L. Dey, for the prosecution, observed that Mr Martelli was forgetting that his client was a gentleman of position and great wealth. Even the police were cautious about acting, and told the defendant that Roy was a respectable man, and that they would not move in the matter unless the defendant made a declaration and satisfied the police that the note was given him by Roy. The case was adjourned.







The team drew on the knowledge of leading experts. The view was that Eden Gardens wouldn't be ready by 27 February.

ICC chief executive Mr Haroon Lorgat

I've written to the BCCI president, Shashank Manohar. I'll take all questions regarding loss of face after he replies.

Cricket Association of Bengal president Mr Jagmohan Dalmiya

It is a matter of national regret that the Prime Minister should regard the hoisting of the national flag as something which could be considered divisive or provocative.

BJP leader Mr Arun Jaitley when the BJP's youth wing was not permitted to hoist the national flat at Srinagar's Lal Chowk

It's a passion for some people to criticise me but even they know fully well that what they're defending is simply indefensible and that there are documented acts of corruption which have cost the state nearly Rs 500 crore.
Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj

I have stayed away from judicial proceedings so far but now I have decided to file my affidavit before the Supreme Court to state facts.

BJP leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mrs Sushma Swaraj on the appointment of Mr PJ Thomas as the Central vigilance commissioner

We are working on a war footing. But restoring normal supply of drinking water to this part of the city will take two-and-a-half days.

Kolkata mayor Mr Sovan Chatterjee when parts of south Kolkata went without water after an underground pipe sprang a leak

Netaji shared a strong bond with the Gorkhas. The Gorkhas comprised the majority in the Indian National Army and Netaji was very considerate and compassionate towards them. Had Netaji been alive in independent India, he would have certainly freed us from Bengal's fetters.

Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha general secretary Mr Roshan Giri





What seems to distinguish the Congress from the BJP is that the former seeks subservience to America and the latter to China, writes rajinder puri

That BJP president Mr Nitin Gadkari went to China on a goodwill visit just after Beijing administered a snub to India by giving stapled visas to Arunachal Pradesh residents was bad enough. His subsequent performance in China was worse. It seems that the BJP was so thrilled with being noticed by China that like the proverbial small town yokel it went salivating to Beijing assuming that it had arrived on the big international stage.
Apart from the conventional inanities that inform such visits, Mr Gadkari reportedly told his hosts that since China had great influence on Pakistan his party expects Beijing to use its good offices with Islamabad to put pressure on it to stop exporting terror to India and act against all jihadi acts of terrorism on Indian soil. This must have sounded like music to his hosts. It is hard to imagine a more damaging request by any Indian leader to China 's rulers.

New Delhi has rightly and stoutly resisted all moves by America to intercede in India 's Kashmir dispute with Pakistan . The implicit logic is that as a regional power India cannot concede a big brother role to any third power. India will deal with Pakistan bilaterally. Now the BJP in its wisdom is pleading with Beijing to exercise the big brother role that India has rightly denied to America . What compounds the irony is that the terror machine that Mr Gadkari wants to be defanged in Pakistan is sustained by Beijing 's unstinted military support to the Pakistan army that helps Islamabad export terror to India .

 Beijing's ambition to act the big brother in South Asia is encouraged by those segments of the American establishment committed to advancing US ties with China as a way of getting out of its economic mess. The argument put forward by these segments is that to stabilise South Asia Beijing can act peace maker between India and Pakistan. That is exactly what Beijing wants. If India can also become China's proxy in South Asia like Pakistan, Beijing would have achieved its goal. That would of course make South Asia stable, but at whose cost?

The BJP has proved that it is truly a Hindu party. The Hindu attitude to foreigners resulted in India being under the tutelage of foreign rule for centuries. It is a different matter that foreign invaders after settling down in India became very Hindu in their way of life and attitude. That is why India was continuously subservient to foreigners and allowed foreigners to rule them. It seems nothing has changed. What seems to distinguish the Congress from the BJP is that the former seeks subservience to America and the latter to China. Meanwhile, America and China are joined at the hip! 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist   





The original sin is the failure to meet deadlines. The fall of Eden Gardens from the calendar of the forthcoming World Cup is not related to the loss of innocence but to the lack of competence and efficiency. Since there was no Satan to offer temptation, Jagmohan Dalmiya, the supremo of the Cricket Association of Bengal, will have to carry the can and hope that it isn't one full of worms. Mr Dalmiya has one decent option available to him: he should own responsibility and step down. There shouldn't be any attempt to find excuses. What happened is a colossal failure and an equally big mess. It is not as if the date of the World Cup schedule was announced suddenly and an unreal deadline imposed on the CAB. The date of the match and, therefore, the deadline were both known. Obviously, the CAB did not take the deadline seriously and believed that it — like most deadlines in India — was stretchable. Unfortunately for the CAB, the World Cup is organized by an international body and is therefore forced to adhere to certain standards. Moreover, it needs to be emphasized that every single piece of available evidence justifies the decision taken by the International Cricket Council. Eden Gardens is not ready to host an international match under the aegis of the ICC. There is little that can be more shameful than this for Eden Gardens, the CAB and the city of Calcutta.

Many would argue, and not unfairly, it must be said, that it is entirely apposite that Calcutta has lost the World Cup match. Calcutta does not deserve anything of an international stature. The reason for this is that the people who run most of the organizations in the city are clueless about global standards of performance and excellence. They like to think that since Calcutta and Bengal aspired for excellence in the 19th century, they can continue to do so today without anything to show for it. Calcutta has little respect for punctuality and deadlines. It has contempt for efficiency and accountability. It does not recognize quality. All these put together result in a complete denial of global standards of excellence. Hence, the humiliation of Eden Gardens.

The propensity to rest on faded laurels and to be driven by a false sense of pride and priorities has made Bengal fall behind in every important aspect of public life. There was a time when Eden Gardens was considered one of the most attractive of cricketing venues. Today it is declared unfit, in terms of infrastructure and arrangements, to host a World Cup match. This fall from grace is an allegory for the state of West Bengal. It is safe to predict that some wise man will discover a conspiracy behind the decision of the ICC. That would be typical, as would be the righteous indignation that will ensue. Whatever be the rhetoric, Mr Dalmiya and his team have failed and they have no one but themselves to blame for the humilation. They should be banished from Eden.







As you come out of the Doe Library of the University of California at Berkeley, and turn right, the road slopes downwards and continues until the west edge of the campus. Beyond, the San Francisco Bay is, on a clear day, quite visible. It is an arresting view, best experienced in the early afternoon, when, if you exit the library precisely at the hour or half-hour, you hear the university's campanile pealing behind you, feel the row of stately trees alongside you, and see, in the far distance, the waters of the Pacific gleaming silver in the setting sun.

One afternoon in 1997 or 1998, I came out of the library after a satisfactory day's work. The campanile was silent, but then I heard a sound more surprising as well as more arresting — the baritone of a beloved singer whose voice I recognized but did not expect, at that time or place, to hear. I followed the sound to its source. A pick-up truck was parked at the side of the road, with a driver in overalls at the wheel. Seeing my look of wonderment, he pointed at his cassette recorder in explanation of his state of pleasure, which was also mine. He then said, "Bhimsen Joshshii!" I nodded and looked rightwards; the bay had never seemed more beautiful before, or since.

When I was a student in Delhi in the 1970s, those who loved cricket were consumed by two debates — whether G.R. Viswanath was, under all conditions, a better batsman than Sunil Gavaskar, and whether for the sake of his better fielding and batting skills, Srinivas Venkataraghavan should be chosen for the Indian Test side ahead of his fellow off-spinner, Erapalli Prasanna. The latter were the conventional or popular choices; the former offered by those who considered themselves more discerning, above the instincts of the herd. Those who listened to classical music were likewise consumed by two controversies — whether Vilayat Khan was a more variously gifted sitar player than Ravi Shankar, and whether the sweetness of his voice and the subtlety of his interpretations made Mallikarjun Mansur a greater singer than Bhimsen Joshi. Here too, the popular vote was generally for the second of the two musicians in these pairings, whereas those who fancied themselves more learned (but who, in fact, may merely have been more pretentious) leant towards the first named.

I vigorously participated in these debates, but the sides I took (or the names I preferred) are irrelevant. In retrospect, what must be stressed instead is our staggering good fortune. We, who grew up in the 1970s, were exceptionally blessed to watch Gavaskar and Vishy bat, Venkat and Prasanna (and Chandrasekhar and Bedi) bowl, Ravi Shankar and Vilayat (and Ali Akbar Khan and Nikhil Banerjee) play their respective instruments, and Mallikarjun and Bhimsen (and Kumar Gandharva and Kishori Amonkar) sing.

My own love of these cricketers and musicians combined a serious interest with a keen sense of proprietorship. After all, Vishy, Prasanna and Chandra lived in my home town, Bangalore, whereas Bhimsen, Mallikarjun and Kumar Gandharva originally belonged to my home state, Karnataka. They all came from towns or villages within a hundred-mile radius of Dharwad, as did another trinity of magnificent vocalists — Gangubai Hangal, Basavaraj Rajguru, and Puttaraj Gavai. The last named was the least known outside the state but venerated within it, both for his teaching skills and for having risen above the handicap of being born blind.

How and why Dharwad became a nucleus of shastriya sangeet awaits explanation. It was part of the Bombay Presidency, and thus subject to influences from those two great musical centres, Pune and Mumbai. Even closer were the towns of Kolhapur and Miraj, where some famous (Muslim) teachers of music had settled, at the invitation of princes who were patrons of culture. Since Dharwad falls broadly in the region known as 'South' India, perhaps these vocalists also drew to some extent on the Carnatic style of music. We do know for certain that they were deeply influenced by folk traditions and by medieval saints. Both Bhimsen and Mallikarjun liked to sing songs composed by Purandaradasa, whereas Kumar Gandharva reinterpreted Kabir with great feeling and sensitivity for a 20th-century audience.

When I visited Dharwad some years ago, I was too shy to make contact with M. Venkatesh Kumar, who is now the best known, certainly the most gifted, and (although it pains me to say this) just possibly the last representative of the Dharwad tradition. (Readers of this column may associate me with certitude, even arrogance, but when it comes to meeting with or speaking to classical musicians I am timid beyond words, for I know them to be immeasurably greater than even the best writer can ever be.) Some years ago, I stood next to the contemporary singer I most admire, Ulhas Kashalkar, at the check-in counter of the India International Centre in New Delhi. I was struck silent, when I should really have (a) obtained his autograph; (b) at least told him how much I admired his music.

I would not meet Venkatesh Kumar, but, when in Dharwad, I did ask a friend to direct me to a store which stocked musical CDs made by local, less known, companies. The store lay in a narrow street in an old, old market; its owner told me that it was a long time since someone had come looking for classical rather than film music. As a result, his holdings in that direction were now depleted, but I did yet find two treasures, a selection of the songs of Puttaraj Gavai, and a recording dating to the 1960s of Bhimsen Joshi singing Yaman.

Bhimsen's obituarists will no doubt stress the sheer power of his voice. The adjectives 'majestic' and 'imperial' shall surely be used. This power and range were best expressed in ragas such as Shankara, Durga and Maru Bihag. The Yaman I bought in Dharwad, on the other hand, conveyed a reflective, ruminative quality that he also possessed, even if it was less on display in his later years. The subtlety of his musical understanding and the surprising tenderness of his voice are also manifest in some quite lovely recordings of Chhaya-Chhaya Malhar, Maluha Kedar, and Yamani Bilawal, the last being among my all-time favourite pieces of music.

Born and raised in north Karnataka, of properly Kannadiga stock, Bhimsen Joshi spent the last decades of his life in Pune, where he spoke Marathi to his friends and often sang the abhangs of the poet-saints of medieval Maharashtra. His true ethnic or provincial provenance thus became a matter of controversy. He is claimed as Maharashtrian by Bal Thackeray (and by better people too), whereas chaps like me insisted that he belonged instead to the state of Vishy, Pras, Chandra, Mallikarjun, Gangubai, and Puttaraj Gavai. The dispute is perhaps petty and immaterial. For my fellow Bhimsen rasika in Berkeley, that red-bearded driver of a U-Haul truck, had never been to India in his life. Cricketers and writers are known by decades and claimed by countries, but musicians of genius belong to the ages, and to the world.


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From the questions asked by the supreme court on Thursday it is clear that the court is not satisfied by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's laboured explanation on how the government  cannot go after the black money held by Indians in foreign banks and on the steps it plans to take to bring it back. Nor will the country be satisfied by the pseudo-legal explanations and a show of innocent helplessness resorted to by the minister. Mukherjee added only some inanities and impractical ideas to the earlier declaration of the prime minister which made the stashing of money in foreign banks only a taxation issue. The court has rightly told the government to go beyond the tax treaties and look at the sources of the illegal wealth, like corruption, smuggling, drug trafficking or other illicit and nefarious activities. There is no tax treaty fig leaf to cover these illegalities. Even the claim that tax treaties bind the government to secrecy is rejected by legal experts.

The five-pronged strategy that the finance minister has unveiled is only an exercise in evasion. It comprises creation of a legislative framework for action, joining the global efforts to eliminate black money, setting up institutions dealing with illicit money, etc. These are as general as any toothless strategy can be. When the government is not enforcing the laws which are already there, how will a new legal framework help? The other points in the strategy are no more than mere words or vague plans. The only specific idea that came from the minister was the one about a plan for amnesty, which is wrong and undesirable. Those who evade taxes or amass money through wrong means and take it out of the country should be caught and punished, and it is not advisable to give them any relief through amnesty. All amnesty schemes make fools of honest tax payers and encourage wrong-doers to evade taxes with the confidence that they can come clean some time in future. The government has no right to forgive violators of the law. If it is planning an amnesty it is because it wants to help the wrong-doers.

The most absurd part of Mukherjee's statement was the plan to set up a committee to find out the amount of black money generated and the size of the foreign bank horde. It is the standard official response to bury an issue.







The Kerala government's refusal to probe the truth behind the makara jyoti (or makaravilakku) at Sabarimala is untenable. It constitutes a brazen mockery of a Kerala high court order to investigate whether or not the makara jyoti is man-made. There is also an unnecessary hair-splitting over the 'jyoti' and the 'star.' The people have the right to know the truth about the origins and nature of this light. The makara jyoti controversy involves a light that is seen at Ponnambalamedu, a hilltop near Sabarimala on Makara Sankranti every year. Lakhs of pilgrims flock to Sabarimala to see this light, believing it to be a divine one. However, several people, including respected members of the Travancore Devaswom Board that administers the Sabarimala temple have said that the light seen at Ponnambalamedu is lit by human beings. Traditionally, tribals living in the area lit a fire as part of their celebrations. However, some members of the Sabarimala temple board claim the light is celestial and they are resisting a probe into their claims. 

The Kerala government says it will not probe the matter because it involves faith. However, it seems to have more to do with politics and big money. Keeping the myth of the celestial origins of makara jyoti alive is useful in ensuring that pilgrims pour in year after year. This keeps the temple's coffers full and provides a boost to local tourism. By refusing to come clean on the makara jyoti, the government is aiding and abetting a fraud on a massive scale that is being perpetrated on the masses.

Many Hindus fear that a probe into the makara jyoti will undermine their religion. It will not. A probe that unearths the truth will free their faith from the tentacles of crooks and charlatans. It will only rid religion of meaningless rituals and superstitions, even as it strengthens the basic essence of their belief in the Almighty. What was once a simple faith has been twisted out of recognition to serve the interests of 'miracle-makers.' It is to wrest this faith out of the hands of vested interests that a probe must be done. People have been kept in the dark for too long over the facts of the makara jyoti. It is time the truth is out in the open.







On Republic Day eve, the five top news headlines perhaps reflected the state of the nation. The first was the tragic story of  the Malegaon additional collector, Yeshwant Sonawane, burnt alive by the oil mafia while checking kerosene theft. The second headline was the finance minister claiming that the government could not reveal the names of those who had stashed black money abroad.

The third headline was of the BJP's ekta yatra being stopped at the Jammu-Punjab border amidst noisy protests. The fourth was the Deoband chief  being pushed to quit because he had allegedly made pro-Narendra Modi remarks in Gujarat. The fifth headline was of  a young student who attacked the father of murdered teenager Arushi Talwar outside a Ghaziabad court with a cleaver. Anyone who watched the news that night would have been instantly aware of the multiple challenges that confront the Indian 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 per cent of kerosene is diverted for adulterating diesel or petrol or for resale. Six years ago when IIM graduate Manjunath 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 ineffective to check adulteration.

The fact is that the muscle of  the oil mafias has less to do with policing and more to do with flawed government policies. The petrol pricing policy of the country actually 'incentivises' adulteration. If petrol costs almost Rs 60 a litre and subsidised kerosene is Rs 12 a litre, the price differential is a great 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 rapacious  middlemen. Yet, governments seem reluctant to review their 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 virtually encouraged India's super-rich not to disclose their entire income and park it overseas instead. Tax evasion for a long time was directly linked to high rates of taxation and the unfriendliness of the tax administration.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee speaks now of a five pronged strategy to deal with black money and creating an appropriate legislative framework. He speaks of a proposal to introduce an amnesty scheme to bring back black money by setting up a task force. What purpose will another expert committee meant to identify the quantum of  black money stashed abroad really serve?

The truth is there has been a marked reluctance to really go after the prime beneficiaries of black money. The government says 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' khadi, religious  extremism has tainted the BJP's saffron. The BJP claims its ekta yatra was driven by a nationalistic spirit, a belief that unfurling the tricolour at Lal Chowk would send a firm signal to Kashmiri separatists. What it has ended up doing instead is only further polarising an already deeply scarred border state. Hoisting the tricolour is a legitimate constitutional right, but when seen through the prism of  confrontational street politics, it appears a sign of  political opportunism. If a message was to be sent to the separatists, then it should have been done by focusing on what the BJP's own prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee once described as the need for 'insaniyat' in the valley. Unfortunately, walking the path of 'insaniyat' in the Kashmir valley is arduous; so much easier of  course to prove ones patriotism by waving a flag.

While the BJP is playing with fire, so are the Deobandis who want to remove their head, Maulana Vastanwi for his alleged support to Narendra Modi's government in Gujarat. Vastanwi reportedly said that he was happy to see Muslims participate in Gujarat's growth story. If that is indeed what he said, why should that arouse such a strong reaction within the Deoband leadership? Or would they prefer that the Muslims of Gujarat remain marginal and isolated in their ghettoes? If the BJP's yatra only creates avoidable tension in the valley, the resignation of the Maulana will only 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.

(The writer is editor-in-chief, IBN-18 network)








We are not fully aware that the educated middle class of India and Pakistan are evolving a new lingo which is a mixture of English and Hindustani.

To emphasise something we repeat the same word twice, eg: to say something is very hot we say hot, hot (garma, garm). Very common is to add the word 'only' at the end of a sentence, eg: when asked "Where are you from?" The reply is "I am from Delhi only." The chief exponent of this khichree lingo is Moni Mohsin of Lahore.

Her pieces from 'The Diary of a Social Butterfly' appeared occasionally in 'The Indian Express' and now regularly in 'The Mail'. They are great fun to read. She was recently in Delhi for the launch of her second book 'Tender Hooks' (Random House). I had described her earlier publication as 'hilarious' this one is hilarity unbound, for hours it takes to read. The theme is about the search of a suitable bride for a young bachelor. She must be (khandani), from a good family, good-looking (khoobsurat) and bring a big dowry (dahej). Most of the story is told through a dialogue between women of the boy's family. I reproduce the first chapter as a sample of what you will get. It will keep you laughing to the last page.

"You know Jonkers, na? Oho baba, what's happened to you? Everything you are forgetting. I think so you must have got sterile dementia. Like poor old Uncle Cock-up. All right, I'll tell you again, but only this one time. Next time you ask I'm not telling, kay? Jonkers is my cousin. He's my aunty Pussy's one and only child. Her sun and air. Who is Aunty Pussy? Honestly! I can't believe I'm hearing this. Next you'll be asking me your own name. Aunty Pussy is Mummy's cousin from her mother's side. Their mummies were sisters. If I was English I'd say Jonkers was my first cousin once removed. As if cousins were bikini lines, once removed, twice removed, hundred times removed, but still there. And Uncle Cock-up is his father.

Haan, so where was I? Yes, Jonkers. It was his 37th birthday last night and Aunty Pussy took us all — Mummy, me, her, and Jonkers also — to Cuckoo's restaurant for dinner in the Old City next to the Badhshahi Mosque. I like Cuckoo's because everyone says it's tabahi. Foreigners tau just love coming here. Or they did before the suicide bombs started in Lahore also. It's a bit bore that Cuckoo's is in the Old City, with its bad toilet smells and all its crumbly-crumbly, old-old houses, but at least all those prostitutes who used to live nearby in the Diamond Market have gone off to Defence Housing Society to live in little kotis, their politicians and feudal boyfriends have bought them. So no chance, thanks God, of bumping into bad charactered types. Unless it's suicide bombers, of course. But then tau you can bump into anywhere, thanks to the army which has given jihadis safe heavens all over Pakistan.

"And also it's a bit bore that you have to climb 55,000 steps to get on top of Cuckoo but view from there is fab. You can look right inside the coat yard of the mosque. But we couldn't, because there was so much of smog. Lahore has three problems — smog, traffic, and terrorists. Otherwise tau it's just fab.

Anyways, Aunty Pussy had also invited Janoo (He's my husband, in case you've forgotten that also now) but Janoo was in his bore village, Sharkpur. Okay, okay, I suppose it's our village because I'm his wife but thanks God, I'm not from there and I haven't been there for three years. Janoo spends half his time there, na, sewing his crops and looking after his mango and orange and kinno orchids, sorry sorry I meant orchards. But because I don't sew the crops, and I only spend the money we get from the crops, it's best for me to live in Lahore where the shops are. Aunty Pussy also invited Kulchoo but he said he was doing homework. His GCSEs are on top of his head but I think so he was reading Facebook. Such a little bookworm my baby is."

Mohsin writes regularly for 'Friday Times', published from Lahore. Her novel 'The End of Innocence' won her an award. The family now lives in London.

Our postal services

A few weeks ago a Mrs P V Rao who lives in Bhubaneswar wanted to say something about what I had written, but did not have my address. So after my name she wrote 'Man in the bulb' with an address of her own making: 'AB to SJ Avenue, New Delhi-110029.' Someone in our postal services cut out her fabricated address and wrote my correct address and I got her letter. I was most impressed by their efficiency.

20 years ago I did not know anyone who had the same name as mine. Now there are a few in the telephone directory. Occasionally, I get letters not meant for me. I toss them in the waste paper basket. Now I do get some letters with only New Delhi as the address. I feel flattered and admiration for our postal services increases. The greatest compliment they paid me was the time when Bhindranwale was on the rampage in Punjab. It was from one of his admirers in Canada. The contents were in Gurmukhi and full of earthy abuses for me. The address was in English: 'Bastard Khushwant Singh, India'. Someone in our postal department put my correct address and the letter was delivered to me. My admiration for our postal services went up sky high.







Blind faith is no faith, because how can one revere what one does not understand?

My ancestral home is in Alleppey. Perhaps it was the communist intones of Kerala or the influence of my grandfather who was a progressive man. The then Maharaja of Travancore often consulted him on various matters. Grandfather on his own was bent upon creating better social status for the then suffering people socially demarcated as being outside the varnas. He educated many of them and had open-house for any such people who needed to quench their thirst or feed hunger.

Thus schooled by such ancestral approach to life, it is but natural that his progenies took the pragmatic view in verve. We, their children were indoctrinated into religion to view it with calm and social practicality. Father often told us to visit temples only on days when it would not be crowded. He averred that any day was a good day to commune with God. Festivities he said were ways in which people socialised in the old days, and India being as populated as it is, over crowding of temples on auspicious days would prove hazardous.

Praying, father stated was a personal routine, which was between the person and God and there was no need to make a public display of emotions. He also maintained visiting temples was a cultural experience, where you felt the intrinsic charm and power of the sanctum sanctorum, the power of the deity enshrined in its supremacy there. The temples were the wondrous art forms of the deity, the carvings in and around the temple also were praise worthy; internalising all that magnificence was the essence of visiting a temple. A temple he said was a place where you heal in quietude.

Mythology has it that Lord Ayyappa went into reclusion unhappy about the way he was treated by his foster parents. He went away so far that his followers were denied access to his enshrinement. His worshippers were anguished. He explained why he needed to be in reclusion, but he would make available a temple for his devotees. That is the present Shabrimala.

He again went into reclusion further away; where a small tribal society lives and they celebrate Makaram and light a huge fire, which is the light; the Makara Jyothi sighted from Shabrimala. This has always been the belief. When the truth got mystified is yet a mystery! The truth is, faith must be followed in full knowledge. Blind faith is no faith at all, because how can one revere what one does not fully understand?







When a five star hotel was ordered to demolish a significant part of its structure a few years ago, the state government intervened swiftly. Within days, it had drafted and passed an ordinance with retrospective effect going back over 40 years, to pre-empt the impending demolition. Faced with unprecedented flak, the government had then justified its action saying that it saved 600 jobs, which could have been lost if the demolition had gone ahead.

A recent High Court judgment has ordered the Mormugao Municipal Corporation (MMC) to demolish 330 houses in Vasco's Khariwaddo by 15 February. On Thursday, residents of Khariwaddo held a public meeting to voice their protest as well as to debate the best course of action to take. Councillors of the Vasco municipality as well as other local leaders spoke at this meeting.

Most of them pointed out – quite correctly – that locals had been carrying out fishing activities in the area since generations, and their rights could not simply be wished away merely because the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) needs the area for its expansion plans. Others revealed that the issue dated back to 1998, when the MPT first identified 194 homes to be demolished for its expansion, but that the port authority had, in the same year, signed an MoU with the government and leaders of the fishing community that their homes would not be demolished until a full-fledged alternative fishing jetty was built.

In situations like these, justifications are all very fine, but what is of essence is action. What should the residents of Khariwaddo do now? Some spouted the usual platitudes, asking the residents to "stand together" against the High Court order (Exactly how does one do this?). Others were more practical, urging residents to join together and appeal the judgment. Still others were against a common legal strategy, saying that all the threatened homes should go for stay orders, individually but simultaneously.

But it was one particular Councillor that said the government should intervene with an ordinance, exactly the way it did when the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of part of a five star hotel. This, she said, would save both livelihoods as well as houses.

She is right. If 600 jobs were at stake in the proposed demolition of part of the five star hotel, how much more is at risk – in terms of both livelihoods and residences – if 330 homes of fisherfolk are demolished at Khariwaddo? Over 2,000 people will be out on the streets, and their earning members will be unable to continue with their traditional occupations.

These people are no less 'aam admi' than those who allegedly stood to lose their jobs if part of that five star hotel came down. They are being offered 'alternative accommodation' at a place where it is highly difficult, if not impossible, to continue with traditional fishing. The alternative jetty that was to be built for them at Katem Baina has not even begun construction.

So is Goa's 'aam admi' government going to give them an ordinance too?


They posed to be 'high security' but were only 'high priced'. And it was 'high time' that the government scrapped the contract with Delhi-based firm Shimnit Utsch for the so-called 'high security' registration plates, which seemed more scam than security measure.

The authorities should first find out why countries in Europe as well as the UK, Canada and the United States, which have the maximum number of cars, find these systems completely unnecessary.






Lately, the hit American brand Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) made a quiet entry into Goa, quite because there was hardly anything spent on advertising as compared to what is usually expected of them. So high is the brand appeal of KFC, that Goans were seen thronging in an unfinished shopping mall, trying to get a taste of KFC. The long queues have now become manageable, but they still remain steady. Good news for everybody, the owners of KFC and Goans will now spend big bucks to taste international brands. KFC, because of their fast increasing customer base, and brand loyalty among Generation Next, will slowly change Goan food habits, and will eat into the market share of the cuisine of Goa which, till date, has remained unbranded.
We cannot compare fast food with elegant Goan cuisine, but in order take on the mighty KFC, Goans should start thinking in terms of improvising some of our own cuisine into creating fast food brands such as a chicken 'cafreal.'

The reason being if Goan cuisine has to survive the onslaught of international tastes then creating, managing and building a chain of brands of at least some our foods, might be the only alternative forward. In this competitive world, everybody is free to promote and sell international brands and therefore, it becomes imperative that local brands of foods are created which are in imminent danger of being wiped out.
In the Middle East, there is a craze among their Generation Next to patronise American brands, KFC being one of them. These international brands attract their customers not necessarily for the taste, but also because they are cool places to hang out.

 At this rate, there was a danger that Arab food habits were changing and therefore, some enterprising local businessmen created their own brand of chicken that matched the outlet of a KFC and offered their own grilled tender chicken instead of fried. This gave the customer a choice of eating an international fried chicken or a local grilled tender chicken.

At least, they made sure that their taste of chicken competes with KFC, and at the same time, is economically viable. Countries in the far east have developed their own local food chains and compete side by side with international brands at food courts in prestigious malls.

Goans should start thinking of creating fast food brands which are easy to prepare, and faster to serve. For example, creating a brand for the all time Goan favourite 'Choris Pao' might not be a bad idea.
At the moment, available in not so comfortable local bars, its clientele is limited as it does not attract trendy customers, but once you place this product in a place that is cool and trendy, chances are that these foods might survive the next generation. A two-year old idea by a political party of creating a brand of the famous Vada Pav is taking shape in Mumbai, and although it is delayed, at least their intent is right.

Creating a brand is not an easy task, as it needs strong financial backing, publicity, and overcoming logistical hindrances. Sometimes you might have to tweak the original recipe to suit changing tastes or to make it economically viable.

Even KFC went through a transformation, and its recipe according to its original founder Colonel Harland Sanders is not the same that he prepared in the 1930s.

After he sold the franchise for $2 million in 1964, the company changed hands from Heublien to R J Reynolds and now with Pepsico from 1986, which now holds the brand through its subsidiary Yum Brands.
Economics play a big part in the longevity of a brand, and as long as their basic recipe has remained unchanged, a little bit of tweaking should be acceptable.

Why bother creating a brand strategy for products which historically has done well? Well they might have, in a protected environment but there is no guarantee in the changing competitive scenario that these Goan foods will survive.

Having said that, there are few Goans who have been in the process of creating Goan brands. Mahendra Alvares in Loutolim has shown the way on how in his project 'Big Foot' he is able to take you back in time, and yet strike a chord with the Generation Next thereby creating a brand image for the venture.

'Goa Chitra' an ethnographic museum conceptualised by Victor Hugo Gomes of Benaulim, promotes the concept of 'Back to Basics' which now makes more and more sense, in this high inflation scenario.
Goa needs brand positioning and efforts from our stars like Remo Fernandes, who recently composed music and sang for a Konkani feature film, or Wendell Rodricks designing the Goan Kunbi saree, will go a long way in building brand 'GOA'.

Their efforts have, at least, positioned brand Goa positively and changed the perception to the outside world, although it might completely not arrest the eroding brand value of Goa, which our politicians have attained over the years.

Badly handled tourism in the hands of politicians for a few more years will position brand Goa next to a brothel, where anyone and everyone enjoys on their terms, but at the cost of Goans. The toppling political games our politicians play might amuse the local population, but when these events take place, brand Goa always takes a hit.

A couple of years ago, India biggest private bank ICICI Bank took a hit when rumours were intentionally floated about their weak financial position to enable a certain bear cartel to short sell the banks shares.
The bank quickly realised their brand had taken a hit, and took decisive action by roping in Shahrukh Khan for their advertising campaign to reinforce their brand image, and contacted their depositors to dispel those rumors.
But then, ICICI Bank is a private bank and is answerable to its shareholders, depositors and its customers. Their very existence depended on the brand they had created, over these years.


Enterprising Goans must start thinking of creating local brands, because it might be our only chance to compete, with the best in the world.

The brand must then make enough money to sustain itself on its own, instead of begging for government dole and political favours; and least of all, never make politicians inaugurate that new venture, whatever might be the compulsions.

In Generation Next lingo, they are the opposite of cool, they are not the Generation Next idols, your brand might create initial curiosity but in the long run, it might never takeoff.

Our existence will now depend on how fast we adapt to this changing scenario.








Speaking in tune with the Prime Minister for a change, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Tuesday that secrecy clauses in treaties with other countries are preventing the Government of India from disclosing the names of Indians with black money abroad estimated at $462 billion to $1.4 trillion. Having said this, he also added, "We have nothing to hide. But there are legal provisions." Such contradictory statements beg a question or two. One of course is: Why should the government sign bilateral treaties with several countries merely to protect those who routinely defraud the country to the tune of billions of dollars? Where is the merit in India becoming a signatory to treaties that are meant only to protect those who evade tax or commit economic offences and crimes that result in the loot of the country? The question that needs to be asked before signing such bilateral treaties is: Who will this treaty benefit — some unscrupulous industrialists and businessmen or the nation as a whole? There is adequate proof that most of these treaties have been signed for the benefit of such captains of commerce and industry who have never had any qualms about defrauding the nation or concealing their economic activities from the Reserve Bank of India. These activities of defrauding the country and stashing away black money in numbered accounts abroad have gone on for so long that the government has no way of even pretending that it is unaware of who the beneficiaries of such bilateral agreements are. The obvious question, therefore, is: are we not better off without such treaties? The clamour from industrialists for an "even playing field" has gone on for as long as we can remember. And the government has not only bent over backwards to provide such a level playing field but also succumbed to the demand to make laws relating to economic offences far too lenient. It replaced the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) some years ago with the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) so that those indulging in economic offences could be let off lightly without any deterrent penal action.

We have a situation where the extent of the swindle on the exchequer is astronomical. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has himself admitted that the extent of the undisclosed assets of Indians abroad would be anything between $462 billion and $1.4 trillion or about 150 per cent of India's gross domestic product. We are supposed to have a democratic system working in India where the people are supposed to be the rulers — not a monarchy or dictatorship. They have a right to know how much of the country's assets are abroad (without the knowledge of the Reserve Bank of India) and who are the persons responsible for this crime. It is not the business of the government to find ways of protecting such criminals. It is rather the responsibility of the government to punish them and to confiscate their undisclosed assets. The very fact that the Reserve Bank of India has been bypassed should be offence enough for charges to be drawn up. Had the names of the offenders not been available, there would have been some justification in waiting for all the names to be known before taking action. Since the names of the criminals are known, it makes sense to tell the countries with which 'treaties' had been signed that the so-called treaties are going against the interest of India and therefore New Delhi is withdrawing from the treaties. The very fact that the Supreme Court itself is at a loss to understand why the names of the culprits cannot be revealed, would seem to be good enough reason to withdraw from such useless anti-national treaties.





Assam's Fishery Minister Nurjamal Sarkar recently made promises about fish production in the State that sound a trifle fishy in the context of what the people have experienced over the last three decades. During this period, the production of fish in Assam — so full of lakes and ponds — declined to such an extent that the State has had to import fish from States as far away as Andhra Pradesh. This has drained the State's resources to the tune of several hundred crores of rupees every year. Despite such a shortage of fish in the State, the Fishery Minister made the bold claim on Tuesday that the State would be self-sufficient in fish within three years. This is a claim that is backed up by data that would seem rather suspect in the light of our collective experience. Nurjamal Sarkar claims that the State imports about 18,450 tonnes of fish every year to meet the State's requirements. He also adds that about 5,252 tonnes of fish produced within the State are exported to neighbouring States. He claims that if the State produces about 2.5 lakh tonnes of additional fish, it would become self-sufficient in fish and would not have to import fish from other States. The first question that arises is why the State needs to produce an additional 2.5 lakh tonnes in order to be self-sufficient if it is in a position to export 5,252 tonnes of fish against an import of about 18,450 tonnes of fish. Another statement of the minister was even more intriguing. He said that against a fish production of 2.06 lakh tonnes in 2008-09, the production was 2.18 lakh tonnes the next year. If that is indeed the scenario, why does the minister have to wait for three years to see the State self-sufficient in fish? It should have already become almost self-sufficient according to his reckoning. However, one must not forget that these are all pre-election statistics that are compiled to catch votes rather than fish.






T here is still one more year before the country can rightly celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of one of the most astounding men in India's long cultural history, but apparently such is the high respect and affection Swami Vivekananda commands among practically all sane segments of Hindu society that he is very much in the news and talked about. By any account he was in a class by himself, blessed by none else than Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa.

He was born on January 12, 1863, just seven years after the so-called Sepoy Mutiny or India's first War of Independence. As he grew up, memories of the War must have remained fresh in every Indian patriot's memory. Sri Ramakrishna, his guru-to-be, was born in 1836, and how Narendra Dutta (for that was his given name) came to know him and both got attached to each other in some mysterious way, is history.

Narendra was a precocious boy. Romain  Rolland, in his biography of this remarkable soul, has noted that Vivekananda's "pre-eminent characteristic was kingliness!" Wrote Rolland: "Nothing escaped the magic of his glance, capable equally of embracing in its irresistible charm or of sparkling wit, irony or kindness, of losing itself in ecstasy, or of plunging imperiously to the very depth of consciousness and of withering with its fury. He was a born king and nobody ever came near him either in India or America without paying homage to his majesty".

Indeed India needed such a man in the last quarter of the 19th century. India had lost its independence, it had lost its self-respect, and Hinduism as such was at its nadir. What it desperately needed, it got. One remembers that line from the Gita quoting Krishna as telling Arjuna: Dharmasamsthapanarthaya sambhavani yuge yuge. He wanted to establish dharma as much in the rest of the world as in India. He stood up to all critics of Hinduism as only he could, in a majestic, unassailable way. He had chosen that as his life's broad message. And he captured the imagination of millions by his daring and exquisite scholarship.

The Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893 established his credentials beyond question or argument. When asked to speak on Hinduism by Prof John Henry Wright, his reply was: "But I have no credentials!" Prof Wright hit back: "To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun about its right to shine!" Wright wrote to a number of important people connected with the Parliament, especially to the chairman of the Committee on Selection of Delegates who was one of his friends, saying: "Here is a man more learned than all our learned professors put together!"

At that time Vivekananda was barely 30-year old, as old as Sankara was. But he proved Prof Wright was right! Many people still wonder why it was that an audience of about 4,000, largely Christian men and women, gave him a standing ovation of four minutes when he began his address by saying: "Sisters and brothers of America!" The audience was surely taken aback by his sheer openness to life and his open determination to treat individuals as individuals and not, as a Bishop would, as sinners whose souls are to be saved. When he said in the course of his brief first address what the Gita said of religion, it must have touched the thousands to the core of their hearts. As he said, "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him. All men are struggling through paths which, in the end, lead to Me."

Commenting on that speech, the New York Herald wrote: "He is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him, we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation." And Merwin-Marie Snell, president of the Scientific Section of Columbia Exposition which was being held simultaneously with the Parliament, said: "No religious body made so profound an impression upon the Parliament and the American people at large, as did Hinduism".

Re-reading some of the speeches Vivekananda made during his lengthy sojourn in America, one cannot but wonder at the sheer brilliance of the man and the conviction he carried. Our brainless secularists of today will probably call him a communalist for advocating and explaining what Hinduism is all about. The question one has now to ask is: Do we need another Vivekananda presently at a time when Hindus themselves are degrading their ancient way of life in the name of secularism?

Mahatma Gandhi who once confessed that he has gone through Vivekananda's works thoroughly was to say that reading Vivekananda only increased the love he had for India "a thousand fold".

Will Durant, the distinguished American historian, wrote: "He (Vivekananda) preached to his countrymen a more virile creed than any Hindu had offered them since Vedic days."

Limitless were Vivekananda's admirers. Among them was no less a celebrity than Tolstoy. Rabindranath Tagore wrote: "If  you want to know India, study Vivekananda. In him everything is positive."

He had the courage to criticize God Himself. He had travelled throughout India and seen the pitiable living conditions of the masses and at times been moved to tears. Once he was to remark, with his usual vigour, that a God who could not in this life give a crust of bread was not to be trusted in the next for the kingdom of heaven. Let it be said here and now: Only a true Hindu would have dared to say that. Sri Ramakrishna himself was to say: "Religion is not for an empty stomach."

In a world rampant with corruption, in a world where fake secularism is the ruling ideology, in a world that is dying for uplift, what is needed is another Vivekananda.

The least that the UPA government can do is to declare 2011-2012 as the Year of Vivekananda and make it compulsory for all students from the primary to the postgraduate level aware of what Vivekananda stood for and, in consequence, what every Indian should stand for. Former President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan said it all when he remarked: "If you really believe in the divine spark in man, do not, for a moment, hesitate to accept the great tradition which has come to us of which Swami Vivekananda was the greatest exponent."

But who, in the UPA government, will have the courage to listen to Dr Radhakrishnan and live up to his advice?

MV Kamath



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



Both President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, in power for three decades, and Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, in power for 23 years, should have seen this coming. They didn't — or didn't care. Both countries share similar pressures: huge numbers of young people without jobs, growing outrage over abusive security forces, corrupt leaders, repressive political systems.

Their people are right to demand more from their governments. The status quo is unsustainable and the result, perhaps inevitable, has been an explosion of protests and rioting in the streets of both countries.

Egypt, with Mr. Mubarak in charge, is an American ally and a recipient of nearly $1.5 billion in aid annually. It is the biggest country in the Arab world and was the first to make peace with Israel. Yemen is home to a dangerous Al Qaeda affiliate and has given the United States pretty much free rein to go after the extremists.

All of which leaves Washington in a quandary, trying to balance national security concerns and its moral responsibility to stand with those who have the courage to oppose authoritarian rulers. American officials must already be wondering what will happen to the fight against Al Qaeda if Mr. Saleh is deposed. And what will happen to efforts to counter Iran and promote Arab-Israeli peace if Mr. Mubarak is suddenly gone?

We won't try to game Yemen's politics. Even in Egypt, it's impossible to know who might succeed Mr. Mubarak. He has made sure that there is no loyal opposition and little in the way of democratic institutions.

In the past, Washington has often pulled its punches on human rights and democracy to protect unholy security alliances with dictators, like Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines. There came a time when it was obvious that the Marcos tie was damaging American security interests and President Ronald Reagan — along with a people power revolution — played a role in easing him peacefully out of power.

Whether that point comes with Mr. Mubarak is now up to him. So far, he has shown arrogance and tone-deafness. He has met the spiraling protests with spiraling levels of force and repression. On Friday, in a sign more of weakness than strength, the government shut down Internet access and cellphone service. The protestors were undeterred.

Early Saturday, Mr. Mubarak ordered all of his ministers to resign and said his new government would accelerate reforms. He would be far more persuasive if he lifted the communications blackout, reeled in his security forces, allowed credible candidates to compete for president this year, and ensured a free and fair election.

Cables released by WikiLeaks show that the Obama administration has been privately pushing Mr. Mubarak to wake up, release jailed dissidents and pursue reforms. Unfortunately, those private exhortations did not get very far.

The administration struggled to get its public message right this week. On Thursday, it made clear that while Mr. Mubarak is a valuable ally, it is not taking sides but is trying to work with both the government and the protesters. By Friday, the White House said it was ready to "review" aid to Egypt — after Mr. Mubarak cut most communications, called out the army and effectively put Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading opposition figure and former leader of the International Atomic Energy Agency, under house arrest.

Mr. Obama will have to be willing to actually cut that aid if Mr. Mubarak turns the protests into a bloodbath and fails to open up Egypt's political system.





The Republicans' fervor for saving the taxpayers' dollars doesn't extend to one of the Pentagon's costlier failures — the Marine Corps' new Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, a hybrid landing craft and battle truck.

Twenty years in the making, the vehicle had so many breakdowns and cost overruns — and was based on such outdated war assumptions — that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates terminated it this month for a savings of $14.4 billion. This was after the project had eaten $3.3 billion, driving the cost per vehicle from $5 million to $17 million, with prototypes still stumbling through tests.

Mr. Gates, of course, instantly ran into the new Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Howard McKeon, who believes that defense spending is much too sacrosanct to be included in the full-scale slashing Republicans promise for the rest of federal discretionary spending. Hold off "precipitous action," Republican appropriators advised the defense secretary as they began hearings into the E.F.V. and other worthy chunks of the $78 billion in savings Mr. Gates aims to effect across the next five years.

For the immediate moment, the secretary is rightly urging Congress to approve this year's overdue Pentagon budget and put aside complaints about future cuts. "I have a crisis on my doorstep," Mr. Gates warned about current military readiness.

The Pentagon budget has doubled in the past decade and now represents more than 50 percent of discretionary federal spending — and that doesn't include the cost of two wars. How can it be off limits? If Congress tries to revive the wasteful E.V.F. project, the secretary warns its ballooning price tag will swallow most of the Marine Corps' future procurement and maintenance budget across the coming years.

The E.F.V. is a classic in the excesses of the military-industrial complex, with entrenched politicians promoting hometown pork and reeling in political contributions from weapons developers. Republicans are particularly devoted, but this is a bipartisan way of life. Among the Tea Party House freshmen — sworn to root out waste and the rest — only one has dared to say "everything needs to be on the table."

The E.F.V. opens as exhibit A in Congress's knee-jerk commitment to bottomless defense spending. Original plans were for 1,025 vehicles, but that was cut to 573 as prototypes failed. Invoking national security and Marine Corps glory, appropriators now are suggesting that the nation could afford at least 200, right? The nation needs responsible lawmakers, not salesmen intent on protecting an assembly line for lemons.





William Reilly and Bob Graham, co-chairmen of the presidential panel on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, went to Capitol Hill last week to sell their final report. The detailed document endorses deep-water drilling while urging a series of reforms to make it safer. But Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee reacted as if they had called for an end to the oil industry.

The commission's prescriptions will require big improvements in the way the industry operates and much tighter government oversight. Given all we know about what went wrong, anything less would be irresponsible.

That's not the way Doc Hastings, the committee's chairman and a Washington Republican, saw it. He said that he feared the report could be used to shut the industry down and that the commission was heavily weighted with people "who had dedicated a significant portion of their career to opposing oil and gas drilling." Don Young of Alaska said the report was sure to be hostile because President Obama "doesn't believe in fossil fuels."

Jeff Landry, a Louisiana freshman, said the report had smeared an entire industry. Tom McClintock of California expressed amazement that anyone would take seriously the views of a former chairman of the World Wildlife Fund (Mr. Reilly) or a retired senator who had once opposed drilling off Florida's coast (Mr. Graham).

Mr. Reilly must have felt as if he had stepped through the looking glass. An old-school moderate Republican (and thus an endangered species), he has argued for environmental values at the wildlife fund, as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George H. W. Bush and as a director of ConocoPhillips. Now he wants to make drilling safer — apostasy to these industry apologists.

The co-chairmen received a more courtly reception in the Senate. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat and an old friend of the oil companies, praised the commission for its balance and agreed that stronger regulation was in industry's best interests. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, promised an oil spill bill to match the sound reforms proposed this week in the House.

A similar bill passed the House last year. But this is a new House — one in which, sadly, antiregulatory fervor trumps even the most sensible responses to one of the nation's worst environmental disasters.






It is a relief to know that there are still some politicians out there willing to take the risk of doing the right thing. The mayor of Omaha, Jim Suttle, is one. He barely survived a recall vote last week after he dared to fully confront the deficit mess he inherited when he took over City Hall 14 months ago.

Mayor Suttle, a Democrat, declined the familiar politician-as-panderer's escape route — draconian vows to slash services while worshiping at the "no-new-taxes" shrine. Soon after taking office, he called for tax increases that turned an $11 million deficit into a $3 million surplus and helped restore the city's AAA credit rating.

That success further incensed his critics. With heavy backing from business, they began a recall campaign criticizing the mayor's tax strategy and his candid plans to pay down debt and begin facing a deepening hole in police and fire pension funds.

The National Rifle Association attempted the coup de grâce, denouncing him as a "true enemy" of the Second Amendment. Mr. Suttle is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the association of 500 mayors from big cities and small towns who are trying to protect constituents from the mayhem of illicit firearms.

Mayor Suttle deserves credit for not employing procrastination, study committees and budget gimmicks to buy political time. He did seek some spending cuts and push for salary freezes and help from retirees on health care costs. But, his job on the line, he would not shrink from the need for more revenue to head off greater calamity. "Take all the pain now," was his prescription for himself as much as the city.

Omaha was commendably galvanized. After a furious campaign — the recall turnout was 75,000, just 1,000 short of the 2009 mayoral election — voters chose to keep their mayor by a margin of 1,650 votes. Mr. Suttle's performance did not get him in the celebrity gallery at the State of the Union address. But it is an encouraging tale in the current annals of American politics.






President Obama made history on Tuesday.

It was only the second time since Harry S. Truman's State of the Union address in 1948 that such a speech by a Democratic president did not include a single mention of poverty or the plight of the poor.

The closest Obama got to a mention was his confirmation for "Americans who've seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear" that, indeed, "the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real." I'm sure they appreciated that.

The only other Democrat not to mention poverty in the speech was Jimmy Carter in 1980, but even he was able to squeeze in one reference to at least a portion of the poor and disenfranchised, stressing the continuation of jobs programs to "provide training and work for our young people, especially minority youth." (Carter did mention the poor in a written version that he submitted to Congress.)

John F. Kennedy didn't say the specific words "poor" or "poverty" in his first State of the Union, but he talked at length about providing "more food for the families of the unemployed, and to aid their needy children," securing "more purchasing power for our lowest-paid workers by raising and expanding the minimum wage" and of a new housing program to address the problem of "cities being engulfed in squalor."

So how is it that this Democratic president has the temerity to deliver a State of the Union address that completely neglects any explicit mention of the calamitous conditions now afflicting his staunchest supporters: the poor?

(In 2008, Obama won 73 percent of the vote of those earning less than $15,000 a year, 60 percent of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000 and 55 percent of the vote of those earning $30,000 to $50,000. Those were his widest margins of victory of any income group and helped to propel him to victory.)

He talked at length about education (the most inspiring part of the speech) and about civility and his repackaged bromides of global competitiveness and investments in the future. And, of course, there were cautious mentions of programs that benefit seniors and the need to protect and secure them. Can't forget the plea to the old people.

Protecting programs for seniors strikes the right chord morally and politically, but the data show that seniors are not the ones feeling the majority of the pain these days.

According to data from the Census Bureau, the percent of people ages 18 to 64 who were living in poverty in 2009 was higher than it had been in any year since 1959, while the percent of seniors living in poverty was lower than it had been in any year since at least 1959.

(By the way, voters over 65 were the only age group that Obama lost in 2008.)

I, for one, refuse to believe that this is an either-or proposition. We can make smart choices about protecting seniors and supporting younger Americans in need at the same time. We don't have to ignore the Annies among us to court the Miss Daisys.

For the poor, this is the Obama Conundrum. He was obviously the best choice in 2008. And judging by the current cast of Republican presidential contenders, he could well be the best choice in 2012. But does that give him license to obviate his moral responsibility to his electoral devotees? Can and should they take his snubs as a necessary consequence of political warfare as he makes every effort to tack back to the middle and reconnect with those whose opinion of him vacillates between contempt on a bad day and sufferance on a good one? Does keeping him in the White House dictate keeping them in the shadows?

And things could get even worse for the poor if the president feels the need to cut too many deals with the new Republican-led House in order to appear more centrist.

According to Brian Miller, the executive director of the nonpartisan and Boston-based group United for a Fair Economy and co-author of the group's report entitled "State of the Dream 2011: Austerity for Whom?" released earlier this month, "austerity measures based on the conservative tenets of less government and lower taxes will ratchet down the standard of living for all Americans, while simultaneously widening our nation's racial and economic divide."

As Miller put it, deficits that tax cuts for the rich helped to create "are being used to justify a host of austerity measures that will harm Americans of all races but will hit blacks and Latinos the hardest."

According to Miller, "With 42 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Latinos lacking the funds to meet minimal household expenses for even three months should they become unemployed, cutting public assistance programs will have devastating impacts on black and Latino workers."

(Obama won 95 percent of the black vote and 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008.)

Even as my respect for this president as a shrewd politician has begun to rebound, my faith in him as a fervent crusader for the poor and disenfranchised has taken yet another nose dive. One's tone-deafness — or blatant indifference — to the poor has to be at Black American Express status to brag that "the stock market has come roaring back" and "corporate profits are up" and not even mention the unemployment rate or the continuing foreclosure crisis.

I want to believe that President Obama's speech omissions were oversights, not acts of arrogance. But I'm not sure.

President Truman wrote in 1953 that, "ultimately, no President can master his responsibilities, save as his fellow citizens — indeed, the whole people — comprehend the challenge of our times and move, with him, to meet it." But, it is sometimes hard to follow — indeed, to chase — a president who appears to be moving, often at a full sprint, away from the people who once carried him.







Is Michele Bachmann the new Sarah Palin?

And do we really need a new Sarah Palin? Shouldn't the first one be made to go away before we start considering replacements?

Bachmann, the superconservative member of Congress from Minnesota, made a big splash on Tuesday night with her Tea Party response to the State of the Union address. True, the placement of the cameras made her look as if she was talking to an invisible friend, and her eye makeup had a peculiar zombie aspect to it. But the next day all the attention was on her and not the official Republican response by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman.

And the Republicans were afraid to complain! One congressman from Utah told Politico that he thought "to try to upend Paul Ryan was just wrong." Hours later he issued a retraction — through Bachmann's office.

On one level, Bachmann is just a third-term representative who only gets attention whenever she does something newsworthy, like claiming the Constitution says she doesn't have to tell a census taker anything but how many people live in her home. She was passed over in a try for a minor post in House leadership.

Yet, at her invitation, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court came trotting over to the Capitol to lecture the House freshmen this week about the true meaning of the Constitution. And she makes the leaders who snubbed her quake with terror. What if she rallies her fellow Tea Partiers into a rebellion over, say, raising the debt limit, and the economy collapses?

She does have a history of single-mindedness. Back when Bachmann was a state senator in Minnesota, her colleagues complained that they couldn't get a budget done because she insisted on bringing everything to a screeching halt to argue about same-sex marriage. It was a controversy marked by her usual flair. "In 2005, she claimed to have been held against her will in a restaurant bathroom by two critics of an amendment banning same-sex marriage; they said they'd merely buttonholed her to talk," reported The Minneapolis Star Tribune in a profile. "Then foes claimed that Bachmann hid behind some bushes to spy on a gay-rights rally; she said she was merely checking the turnout."

Bushes aside, Bachmann is a much more serious person than Palin, whose response to the State of the Union address was to focus on the title, "Winning the Future." ("There were a lot of W.T.F. moments throughout that speech.") If Palin and Bachmann were your co-workers, Palin would be the one sneaking out early to go bowling, while Bachmann would stay late to reorganize the office seating chart to reflect her own personal opinion of who most deserves to be near the water cooler.

History is superimportant to Bachmann, who claims that she left the Democratic Party when she was a college senior, after reading "Burr," Gore Vidal's caustic historical novel. "He was kind of mocking the founding fathers, and I just thought 'what a snot,' " Bachmann told The Star Tribune. It was, she said, a transformational moment so critical to her worldview that she can still remember what she was wearing. ("A tan trench coat, blue pin-striped shirt, like a tailored shirt, and dress slacks.")

It's not everybody who switches political parties over a historical novel, but Bachmann's vision of the past is the core to her ideology. The men who created the Constitution were perfect heroes, so infallible that they fully understood the right to bear arms would someday include semiautomatic pistols capable of firing 30 bullets in 10 seconds.

Last week, Bachmann was in Iowa, setting off alarm bells about her possible presidential ambitions and delivering a speech in which she claimed that the founding fathers had "worked tirelessly" to eradicate slavery. She then cited John Quincy Adams, who was not a founding father.

Bachmann is not a zealous fact-checker, as we learned when she claimed the president's trip to India would cost the taxpayers $200 million a day, based on an Indian newspaper report quoting an unnamed provincial official. In the real world, many founders, like Thomas Jefferson, expressed reservations about slavery but still kept hundreds of slaves, who were the basis of their personal wealth. Others, like John Adams, never owned slaves and opposed the institution but compromised on the matter of all men actually being created equal in order to bring the southern states into the union. And not a single one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence envisioned in any way, shape or form a democracy in which people of Michele Bachmann's gender would sit in the halls of Congress.

But Bachmann was speaking to the lore of the far right, which strips the founding fathers of their raw, fallible humanity and ignores the fact that, in some ways, we're wiser.

Maybe she'll make Sarah Palin look good.

Bob Herbert is off today.






Oklahoma City

JUST as a wave of national news reports saying that "one-fourth of girls" at a Memphis high school were pregnant was about to crest last week, a miracle intervened: facts.

Investigation showed that the scary number, which had been publicized by a local official with the advocacy group Girls Inc., was vastly exaggerated. Unfortunately, this was not before some national newspapers, pregnancy experts and celebrities with questionable credentials (Kim Kardashian!) indulged in zero-evidence rhetoric attributing Memphis's nonexistent crisis to everything from adolescent stupidity to the MTV program "Teen Mom."

After refuting the rumors, Memphis officials soberly connected the city's relatively high rate of pregnant teenagers to long-term hardships like poverty and family abuse, including childhood rape. As in most cities, Memphis's teenage pregnancies are heavily concentrated in poor neighborhoods; in Memphis's case, in just three of its ZIP codes. But by then pundits and cable news anchors had moved on — no one's going to get a talk show booking or Lifetime movie script sticking to the facts.

In any case, the performance of the Memphis officials and the press was a huge improvement over what we saw in Gloucester, Mass., in 2008. That circus started when workers at the Gloucester High School clinic asserted there had been a huge "spike" in teenage motherhood that was the result of a baby-raising "pact" among girls at the school.

The scandal made an international news splash — even leading to a reaction against the movie "Juno" — but no pact was ever uncovered. Massachusetts Department of Health figures showed no spike in Gloucester teenage motherhood in 2008; actually, the numbers were lower than those of a decade earlier.

Yet, even as solid statistics and surveys show sharp declines among teenagers in problems like crime, violent death, rape, pregnancy, school dropout, dating violence, depression and other consistently measured troubles, the news media continue to press alarming claims of new epidemics of bullying, "cyberbullying," "hooking up," "sexting," dating violence, violence by girls, gay suicide, depression, narcissism, materialism, dumbness and other vaguely defined trends. What gives?

Let's face it: for advocacy groups or sensationalist journalists, just about anything young people from the ages 10 to 19 do — even feeling too good — can be recast as a "teenage crisis." For some school districts and advocacy groups, "bullying" is defined to include not just chronic physical or psychological torment, but any unwanted remark, glance or even a rolled eye. "Cyberbullying" can mean any online conflict that makes a person feel uncomfortable.

Likewise, surveys from organizations like the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy define receiving any "sexy messages" by e-mail or cellphone as "sexting." Mild disagreements between couples are considered "dating violence." And so on.

Even statistics are routinely manipulated. For example, when the percentage of teenage women giving birth briefly rose from 2005 to 2007, sex-education advocates and abstinence-only promoters rushed to blame each other, and sexed-up popular culture, for the supposed crisis. Neither side noted the inconvenient reality that the births had increased most significantly among 18- and 19-year-olds, and were unchanged among the younger teenagers supposedly most affected by warring school curriculums.

And, naturally, neither side had a good explanation when teenage births dropped in 2008 and 2009 to the lowest levels since World War II, or why birth declines over the last 20 years among both teenagers and adults have occurred only among married couples, not the unwed ones who usually are the targets of sex education campaigns.

While it's unclear whether teenagers today have more sex with each other and with adult partners than occurred in previous generations, they do seem to handle sex better. Crime reports from the F.B.I. and victimization surveys from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that rape, sexual violence and dating violence have plummeted among young people. Centers for Disease Control statistics indicate that rates of pregnancy, birth, abortion and sexually transmitted disease among teenagers are much lower than in past generations.

Today 15 million American children and teenagers live in poverty. A quarter-million are confirmed victims of physical and sexual abuse every year, usually inflicted by parents. The hyping of fake trends and anecdotal panics may seem harmless, but it distracts us from acting on the serious crises facing our most disadvantaged young people.

Mike Males is the co-director of and the author of "Teenage Sex and Pregnancy: Modern Myths, Unsexy Realities."






THERE'S the State of the Union address, and then there's the State of the Union dress. Does anyone care if the president wore a suit by the presidential tailor George des Paris on Tuesday night? Of course not. His speech, and issues like job creation, tax cuts, climate change and gun control, are more pressing than his fashion choices.

But let's be honest, many of us want to discuss the first lady's dress, too: Did it fit well? Was the color right? Why didn't she wear a belt? Whether she likes it or not, her message of optimism and inclusiveness is often transmitted through her appearance. Many of her predecessors put their political and social causes first: Lady Bird Johnson kept America beautiful, Nancy Reagan just said no, Hillary Clinton pushed for health care. Michelle Obama herself fights against childhood obesity. But more than any first lady since Jacqueline Kennedy, she also captures our attention with her fashion.

As a result, everyone becomes a fashion critic when Mrs. Obama makes an appearance in the House of Representatives chamber or on the North Portico steps. The fashion commentary follows her even on less formal occasions, as when she strides across the South Lawn or steps off Air Force One. Beige leggings? Hiking shorts? Bare feet? Every body part and frock elicits an opinion.

Just last week her choice to wear a British-designed red organza dress for the state dinner honoring Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, caused a furor among fashion industry leaders. Oscar de la Renta, Diane von Furstenberg and the Council of Fashion Designers of America all weighed in, saying they were a little disappointed with the first lady for not supporting the American garment industry. In Women's Wear Daily, Bridget Foley wrote, "To wear something other than American at this particular trade-centric mega-fete embarrasses a major U.S. industry that continues to need all the help it can get."

Perhaps they are missing the point.

Michelle Obama's impact on fashion extends far beyond the "made in America" label stitched into her dress. The optimism, glamour and accessibility that she communicates through her style of dressing transcends cultural borders and economic boundaries. Yes, she is sometimes an ambassador for American designers, but more important, she is an ambassador for the self-possession that defines American style.

Maybe she chose not to promote a specific American brand at the state dinner last week, but she certainly promotes a healthy sense of enjoyment and individuality in fashion. With her brio and idiosyncratic clothing choices, Mrs. Obama has rewritten the dress code for women who work. We wear cardigans now instead of always jackets, flats instead of impossibly high platform heels. We have a little fun with fashion, even to the point of being more frivolous.

And, most important, we dress for ourselves, something the first lady does so effortlessly it's hard to imagine that there had ever been any dress code for her position. With her floral prints and hula hoops, she's not afraid to flaunt her femininity — so why should the rest of us be?

No matter what hopes we pin on her husband, or disappointments we suffer, Americans look to Michelle Obama to set the emotional tone of his administration. As we are with all first ladies, we are subconsciously invested in her looking good — it's almost as if there's some sort of national pride at stake. But her decision to wear an American-designed dress doesn't make it easier for American designers to sell more clothes in the Chinese market.

After all the discussion of the red dress at the state dinner, Mrs. Obama stepped into the House chamber on Tuesday for the State of the Union address in a silvery-white sheath by the American designer Rachel Roy. Its color and simplicity signaled fresh beginnings — as did that inaugural gown she wore in January two years ago. For this there was not so much criticism. Only a lot of American women silently thinking about where they might find a simple, pale sheath dress.

Kate Betts is the author of the forthcoming "Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style."








There seems to be a growing acknowledgment that ObamaCare socialized medicine will not cut federal spending as its Democrat backers promised before they imposed it on the United States last year.


When President Barack Obama repeated, in his recent State of the Union address, the claim that ObamaCare "reforms" will cut deficits by a quarter of a trillion dollars, fact checkers at The Associated Press took him to task.


"The idea that Obama's health care law saves money for the government is based on some arguable assumptions," AP noted.


Specifically, the news organization cast serious doubt on a misleading analysis by the Congressional Budget Office that ObamaCare will cut federal spending.


The CBO "crunches numbers" based on the financial assumptions given to it by members of Congress. In the case of ObamaCare, Democrats provided the CBO with lots of fishy assumptions.


The CBO analysis "assumes that steep cuts in Medicare spending, as called for in the law, will actually take place," the AP noted. But in fact, the massive cuts to Medicare that would be required to keep ObamaCare from exploding the deficit are not at all likely.


The AP added: "In recent years, for example, Congress has repeatedly overridden a law that would save the Treasury billions by cutting deeply into Medicare pay for doctors. Just last month, the government once again put off the scheduled cuts for another year, at a cost of $19 billion. That money is being taken out of the health care overhaul. Congress has shown itself sensitive to pressure from seniors and their doctors, and there's little reason to think that will change."


So ObamaCare's supposed "savings" are based on completely unrealistic future cuts. And if the socialized medicine law follows the path of other huge federal entitlements, it will end up costing our nation vastly more than its rosy initial estimates.


It is little wonder that Republicans are attempting to repeal ObamaCare or, at a minimum, de-fund it wherever they can.






Everyone knows federal finances are out of control.


We face a record federal budget deficit this year of $1.5 trillion! Unemployment is painfully high. The economy is shaky.


Is there no practical solution to avoid more federal government debt?


Atlanta businessman Bruce Cook, of Citizens for Restoring America's Financial Future, believes there could be. He suggests the "One Cent Solution."


Chuck Zeiser, of Chattanooga's Southern Champion Tray, hosted a group of Chattanoogans one day this week to hear Cook explain the One Cent Solution.


The plan suggests that we cut just one penny from each $1 of federal spending. Cook says that could balance the federal budget in five or six years!


Sounds easy, doesn't it? Who has a better plan to end the red ink that's drowning us economically? Wouldn't a balanced budget be good for taxpayers and our whole economy?


Just think about it: With relatively small cuts today, we could solve a huge national economic problem -- if we would just do it.


Unfortunately, Congress is thinking about spending more dollars we don't have, instead of cutting a penny of every dollar Washington is spending. That will make budget cuts bigger and harsher in the future.







It is very much to be regretted that some states have taxed, spent and regulated themselves into a deep economic hole. States such as Illinois, with its reckless taxation, and California, with is business-crushing environmental regulations, now find themselves near the point of outright bankruptcy.


We sympathize with those states' residents, many of whom would have preferred more sensible policies from their elected officials.


But the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., has properly declared that irresponsible states need not expect Congress to ride to the rescue with taxpayer dollars.


"There will be no bailout of states," Cantor said. "The states can deal with this and have been able to do so on their own."


Much of the money from the federal $862 billion so-called "stimulus" has already gone to shore up state budgets. But instead of using the time that money bought them to slash breakneck spending, some states heedlessly continued down their unsustainable path. Illinois, for instance, recently approved a crippling 67 percent increase in its state income tax -- when it should have been cutting spending instead.


Now, the "stimulus" funds are winding down, and there is talk in some quarters about bailing out financially troubled states. But that would only guarantee that they will continue their careless spending -- and then seek more "help" from Washington.


Wiser states such as Tennessee have faced financial realities, cutting spending where necessary, holding the line on taxes and avoiding undue regulation on job-creating businesses. Residents of those more prudently run states should not now have to send their federal tax dollars to states that refuse to get their own fiscal house in order







In the shadow of Egypt's great pyramids, where pharaohs once ruled ancient civilizations with iron fists, the nearly three-decade rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is being challenged by mobs in violent protests.


To the west of Egypt, Tunisians recently ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has fled to exile in Saudi Arabia.


And southeast of Egypt, across the Red Sea, vast numbers of Yemenis inspired by the Tunisian revolution are demanding the ouster of Yemen's U.S.-friendly President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled more than 30 years.


How fortunate we are in our United States that, while we have many differences among us, we usually express those differences through peaceful debate and democratic processes instead of disorder and disruption.







For apparently the first time ever, daily prayers by a state legislative body have been silenced by the threat of a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.


Hawaii's state Senate -- made up of 24 Democrats and one Republican -- voted to halt its daily invocations, which were given by members of different faiths. The final invocation had been given in the Hawaiian language.


There was fear of a costly lawsuit, and the Democrat majority leader told The Associated Press that censoring the prayers was necessary "to adhere to the Constitution."


In fact, silencing the voluntary prayers is contrary to the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion. No one was required to take part in the prayers. Free choice permitted those who wished to participate to do so and imposed no penalty on those who did not.


It is regrettable that such non-compulsory expressions of religious faith continue to come under attack.










There was an historic demonstration in front of the Turkish Parliament last Monday in Ankara, with representatives of approximately 200 organizations from all over the country gathered behind the slogan "We won't give you Anatolia."

In this first ever protest of its kind in the history of the Republic, the crowd was shouting at the so-called "Protection of Nature and Biodiversity Bill," calling for its withdrawal.

Environmentalists, despised by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Minister of Environment and Forests Veysel Eroğlu, were out the front of Parliament shouting slogans such as "We won't give you Tuz Lake," "We won't give you Aksu Valley," "We won't give you İkizdere" and "We won't give you the mountains."

Leading environmental organizations such as Buğday, the ÇEKÜL Foundation, the Doğa Association, Ekoder, Greenpeace, TEMA, and the World Wild Life Foundation were at the protest, with tens of local grassroots associations. In the past, Turkey took a huge step with the Jan. 24, 1980, decisions that opened its economy to the world. After 30 years, on another Jan. 24, a vital step for another type of integration with the world was taken. 

Pervin Çoban Savran, leader of Sarıkeçili nomads, read a statement on behalf of the platform at the protest: "If laws will not protect nature, people will. They will claim their roots, and nature, at all costs. Our rulers should know this. No one is giving politicians the authority to ruin nature. Therefore, this law will never have any bearing. This bill should be withdrawn as soon as possible and measures to protect the rich nature of Anatolia should be put into practice. This is what the Anatolian people want." We should actually congratulate the government for playing a historic role in the rise of environmental awareness!

Anatolia on her feet

The developmental delirium of the government, in every corner of the country from national parks to historic sites, creeks, brooks, rivers, forests, bushes, mountains and rocks, has hit the roof behind this bill, which paves the way for investment, especially in hydro-electric plants, to permanently destroy nature. The government has always been adamant in not taking backward steps. It has fulminated against decisions to stop work at a number of hydro-electric plants and indirectly tried to find loopholes in regulations in order to make sure such works were able to continue. The strength of this environmentalist movement will determine whether the government changes its attitude toward the environment before the elections set to be held later this year.

"Since it's from the Roman Period, it means the site has been underground for centuries. So it's not a problem for us if it remains there for a few centuries more," Minister Eroğlu said about the Allianoi ruins, near the Aegean city of İzmir. This latest nonsense is a sign of how arrogant and dangerously 19th century-like, developmentally obsessed the government is.

Of course, Turkey is not the only country where environmentalists are accused of being traitors to the nation. Opponents of unfair profiteering and developmental delirium are similarly denounced everywhere. But never mind, what matters is that reactions to the government dedicated to protecting nature and stopping the development craze spread and rapidly galvanize a platform of resistance and rejection.

In April, the nascent platform "We won't give you Anatolia" plans walk to Ankara in a march with children, sheep, goats, cattle and dogs from all over the country. They will maintain a vigil in front of Parliament until this arrogant bill is withdrawn.

Let me end this piece by repeating the final words from chair of the Doğa Association Güven Eken's terrific article "Last Anatolia": "I am the last Anatolia. My age is immeasurable by your standards. I am both an old, wise man and an innocent child. If I cannot speak up as I look into your eyes, please forgive me. But you need a living soul if you want to see me, not two eyes. If you have that spirit, I will live with you forever. If you don't, I will disappear too, just like you…"

(This collective environmentalist platform can be contacted at For further information, visit )







I was at Istanbul's Neve Şalom synagogue the other night, in the midst of almost a thousand people. Some were Jews, some were not. But at that particular moment, we were all Jews – for we all shared the sorrow for the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

One of the speakers, a member of the Turkish Jewish community, reminded everyone of the uniqueness of the Holocaust in the history of evil. She was right. The world had seen all sorts of brutal massacres and tortures, but the Nazis were the only people in history who crafted a whole "industry" to exterminate a whole people. Well-educated soldiers, civil servants, scientists, engineers and doctors sat down and designed transportation systems, death camps and gas chambers to annihilate millions of innocent men, women and children. They committed the most unspeakable crime in the most unbelievable way.

Enter pseudo-science

Today, it is not just a moral duty to honor the victims of the Holocaust. It is also an essential task to understand how such evil could ever happen.

Unlike most massacres and genocides in history, the Holocaust was not driven by a sudden burst of anger, fear, paranoia or revenge. It was rather driven almost purely by ideology. The Nazis saw the world as an arena of races, the most "advanced" being the "Aryan" one, which the Germans were believed to represent. The Jews were not only from a "lower" race, the Semitic one, they were also "corrupting" the Aryan blood by assimilating into German culture. So, they had to be "cleansed" from the whole "living space" of the Germans – and, ultimately, the whole world.

This ideology sounds totally crazy for us today, but in the 1930s it sounded quite "scientific" to many in Germany and even beyond. Social Darwinism – a pseudo-science – was the fashion of the day, and the "advanced" German society was easily captured by its racist themes. According to thinkers such as Leo Strauss, the excessive secularization of the German society before and during the Weimar Republic played a negative role here, uprooting the strong religious traditions that could have created more resistance to the Nazis' "modern" madness.

This, I believe, must be a lesson for all those who still believe that societies must be solely guided according to "science and reason" – an early 20th century naïveté which is still quite popular among Turkey's Kemalists. No, science does not give you any sense of right and wrong, whereas reason is insufficient and contradictory. The best "guide" so far has turned out to be the open society, in which reasons of all sorts along with religions and traditions compete with each other, balancing each other's excesses.

The Holocaust also needs to be reflected upon in Muslim societies, where it has not been acknowledged enough. Here, the fact that Israel often uses the Holocaust to shield itself against all criticism, including the most legitimate ones, has created a temptation to overlook or sometimes even deny the Holocaust. But that is all too wrong. Quite the contrary, if Muslim societies want to have a higher moral ground on the Palestinian cause, they should in fact begin by being fair to the Jewish people, which should begin by respecting the victims in their history.

Nazis and Islam

Another disturbing fact within some Islamic circles – the radical or bigoted ones, of course – is a sort of sympathy for the Nazis since they "gave a lesson to the Jews." This is not only terribly immoral. It is also fully stupid and ignorant. For the Nazis were not just the enemies of the Jews. They were the enemies of all forms of Semitic monotheism, which naturally included Islam as well.

This is evident in especially the early writing of the Nazi ideologues – at a time when they were not looking for allies in the Arab world, such as al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem. In his influential book, "The Myth of the Twentieth Century," Alfred Rosenberg warned white races "against the united hatred of colored races and mongrels led in the fanatical spirit of Mohammed." In a Nazi essay on Islam, Genghis Khan, the Mongol despot that massacred millions of Muslims in the 13th century, was praised as a hero who saved the Middle East from its "Semitic oppressors." And Adolf Hitler himself was explicit enough to call the Arabs "painted half-apes, who want to feel the whip." (Quotes are from Bernard Lewis, "Semites & Anti-Semites.")

So, perhaps Mr. Ahmadinejad of Iran might wish to consider such facts about the Nazis, before hosting a Holocaust-denial conference next time – a denial which whitewashes the crimes of one of the most evil cadre in human history.

At the end of the day, no matter how much we protest the Israeli government for its decades-long policies of occupation and intimidation that has wronged the Palestinian people, we have to acknowledge the tragedy of the Holocaust. Its victims were innocent people who had no crime other than being Jews. And, in the face of such genocidal racism, we should all stand by the Jews.







While Tunusia's revolution is still in the making, Egyptians have now begun taking to the streets for the last few days to let their dictator hear they have had enough. At this critical weekend, no soothsayer-expert of the region is able to predict whether President Mubarak will continue his hold on power.

United States President Barack Obama gave his much anticipated State of the Union Address this week, trying to spark a "Sputnik" moment to push Americans, citizens of the oldest living democracy in the world, to leap forward once more to take the lead. While China's rivalry worldwide has been giving U.S. confidence the jitters, the U.S. isolationists at home are making a comeback. Strengthened by the conservative Tea Party movement, whose members urge dramatic and rapid budget cuts, some members of the U.S. Congress who are identified with this movement are now calling on the White House to cut all U.S. foreign aid, in addition to slashing the budget of the State Department.

Whether it is because of the unbearable lightness of being a senator or leading congressman and having a considerable voice without any responsibility, or whether it is plain narrow-mindedness as far as international affairs are concerned, the U.S. isolationists seem to not understand that today's world would neither allow the U.S. to withdraw from other parts of the world nor dominate them. Therefore, the only choice today left for U.S. is to find its regional partners around the globe to carry on its missionary approach in a way that its super power status continues at a manageable cost.

By the end of World War II in 1945, the U.S. was producing 35 percent of the world's total goods and had an immense sway in all corners of the globe. Since then it has, for the most part, managed world affairs as an unchallenged leader – with the exception of the Cold War with the Soviets.

In 2011, with about $14 trillion of budget deficit and rising, along with two continuing wars, the U.S. is looking for many shoulders and brains to co-manage conflicts around world.

Since the beginning of Arab street revolts across the Middle East and North Africa, Washington has tried hard to strike a balance between President Mubarak, a U.S. ally three decades, and Egypt's protesters. Washington, as usual, first took the Egyptian revolt cautiously, but shifted tone in the following days to signal openly that it takes no side. By Thursday, various spokespersons from the White House and the State Department were openly calling for political reform and promoting the inalienable rights of the Egyptian people.

While the U.S. administration is challenging Mubarak publicly, one must ask where Davutoğluism fits into the picture and what is hoped to be a ramping juncture for the Muslim world?

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's vision and pro-active policies are being discussed widely across the international spectrum, though Davutoğluism insistently shied away from articulating the manifestation of its universal values and democratic rights toward the Muslim and Arab worlds.

Davutoğluism ignored the Green movement, following rigged June 2009 elections, and ran to congratulate the Iranian leadership. Now it continues its merciless disengagement from what has been taking place in Tunusia and Egypt.

It is hard to comprehend why "energized" Ankara, which runs to get involved with almost every single political conflict in the region and has much to say about them, cannot produce a level-headed statement for the future of the Middle East. Is this the "wise city planning" Davutoğlu was talking about just a few weeks ago in Erzurum in front of Turkey's ambassadors?

Without question, Turkey's foreign policies display pragmatism rather than idealism when it comes to the surprisingly good relations with Russia, Iran or the newly found ally in the Kurdistan Regional Government. Increasing trade with the Arab world, mending a strategic alliance with energy-rich Azerbaijan and striving to reach out to the Turkic world in Central Asia, Davutoğluism offers many indications to skeptics that it has a mercantile fever in its blood, much more visible than an Islamist one, to become part of the Muslim East against the West.

Even though it has been almost a decade that Davutoğluism has been engineering Turkish diplomacy to lead a sort of independent-minded "non-aligned" posture, it has yet to manifest itself clearly how the ethical ingredients of this posture complement the rest, if there are any.

İbrahim Kalın, top foreign policy adviser to Erdoğan and one of the leading pupils of Davutoğluism, spoke at Seta Turkey's inaugural Insight conference a month ago in Washington and once again failed to elaborate on the matter when he was asked about his administration's moral leadership by saying that his administration does not believe that conveying such moral messages in public works best.

We might be at a critical time and great opportunity for followers of Davutoğluism to get out of this vicious circle of remaining emotionless toward the rapidly changing landscape of the neighboring region. A wide range of social networking websites and the active engagement of people are here to stay and promise to be part of a daily life.

Therefore, a significant opportunity lies ahead for Davutogluism to shift itself from its cold-blooded pragmatism, which seems to be reaching an atheistic level.  

It is becoming a shameful idleness for Turkey, as one of the oldest and best democracies in the Muslim world, for not having the courage to speak up for Muslim people's universal rights, even though it seems to have enough moral authority when it is compared to its peers in the region.

The only reason that comes to my mind for the lack of attention on the matter is that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, own insecurity when it comes to its record of promoting freedom of expression and assembly at home.

A couple of months ago when I asked Davutoğlu at a conference in Washington why Turkey's ranking continuously sinks every year in various indexes regarding the freedom of the press, his lack of preparation was crystal clear. Davutoğlu, a bright public speaker who never seems to have difficulty to astutely answer any foreign affairs questions, scrambled for a few minutes to construct a meaningful answer to my simple question, and concluded by saying "once we have established a code of conduct ... [and] we have established principles of freedom of expression, we will have a much better situation than today. We need to work together. I don't say we don't have any problem, but we have to understand the source of the problem as well, in all senses." In his long remarks, Davutoğlu argued that the administration and media, as two parties, should sit and talk together to improve the freedom of the press in Turkey.

Instead, sharp witted Davutoğlu should have known that freedom of expression is a natural and universal right that is bestowed upon every human being when his or her life begins and it is not a matter up for negotiation, nor a gift that can be given by authorities.

Some of us are lucky to find it effortlessly, thanks to those who came before us and fought the fight, and some of us not, as is happening in Egypt, and they take the matter of creating their own and future generations' destiny into their own hands.

Once the inherently poisonous flavor of freedom is tasted there is no going back.

That is why, no matter how dangerous it is, it would be best for the Egyptian rulers to ride on this beast of freedom, not look for ways to foolishly block it.

Followers of Davutoğluism should also ride on the beast, both at home and abroad, if they are serious about becoming an indispensable force in the region's future.






 The Turkish perspective on international investment has changed drastically during the last 15 years.

Increasing awareness of capital flows and growth finance forced the government and the private sector to develop programs toward attracting long term international capital. Short term in and outs – the so called hot capital in Turkey has harmed the economy quite a few times during last three decades.

Therefore the cultural climate and new rules and regulations for international investors are a lot better. Everything is more liberalized. A specific investment promotion agency has been established (information about which can be found at to attract and help larger scale investors. The agency reports directly to the prime minister's office and therefore has the power and authority to provide tailor-made approaches with a quick decision-making ability.

Turkey's second largest organization, of which most foreign companies are members, is YASED (see Even the acronym of the organization's name reflects the positive development in the investment climate. Earlier it was called the YAbancı SErmaye Derneği. "Yabancı" means foreigner, someone not from Turkey. "Sermaye Derneği" means Capital Association. In order to avoid misperceptions, the association's board decided to change the meaning of the organization's acronym in Turkish to "International Capital Organization" rather than "Foreign Capital Association."

You can become a member once you are established in Turkey in any kind of company, from joint ventures to branch offices, as a "foreign" share holder. The organization's members come from all sectors, ranging from pharmaceuticals to banks. They have work groups engaging with government offices to create awareness of the issues raised by members and to propose solutions to problems ranging from intellectual property rights to customs regulations. Companies prefer to act under the YASED umbrella in order to address their problems, rather than stand out and attract individual attention. Despite the fact YASED is gaining power, one should bear in mind that it is still an advisory body. 

Naturally individual issues do not get as much attention within Yased. If you have one of these issues than you have two options: a) You can hire a lobbying firm; b) You can visit Ankara yourself. Option A is new. Lawyers used to lobby on behalf of international business representatives but now there are a few emerging firms becoming involved in the business. You should know that option A is usually a long and therefore costly process, where you sit and wait for the information you are provided with. If you decide on option B, you have to make sure you know exactly to whom you should talk. Otherwise you can knock on the wrong doors for quite some time without getting any concrete results.

You can also attend business lunches and dinners run by various countries and organizations to exchange information on the political and economic scenes, along with the problems of your sector, but unfortunately not much is revealed during these occasions. Every business requires a good, connected advisor who has been through these issues before. It is the only way to avoid spending unnecessary time and money. At the end of the day, relations determine everything in Turkey. Before creating a bigger problem while trying to solve a smaller one it is very important to know the local dynamics and set up a strategy accordingly. The investment climate is a lot better, private organizations are more powerful and government officers are more helpful than ever, but you still need a good sound board to do the right thing, as you do in any country around the whole world.






I've finally calculated it. This is the 13th time I've attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

We've seen an endless number of leaders, renowned personalities, innumerable numbers of crises and good deeds.

But this year, there is something different. The voices of developing countries, primarily China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, are being heard more.

Following the first day's session, in which the world economy was discussed, I had a conversation with Turkish Central Bank Governor Durmuş Yılmaz. His remarks were quite interesting. "This year, the developing countries are out of tune," he said. "The year of 2008 was the one where mistakes were identified. 2009 was dedicated to recouping a little hope. And 2010 became the one in which everyone was preoccupied by their own troubles – it was the year of a conflict of interests."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in fact, similarly defined recent global economic history, describing it by using the term "incoordination" during a speech at the G-20 summit as the group's new rotating president.

Top G-20 according to Roubini

Sarkozy said he would achieve coordination during his presidency at the G-20 and would reach speedy decisions on the issues of economic and financial imbalance, budget deficits and raw-material troubles.

The legitimacy of the Group of 20 leading economies rests on "its abilities to take decisions," said Sarkozy. Could the G-20, which was almost belittled by the renowned economist Nouriel Roubini, who foresaw the global financial crisis, have a stronger impact this time round? We'll see this during Sarkozy's presidency.

Davos and developing economies

Leading Swiss newspaper Le Temps ran a headline Friday, nicely summarizing the situation. "The new bosses in Davos are developing countries." This is true. In fact, the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China – seem more interested this year in better protecting their own self-interests.

As the Le Temps daily highlighted, swords are being drawn between developing countries and rich ones in the north. On one side, economic growth is incredibly clogged while there is an incredible dynamism on the other. Moreover, developing countries seem to take this dynamism to a higher level through coordinated action.

BRIC to become an economic forum

Russian President Dymitry Medvedev has already given signals that BRIC would be transformed into an economic forum. Indonesian President Susilo Bambank Yudhoyono – who is at the same time president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN – says the 21st century will be "Asian."

What do Turkish businessmen think about it?

Annual attendant at the conference Eczacıbaşı Holding CEO Erdal Karamercan is of the opinion that the rug is being pulled from under the West's feet. However, I don't agree with such a judgment because a significant part of innovation is still taken care of by the West. Look where the Internet, Google and iPhone, which all have changed our lives totally, come from.

On my third day in Davos however, a different question is pumping through my mind. Where does Turkey stand in this picture?

We know that after the "one minute" incident of two years ago Turkey failed to make its presence felt in Davos and in fact last year, Turkey did not send a state representative.

This year only three officials represent us at the state level: Yılmaz, State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who barely made it to Davos on time, and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek.

But Turkey's failure to make its presence felt in Davos is not the only question in my mind. Where is Turkey standing at globally? It's not a secret that we are gradually drawing away from the European Union.

And we know State Minister for European Affairs Egemen Bağış made an unexpected statement in Brussels "We will not be the ones who unplug. We will let Europeans enjoy this."

All right, we will turn our back to the EU, but I wonder if we are like developing countries which have a say in be it global warming or the world economy.

Unfortunately, I've not heard Turkey's voice in global issues. Where are we standing?






Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Moscow last week for the first bilateral summit between the two countries in two decades. The last official visit from Afghanistan to Moscow at the presidential level was during the era of Mohammad Najibullah when the Soviet Union withdrew forces. During his visit, Karzai invited Russia to rebuild Soviet-era facilities in Afghanistan.

"We want to give a new start to vital projects that were begun very long ago," Karzai, on his second visit to Moscow in six months, said at a news conference with President Dmitry Medvedev after their talks at the Kremlin.

The recently negotiated projects included the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains as well as hydroelectric power facilities in Kabul and Baglan provinces, a customs terminal, and a university in the Afghan capital. During the joint declaration Russia expressed its readiness to participate in "priority economic projects" in Afghanistan, some of them dating back to the Soviet era. Current projects can be evaluated as a tool for broader Russian politics on Afghanistan, which have a long history and mainly relay on the idea that "Russia is seeking to increase its influence in Afghanistan."

Karzai has turned to Moscow because Washington is displeased with Karzai's moves to accelerate reconciliation with the Taliban, while his step challenges the United States' regional strategies. On the other hand, Karzai is making persistent efforts to particularly develop ties with Russia, including military cooperation, so as to reduce his dependence on the U.S. by the 2014 timeline. Speaking to the graduates of the Kabul Military Academy, Karzai said that if Americans did not speed up the implementation of the program to supply armed forces, the task would be carried out by other countries. The Russian president expressed readiness to help the Afghan armed forces. Moreover, the White House has withdrawn support for Karzai also because the Barack Obama administration blames him for the drug-based economy and corruption.

As a result, Russia appears as an actor that is playing an increasingly larger role in the country and is gradually expanding the range and intensity of its engagement.

Why Afghanistan matters for Russia

First of all, the U.S. increased its existence in the Central Asia via military bases – an act that Russia has perceived as coming at the expense of its security. However, after a while, Russian thinking has adjusted to the reality that the United States and its allies could not easily contain the Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan. It can be said that by 2009, Russian leaders started to become concerned that the Obama administration might suddenly withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which could result in Russia alone having to deal with the threat that a resurgent Taliban would pose to Central Asia and Russia itself. Russia's internal conflicts, which have been continuing since the 1990s, coupled with its memories of the Chechen War and the USSR's experience in Afghanistan, mean the Kremlin's sensitivity on rising Islamic radicalism might be better understood. Accordingly, Moscow decided to help the U.S. put together the Northern Distribution Network, a re-supply route that facilitates the overland transit of non-lethal goods from Europe to Afghanistan.

Moreover, the U.S.' presence in the region is not the solution since it is only a "military existence." Indeed, regarding Obama's decision in December 2009 to beef up the U.S presence in Afghanistan, from 33,000 to more than 60,000 troops, very few Afghans view the proposed increase as anything but a disaster. Considering that "When Afghans look at the U.S. troops, they see killers," Afghans are citing the presence of U.S. forces as part of the problem rather than the solution.

Secondly, for the Kremlin, two main threats emanating from Afghanistan are drug traffic and terrorism. Russia sees the threat of terrorism from Afghanistan as a top priority since Afghanistan is the world's leading opium producer. Russia, which deals with demographic problems regarding alcohol and a low birth rate, is now facing the new, challenging issue of drug problems, especially with its young population.

Thirdly, while Moscow supports the U.S./NATO position in Afghanistan, it nevertheless tries to differentiate Russia from the West in ways that Moscow hopes will boost its standing in the eyes of Karzai's administration in Kabul. While Obama-Karzai relations are at a low ebb, Russian policy has sought to emphasize Moscow's long-term interest in a stable Afghanistan.

The Kremlin, by taking advantage of the tension between the Obama government and Karzai, is boosting cooperation with Afghanistan and strengthening its position as the pre-eminent actor in regional affairs.

In other words, Russia is appearing to cooperate with Western actors in Afghanistan, such as the U.S. and NATO, while also taking initiatives to strengthen its position sometimes in expanse of the U.S. since it has its own national interest which drives the Kremlin to take an active role in Afghanistan.

*Habibe Özdal is a reseracher at the International Strategic Research Organization, or USAK, Russia & Black Sea Studies desk






Is everyone talking aloud freely in the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP? Or do the officials, who were suppressed by the former leader Deniz Baykal, now have a chance to express themselves freely as a result of the new understanding adopted by the new party chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu?

In other words, does everyone have something to say now just because there is more democracy and freedom in the CHP? Or is it really a matter of "divergent voices"? We've learned that Kılıçdaroğlu has called on CHP officials who have spoken in public to warn them not to do so. The move suggests that there has been serious trouble in the party about ensuring that there is only one voice.

For example, the CHP Ardahan Deputy Ensar Öğüt issued a statement in his hometown, implying that both the military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, should lay down arms. Immediately following that, Kılıçdaroğlu disavowed Öğüt during a parliamentary group meeting, saying "No one can suggest that our security forces should lay down arms."

CHP Vice President Süheyl Batum also suggested that journalist Mustafa Balbay and former media boss Tuncay Özkan, both under arrest at Silivri Prison, become party candidates in the June 2011 elections, adding that the issue should be raised in the party assembly.

The first reaction came from the other vice president, Gürsel Tekin, who raised objections to the suggestion; then Kılıçdaroğlu called Batum and asked him not to mention any names as possible candidates, implicitly warning Batum to avoid such unexpected moves. When questioned, Kılıçdaroğlu was forced to say the two figures would not be nominated.

The CHP Vice President Sezgin Tanrıkulu, meanwhile, supported a suggestion made by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and also demanded the formation of a truth commission in Parliament.

His move was not welcomed in the CHP's parliamentary group and even caused a certain amount of discomfort. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, supported Tanrıkulu's suggestion for an investigation on murders by unknown perpetrators but most, like Batum, raised their objections immediately.

Tanrıkulu himself was among the CHP officials standing against Batum's effort to nominate the Silivri detainees.

In all, it is clear that there is a growth in the number of divergent voices in the part and that there is an unspoken tension between the CHP parliamentary group and the CHP headquarters. For the moment, it seems Kılıçdaroğlu's efforts to calm the tension are not working.

At the moment, the divergent voices are ruling the roost, but how long will it take for the dust to settle? More importantly, how will the CHP "look" in front of voters amid the divergent voices on the eve of upcoming general elections?

Baykal, who led the CHP for 19 years, exerted efforts for about a decade to achieve a single voice within the party. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, doesn't want to head to elections with a public image that the party officials are rushing to the polls with a variety of different policies.

The leader says it is normal to have different views in a social democratic party but he wants CHP officials to stay away from remarks that will put the party in a hard spot, especially on the Kurdish question, education in a mother tongue, self-government, secularism and the judiciary.

The CHP chairman is aware of what is going on in the party. Although he has no choice but to warn officials who go overboard with remarks, he exhibits the "utmost democratic patience." In this, Kılıçdaroğlu seems determined to create a single voice for the CHP. According to information I've gathered from backstage interests in the party, he has a plan for that.

Prior to the elections, the CHP leader will set the main objectives of the "election program:" from the Kurdish conflict to the judiciary, from secularism to lifestyle questions, from the economy to foreign policy, he will make clear definitions for the CHP. Kılıçdaroğlu will ask the party administration, parliamentary deputies and candidates not to step out of line before the elections. That is to say, he will draw a thick line and tell every CHP official not to cross it.

These are the outlines of "Gandhi Kemal's" "single-voice" plan. We'll see if this plan will really be sufficient to produce a single voice for the party.

Tweeting at Friday prayers!

Twitter is becoming ever-more popular and parliamentary representatives are particularly interested in the microblogging and social networking site. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in particular, uses the social network very well and effectively, as the number of AKP deputies who are on Twitter has surpassed 40.

Edibe Sözen, Askın Asan, Necdet Ünüvar, and Mehmet Emin Ekmen are the top tweeters, with the latter using the site so effectively that he tweeted photographs of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Batman trip and of President Abdullah Gül's Diyarbakır trip just like a live broadcast. Ekmen can claim a place in Turkish parliamentary history as he appears to have become the first deputy to tweet the time of Friday prayer.






Is everyone talking aloud freely in the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP? Or do the officials, who were suppressed by the former leader Deniz Baykal, now have a chance to express themselves freely as a result of the new understanding adopted by the new party chairman, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu?

In other words, does everyone have something to say now just because there is more democracy and freedom in the CHP? Or is it really a matter of "divergent voices"? We've learned that Kılıçdaroğlu has called on CHP officials who have spoken in public to warn them not to do so. The move suggests that there has been serious trouble in the party about ensuring that there is only one voice.

For example, the CHP Ardahan Deputy Ensar Öğüt issued a statement in his hometown, implying that both the military and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, should lay down arms. Immediately following that, Kılıçdaroğlu disavowed Öğüt during a parliamentary group meeting, saying "No one can suggest that our security forces should lay down arms."

CHP Vice President Süheyl Batum also suggested that journalist Mustafa Balbay and former media boss Tuncay Özkan, both under arrest at Silivri Prison, become party candidates in the June 2011 elections, adding that the issue should be raised in the party assembly.

The first reaction came from the other vice president, Gürsel Tekin, who raised objections to the suggestion; then Kılıçdaroğlu called Batum and asked him not to mention any names as possible candidates, implicitly warning Batum to avoid such unexpected moves. When questioned, Kılıçdaroğlu was forced to say the two figures would not be nominated.

The CHP Vice President Sezgin Tanrıkulu, meanwhile, supported a suggestion made by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır and also demanded the formation of a truth commission in Parliament.

His move was not welcomed in the CHP's parliamentary group and even caused a certain amount of discomfort. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, supported Tanrıkulu's suggestion for an investigation on murders by unknown perpetrators but most, like Batum, raised their objections immediately.

Tanrıkulu himself was among the CHP officials standing against Batum's effort to nominate the Silivri detainees.

In all, it is clear that there is a growth in the number of divergent voices in the part and that there is an unspoken tension between the CHP parliamentary group and the CHP headquarters. For the moment, it seems Kılıçdaroğlu's efforts to calm the tension are not working.

At the moment, the divergent voices are ruling the roost, but how long will it take for the dust to settle? More importantly, how will the CHP "look" in front of voters amid the divergent voices on the eve of upcoming general elections?

Baykal, who led the CHP for 19 years, exerted efforts for about a decade to achieve a single voice within the party. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, doesn't want to head to elections with a public image that the party officials are rushing to the polls with a variety of different policies.

The leader says it is normal to have different views in a social democratic party but he wants CHP officials to stay away from remarks that will put the party in a hard spot, especially on the Kurdish question, education in a mother tongue, self-government, secularism and the judiciary.

The CHP chairman is aware of what is going on in the party. Although he has no choice but to warn officials who go overboard with remarks, he exhibits the "utmost democratic patience." In this, Kılıçdaroğlu seems determined to create a single voice for the CHP. According to information I've gathered from backstage interests in the party, he has a plan for that.

Prior to the elections, the CHP leader will set the main objectives of the "election program:" from the Kurdish conflict to the judiciary, from secularism to lifestyle questions, from the economy to foreign policy, he will make clear definitions for the CHP. Kılıçdaroğlu will ask the party administration, parliamentary deputies and candidates not to step out of line before the elections. That is to say, he will draw a thick line and tell every CHP official not to cross it.

These are the outlines of "Gandhi Kemal's" "single-voice" plan. We'll see if this plan will really be sufficient to produce a single voice for the party.

Tweeting at Friday prayers!

Twitter is becoming ever-more popular and parliamentary representatives are particularly interested in the microblogging and social networking site. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in particular, uses the social network very well and effectively, as the number of AKP deputies who are on Twitter has surpassed 40.

Edibe Sözen, Askın Asan, Necdet Ünüvar, and Mehmet Emin Ekmen are the top tweeters, with the latter using the site so effectively that he tweeted photographs of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Batman trip and of President Abdullah Gül's Diyarbakır trip just like a live broadcast. Ekmen can claim a place in Turkish parliamentary history as he appears to have become the first deputy to tweet the time of Friday prayer.






A group of people who I am also part of argues that the implementation of laws is at the core of the problem in protecting women against domestic violence.

Lawmakers and decision makers fulfill their responsibilities, but as daily practices show an increase in the number of women exposed to violence by their husband or life partners, obviously the problem is that the laws are not enforced appropriately and the responsibility is upon the civil servants who fail to apply the laws because they don't grasp the change in the laws.

Then, the magical solution for such issues is education. In fact, it's been done, or rather, been tried. According to protocols among the minister responsible for family, Interior Ministry, Health Ministry and Justice Ministry, funds provided by the European Union and United Nations are used for the education and training of 40,000 police officers, 164 judges and prosecutors as well as health officials. However, it is not enough to protect women from violence. What should we do then?

It is also true that social transformation and improving awareness take time. However, will society's decision makers, lawmakers, policymakers and intellectuals just sit and watch while some men beat or kill their wives, sisters, lovers or daughters? Let me give you a piece of information: Nine out of ten women in prison are there for murdering of their husband or lover.

Let's change it

The tragic murder of Ayşe Paşalı is the prime example. The courts denied her request for protection from her abusive ex-husband after he threatened to kill her. Then last month he allegedly shot her to death. Her case requires new angles and thoughts on the subject matter.

Since the parties involved were already divorced in this case, the possibility of letting women who are divorced or who live together with their lovers under the same roof to benefit from the Family Protection Law comes back to the agenda again. Some judges rule for the protection of women in accordance with international conventions. Yet others do not rule in this direction because the decision to protect them is not included in the law in force. Therefore, the perception of "if we broaden the scope of the law, the issue will be resolved" comes up and the government has pushed the button for the inclusion of those women in the scope of said law. The government immediately asked for opinions from women's organizations. Some made new suggestions and some rushed in their views, saying that although time is short, having an amendment is positive.

However, there should be no rush in this issue. Courts have no chance not to rule for the protection of battered women as the requirement of law. But then, why should we stop and think thoroughly? That photograph! The one in which Ayşe with a purple eye was looking empty in despair in the courtroom's corridor while her ex-husband in the same frame was posing for the media reflecting his domineering attitude. We should take a good look at that photograph. Why is that man still standing next to her in that picture? Where is the state? Where are the social workers? Where are the police officers, judges, prosecutors and psychologists?

Which family?

Forty percent of women in Turkey are beaten by their partners and 94 percent do not go to the court: Why? And why are almost all who seek legal action not happy with the procedures? That photograph, is it not telling the whole story? If divorced women or those who live without marriage are included in the scope of this law protecting women, will this photograph change?

The solution can be found in a brand-new viewpoint. The entire law consists of two articles and its name is still Family Protection Law. Which family do we protect? Why should we protect and strengthen a family in which violence and fear stalk around? Let's change the law and the title of the state minister, too. Let's say "Protecting Women and Children from Violence in the Family." This is how the rest of the world does it. Let's have a regulation clarifying step by step what public officers, civil servants should and shouldn't do.

Let's introduce the measure of arrest, if preventive measures are not applied and if acts of violence are repeated. Let's set-up integrated family courts and make sure the same judge hears the case each time and has the authority to apply follow-up measures and penal sanctions where necessary. Let's call practitioners of law to account in case of neglect.

A call for women's organizations

My suggestion is for all non-governmental organizations: Please withdraw petitions for amendment. So that everyone gathers with no rush and we can overhaul the laws appropriately. Let's have regulations clarifying who would do what in every single step of the implementation so that the process is flawless. Otherwise, what we do could just further suppress and weaken battered women, just like the insufficient use of the right antibiotics for an infection. Don't let this happen!

* Eray Karınca is a Family Court Judge in Ankara










'Shoot first, ask questions later' appear to be the watchwords of Mr Raymond Davis, a technical adviser at the US consulate in Lahore. There is no dispute that he shot two men in broad daylight. His first shots were fired through the windscreen of his car, and the tight grouping suggests that Davis was not an amateur when it came to firearms. There is no dispute either that he got out of his car and appeared to use his cell phone to photograph the men he had just shot – who may or may not have been trying to rob or kill him. Amateur footage taken at the scene shows a pistol lying beneath a motorbike, and a holster is clearly visible on the belt of one of the dead men as he is wheeled into hospital. The other man to die at the hands of an American on Thursday afternoon was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was hit and killed by the back-up vehicle summoned from the US consulate in Lahore by Davis. Three dead within the space of minutes, and a host of questions.

The car that Davis was driving had false number plates. He was not on diplomatic duty at the time of the incident, and does not appear to have been one of those authorised to carry a firearm in order to protect diplomats. Davis himself is not a diplomat – the mere fact that he had a gun tells us this. Diplomats, even in Pakistan, never carry guns personally. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said on Friday afternoon that Davis would not be accorded VIP protocol; and he was duly remanded to six days physical custody at the Cantonment Court on Friday. We need to hear, in a court of law, how these three people met their ends, and the invocation at any point of diplomatic immunity must not be an option. Taking the unsupported word of anybody under such circumstances (Davis claims to have fired in self-defence), be they American, Pakistani or any other nationality, is unacceptable. Equally unacceptable is the apparently routine carrying of firearms by some (not all) foreign staff accredited to diplomatic missions. This is no longer an academic debate. An American has killed two of our nationals; another has run over a young man and killed him. In doing so they may have done a great deal to harm the already tattered image America has in the eyes of many Pakistanis. We need to see these men standing in a court of law to answer charges, anything less would be a shameful travesty of justice. We also need to see, with the utmost urgency, a definitive statement by our government relating to the carrying of weapons by foreign nationals. There are enough trigger-happy lunatics on the loose, so let us not give anybody else a licence to kill.







The Supreme Court has reminded the government that re-hiring retired officials on contract amounts to a violation of law and is also unjust as it blocks the appointments of younger officers waiting their turn. The court has noted, after being presented with a list of 're-hired' police and FIA officials, that their postings appear to be illegal. The issue has come up before, but the appointments have continued. The process has in fact accelerated over the years, with both the provincial and federal governments apparently violating rules as though they did not exist. The views expressed by the eight-member bench on the issue could lead to hundreds of bureaucrats losing their jobs. According to a report in this newspaper a large number of such individuals hold such jobs. It also seems that most of the appointments are made by chief ministers or the prime minister. It does not take a great deal of imagination to see why they may choose to do so. While it is possible that some re-hired officials may indeed be men or women of merit who are able to do their job better than others, in the vast majority of cases the appointments are based on nepotism and intended to serve specific purposes. In other words, in exchange for the 'favour' they receive, the officials are expected to comply with directives from the top. They add, then, another rung in the ladder of corruption that today climbs towards the skies, and is strengthened by the kind of blatant rule violations we see.

The notice of the matter taken by the court brings up several points. Simply following regulations can serve a key purpose. This is the reason why these rules were formulated in the first place. They need to be followed to make our society a better place and to clean up very dirty acts indeed. We hope that the Supreme Court order in this respect will be followed. There have been far too many refusals to do so in the past. But for the sake of the bureaucracy and to improve governance the rules must be followed. This is all the more vital in institutions such as the police where the presence of competent offers and avoiding cover-ups are vital to establishing an efficient system that can combat the sharp rise in crime we are currently facing. The apex court has already encountered these difficulties and seen how investigative agencies protect criminals. It is crucial that all institutions work together to follow laid-down rules and abandon the damaging practice of enrolling 'favourites' in key places.








In an unprecedented development, Russia recently signed a deal to procure at least two of France's advanced Mistral-class amphibious warships at an estimated cost of $750 millions each, with option for two more. Ordinarily, this should be of no interest to Pakistan, were it not for the near-synchronous timing of an Akula II nuclear-powered Indian submarine sailing for Vishakhapatnam in the weeks ahead; if the voyage is not already underway, that is, since such movements are always shrouded in secrecy. India is expected to receive one more Akula II submarine to train its crews, for a total of five nuclear submarines. The indigenous production of two more Arihant-class submarines in the near future is also on the cards.

The submarine bound for Vishakhapatnam, INS Chakra, has been undergoing sea trials for some time and its ten-year lease period, with a purchase option, has reportedly been agreed at a cost of $650 millions. This Russian-Indian-French defence nexus has been dubbed by some analysts as Russia's newest "sell-in-the-east-and-buy-in-the-west" strategy. Russia views Indian ambitions to sortie out into blue waters as a seller's paradise for its hardware, and France, with its double-digit unemployment and doubts about long-term sustainment of its defence industry, as a willing supplier of modern sea platforms.

This fits in well with Russia's desire to reorientate its Cold War-era maritime paradigm of deploying a large number of nuclear submarines in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, to investment in more practical rapid-response intervention capabilities, such as those successfully employed by the US over the years.

The Indian navy has an ambitious expansion plan of having 166 ships by 2022, at a cost of $12 billions. Its Naval Aviation is already operating BAE's Harriers and is further being equipped with Boeing's P-8 Poseidon MMA (multimission maritime aircraft), which is a successor to P3C Orions. For conventional submarines, it has been operating the Russian Foxtrot-class vessels with some German 209s, and of late has signed on for the French Scorpions. Its surface fleet and maintenance support structure are Russian to the core and are likely to remain so. There have been some calls for the cancellation of the Scorpion contract because of allegations of $113 millions in kickbacks, but the corrupt across the border too appear to be managing the din well.

The Pakistani navy has historically maintained an edge over the Indian navy in submarine warfare. But with a sizable number of newer Russian nuclear and French conventional submarines in the Indian fleet, this edge may not be maintainable; more so as the first of the Pakistani navy's Agosta submarines reaches its midlife in 2013-14, and the other two will reach theirs by the end of the decade.

There has been slippage in timely replacements of our fast-depleting subsurface assets; not least because the preferred German three-submarines option was way beyond our financial affordability. But nor is the status quo tolerable, as this important maritime defence capability, structured so painstakingly over four decades, cannot be allowed to wither away.

Rather than for us to lose more precious time, one option which merits serious consideration by Pakistan is revival of collaboration with France for the construction of a fourth Agosta-90B submarine at the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. There was a significant indigenous capability installed at the KSEW during the execution of this programme, a capability which would go to waste and skilled manpower degenerate if not put to further use. On the downside, if Sarkozy and Zardari have to deal with such an idea twice in their political careers, well, that is fate.

The Amazon-class frigates in service with the Pakistani navy, acquired from the UK in the '90s, are nearly 40 years old. The Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates currently under transfer from the US under an FMS programme are also over 30 years old. Unless there are more additions, the four Chinese-built F-22P frigates supported by some lower tonnage vessels with over-the-horizon missile capability will, in all likelihood, fall well short of a minimum force structure required for protection of our seaborne commerce and maritime assets, including under-the-seabed exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons and metals in the EEZ. On the other hand, the Indian navy's goals for 2022, helped by India's stable politics and a performing economy, appear realisable.

The Pakistani navy is presently participating in the US-led Combined Task Forces (CTF 150, 151 and 152), and quite rightly so, if we are to remain in contention in the region. This, however, is not without the dilemma of our utilising valuable national assets in an international effort. The blue water navies of the developed world have built-in extra-regional potential and stamina, unlike the navies of the developing countries. Any overstretch with blue-water horses in CTFs has therefore to be watched, since some day we will have run our own Derby, and, more importantly, will win.

To compound our difficulties, we are beset with a serious ongoing insurgency. The 1948-1960 insurgency by the Communist Party of Malaya is usually taken as a datum for longevity of wars against the state, as it lasted for 12 years. The LTTE's movement in Sri Lanka died down after nearly 25 years. In Pakistan, judging by the tenacity of the enemy within, we may similarly be in for a long haul.

This growing disparity and our apparent helplessness to do something tangible about it is a source of concern. Our political system is far from stable and courts failure to inspire the confidence of foreign investors. Without foreign investment economic progress will remain elusive, and this means that our financial strength will be insufficient for generation of the kind of resources required for a planned naval replacement programme.

Energy security in the 21st century is likely to remain a key concern for both the developed and developing economies. China and Japan, to cite one example, are jointly putting up $25 billions to build a navigational canal through southern Thailand, which will obviate the need for oil tankers to steam through the pirates-infested Malacca Straits.

Gwadar can play a crucial role in Pakistan's energy security in this century. The Chinese petroleum ministry has surplus capacity and is looking at Gwadar for any possibility for investment in view of the special relationship between the two states. China has other interests too, as the distance between its more developed eastern region and the less developed western region is greater than that between the Chinese west and Gwadar. The differential is causing demographic dislocation, and China wants to take advantage of Gwadar's proximity to speed up development and stem the population surge to its east.

Let us hope that there is an early decision in the Supreme Court on the petition for cancellation of management control to the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) which, shorn of corporate jargon, establishes a baseline throughput roughly the equivalent of 21 ships calling per week before any royalty can be paid to the Gwadar Port Authority. The PSA has also not yet started the contractual $525 millions investment which is to be completed by 2013. How one wishes the Pakistani negotiators of this deal were a little bit sincere with the country.

If the contract is cancelled, Pakistan should seriously and expeditiously engage China on its interest to invest up to $13 billion in such areas as increase in Gwadar Port's existing berths from three to 18, building of an oil pipeline between Xinjiang and Gwadar to set up an energy corridor, development of a 21-million-tons capacity Gwadar Port Energy Zone, setting up of an energy-sector industries in this zone and oil and gas exploration ventures.

If this was an academic debate, there would be no issue losing out to the predominant landlubbers' lobby in the country, but the ramifications of ignoring Pakistan's maritime frontier go far beyond and are too grave to neglect. It will be unfortunate if in the 21st century, Japan and China, and even India, have secure seaborne energy lifelines, while Pakistan, in spite of Gwadar's strategic location just 180 miles east of the Strait of Hormuz, remains vulnerable for its energy needs. There is enough common cause in Gwadar to work with China for mutual benefits. Let's go for it.

The write is a retired vice admiral. Email:









"Can Mubarak be toppled?" BBC's Jon Leyne asked the US secretary of state on Thursday. Hillary Clinton, even when two deaths and 1,500 arrests had already been reported, responds: "Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people."

The New York Times enlightens us as to why "the Egyptian government is stable." In a front-page article on Jan 26, it says: "An uprising in Tunisia, a peripheral player in the region, is not the same as one in Egypt, a linchpin. The Egyptian government is a crucial ally to Washington." Should one characterise The New York Time's approach as imperial hubris? Or is it historical amnesia?

In January/February 1979, Iran was a similar lynchpin, as was Iraq in July 1958. True, autocratic regimes often do not crumble overnight. The case of Tunisia is significantly exceptional. Egyptians may not be able to emulate the alacrity their Tunisian cousins have shown in toppling Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. One may even expect Hosni Mubarak to survive the way Ahmedinejad survived the summer of discontent in 2009. Muhammad ElBaradei, a bad omen for Egypt, will be ready to play the Hossein Mousavi. Luckily for the Tunisian revolution, it was "leaderless." The masses in Tunisia took their fate in their own hands, instead of mortgaging it to any particular party or leader. Hence, Tunisians, once they were on the streets, did not return until Ben Ali had fled. Even after his ignominious exit, Tunisians did not give up. They brought down the interim government since it co-opted ministers from Ben Ali's party, the RCD. At the time of this writing, protestors are camping out in the heart of the capital, Tunis, demanding the interim prime minister Mohammad Ghannouchi resign.

In case of Iran, the workers, except in the transport sector, did not stretch their muscle. It is indeed hard to say if Egyptian unions will emulate their Arab cousins or will follow the example of their Iranian counterparts. However, the beginning of Hosni Mubarak's end has certainly begun. Cairo has witnessed the biggest mobilisations ever since the 1977 bread riots. Cairo may calm down temporarily, but Tunisian message has been heard loud and clear, and much beyond Egypt. People in Jordan, Algeria and Yemen have taken to the streets in massive numbers.

It is to stem the tide that the Obama administration is consulting Hosni Mubarak while the sultans from Libya to Saudi Arabia, forgetting their differences, have been united. In an exercise of damage control, the Obama administration has sent its assistant secretary of state for the Near East, Jeffrey D Feltman, to Tunis. His mission is to "confer with the interim government."

Tunisians are being lured with a promise of elections in six months. Washington is manoeuvring in all essentials to restore the old regime without Ben Ali. This cynical fraud is being presented as promised "democracy." Meantime, the Western media that ignored Tunisian developments to the point of censorship until Jan 12, have taken up the Arab cause. Not just television networks and the press, but even academics at media departments are alerting their students to the role of the "new media" – a liberating technology – like Facebook and Twitter have played in Tunisian/Egyptian developments. A BBC blogpost, for instance, says about Egypt: "Sites including Facebook and Twitter have been key tools in organising the protests, but are reported to have been blocked across the country at times."

As for the Murdoch press, the British tabloid, The Sun, described the Tunisian upheaval as the "first Wikileaks revolution." It was the same Sun that had viciously attacked Julian Assange for putting at risk the lives of "our boys" in Afghanistan.

Foreign Policy, a "sober" tool of US imperialism, was hardly better. A day after Ben Ali fled, Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson, in an essay titled "First Wikileaks Revolution?", concluded: "Tunisians didn't need more reasons to protest when they took the streets these past weeks – food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and employment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that Wikileaks pushed people over the brink."

Wikileaks "pushed people over the brink"? Does Ms Dickinson really believe that Mohammad Bouazizi, the youth whose self-immolation ignited Tunisian intifada, had read Wikileaks before he killed himself on Dec 17? And does she really think Tunisians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis and the rest of the Arabs would need some leaked cables, dispatched by bored clerks at US embassies, to find out that their sultans were corrupt, that most of their unfortunate countries had rising prices and staggering unemployment?

As the media in the West highlight the liberating role being played by the "social media" headquartered in the USA, one hardly finds a mention of the brutal military/police apparatuses built in the Middle East under Western tutelage. It is these apparatuses that have sustained the oppressive sultans on their thrones. That is the real Western "contribution" in the Middle East. Had Wikileaks and "social media" been so liberating, Europe and North America would have been forced to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq by now.

The eerie silence has been broken. It is not surprising, therefore, that the sultans on their thrones are shaking. Faiz Ahmed Faiz comes to mind:

We shall see

Certainly we, too, shall see

The day that has been promised us

Which is written with God's ink

We shall see!

When the mountains of cruelty and torture

Will fly about like pieces of cotton

Under the feet of the oppressed

This earth will shiver, shake and beat

And over the head of oppressors

When lightening will thunder.

We shall see!

The writer is a freelance contributor.









The drive to eradicate polio in Pakistan has recently been marked by four positive developments. First, acknowledgement by the government that the country now runs the risk of becoming the last remaining reservoir of endemic poliovirus transmission in the world. Second, the US$ 17 million direct pledge for polio eradication in Pakistan by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at a time when there is a severe fiscal crunch. Third, pronouncement of polio as a national emergency and the decision to leverage outreach of the armed forces in conflict-ridden areas – the latter being one of the hallmarks of the National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication, 2011 (Plan). This was a long overdue policy decision, since problems in accessing children in war and conflict zones have been apparent for a long time.

Important as these decisions may be, there are additional considerations that should be brought to bear. The issue in conflict-ridden areas is not just a matter of constrained access due to the law and order situation. There are organised factions that campaign widely against polio vaccination, effectively orchestrating parental refusal to vaccinate children on the mistaken grounds that vaccination is forbidden by religion, that it causes infertility in populations and that it is part of a conspiratorial design against Muslims. Indoctrination of this philosophy has been one of the most important factors in undermining immunisation activities in many parts of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and the tribal areas. Addressing this necessitates changing mindsets, which may not necessarily be amenable to short-term measures.

The cross-border movement of nomadic populations is often cited as one of the factors limiting success. To a certain extent, the combination of conflict, mindsets and movement of populations in the tribal areas and associated areas of KP are relevant. This is evidenced by numbers – in 2010, nearly three out of every four new cases of polio, were from these areas. This notwithstanding, it must be recognised that the sources of persistent transmission, or the 33 districts, which are high-risk and those that adjoin them, also include central Punjab and Karachi, which are far removed from the western borders.

It is evident that weaknesses in health service delivery and broader issues in health governance are responsible for the failure to eradicate polio. In fact, there has been an honest admission in the Plan that there is "sub-optimal quality of implementation and poor programme management" and that "inconsistent quality of polio campaigns stemming from weak management and political interference" is a problem.

The performance of field outreach teams falls in a spectrum and despite effort to reform primary healthcare, there are many units that are still non-functional. Abuse, pilferage, absenteeism, ghost workers, informal payments, outright graft and systematic collusion at several levels are pervasive, and in some cases, well-institutionalised. Capacity of the public primary healthcare system, which anchors the field immunisation process, has been deeply eroded over the decades. Instances of deployment of managers without regard to merit do not augur well for programmatic functioning. The private sector, which delivers the bulk of healthcare, has not been leveraged for enhancing outreach.

Weaknesses in other government services can also affect polio-control efforts. Heavy electricity cuts due to load-shedding can have consequences for maintaining the cold chain for vaccine storage. As a result of issues at the level of water and sanitation, diarrhoeal diseases – the third commonest cause of deaths in children in Pakistan – can interfere with polio vaccine absorption. The impact of these factors on results of the polio eradication initiative needs to be determined.

Furthermore, there are other more recent systemic changes-in-the-pipeline, which inadvertently act as barriers. Ongoing debates about reorganisation of national programmes, and how interventions such as immunisation may be organised in the future – now that the Implementation Commission of the 18th Constitutional Amendment is set on devolving all health-related functions – is one of them. The other process in the flux is the local government system. Both these institutional changes are deeply interlinked with the fate of human resource actors within the system, the performance of which critically determines progress. For example, health administration is part of the recently envisaged massive job cuts at the local government level in one province. Uncertainty and low morale as a consequence thereof at the human resource level is detrimental to the needed rigour, which must come into play to achieve the goal of polio eradication. These factors are outside of the remit of the Plan.

This notwithstanding, the Plan itself, has to be more rigorous. Three points are being emphasised. First, emergency measures similar to those adopted during disasters and wars are required. The entire organisational force of the government needs to be put behind polio eradication, not only in the conflict-ridden zones but also in other areas. The armed forces need to be involved in the outreach drive in national immunisation days, just as they are in other emergencies. The government should commit to utilising all its resources to ensure a seamless supply chain over a few days, including airlifting of vaccine and ensuring access to areas on horseback. The possible imposition of curfews for the duration of immunisation days should be considered drawing on insights from the Chinese experience. An emergency has to be dealt with as such.

Secondly, there should be clarity in administrative responsibilities. The current ambiguity at the local government level and federal-provincial interface needs to be streamlined for the set of actions critical for delivery of services in this area. Additionally, more important than the elaborate inter-sectoral committees outlined in the Plan, is to clearly define the level which is to be held accountable. Thirdly, there should be an effort to somehow link polio eradication to the right to life, using quotes from the Quran in order to negotiate access in areas where refusal is an issue. With these measures, there could be some headway towards the goal of polio eradication in Pakistan.

One last word pertains to using polio as a lens to view the broader situation with regard to development outcomes. As a health systems intervention, immunisation may be more transaction-intensive than certain health interventions such as food fortification, but it is not as transaction-intensive as others, for example, emergency obstetric care. Here is a jarring realisation. If Pakistan is faltering to achieve an immunisation-related end-point, how will it deal with the complexity of other interventions, which are critical to achieving targets such as the Millennium Development Goals, to which the country is wedded. Polio, therefore, also provides insights into the country's wider institutional capacity and the ability of its systems to deliver on programmatic endpoints.

The writer is founder and president of the NGO think tank, Heartfile. Email: sania@








Democracy takes its "best revenge" from the people of Karachi, every day of the week, every hour of the day, with the democrats in their monstrous 4WDs sideswiping all traffic riding, party and other flags fluttering on both fenders, with police mobiles in front and back, and thuggish looking private guards in separate vehicles keeping an eye on the policemen in the mobiles.

Such scenes were standard in 1950s movies on drug smugglers in South America, who moved in heavily escorted convoys, much as our politicians do now. No one could envision that, sixty years on, Karachiites would see the scenes live on their city's streets. It is a measure of the quality of governance, and of the quality of those who are governing, that the 4WD vehicles being escorted by the law enforcers, or police mobiles, are most often in violation of the law. They follow no traffic law, carry no license plates, or have plates with just "MNA," "MPA," "Minister," or the names of their respective tribes or clans on them.

Clearly, these are unregistered vehicles, and no road tax has been paid, which means most are also smuggled, and no import duty has been paid. It is unlikely the drug smugglers in the movies travelled in unregistered, smuggled vehicles, with flags flying, and under police escort. This makes our rulers one up on the drug barons.

Democracy's best revenge is when the police escort of a 4WD behemoth, carrying a fake "AFR 2010" license plate and with an ample political body ensconced inside, is informed of the violation. The ample political body within rolls down the window, and lets fly a volley of choicest, most colourful words of abuse, which would put a drunken truck driver in Bhatinda district to shame.

Democracy's best revenge is Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza imposing himself like an unsightly pimple in DHA, with embarrassed police and Rangers apologising to motorists for the inconvenience, and the minister's thuggish private guards brandishing weapons at them. It is also Bilawal House, which has made thousands of area residents fervently pray that its owner, in a moment of piety, will donate it to Eidhi Foundation and earn Divine blessings, and the gratitude of the thousands of beleaguered and stressed citizens living within a radius of two miles of the edifice. It will also bring forth a huge sigh of relief from hundreds of security personnel manning the bunkers and barricades around the structure, which are probably not unlike those at the country's nuclear installations.

Democracy's best revenge is collection of "protection money" from businesses and shops, and from doctors, by the "democratic" goons of democratic political parties, whose elected parliamentarians sit in assemblies as people's representatives. It is also banning of pillion riding on motorbikes, to benefit transporters, whenever that is demanded by the transport mafia, and it is to keep the water tanker mafia contented and in high spirits, by denying direct supply of water to the voters, the mainstay of democracy.

Democracy's best revenge is eviction of students from Jinnah Hostel, and its conversion to the Rangers Headquarters. The students need no hostel, for the process of education is down and out for the count. Minister of Education Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali personally, as well as his ministry, is too busy dragooning the ECP, the HEC and others to keep their hands off fake-degree holders, to have any time for the long-suffering learning process lying inert on the floor. Declaring holidays is a function which takes a fair amount of his ministry's time, and there are so many to declare in a democracy.

Democracy's best revenge is to pit Karachiites against one another. It is visiting the MQM hideaway one day to be received like a bridegroom, and firing a broadside the next day through a minister assigned the role of field gun of the party. It is to mollycoddle the MQM, and also to instigate the ANP against it. It is to make monkeys of all political players in Karachi, without even playing the Sindh card. Let the "monkeys" unite to make Karachi what it is, the largest city of Pakistan.

The best revenge of democracy is the swift presidential pardon of Interior Minister Rahman Malik, after he was convicted by the Supreme Court. It is the peaking of corruption, the floodgates of which were opened by the first PPP government under its founder and first chairman, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, when banks, industries and businesses, and anything that had anything to do with money and finance, were nationalised, and party faithful were appointed to "manage" these.

Finally, the best revenge of democracy, are the inheritors of the party, albeit of a different lineage than Bhutto's, but riding on the Bhutto name and shoulders. It is the new, hitherto unattained, heights to which the successors have taken corruption. NASA must be shaking its head in wonderment.

The writer is former corporate executive. Email:







The writer is a Dubai-based writer who has written extensively on the Middle East and South Asia.


Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, warned Dr Samuel Johnson. I wonder what the celebrated English writer and lexicographer would have said about our friends from the Bharatiya Janata Party who love to wear their patriotism on their sleeve, ever ready to wave their flags and tridents at the drop of a hat. One wouldn't mind their patriotic zeal so much if it weren't for their tendency to offer condescending lessons in nationalism to the rest of the world, implying everyone except them is a traitor.

Every time it finds itself painted in a corner or gets that sinking feeling that it's running out of issues to keep itself in the media spotlight, it dips into its deep bag of tricks. Like the Bedu's camel, patriotism – or politics of patriotism rather – is the cure-all panacea for the Hindutva brigade. Combined with bigotry, ignorance and hatred, this competitive patriotism could be really lethal.

One has lost the count of hate-spewing yatras the party has organised over the past couple of decades to burnish its image not just as the champion of the Hindus but Bharat Mata (mother India) itself. And it always seems to work. Who cares if such marches to cuckoo land end up driving the nation of a billion people over the edge? How many innocents are consumed by its cauldron of hatred and bigotry matters little. What really counts is how many people are taken in by your rhetoric and end up voting for you. At the end of the day, it's all about power.

This is not the first time the Hindutva brigade has given the call to hoist the Indian flag in Srinagar, the scenic capital of Jammu and Kashmir. We have been here before. Exactly a decade ago, Murli Manohar Joshi launched an Ekta (unity) yatra from Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, to Kashmir. After much hand-wringing and sleepless nights in Delhi and Srinagar, Joshi was rescued by security forces from his own dangerous devices.

Joshi was of course trying to do a Lal Krishna Advani after stepping into his oversized shoes. India can never forget the terror and devastation sparked by Advani's rath yatra in September 1990, which eventually led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, not to mention the thousands of innocent lives lost in communal violence that followed.

India has yet to recover from that long winter of madness in the 1990s. However, it helped the BJP grow and mutate from a marginal player with two members in parliament into the 'natural party of governance', as it once lionized itself. No wonder the BJP and its numerous avatars are on an endless road trip, perpetually milking the golden cow called patriotism. Consequences for the country be damned!

This is what the party tried to do all over again this week with its campaign to hoist the tricolour at Srinagar's Lal Chowk. The stated objective of this yatra was to protect the nation's unity and pride and honour. Is the pride and honour of this amazing democracy so fragile that it constantly needs the Hindutva forces to protect it? As someone said, a politician can drape himself in the flag but it is the texture of his politics which will determine if he truly cares for the nation or not.

The truth is, this is nothing but old-fashioned politics of opportunism. It's just another cheap, attention-grabbing tactic. Or should we say, attention-diverting tactic? There's a distinct possibility that the BJP came up with the idea of Kashmir yatra to deflect the undesirable spotlight chasing the Hindu groups after the recent revelations of RSS leader Swami Aseemanand linking the saffron brotherhood to numerous terror attacks across the country.

Aseemanand's stunning confessions implicating the Hindutva groups in terror strikes on the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer shrine and Malegaon mosque, blamed all these years on local Muslims, have caught the RSS and company with their pants (shorts?) down.

Whatever the reason, the BJP is out to extract maximum mileage out of a sensitive issue like Kashmir all over again, at a time when the governing Congress is finding the going tough. To the opposition's glee, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is turning out to be a monumental disaster. The World Bank-trained economist with impeccable credentials has had the rare distinction of presiding over some of the biggest corruption scams in the nation's history, squandering all the goodwill the Congress had generated under Sonia Gandhi.

Kashmir remains on Hindutva's radar for the very same reasons that it has doggedly refused to acknowledge all these years. Even as the BJP and company refuse to acknowledge the special status of the Himalayan state and all the promises we made to the Kashmiris when they decided to join India after the Independence, they end up training the global spotlight on the K conundrum with these shenanigans.

Where were these patriots when Kashmir was burning until recently? Throughout last year, the state was rocked by fierce protests that were not just against governments in Srinagar and Delhi and security forces, they were a vote against all that has been visited on the state in the past six decades or so. In the last quarter century, Kashmir has lost nearly a hundred thousand people to this never ending siege within. Thousands of men, both young and old, have simply vanished. Tens of thousands of Kashmiri pandits have been living in refugee camps in Delhi and elsewhere for years.

In the recent protests demanding the withdrawal of omnipresent security forces, more than a hundred youths, some as young as 13, died in police firing. Even if those boys were hurling stones at the security forces, how do we justify such lethal use of force against civilians? Protests are not unusual in other parts of India. But nowhere else in the country do the troops open fire on a crowd of protesters. The reality is, even as we Indians proclaim Kashmir to be an "integral part" of India, we seldom view the Kashmiris as part of the mainstream.

For the Sangh fanatics and much of the establishment, Kashmir is merely a prized piece of territory that we must protect at any cost from the devious designs of Pakistan and the ISI. The Kashmiri people were never part of this scheme of things. As Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in The Hindu this week, this approach is the product of a mindset that considers Kashmir to be terra nullius, an empty landscape to be coveted and possessed rather than a land with a people and soul who have as much right to a life with dignity as those elsewhere in the country do.

But I think this is less about Kashmir and more about the skewed worldview of the Hindutva clan, which wants to paint this melting pot of a nation with myriad identities and voices in its own colour. Now everyone is entitled to his/her views and beliefs and change the world according to them. The trouble arises only when you tend to accomplish this at gunpoint, as our Taliban comrades once did – and the Hindutva forces have been doing all these years. In this idea of India, there's no place for nonconformity or cultural and ideological diversity.

This will not go on forever though. India is not the country it used to be, say when the Hindu extremists held the entire country to ransom with their temple-mosque politics. India and Indians as a nation have moved on. Today, they have little patience for those who not only remain handcuffed to history; they want the rest of the country to sleepwalk back into the past. Globalisation and the unprecedented economic empowerment of middle classes, and those trying to catch up fast, have transformed the country and its outlook. India has truly arrived and is enjoying its new exalted status. It will not tolerate anyone who tries to spoil the party by dividing Indians along narrow religious and sectarian lines.








For more than a decade, since the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, the mantra of Israeli politics has been the same: "There is no Palestinian partner for peace."

This week, the first of hundreds of leaked confidential Palestinian documents confirmed the suspicions of a growing number of observers that the rejectionists in the peace process are to be found on the Israeli, not Palestinian, side.

Some of the most revealing papers, jointly released by Al-Jazeera television and Britain's Guardian newspaper, date from 2008, a relatively hopeful period in recent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

At the time, Ehud Olmert was Israel's prime minister and had publicly committed himself to pursuing an agreement on Palestinian statehood. He was backed by the United States administration of George W Bush, which had revived the peace process in late 2007 by hosting the Annapolis conference.

The papers show, Israel spurned a set of major concessions the Palestinian negotiating team offered over the following months on the most sensitive issues in the talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has tried unconvincingly to deny the documents' veracity, but has not been helped by the failure of Israeli officials to come to his aid.

According to the documents, the most significant Palestinian compromise – or "sell-out", as many Palestinians are calling it – was on Jerusalem.

During a series of meetings over the summer of 2008, Palestinian negotiators agreed to Israel's annexation of large swaths of East Jerusalem, including all but one of the city's Jewish settlements and parts of the Old City itself.

At the earlier Camp David talks, according to official Israeli documents leaked to the Haaretz daily in 2008, Israel had proposed something very similar in Jerusalem: Palestinian control over what were then termed territorial "bubbles".

Later the Palestinians also showed a willingness to renounce their claim to exclusive sovereignty over the Old City's flashpoint of the Haram al-Sharif. An international committee overseeing the area was proposed instead.

The Palestinians agreed to land swaps to accommodate 70 per cent of the half a million Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to forgo the rights of all but a few thousand Palestinian refugees.

Interestingly, the Palestinian negotiators are said to have agreed to recognise Israel as a "Jewish state" – a concession Israel now claims is one of the main stumbling blocks to a deal.

Israel was also insistent that Palestinians accept a land swap that would transfer a small area of Israel into the new Palestinian state along with as many as a fifth of Israel's 1.4 million Palestinian citizens. This demand echoes a controversial "population transfer" long proposed by Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's far-right foreign minister.
The "Palestine Papers" demand a serious re-evaluation of two lingering – and erroneous – assumptions made by many Western observers about the peace process.

The first relates to the United States' self-proclaimed role as honest broker. What shines through the documents is the reluctance of US officials to put reciprocal pressure on Israeli negotiators, even as the Palestinian team make major concessions on core issues. Israel's "demands" are always treated as paramount.

The second is the assumption that peace talks have fallen into abeyance chiefly because of the election nearly two years ago of a rightwing Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu. He has drawn international criticism for refusing to pay more than lip-service to Palestinian statehood.

Mr Olmert's former foreign minister Ms Livni emerges in the leaked papers as an inflexible negotiator, dismissive of the huge concessions being made by the Palestinians.

The sticking point for Ms Livni was a handful of West Bank settlements the Palestinian negotiators refused to cede to Israel. Her insistence on holding on to these settlements – after all the Palestinian compromises – suggests that there is no Israeli leader either prepared or able to reach a peace deal – unless, that is, the Palestinians cave in to almost every Israeli demand and abandon their ambitions for statehood.


The writer and journalist is based in Nazareth, IsraelCourtesy:









IN a classic example of American arrogance and colonial mindset, a US national, who is an undercover spy, working as technical advisor at the Lahore Consulate General, killed three Pakistanis and injured several others, sparking widespread protests in the provincial metropolis and condemnation from across the country. Raymond Davis' action is nothing but a brazen crime and terrorist act of the worst order by the citizen of a country that claims to be fighting the war on terror.

It is highly unfortunate that the dastardly incident took place at a time when state-run television was showing an interaction of US Ambassador Cameron Munter with a select group of Pakistani students as part of his public diplomacy to counter, what he believes, misperceptions about his country. Thursday's terrorist act is a grim reminder of the fact that you can't bridge trust deficit or mould public opinion in your favour by mere statements and verbal assurances when your actions speak otherwise. It is policies and actions that shape opinion and we have seen for many years that Washington has negative, discriminatory and hateful approach towards Pakistan and that is why anti-Americanism is on the rise. This is not for the first time that an American national has indulged in crime against Pakistanis as there were a number of incidents in the past as well in different parts of the country especially in Lahore and Islamabad where US officials behaved crudely and entered into altercation even with police officers. This not only amounts to trampling of the country's sovereignty and challenging the writ of the State but also constitutes misuse of the diplomatic immunity under Geneva Convention. All this is happening because of the meek attitude of our leaders, who miserably failed to uphold dignity of the country, encouraging likes of Raymond Davis to do whatever they like as if it is not a formal country but a mere jungle where no laws and rules prevail. There are reports that the culprit previously served as an operative in Peshawar and was declared persona non grata because of his questionable activities. We wonder how and why Pakistan Embassy in Washington again issued visa to a person who was declared persona non grata. Does it mean lack of coordination among the State institutions or deliberate attempt on the part of some people to allow spies and criminals to enter the country, kill people and do things to destabilize Pakistan? American Embassy and some Pakistani officials are understandably trying to justify the firing at and crushing of people by Raymond on the plea that those killed were, in fact, dacoits and the agent acted in self-defence. But eyewitnesses and circumstantial evidence clearly suggest that the victims were innocent people with no criminal record against them and it was an act of terrorism in every sense of the word. Public anger over this shocking incident is valid and a judicial inquiry should be ordered to find out the truth and till then the killer must not be allowed to slip out of the country in the garb of diplomatic immunity, which is not and should not be available to murderers.







NATIONAL Consultation on 'Award of Compensation to Civilian Victims of Conflicts and Terrorism in Pakistan — Issues and Challenges', jointly organized by Foundation Open Society Institute and Institute of Social and Policy Sciences has highlighted some of the very pertinent points and hopefully its recommendations would be considered seriously by the Federal and Provincial Governments as these can help mitigate sufferings of the bereaved families and those who are rendered handicapped in such incidents.

The research carried out by the two NGOs on the issue was an eye-opener, as it exposed serious discrepancies in the policies of the Federal and Provincial Governments. It transpired that there was no national or provincial comprehensive policy or legislation on the issue of compensation to civilian victims of conflicts despite the fact that thousands of people have so far lost their lives during the last few years. There is also no uniformity in the payment of compensation to victims, as in some cases it was as low as one hundred thousand rupees and in some cases as high as five hundred thousand rupees. All lives are precious but regrettably compensation was higher where political interests or pressure groups were at work and lower where there was no one to lobby the case of victims. Similarly, in some cases payments were made to the bereaved families just within one week and in other cases it was done after a lapse of 240 days, which is clearly discrimination. Again, there were no standard procedures for payment of compensation to the families of the victims and despite huge magnitude of the problem so far no dedicated budgets are allocated for the purpose. It is encouraging that Minister for Interior Rehman Malik is receptive to proposals for establishment of a comprehensive legal and administrative framework to ensure equitable, prompt and transparent payment of compensation to the families of those killed and to those who receive injuries. Establishment of a database for the purpose is the first step towards speedy completion of the formalities and we hope a formal, proper and across the board system would be devised at the earliest. It would also be in the fitness of things if a national fund for victims of conflicts is instituted and donors motivated to contribute to it generously as Pakistan is fighting the war against terror not only for its own sake but also for the sake of regional and global peace and security and those rendering sacrifices should be compensated adequately.







AS part of its aggressive campaign to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the AJK Government, led by vibrant Prime Minister Sardar Attique Ahmad Khan, is reported to have decided to establish another mega industrial zone in Mirpur. There is also a proposal to provide attractive incentives to investors to make investments in industrial estates of AJK.

Nature has endowed the State of Jammu and Kashmir with rich resources like hydropower generation, minerals, tourism, horticulture, water sports, cottage industry, Kashmir handicrafts and forests but unfortunately these could not be optimally exploited because of various reasons. Now, it seems, a comprehensive plan has been devised for sustainable socio-economic development of the liberated territory and establishment of a new industrial zone in Mirpur besides, improving the existing industrial estates at Muzaffarabad, Kotli, Rawalakot, Bhimber and Mirpur Districts is part of that plan. As the State Government has further simplified and liberalized the prevalent rules, regulations and procedures aiming at creating conducive environments for industrialization, it is hoped the initiative would boost economic activities, creating job opportunities and contributing to its income. Mirpur is closer to rail and road network and has proximity to centres of industrial, commercial and business activities and there it has the potential to attract entrepreneurs in a big way particularly its own residents who have the income to undertake such ventures. We would propose that an investment conference should be hosted by the AJK Government to give boost to its plan for rapid industrialization of the state.









Military has indeed destroyed the strongholds of the terrorists in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa but the recent two deadly terrorist strikes in Karachi and Lahore are reflective of the stark reality that remnants of terrorism are still stalking the entire land. It is indeed the responsibility of the government to protect life and property of the citizens and give them a measure of economic relief and social uplift to enable them to live livable lives. However, the government has failed on both these counts horrifically. People are living in a perpetual state of dread and fear, which undermine the very spirit of enterprise and entrepreneurship. It should be borne in mind that for strong defence, economy has to be put on an even keel. Because of deteriorating law and order situation, the domestic investor lives in constant fright, the foreign investor stays scared off repellently. Yet members of the ruling elite - ruling and opposition parties - are engrossed in their turf wars and internecine conflicts. Nevertheless, when they feel that the democratic system could be derailed, they start talking about reconciliation and strengthening the democratic setup.

Look at any direction, and you find that country is being clobbered by lawlessness, criminality and terrorism. Punjab is in the grip of street crimes, robberies, dacoities, abductions, kidnappings for ransom, even vigilante murders, with its southern regions being swayed by extremists. And so is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, where the ruling ANP clan heaved a sigh of relief due to army's successes in flushing out terrorists from Swat and Malakand. However civil administration did not rise to the occasion to capitalize on the gains of the army. In Karachi, despite the rhetoric of strict action by the government against target killers, extremists and terrorists, the bloodbath continues unabatedly. Balochistan is also in the throes of insurgency partly foreign-fueled insurgency. It is witnessing a virtual ethnic-cleansing of Punjabi settlers and Urdu-speaking migrants, kidnappings for ransom, and even targeted killings of moderate Balochs, Hazaras and Pakhtuns, with most of these murders occurring in the province's capital, Quetta. Not even the nation's capital, Islamabad, is crime-free. In fact, one would hardly find a place all over the country being a tranquil peaceful niche.

During military operations in Swat, Malakand Division, Bajajur and South Waziristan Pakistan's army proved their mettle, their prowess, courage, conviction and professionalism and successfully destroyed terrorists' network. But there is another dimension to extremism and terrorism, which is sectarianism, and the government should take measures to ward of sectarian conflicts and clashes. In addition to the above dimensions, there is another aspect of terrorism in Pakistan whereby India, Israel and the US have coalesced to destabilize Pakistan. Lately, members of Obama administration, Pentagon and CIA have been blaming Pakistan for aiding and abetting Taliban in Afghanistan, whereas Pakistan always denied such allegations and alleged that Pakistani Taliban are getting funds and arms from across the border. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Thursday that arms are coming from Afghanistan, and there is credible evidence that terrorists are funding to stoke sectarian conflicts.

Anyhow, extremism has many forms and manifestations. In a society afflicted with extreme poverty and extreme opulence, there is always a disaffected and discontent mass of people, disenchanted and disillusioned. Some of the unemployed youth and impoverished people can be lured by the criminals to work for them to 'eke out' living. Or they are conditioned by the religious imposters or zealots to perpetrate acts of terrorism.

Madaris have indeed done a great service by providing free education plus boarding and free meals to the poor students, but over time some of organizers of these madaris indoctrinated the students to wage jihad against the infidels disregarding Islam's message of peace and love for the mankind. On the other hand, imperialism has extended its tentacles over the entire world in the name of globalization whereby developed countries resort to ruthless exploitation of the developing countries. They want to keep them divided so that they do not make progress and become self-reliant.

Sectarianism has caused colossal damage to the Muslim Ummah bringing ignominy and misery to Muslims throughout the world. Differences between Shia and Sunni could be traced back to 1400 years, but both sects have been living peacefully. In the subcontinent also they have lived together for centuries in perfect and harmony. Of course, contradictions between and Sunnis have existed in Pakistan but element of violence has been introduced during Zia era and Afghan jihad in 1980s. Quite a number of doctors, engineers, poets, intellectuals and renowned personalities on both sides of the divide were killed in the process. Other groups had been burning schools to deprive education to the people in NWFP and FATA with the result that not only a generation is lost but such heinous practices are likely to consign them to the Stone Age. Pakistani Taliban has been trying to impose their version of Islam, which is at variance with the majority of the people of Pakistan.

Muslims, indeed, firmly believe that Islam is a religion of peace and stands for progress and prosperity of mankind. But self-seeking elements and religious shysters interpret Islam as a conservative religion upholding obscurantism; thus deviating from the simple, rational and humane spirit of Islam. Islam heralded the end of the ancient world of oppression, inequality and injustice, of pride and privileges based on distinctions of race, colour and creed. It gave the message of socio-economic justice, human dignity, reason and light. If one cares to look at our history, madaris had in the past played a pivotal role in promoting reason and scientific knowledge, and there was no room for hatred or violence in those madaris. However, after Afghan jihad madaris had spawned with the help of foreign donors, and in many madaris students were indoctrinated to hate other sects. As a matter of fact, there is need to project the true face of Islam since it is an enlightened and moderate religion.

Now the question is how to get rid of extremism and terrorism? Various governments have in he past taken half-hearted measures, but this twin-menace of extremism and terrorism will have to be fought on a long-term basis, as the fight is not yet over and the terrorists who ran away from the areas after military action try to hide in some other areas, and the government would have to watch their movements so that they do not gang up again to repeat the sad saga. The government and the armed forces have to keep a strict vigil over enemies' agencies. Religious scholars and ulema have also an important role to play. They should condemn extremism in every form and manifestation, and work for sectarian harmony. They should stop taking out rallies and processions for the time being, because it places enormous burden on the government for providing security to the participants. And it is humanly not possible to have a foolproof system of security for hundreds and thousands of people that are in the rallies.


The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








The Republic of Sudan is situated in northeastern Africa with an area of 2,505,810 km2. It is the largest country in Africa and the Arab world, and tenth largest in the world. It is bordered by Egypt and Libya to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic to the south and Chad to the west. The world's longest river, the Nile, divides the country between east and west sides. Sudan is a member of the African Union, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement. Arabic and English are the official languages and Islam is the state religion. Solidarity with other Arab and Muslim countries has been a feature of Sudan's foreign policy.

Sudan is rich in natural resources such as agriculture, petroleum and crude oil. It is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The People's Republic of China is the main export partner of Sudan. China gets ten percent of its oil from Sudan. Sudan's army consists of more than 100,000 soldiers and is supported by paramilitary personnel. It is equipped mainly with Russian, Chinese, Ukrainian, Iranian, and local manufactured weaponry. It also has small air force and small navy. The combined force has the additional duty of maintaining internal security. The Southern Sudanese maintain their own armed forces in the form of the SPLA. It is in the process of transformation from a guerilla force to a regular force.

Khartoum, the capital, is the political, cultural and commercial center of the nation, while Omdurman is the largest city of the country. Among Sudan's population of about 42 million people Sunni Islam is the largest religion. The Constitution declares Sudan to be a "democratic, decentralized, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-lingual State." Sudan has been at war with itself for the last many decades. Almost all of its major ethnic and religious groups have fought one another. The north is predominantly Muslim. It covers most of the Sudan and includes most of the urban centers. Most of the Sudanese who live in this region are Arabic-speaking Muslims, though the majority also uses a non-Arabic mother tongue. It has close relations with the Arab world, while majority of southerners believe in animism and are different culturally and religiously from northern part of the country. It is one of the most diverse populations on the African continent and is generally connected to Kenya, Uganda and other sub-Saharan nations. Some hostile neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda provided shelter and operating bases to the rebels against the Sudanese government in civil war.

The southern Sudan has a population of six to 8 million. It is predominantly war-torn region of the country. Nonetheless, the southern leaders have rebuilt towns, roads, ministries, school and factories. It consists of many tribal groups. The Dinka, whose population is more than one million, are the largest of many ethnic groups. In 1955, the year before independence, a civil war began between northern and southern Sudan due to significant cultural, social, political, economic and religious differences. The war severely

affected the population of the south. It continued for seventeen years and resulted in massive deaths, destruction and displacement of its people. In 1958, General Ibrahim Abboud took power and followed the policy of upgrading Islamic values and tradition for both north and south Sudan. It weakened south-north relations. General Abboud was overthrown in 1964 and a civilian caretaker government took control of the nation. In May 1969, a group of communist and socialist officers led by Colonel Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiri, seized power and negotiated with the southern rebels and signed an agreement in Addis Ababa in 1972 that granted a measured autonomy to the south. Later on Nimeiri announced a policy of 'national reconciliation' with all the religious opposition forces that laid emphasis on traditional Islamic values. The objective of these parties was to make Sudan an Islamic state.

In September 1983 President Nimeiri announced implementation of traditional Islamic punishments drawn from Shari'a (Islamic Law). Southerners and other non-Muslims living in the north were also subjected to these punishments. The rift with the south continued and led to the Second Sudanese Civil War in 1983. It continued even after Nimeiri was ousted due to public protest against the rising food, gasoline and transport coasts. A democratic set up took its place with Al Sadiq al Mahdi's Umma Party. The leader of the SPLA John Garang agreed to negotiate with government officials as representative of their political parties. In consequence of continuing political and military struggle, colonel Omar al-Bashir came to power in a military coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989. The new government's commitment to the Islamic values intensified the north-south conflict. Meanwhile, Sudan's gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund, nearly tripled in a short period. Moreover, Oil exports increased dramatically within a decade in Omar al Bashir's era. In July 2002, the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A reached an agreement on the role of state and religion and the right of southern Sudan to self-determination. Peace talks between the southern rebels and the government made considerable progress in 2003 and early 2004. In 2005, the rebels signed a comprehensive peace deal with the government to end the civil war. The Interim Constitution was introduced and a post of co- vice president was created and allowed the north and south to split oil deposits equally. The agreement provides for a ceasefire, withdrawal of troops from southern Sudan and return of refugees. Almost 2 million displaced people returned to southern Sudan and its suburbs. Since then the south has been running most of its own affairs.

On July 30, 2005, the SPLM leader John Garang died in a helicopter crash and his deputy Salva Kiir took his place as First Vice President of the Government of National Unity and President of the Government of Southern Sudan. Osman Ali Taha is the Second Vice President of Sudan. As part of a peace deal referendum took place in Southern Sudan from 9 January until 15 January 2011, on whether the region should remain a part of Sudan or be independent. Southern Sudanese went to the polls and decided to secede from north. It has not been demarcated and the people of Abyei still have to determine either to join north or south. Sudan is the world's largest debtor to the World Bank and IMF by 1993. Sudan will require remarkable achievements to overpower the issue of debt that has exceeded $21 billion. The troubled Abyei region, on the controversial border, is still rife with ethnic clashes over land and oil wealth. The deal between Sudan's government and southern rebels is in danger of collapsing as the two sides are deadlocked over borders, reform and oil. The north-south border can be the bone of contention between the two regions.

This is not the end of the horrible game. But both the north and south want to avoid another costly war. The landlocked south has most of the country's crude oil and the north has most of the infrastructure and pipeline to export oil. Many issues are still to be resolved including the north-south border and division of oil resources. Cutting the flow, which provides both north and south with a huge amount of foreign exchange, could be a big loss for both sides. Oil may ultimately hold Sudan together.







On January 25, 2011 two blasts detonated just after the Magrib prayers in Lahore and Karachi. In Lahore at least 17 people embraced shahadat (killed), over 70 injured and some individuals are in critical condition in a powerful explosion at Bhati Gate near Kerbala Gamay Shah in a mourning procession. Out of killed six were police individuals. According to the witnesses and Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Lahore, the blast took placed when 14 or 15 years old Child carrying a bag was stopped at the police entry point for checking purpose. Another powerful blast rocked Malir 15 area of Karachi in which a motorcyclist hit the Police mobile Van and exploded himself once he has been asked to stop by the elements of law enforcing agency. In this blast two police persons got shahdat (killed) and five individuals injured. The similar nature of blast took place in Russia at the evening of January 24 when a suicide bomber detonated in the international baggage claim area of Moscows Domodedovo Airport, which rusulted into killing of at least 31 innocent people. More than 130 people were also wounded in the attack. The above narrated incidents are giving clear cut indication of involvement of RAW's hand due to the visual pattern of terrorists' attacks. The timing of blasts, selection of soft targets, use of motorbikes, types of explosive and claiming of attacks by an unknown planted Jehadi organization are some of the indicators reflect that there is a single planner of intelligence organization behind these suicidal missions. Probability of illicit involvement of Israeli and Indian intelligence agency could not be ruled out by alleging Taliban or others Muslims.

According to the sources, Plan of defaming Muslims and targeting Pakistan has been prepared in the nerve centre of RAW in collaboration of Israeli Intelligence agency. MI-6 of UK also provided them tacit support. In the first instance they started a deliberate propaganda against Pakistan community based in Uk, spreading rumors against the government and supporting rebels of Balochistan. Then they planned to hit the processions of Shia's community and Data Ganj Bakhsh Shrine in Lahore and Karachi, whereas in Russia, tried to widen and creating the gap between Christians and Muslim communities while carrying out blasts at the airport. In this regard probably, the Indian intelligence agency does have Mossad and Western Intelligence Agencies' support too. There is a strong perception in Muslim Ummah that India, Israel and some of their Western masters has the agenda to pose them as terrorists, extremists and criminals. For example Andrew Norfolk field a report on Child sex trafficking and exploitation of white underage girls by gangs within UK were published in the daily times on January 5 and 6, 2010.

The report revealed that 14 court cases since 1997 in which 56 sex offenders were convicted, comprising 3 whites and 53 Asian with majority of them being people of Pakistani origin but it does not identify the ethnic background of other individuals. Singling out one ethnic community is aimed to target the Pakistani community. In this context Jack Straw, the former Labor Home Sectary who during the BBC News night programme on January 8 2011 mentioned of cultural problem in the Pakistani community. Probably, he has forgotten to mention the sex free society of his country, which in fact is the basic root cause of the dilemma. Thus all this propaganda, overt and covert terrorism is the part of their strategy to degrade Muslim community as whole and targeting Pakistan in particular. It is evident from Pakistan's internal political and security situation that it is passing through a very critical era of her history. Its traditional rival with the tacit support of Israel is clearly found involve in launching terrorism, supplying arms to the rebels, creating political instability by supporting anti Pakistan elements, India actually also has the desire to divert global attention away from her intelligence agencies and Col Prohit activities against minorities . It has also been learned that the wife of Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) Chief, Hemant Karkare is going to file a case against RAW in the Indian Supreme Court for murdering of his loving Husband. It is notable here that Karkare was suspectedly killed by RAW during Mumbai Attack in 2008.

Thus, in the light of above mentioned discussion we can find out that there is conspicuous connectivity between Moscow, Karachi and Lahore blasts. It also help in unveiling of hidden connection between Mossad, RAW and MI-6. To fight back the terrorism there is need of unity amongst the political parties, the parties' leadership and ruling authorities should show cooperation in fighting terrorism rather than pulling each others legs and indirectly facilitating our rivals in accomplishing of her agenda against Pakistan. President, Prime Minister and COAS has condemned the blasts against innocent people.








After the assassination of Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, the issue of Blasphemy law has become a focal point of discussion not only in national and international media but also in every nook and corner of our country. In view of the fact that blasphemy law was misused in the past, and some non-Muslims as well Muslims were framed by their opponents, some scholars like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi were of the view that it needed to be amended. The major problem is not whether the law needs an amendment or another piece of law could be enacted to ward off possibility of misuse of the law. The most disturbing aspect is that extremism has ingrained in our society, as the people take law into their own hands in the name of religion. And the worst part is that they are projected as heroes.

Nevertheless, terrorism and extremism cannot be rooted out from our society unless we stop seeing murderers as 'good killers' and 'bad killers'. The fact of the matter is that there is no difference between a suicide bomber and the assassinator of Sulman Taseer, since both have a tendency to kill people in the name of religion. And to find out similarities between Malik Mumtaz Qadri and Ghazi Ilm Din Shaheed reflects our inability to see things in the right perspective. Ghazi Ilm Din had killed a blasphemer when British courts were unable to punish him for writing a hate-mongering and blasphemous book. In fact, after this incidence British government had introduced the clause of imprisonment for punishing those who hurt the religious feelings of others. However, Malik Qadari killed a person when the strictest blasphemy law is there in Pakistan. In fact, extra-judicial killings and threatening of judges and lawyers involved in court proceedings of blasphemy cases are the most worrying aspects of blasphemy issues in Pakistan, which need our urgent attention. So far as the importance of blasphemy law is concerned, there is no denying the fact that a law dealing with blasphemy issues is inevitable to save a society from civil war like situation. For that very reason, British government had enacted a similar law in the Sub-continent in 1860, and amended it with imprisonment clause for blasphemers in 1927 soon after Ghazi Ilm Din's incident. However, the disputed point regarding blasphemy law in Pakistan between the divided sections is not blasphemy law itself but only its death penalty clause, which was inserted into law by General Zia-ul-Haq.

At this juncture, some logical questions could be asked as to why one can't criticize the law amended by a usurper and dictator. If the changes made by Zia-ul-Haq in blasphemy law were in accordance with Quran & Sunnah then why was it not done in Pakistan before Zia? Whether the Pakistani Muslims living before Zia's era were not true Muslims? Should we question the Islamic knowledge and learning of those Ulema who never demanded death penalty for blasphemers some three or four decades ago? Are those majority of Muslim states, which endorses maximum five years punishment for a blasphemer, far from Islam? One also wonders as to why the number of blasphemy cases increased suddenly soon after death penalty clause was included into blasphemy law in Pakistan? According to an estimate, there were only two blasphemy cases registered before Zia while the number reached 962 after the inclusion of death penalty clause in blasphemy law by Zia-ul-Haq. What could be more disturbing than the fact that some of the people convicted in blasphemy have been living as practicing Muslims? Doesn't it indicate that Zia's amended blasphemy law is being manipulated than to be a useful jurisprudence for prevention of blasphemy incidences? So far as the Islamic perspective of this issue is concerned, a section of Islamic scholars from all over the world don't recognize death penalty for blasphemers as an Islamic jurisprudence. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, a renowned religious scholar, says in this regard that 'Quran does not lay down a punishment for blasphemy and the current blasphemy laws are not Islamic'.

In fact, Islam rejects extremism in all of its forms and manifestations, and the sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has also been exemplary so far as the virtues of tolerance and forgiveness are concerned. Had the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) recommended death penalty for blasphemers, he would have punished almost all of the Makkans who were the worst blasphemers of Holy Prophet (pbuh) and Allah. But history bears witness that he had pardoned all of his enemies at the time of conquest of Makkah. Unfortunately, we are living in an extremist society where Islam does not seem to prevail in its true spirit. Our actions, dealings and characters are devoid of the teachings of Islam. Our moral degeneration could be gauged by the fact that Pakistan is one of the most corrupt countries of the world despite the fact that Islam ordains honesty and fair play in human dealings.

Likewise, Islam makes it obligatory to receive education but the malaise of illiteracy is rampant in Pakistan. Our Ulema are felicitous over the fact that Pakistan is an 'Islamic' republic with an Islamic constitution but they hardly pay heed to the interest-based banking system prevalent in our country in utter violation of Islamic economic concept. It also makes no difference that the Muslims consume wine more than non-Muslims in Pakistan though it is forbidden in Islam. It is also not something unusual that women are suffering from inhuman and un-Islamic traditions such as vani, swara, honor killing, burying alive, and wedlock with Quran (to save family property) etc. How many Maulvies have ever come to roads to raise their voice against such evils and vices? Is fighting against social evils not recommended in Islam?

It is said, "Actions speak louder than words". Unfortunately, the difference between our actions and words has widened so much that our words have lost credibility. Islam has never been applied but used in Pakistan. Islam, in spirit, is a code of life which is applicable to all aspect of human lives, but in Pakistan, Islam is just a slogan used in religious rallies, elections campaigns and militants' training. In fact, hollow slogans and violent emotions in regard of religion have made us a laughing stock in the eyes of the whole world. Most of the political parties are shining their politics with the tint of religion. It is true in case of religio-political parties, which after failing to secure majority in general elections, rush to street politics and raises the slogan of religion to increase their ranking. It goes without saying that our hypocrisy has brought us to the brink of disaster. And it would not be an exaggeration to say that nothing is as much dangerous as hypocrisy, since the latter could only be cured through self-accountability which we have forgotten to apply to our lives.







President Obama's State of the Union address was a ho-hum affair. But the official Republican response, from Representative Paul Ryan, was really interesting. And I don't mean that in a good way. Mr. Ryan made highly dubious assertions about employment, health care and more. But what caught my eye, when I read the transcript, was what he said about other countries: "Just take a look at what's happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn't act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody."

It's a good story: Europeans dithered on deficits, and that led to crisis. Unfortunately, while that's more or less true for Greece, it isn't at all what happened either in Ireland or in Britain, whose experience actually refutes the current Republican narrative.But then, American conservatives have long had their own private Europe of the imagination — a place of economic stagnation and terrible health care, a collapsing society groaning under the weight of Big Government. The fact that Europe isn't actually like that — did you know that adults in their prime working years are more likely to be employed in Europe than they are in the United States? — hasn't deterred them. So we shouldn't be surprised by similar tall tales about European debt problems. Let's talk about what really happened in Ireland and Britain. On the eve of the financial crisis, conservatives had nothing but praise for Ireland, a low-tax, low-spending country by European standards.

The Heritage Foundation's Index of Economic Freedom ranked it above every other Western nation. In 2006, George Osborne, now Britain's chancellor of the Exchequer, declared Ireland "a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policy making." And the truth was that in 2006-2007 Ireland was running a budget surplus, and had one of the lowest debt levels in the advanced world. So what went wrong? The answer is: out-of-control banks; Irish banks ran wild during the good years, creating a huge property bubble. When the bubble burst, revenue collapsed, causing the deficit to surge, while public debt exploded because the government ended up taking over bank debts. And harsh spending cuts, while they have led to huge job losses, have failed to restore confidence. The lesson of the Irish debacle, then, is very nearly the opposite of what Mr. Ryan would have us believe. It doesn't say "cut spending now, or bad things will happen"; it says that balanced budgets won't protect you from crisis if you don't effectively regulate your banks — a point made in the newly released report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which concludes that "30 years of deregulation and reliance on self-regulation" helped create our own catastrophe.

What about Britain? Well, contrary to what Mr. Ryan seemed to imply, Britain has not, in fact, suffered a debt crisis. True, David Cameron, who became prime minister last May, has made a sharp turn toward fiscal austerity. But that was a choice, not a response to market pressure. And underlying that choice was the new British government's adherence to the same theory offered by Republicans to justify their demand for immediate spending cuts here — the claim that slashing government spending in the face of a depressed economy will actually help growth rather than hurt it. So how's that theory looking? Not good. The British economy, which seemed to be recovering earlier in 2010, turned down again in the fourth quarter. Yes, weather was a factor, and, no, you shouldn't read too much into one quarter's numbers. But there's certainly no sign of the surging private-sector confidence that was supposed to offset the direct effects of eliminating half-a-million government jobs.

Which brings me back to Paul Ryan and his response to President Obama. Again, American conservatives have long used the myth of a failing Europe to argue against progressive policies in America. More recently, they have tried to appropriate Europe's debt problems on behalf of their own agenda, never mind the fact that events in Europe actually point the other way. But Mr. Ryan is widely portrayed as an intellectual leader within the G.O.P., with special expertise on matters of debt and deficits. So the revelation that he literally doesn't know the first thing about the debt crises currently in progress is, as I said, interesting — and not in a good way.—The New York Times








The opportunism of the Greens knows no bounds. After the Queensland floods, party leader Bob Brown blamed coal companies for natural disasters. Burning coal causes global warming, leading to high ocean temperatures and the floods that follow, he claimed. Rubbish. This month's Brisbane flood was below the 1893 level in the city, which no one sensibly suggests was the result of human activity. But this was not as inane as the Greens can be. On Thursday, deputy leader Christine Milne told us that by cutting make-work programs for alternative-energy activists the government was "doing a disservice" to people affected by these and future floods, because "such disasters will be made worse by climate change".

This is nonsense on stilts. Even assuming human-induced global warming contributed to this month's floods, cutting money to manufacture unpopular green cars and subsidise solar hot water will have no impact on the amount of carbon Australia pumps into the atmosphere. As The Weekend Australian has argued for years, what will deliver is a price on carbon. We would have one if Senator Milne and her mates had not blocked Labor's emissions trading scheme in 2009. If the Greens want policy change they should act like a mature political party, not a permanent protest movement.






In the early days of the global financial crisis, an FBI team walked on to Wall Street looking for theft and fraud. But it was not that simple. While prosecution may follow the release of the US Financial Crisis Commission's reports, there was much more incompetence and ignorance than law-breaking involved. The causes of the crisis included global factors, such as the flow of Chinese savings into the US, which funded a consumer debt binge. Well-intentioned government decisions made years before, notably increasing home ownership by offering easy credit to low-income families, were involved. The avarice and optimism of bankers who looked no further than the next quarter's bonus and assumed the boom would never end, at least not before they cashed out their own investments, did not help. The way managers did not understand the products financial engineers invented was part of the problem. And the ineffectual ignorance of the regulators ensured few public administrators, let alone legislators, expected the crisis or had any idea what to do when it occurred.

The commission's reports of the first weeks of the crisis are scary stuff, demonstrating banking cultures which could not cope. But they do not demonstrate any failure of the market economy or the need for the state to save capitalism from itself, as Kevin Rudd famously claimed in his 2009 essay. Certainly the documents make a case for effectively regulating financial trading and demonstrate why prudence matters. Australia escaped the crisis in no small part because bankers and regulators remember the crash of the early 90s when government-owned banks in three states went broke. But to claim the causes of the GFC are inherent to open and efficient financial trading is plain wrong. From the 1720 South Sea Bubble on the London market, through 19th-century panics to the Great Depression, slumps occur when markets are manipulated.

The work of the commission shows there is never one easy explanation of how to stop greed and incompetence afflicting markets.

The Democrat members blame the bankers and call for tougher regulation, while minority reports from the Republicans point to the credit bubble the Federal Reserve allowed to grow. Both sides are right, which makes the point. There is no way to make investment markets completely secure, not while they are managed by fallible humanity.





Julia Gillard's preference for a flood levy over a budget deficit is good politics. But that doesn't mean it's bad policy. Critics say it will dampen consumption but the one-off impost is so limited that it is hard to see it having much impact on anything or anyone -- other than raking in a relatively modest $1.8 billion the government will not have to find elsewhere. But the political impact of Labor's response to the floods is another matter entirely. The Prime Minister is looking for maximum bang from her $5.6bn repair package, not just in Queensland but around the country. She desperately needs a political dividend: the government continues to wear the legacy of three years of wasteful administration by Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan. Australians are not amused: they have grown accustomed in the past two decades to cuts in taxes and smaller government, grown used to a deregulated economy able to withstand the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the tech-wreck of 2000-01 and the 2008 global financial crisis. To an economically literate electorate, the Rudd government looked out of its depth with pink batts and other hair-brained climate change programs, as well as the Building the Education Revolution. The waste in these programs, the bungling of the original mining tax and the excesses of the National Broadband Network dented Labor's credibility.

The floods are a potential circuit-breaker, offering Ms Gillard a chance to distance the government from the perceptions of the Rudd era, not to mention from the expectations of the Greens and the folly of some in Labor's Left. At the same time, her package helps move her closer to Queensland, where Labor lost seven seats at the last election. And backing a levy that has been dismissed by Tony Abbott allows Ms Gillard to paint the Coalition as two-faced -- given its regular resort to levies while in power -- as well as somewhat heartless towards flood victims. It's not all upside for the Prime Minister who must still sell the levy to those who feel that even $1 a week is too much. But the package announced this week, with its mix of a tax, spending cuts and deferral of some projects, is smart. It's the best sign yet that Ms Gillard has learnt from the mistakes of the past three years and is serious about restoring the Labor brand by recovering its reputation for rectitude.

The flood package has been crafted to deliver to several audiences. The decision to abandon or delay several inefficient climate change programs saves about $2.8bn but also shows Australians that Ms Gillard is not captive to the Greens or the Left in her own party who have been so ready to waste money on unsaleable green cars and ridiculously expensive carbon-capture programs. Just as importantly, dropping these programs puts the onus on her parliamentary colleagues to help deliver a long-overdue, market-based carbon price as the only sensible way to cut emissions. It all adds to the perception of a Prime Minister standing up to vested interests and fighting for the national interest. The flood levy should be a plus for Labor in Queensland, where it sends a message that Canberra cares, indeed that it cares enough to risk pain in terms of a public backlash against the tax. The forceful response to the disaster will not be lost on Queenslanders upset over the demise of local boy Mr Rudd.

Last year, this newspaper named Mr Rudd as its Australian of the Year for 2009. Last weekend, we selected Treasury secretary Ken Henry for the 2010 award. They got top marks for managing the fallout from the GFC, but this recognition does not blind us to Labor's shortcomings. We have consistently criticised the government for its intervention in the economy, for its misdirected spending and its failure to address real issues of productivity, labour market reform, and transport and other infrastructure bottlenecks. We appreciated Canberra's rapid response to the GFC but we believed that then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull was closer to the mark when he suggested halving the overall size of the $42bn stimulus.

More than two years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that prompted such largesse, Ms Gillard has drawn a line in the sand by insisting on returning the budget to surplus. Those arguing a deficit is economically sustainable and a levy unnecessary miss the important political point.







After four years of turmoil and controversy, NSW Labor's term of office is grinding to a close. The signs of exhaustion and disaffection are many. Through the past week, on several separate issues, voters will have gained the impression that the Keneally government just wishes anything difficult would go away.

Having gone to such trouble and expense to push ahead with a new bridge over Iron Cove, against considerable local opposition, the government, to judge from the way politicians and the Roads and Traffic Authority are behaving, appears embarrassed that it is now about to open. As we reported yesterday, RTA advertisements explaining the changes to traffic arrangements in Victoria Road for the bridge were placed in yesterday's Herald - and then withdrawn. An authority spokesman could not explain the move, though he did say "operational traffic changes are expected later this week". The Premier responded to our report by saying of course she would open the bridge. It took a lot of prompting.

The government may be fearing what experts have predicted all along: that the bridge will do nothing to ease traffic on Victoria Road, but will just move the inevitable peak-hour traffic jams a few hundred metres along it. The new bridge has been renamed. It is no longer the Iron Cove bridge, but rather the Inner West Busway. This is significant: the public is expected to understand that while all the sound and fury over the bridge may not improve car travel times, it should improve times for bus passengers. But even here, there is a catch.

In order not to impede buses using the busway at peak times, four bus stops in Drummoyne have been closed, and a single one opened, the net effect being to make buses, for Drummoyne residents at least, less convenient than they were during peak hour.

In all, the new bridge looks like a mixed blessing at best, and possibly a white elephant - another symbol (if any were needed) of a government that has forgotten how to do things - how to design, how to plan, how to manage, how to achieve. It is not surprising that the government is acting as if it would like the whole thing to disappear.

The same is true of the Waratah trains - 626 carriages ordered from the Reliance Rail syndicate in a project plagued by cost overruns and delays. Now Downer EDI, the syndicate's lead member, has all but admitted it is out of its depth. The ratings agency Fitch has placed it on credit watch, and severely criticised its management's performance.

Because the public-private partnership which is the basis of the Waratah train project has run into financing difficulties the possibility that the NSW taxpayer will be asked to guarantee loans to the Reliance syndicate has come into play. The Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, has ruled this out in the past. The hope is long gone that new Waratah trains would be running before the election in time to convince voters Labor can still manage. Now the project is just another mess to be cleaned up by whoever is running things after March. Here, the Liberals' Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian have shown their inexperience by hinting they may be prepared to guarantee loans. That is no way to begin negotiations.

Exhaustion is also evident in the continuing battle over the sale of the state's power assets. This week the president of the Legislative Council, Amanda Fazio, backed the right of the former independent directors of the power companies to refuse to appear before the upper house inquiry into the sale. The former directors quite rightly fear that, with Parliament prorogued and with it, possibly, parliamentary privilege, their evidence may leave them legally vulnerable. It is in the public interest for them to appear and give evidence about this important matter, but it is not in the public interest for capable and conscientious individuals to be placed in legal jeopardy for doing so.

The sale itself has turned out to yield far less revenue than hoped: a net $400 million, as Treasury officials told a parliamentary inquiry last week. And the policy has opened deep divisions within Labor with power industry unions, and their factional allies opposed to the sale. Small wonder then that there were reports this week that the government had abandoned the second part of the sell-off. The Premier denied any such decision had been made, but the looming election means it will be delayed - and if the polls are right, that means Labor will no longer be responsible for what happens. The problems will indeed have gone away - for Labor, but not for the rest of us.





AH, THE magical world of the Opera House. Once you enter those hallowed portals, and climb those Pebblecrete stairs, you will be swept away into a mysterious, faerie world filled with music, magic, and accountancy. Here, what seemed so real and solid in 2005 can be made to vanish utterly - only to reappear five years later before your astonished gaze. We refer of course to this week's report that part of the Opera House site has been rediscovered by the government valuer, having gone missing in a previous valuation. A firm grip on reality is a fine thing; it is comforting to see that those running NSW attain it every now and then. But what we want to know is: how do the valuers enter the negative floor space in this area in their books? We refer of course to the mysterious gaps between the flooring slabs which threaten to swallow stiletto heels, credit cards or other small valuable objects. They have consumed several dollar coins of ours over the years and we can't, surely, be alone. There's probably a tidy sum down there by now. Time for another upward revision of the house's assets.






PRIME Minister Julia Gillard may have hit a steely note while defending her government's proposed flood levy this week, but when it comes to Australia's flag debate she is, well, unflap