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Monday, January 31, 2011

EDITORIAL 31.01.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month january 31, edition 000743 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


















1.      DAYS OF RAGE












































































































































































































































Notwithstanding the hype and hoopla surrounding Egypt's 'Jasmine Revolution', as the trail-blazing Tunisia protest was labelled, it is imperative to take into cognisance the fact that future of the largest Arab country still hangs in the balance. Yes, the notion of an oppressed people overthrowing their decades-long oppressor is appealing but it's also time to get real: There is no guarantee that a new Government will not be corrupt, will provide jobs (and education and healthcare) and hold free and fair elections. Much like the rest of West Asia and North Africa, Egypt has a population that is young, educated and unemployed; an economy that is so reliant on American aid and oil money that it has no real industry to speak of, and its political space hasn't seen a credible Opposition ever. Unfortunately, it seems like the future of Egypt does not lie in the much-touted 'hands of the people'. In reality, it will still be the decisions of the Presidency, the Army and to a limited extent, the various Opposition parties that will shape the final course of the uprising. In a last ditch attempt to keep himself in power, President Hosni Mubarak, in an apparent move to appease the protesters, has fired his Cabinet and appointed a new Prime Minister. But far more interestingly, he has also appointed a Vice President — the former Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, Mr Omar Soliman — for the first time in the 30 year that he has been in power. According to the Egyptian Constitution, the Vice-President takes over as President if the incumbent dies or resigns from office. Former Minister for Civil Aviation, Air Marshall Ahmed Mohamed Shafik, has been appointed the new Prime Minister. It is not entirely coincidental that both Mr Soliman and Mr Shafik have military backgrounds. Historically, the Army has been a powerful institution in Egypt — the July 1952 'Revolution' that laid the foundation of the Arab Republic of Egypt was essentially a coup and since then the military has been the bedrock of Egypt's governing system. The men are also trusted aides of Mr Mubarak and enjoy much credibility at home and abroad and are considered to be influential in the region.

Mr Mubarak obviously believes these changes will help defuse the crisis that stares him, Egypt and the region in the face. But they may prove to be too little to late. At the moment the situation is fluid and could take any turn as the protests continue across Egypt, most noticeably in the key cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. What is also noteworthy is the fact that the protests are fast degenerating into anarchy and chaos with looters and arsonists running amok. The police have disappeared, the Army is there but is maintaining absolute restraint. The coming days could see further changes and a point may come when Mr Mubarak may have to consider stepping down and handing over power to the Army or to a successor regime. What exactly will be the nature of that interim arrangement is anybody's guess. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is watching from the margins of the protests, waiting for the tide to take a decisive turn before it steps into the arena. There are indications that the Muslim Brotherhood could be waiting for total collapse of order as that could enable its takeover.







The world economy may have turned around from one of the worst economic recessions that left it scarred in 2009 but things still look far from being radiant as global unemployment remains at a record high for the third consecutive year. If Global Employment Trends 2011, published by International Labour Organisation, is anything to go by, then low job creation remains a major stumbling block in the global economic recovery. What should worry policy-makers is that in stark contrast to macro-economic recovery, unemployment remains quite high. According to the International Monetary Fund, the world economy, which has registered a five per cent growth in 2010, is likely to remain on track with an estimated 4.5 per cent global GDP growth in 2011. But what comes as a surprise is that the increase in GDP growth and investment has done little to improve job markets. The global unemployment rates, which rose from 5.6 per cent in 2007 to 6.3 per cent in 2009, dropped only marginally in 2010 to 6.2 per cent. This definitely remains a cause for concern as high incidence of unemployment indicates a fragile economic recovery. In essence, a slack job market reflects that productivity gains are not translating into real wage growth. Hence, it is essential to create jobs so that consumption and aggregate demand grow and push the growth trajectory up. The seriousness of the matter can be guaged by the fact that even business leaders from across the world participating at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos have agreed that increasing unemployment does not augur well for sustained economic recovery.

India, which has shown resilience in weathering the 2009 global meltdown and expects a steady economic growth of 8.5 per cent, has reasons to worry because the GET report says incidence of 'vulnerable employment' is highest in South Asia, including India. There are 580 million people in the region falling under the category although unemployment rate has been fairly stable, ranging between 4.3 and 4.5 per cent over the last three years. What should send alarm bells ringing is the fact that the Reserve Bank of India has witnessed a decline in FDI, which can be interpreted as a sign that all is not well with the country's growth potential. Hence, the Government must formulate strategies to not allow the job market to slow down and create fairer and better-functioning labour markets. Focusing on population control can be a good starting point because it is difficult for any Government, irrespective of sound policies, to create jobs keeping pace with unbridled population growth. Further, the Government should take steps to promote cottage and small-scale industries, extending loans to rural youth and women and enabling them to generate a sustainable income.









The Prime Minister is increasingly being perceived as someone who is in office but not in power. Nothing else explains his failure to act.

One can possibly dismiss senior BJP leader and NDA chairman LK Advani's comment that Mr Manmohan Singh is "the weakest Prime Minister we have ever had" as one prompted by his party's political stand. However, the same cannot be said when prominent citizens and business leaders make a similar assessment of this Government.


Doyens from the field of business, finance, judiciary and other fields have written an 'open letter' making a desperate appeal to the Prime Minister to start governing the country. The 'open letter' has urged Mr Singh to initiate urgent measures on issues such as tackling corruption, bridging the governance deficit and ensuring independence of "investigative agencies and law enforcement bodies" from the executive.

The 14 signatories include some of India's most eminent individuals — Mr Azim Premji of Wipro, Mr Ashok Ganguli, former chairman of Hindustan Unilever Limited and an MP now, former Reserve Bank of India Governors Bimal Jalan and N Narasimhan, former Supreme Court judges BN Srikrishna and Sam Variava, economist A Vaidyanathan and blue ribbon entrepreneurs like Mr Deepak Parekh, Ms Anu Aga, Mr Keshub Mahindra and Mr Jamshyd Godrej. Some of them are close to the Government or even members of the National Advisory Council headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

That such eminent persons should issue an open letter instead of taking their grievances directly to the Prime Minister and the NAC chairperson to whom they have easy access serves to underscore their decision to make the matter of governance deficit a public issue rather than whisper about it at top-level meetings. Although drafted in sober and under-stated language, the open letter's contents are loud and voluble to all.

When they say they are raising issues of tackling corruption and ensuring independence of investigative and law-enforcing agencies from the executive "in order to ensure citizens that corruption will be most severely dealt with", they indirectly mean that like most citizens of India they are not satisfied with what the Government has done so far. They have told the Prime Minister that the way these issues are being dealt with has failed to strengthen the confidence of the people. In other words, there is sizeable deficit in popular confidence in the UPA's governance.

Lest the Government fails to read the message, these eminent persons have added that they have been compelled to write an open letter because "several loud and outraged voices in the public domain (are) clamouring on these issues, which have deeply hurt the nation". The assertion that the people no longer believe in the sincerity of those in power in New Delhi could not have been more tellingly packaged — the understatement is louder than a shout.

Yet, that is not all. The open letter explicitly says that the institution of governance is facing a crisis because "widespread discretionary decision-making has been routinely subjected to extraneous influences". There are flip-flops on environmental issues that clearly seem to follow political criteria rather than facts.

In effect, this public statement is an expression of erosion of faith, if not lack of confidence, in the integrity and competence of the Government headed by Mr Manmohan Singh. It is a warning to the Union Government that the mandate it received in the summer of 2009 has eroded considerably and the onus for this lies with the Prime Minister. In other words, what these individuals who are not aligned with any political party are saying what Mr LK Advani has been pointing out for long — just that he has been more explicit in stating the point that is now being reiterated.

Despite public clamour for action, the response from Mr Manmohan Singh can be best described as timid. Take the Cabinet reshuffle, for instance. Instead of exercising his authority and determination to generate confidence among the people that he is serious about setting up a Government that performs, Mr Singh has indulged in the usual game of musical chairs with a vague promise that a larger game will follow the Budget session of Parliament.

As regards corruption, the Group of Ministers met on January 21 to discuss the issue and "asked the Cabinet Secretary to form two committees to analyse the various reports of expert committees available with the Government to tackle the menace". It also "discussed the latest draft of the Lokpal Bill." There could not have been a better example of evading the issue.

The rot runs deep. Recently the Supreme Court took the Union Government to task for its dogged refusal to reveal the names of those who have stashed away black money abroad. The Government is dragging its feet over taking up the offer from Germany to reveal the information it has extracted from the European principality of Lichtenstein about these funds. It gets the information under the double tax avoidance provisions that require the names to be kept secret.

As we have seen in the case of Pune-based horse breeder Hasan Ali, there is a deliberate attempt to not let the people know who are the culprits who have transferred money abroad secretly. It is entirely possible that there are names on the list that can cause discomfort to the Congress and its allies in the UPA, and this could be the reason why it is trying to keep the names a secret as long as possible.

During the Winter session of Parliament the Opposition expressed its 'no confidence' in the Government by refusing to let both the Houses function. And there are indications that the Budget session could also prove to be a washout. That could bring the administration to a halt if the Budget or demand for grants is not passed before March 31. Many others, besides the NDA, have flayed Mr Manmohan Singh for his inability to demonstrate decisive leadership. They are social activists, professionals and people from the media and business world. In fact, it suggests a consensus of sorts across the nation.

As the Budget session draws near, these 'loud and outraged voices', as the open letter has aptly described them, are bound to grow into a demand for the Prime Minister to perform or quit. Some suggest that the second step is exactly what some important individuals in the Congress want him to take. The next few weeks are going to be crucial.







What the Congress has chosen to ignore while joining Omar Abdullah in disallowing the hoisting of the Tricolour at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day by nationalist youth is that nationalism is the spirit that unites the people of this nation, it symbolises India's sovereignty. Tragically, politics has been allowed to triumph over nationalism and the nation will pay the price for this folly

The UPA Government supporting the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir to prevent nationalist youth from hoisting the national flag at Lal Chowk in Srinagar on Republic Day amounted to political bankruptcy. On February 22, 1994, a Congress-led Government had a unanimous resolution passed by Parliament that Jammu & Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, has been, is and shall be an integral part of India and any attempts to separate it from the rest of the country will be resisted by all necessary means.

Surprisingly, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well as most of the media ridiculed the intention of the youth as mischief meant to disturb the peace in Jammu & Kashmir. All these people cannot be unpatriotic and hence the conclusion must be that there is widespread ignorance that the celebration of Republic Day is a reminder of the country's sovereignty. This year's Republic Day has shown that New Delhi does not consider the country to be sovereign. It concedes that the Government's writ does not run in Jammu & Kashmir. What if in the coming years other States follow the example?

Let us put on record that no country can remain integrally united without nationalism. True, 20th century Europe set a poor example with its extreme swings against and for nationalism. It was the same continent which innovated nationalism as a political ideology to replace monarchy, beginning with the French Revolution in 1789. Yet it was on the same continent where the Russian Revolution took place in 1917. It established a communist state which was the very anti-thesis of nationalism.

Karl Marx believed that the nation state was an instrument of exploitation of the poor in the hands of the rich. Little wonder that Leo Trotsky, the first Soviet Defence Minister, pursued the goal of world communist revolution as a priority over the welfare of the Soviet people. The Constitution, directed by VI Lenin, allowed any of the Soviet Republics to secede from the Union. After Lenin and Trotsky, Josef Stalin ensured the country's unity by diluting the Marxist prescription. His policy was 'socialism within one country', a mild version of nationalism. Since the break-up of the USSR in 1991, Russia has reverted to building a nationalist state.

The reaction to the Russian Revolution and the spread of communism in different parts of Europe led to the rise of Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany, both of whom proved to be maniacal. The European pendulum again swung after World War II and gradually the European Union has sought to replace the sovereignty of individual countries. The European Parliament at Brussels is progressively taking over, the effects of which on the nation states is yet to be fully seen.

The economic melt-down, however, is severe in several parts of Europe compared with the rest of the world. The economies of Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy are already facing serious financial crises. France is not far behind unless the current efforts at economic reform succeed. Implicitly, these countries hope that Germany will help rescue them. Had they been entirely self-dependent as before the European Union came into being, these nation states might have been much more alert. Some experts feel that the dilution of sovereignty could spell the decline of Europe.

Incidentally, it should be noted that in the absence of nationalism, the communist states led by the Soviet Union have collapsed. North Korea is the only country that has remained wedded to communism.

The point is that nationalism provides a unique bond similar to that provided by an extended joint family with common property. Take the national spirit out and a country or a society loses this bond and citizens tend to look upon everybody's business for the nation as nobody's business. Everyone continues to be ready to consume but no one is accountable for producing. Poland, which had between 1772 and 1795 disappeared from the map, emerged as an independent country again, only because the lamp of national spirit had not gone out.

Without an understanding of these historical factors, the Congress leaders as well as other self-styled leftists loosely talk about the virtues of pluralism. Unity in diversity is a contradiction. Yet, diversity being the reality of India, it is united by a common cultural thread. The Hindu ethos is a bond across the country, whether in Jammu & Kashmir or in Kerala, in Kamrup (Assam) or in Kathiawad (Gujarat).

The Abdullahs of Jammu & Kashmir are playing a game which the UPA leaders are unable to see through. They want autonomy but not independence because the former ensures enormous funding from the rest of the country. The State of Jammu & Kashmir pays no taxes. To that extent the separatists are more straightforward; they openly say that they want the State to break free of India.

Six decades is a short time in the history of a country and yet how is it that the Congress has conveniently forgotten that in 1947 the land was divided on the basis of religion? Mohammed Ali Jinnah said that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together and the latter voted almost wholesale for him and his Pakistan in 1946. Whether independence or autonomy, these are Kashmiri euphemisms for another partition. That is the impulse behind the assertion that the national flag being hoisted at Lal Chowk in Srinagar will disturb the peace in Jammu & Kashmir.

The Labour Party under Clement Attlee was socialist. Winston Churchill was a diehard nationalist who had fought Hitler and Mussolini tooth and nail. He expressed an apprehension on the eve of our independence. The way our country is being governed at present should make us pray that his apprehension does not come true. The apprehension was that Attlee was handing over India to men of straw of whom in a few years no trace would remain.








The recent Ekta Yatra of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha to Jammu & Kashmir has been an extremely unfortunate experience as the behaviour meted out to those participating in the yatra by the police was not only aggressive but also un-constitutional.

The yatra, which started from Kolkata and went to Jammu&Kashmir where there was a clamp-down, has brought into focus two important places of Indian politics. If Kolkata is the birth place of Syama Prasad Mookerjee, then Jammu & Kashmir is where he died fighting for the State's full and final integration with the Union of India. It has also brought to the fore two paradigms of Indian politics.

The BJP has never come to power in any of these States. The State of West Bengal did resist the yatra, but did not do anything violent to stop it. But the Jammu & Kashmir Government came down heavily on the activists. Young BJYM workers, who were non-violent, were beaten up without any provocation. Being a witness to such police atrocities makes one feel angry and anguished at the state of affairs. The police acted as if it was trying to kill the activists.

The police tried their best to provoke the workers and resorted to lathi-charge. Had the activists got violent, they could have ended the operation within a short time. But thousands of BJP workers, despite the provocation kept their cool, remained peaceful and only shouted nationalist slogans like "Bharat mata ki jai". The police got frustrated and more aggressive. The clamp-down sustained for more than four hours till all activists were arrested.

Worse was the situation after the arrest. The BJP workers, including hundreds of women, were taken to a huge ground near the police station where there were no basic civic facilities. They were neither offered food nor water. It was the State BJP unit that got into action to provide basic amenities to thousands of workers from more than 10 States. The extreme non-cooperation from the State administration following the arrest only proves that they wanted to stop the yatra by exercising coercion.

Curiously, in the middle of the night, the police decided to open the doors of the prison compound and remove the cordon. However, no one came to declare the release orders. The incident serves to underscore that the police were playing a game. They wanted the workers to start leaving so that they could proclaim that arrested BJP workers had escaped from police custody. Only after angry protests by workers, a magistrate was brought, who declared the order.

Despite all coercion, however, several BJP workers quietly sneaked into Srinagar to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk on January 26. Though they managed to hoist the flag led by a woman worker of the party, they were badly beaten up by the security forces, verbally abused, whiplashed and subjected to third degree torture like petty criminals. Even women were not spared; they were manhandled.

The incident makes one ask a most pertinent question: Is it a crime in India to exercise one's national, constitutional right? Is it a crime to hoist the National Tricolour? Is it such a heinous crime that one will be beaten up and subjected to torture?

Such behaviour meted out to workers of a national political party is nothing but a shame for our democracy. Are we not fooling ourselves by saying that India is a Republic when political workers are beaten, abused, coerced and women manhandled?

The Government also tried to highjack the workers by changing the engine of the train from Karnataka. The leaders of Opposition in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were detained, treated shabbily and finally thrown out of the State in the middle of the night. Worse, the Prime Minister of the country was singing the same tune as the separatists. This shows the soft attitude of the Government towards people who want to separate the State of Jammu & Kashmir from India.

So who are we fooling by stating that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India?

The writer is a national secretary of the BJP.







It deserves to be clearly stated that India under the Congress-led UPA Government is facing serious governance deficit which is adversely affecting the country. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has failed to evolve appropriate policies to curb the rising food inflation, which has hit the common man hard. The Ministers have offered phoney excuses to escape their responsibilities. All assurances that the inflation will come down have proved to be wrong. The Congress looks clueless and directionless in dealing with the problem of rising food prices.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi have also failed to counter effectively the allegations of corruption and misrule. The Winter session of Parliament last year could not function properly because the Opposition was not satisfied with the Government's response on the issue of 2G Spectrum sale or swindling of money in the Commonwealth Games. The dust has still not settled. The issue of evasion of income tax and siphoning of black money out of India has complicated matters. The Supreme Court of India has pointed out that depositing national money of India in foreign banks amounts to 'loot of national wealth'. However, Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee in his Press conference on January 24 did not come forward with any concrete strategy to bring back the money, which is stashed away in foreign banks.

Why is the UPA Government incapable of responding to challenges facing the country? A few facts may be mentioned to substantiate the argument that the UPA Government has failed because of the 'dual leadership'. Ms Gandhi is not only the president of the Congress party, she is the supreme leader whose writ runs in the Government. Leaders of the party organisation and Congress Ministers in the Government are accountable to her. Ms Gandhi's complete control over party's organisational structure can be extremely helpful to the Congress-led Government if she acts as the eyes and ears of the party and provides feedback to the Government about the grievances of the people.

As president of the Congress, she is expected to act as a link between the party organisation and the Government. But Ms Gandhi, it seems, is not satisfied with such a passive role but wants to lead the party as well as the Government without being a formal office holder. The Prime Minister consults Ms Gandhi on all matters that fall in the domain of governance and for which he is solely responsible under the Constitution of India.

The party president can advise or make suggestions to the Prime Minister, but cannot act as an alternative source of making public policies in parliamentary system. The UPA Government is at loggerheads with Ms Gandhi's 'super Cabinet', the National Advisory Council, on a very important issue — of the modalities of implementation of the much-awaited Food Secuirty Bill.

The experts in the Government are not agreeing to the suggestions of NAC on the criterion of determining the rural and urban populations to be covered by this scheme. The public controversy between the Government and Ms Gandhi on public policy issues has not only sent wrong signals to the country, but has conveyed the message that NAC is a 'super Cabinet' and Ms Gandhi is the source of authority.

The NAC is also engaged in a tug of war with the Union Government on the issue of 'wages' paid under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. Ms Gandhi has suggested to the Union Government that under MNREGA minimum wages should be paid as 'laid down by the laws of the land'. But the Government has expressed its inability to oblige because according to Government calculations, the burden will be too heavy on the public exchequer. Ms Gandhi's suggestions to the Government on Food Secuirty Bill, minimum wages under MNREGA or the proposed amendments in the RTI Act gives the impression that it is not Mr Singh who is leading the Government, but Ms Gandhi is the real centre of power.

Further, Mr Rahul Gandhi's recommendations to the Government have far more weightage than the recommendations of any other Congress leader because he shines in the reflected glory of his mother. It is the prerogative of the Congress to decide whether it wants to make Mr Gandhi a Minister or even a Prime Minister, but he is harming the democratic system by participating in policy matters, which is not his responsibility as an ordinary MP.

Ms Gandhi to her credit has rejuvenated and revived the declining Congress party and the party leaders accept her undisputed supremacy in the organisation. However, her special status as Congress president must not impact the functioning of Congress-led Governments at the Centre and the States. Congress party should remember that former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had publicly conveyed to Congress president JB Kripalani that he is not expected to meddle with the affairs of the Government. Jawaharlal Nehru also took on Purushotam Das Tandon, another Congress president, because he was not in tune with the thinking and ideological make-up of the party and it eventually led to Tandon's resignation.

The Prime Minister is the real leader of the country and there can be no 'dual' or 'triple' centres of power in a parliamentary democracy. If Mr Singh is perceived as 'passive' and Ms Gandhi is projected as the 'real source of power' of the Government, then it not only affects governance, it also harms the image of the Congress. That way neither is Ms Gandhi serving the interest of her party nor the interest of the UPA Government, where her party is the major stakeholder. Unless she amends her interfering attitude, the Government will become counter-productive and the Congress will have to pay the price in the next election.








STOCK markets are considered a leading indicator of economic activity for the very good reason that investors tend to discount today, what they expect to happen tomorrow.


By that reckoning, the future appears to be tough for the India growth story. Friday's fall on the bourses took benchmark stock indices like the BSE Sensex below key ' resistance' levels. This means that the trend line is now angling downwards and something out of the ordinary needs to happen to boost investor confidence in the markets once again.


That doesn't look like happening anytime in a hurry. Admittedly, the fundamentals still appear fairly sound. Growth is ticking along nicely at over 8.5 per cent for the current financial year and an estimated 9 per cent or higher for the next. Corporate results have been fairly good across the board and there has been a surge in hiring activity in India Inc., always a sign of positive expectations for the future.


Unfortunately, the rest of the picture — which the government has been resolutely ignoring — is not looking so pretty. Inflation, as the Reserve Bank of India admitted last week, is now beyond the ability of monetary policy alone — which the central bank regulates — to control. Despite seven interest rate hikes, prices are showing no signs of coming down. This is the government's job and it has so far failed to deliver.


Meanwhile, it is showing no signs of cutting the fiscal deficit, which is ballooning. Government expenditure now accounts for over 16 per cent of GDP and is growing twice as fast as private expenditure. Little of this is in productive areas, leading to widening gaps in investment and infrastructure. Clearly, the market is not optimistic about the government's ability to prune the deficit.



THERE is every reason to take seriously the stand taken by a member of the special investigation team that the Ishrat Jahan encounter may have been staged. Significantly, Satish Verma is not just an Indian Police Service officer, but one belonging to the Gujarat cadre. An earlier probe by a metropolitan magistrate, too, had said that the encounter was staged.


The evidence that the police officer has presented to back his claim is substantial. There has been a question mark over the genuineness of the encounter ever since it took place.


The policemen who executed it were involved in other such acts, being led by the infamous D. G. Vanzara, currently in jail for the Sohrabuddin Sheikh killing, allegedly also a fake encounter.


The high court should have heeded Verma's complaint that the other two police officers of the team were putting hurdles in the way of an impartial probe. It is perhaps not a coincidence that one of them— a Delhi Police official— was associated with the Batla House encounter in Delhi which evoked substantial outcry.


After Verma's affidavit on Friday, there is an even greater onus on the high court to ensure that the probe is completed impartially and the guilty, if there are any, be punished.



THE report by the Justice B K Somashekara committee — appointed to probe into the attacks on churches and violence against the Christian community in Karnataka — appears to be ridden with holes.


The report conveniently puts the blame on Mahendra Kumar the former state president of the Bajrang Dal — without even naming the organisation. It is no coincidence that Mr Kumar is presently part of the opposition Janata Dal ( Secular).


The lack of coherence in the report is evident from its vague assertion that " no genuine Hindu was involved in the attacks", in spite of attributing the attacks to Hindu anger following the circulation of literature derogatory to the religion.


The possibility of governmental interference cannot be ruled out as the state government had threatened to wind up the commission after its interim report blamed the Sri Ram Sene and Bajrang Dal.


The final report contradicting the interim version is quaint, to say the least, and the committee has clearly failed to reveal the truth. Therefore the Christian community has little choice but to seek legal redress.








THE controversy about P. J. Thomas' appointment as Central Vigilance Commissioner ( CVC) cannot be brought to a dignified end. It is not necessary to emphasise that the CVC is an important post — an effective culmination to the clumsy steps taken after the Santhanam Committee Report of 1964. The Supreme Court in the Hawala case ( reported 1998) recreated the CVC in profiling this post as an independent post crucial to governance. This was statutorily achieved through the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 — apart from some monkey tricks by the bureaucracy to immunise investigation against them.


The Act of 2003 provides that the recommending authorities shall be the Prime Minister, home minister and the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha ( Section 4). Thomas' appointment was made over the dissent of Sushma Swaraj who, allegedly, based her discomfiture on the fact that Thomas was an accused in the Kerala palmolein export case.




The CVC and other vigilance commissioners ( VCs) have a single four- year term except that VCs can have a further single four year term as CVC ( Section 5). VCs and CVCs will not be eligible for any other post in the Union or states. The VCs and CVCs can resign if they want to ( Section 5). But they cannot be removed except by a special reference to the Supreme Court to prove their misbehaviour or incapacity ( Section 6). But if they are guilty of an offence of moral turpitude, insolvency, acceptance of paid office, or have financial or other interests prejudicial to their functions or accepting some other, become infirm of mind and body, they can be removed by the President ( Section 6). The powers of the commission are huge ( Section 8) including the much needed oversight of the CBI and the Prevention of Corruption Act cases.


The controversy: The CVC's post is much too important and independent a post for the wrong person to be appointed. What is the meaning of " wrong"? Here the Supreme Court has generally made a distinction between " eligibility" ( which is a narrow test) and " suitability" ( which is a wider test). The narrow " eligibility" test requires CVCs and VCs to simply be bureaucrats in an All India Service with experience and expertise in vigilance, policy making, police or other administration or, if in a public corporation with experience in insurance, banking, vigilance and investigation. If only the " eligibility" test was applied, just about any IAS, IPS and senior officers of public corporations would be eligible. The " eligibility" conditions are so narrow that discretion to appoint anybody is vast. There are some doubts that Thomas was brought to Delhi to make him eligible. Even so, Thomas's appointment cannot really be faulted on the narrow demands of the " eligibility" test.


This is what makes the " suitability" test crucial and important. Is he the right person for the job? Or, is all this now a political squabble triggered off by Public Interest Litigation ( PIL) vigilantes including my friend, the omnipresent Prashant Bhushan. The joker in the pack is the criminal proceedings pending against Thomas which Sushma Swaraj says was the issue on which she dissented at the recommendation meeting of which she was a party. Alas, it is stated on the interpretation of Attorney- General G. E. Vahanvati's arguments that our PM was not aware of this.


Sushma Swaraj says that she is willing to file an affidavit that the PM did know because she brought the issue up. Clearly, if the PM did not know, he should have known. If he did know, why was this not a relevant factor as far as " suitability" was concerned?




The court's power: The real question relates to the Supreme Court's ( SC) power to interfere. The SC is accused of excessive interference in everything. Chief Justice Kapadia feels that the Court's right to interfere must be grounded in law and not simply because it does not agree with the government and feels someone else would be more " suitable". The SC is in a mood of judicial restraint and may refuse to interfere.


But, that is yet to be seen. The SC can interfere on one ground for two reasons.


The ground is rooting out corruption that is essential to good governance which is not just the province of parliamentary control but part of the life and ' liberty' fundamental right provisions of Article 21. This raises the theoretical question as to whether Parliament or the courts should control " bad governance". Given the hawala, forest, police and sex discrimination cases, the controversy is stale because under the Constitution as it is interpreted today, both have a role.


But the SC's reasons for inquiry can be twofold: ( i) examining eligibility conditions under the writ of quo warranto ( a narrow inquiry) ( ii) examining the reasonableness of the decision ( a wider test which may stray into question of suitability to a limited extent). The ' remove- Thomas' lobby says that the lines between, " suitability" and " eligibility" are thin. But the more important consideration is: Was the ' charge against Thomas' a significant factor which should have been taken into account and given due weightage in the decision to appoint him CVC? If it has not been taken into account and given a due weightage, the very appointment is flawed, void and illegal. If not, Thomas's appointment is valid and he cannot be removed except by special complicated procedures.




Saving government's face: How does the government get out of this? Will the Court help the government? Thomas wants the government to fight. Once his appointment is declared valid, he is on a cushy wicket.


He has security of tenure for four years and can be removed if convicted or after a special presidential reference to the SC. At present the government supports Thomas, but for different reasons. The government's main interest ( other than Chidambaram's overtures) is to defend the PM and home minister to prove that they did not make a mistake. This is what makes this an issue of party politics. Why? India's badly run Parliamentary system is more interested in attacking the PM and those in power rather than force them into embarrassment and resignation. Such polarisation seems to take place on everything. The fact is that the PM and ministers do make mistakes.


They should admit them. But, they forbear because the Opposition will convert a peccadillo into a grave sin fit to preface resignation.


Statesmanship — admit and resign : In all this, questions of probity are lost. We should be interested in good governance rather than just a labyrinth of party politics.


The answer to the question whether a person accused of a scam should be CVC is that they should not be. Both

the government and Thomas seem to have made this a mooch kaa sawal ( a matter of prestige).


But it should not be.

Looking at the needs of good governance the answer should be simple. The PM and government should clearly admit they made a mistake. This would be the highest traditions of office. Likewise, Thomas should resign — not because he feels he is guilty but because it is in the public interest to do so.


Indian governance allows too many criminals accused of serious offences to hold office. It is time we cleaned up this practice in Parliament, politics and administration.


It is also time that the government learns to admit its mistakes.


The writer is a Supreme Court lawyer









The Tunisian contagion appears to be spreading across the Arab world, with popular demonstrations against autocratic rulers breaking out in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. Among these the Egyptian protests are undoubtedly the most important. That's not just because Egypt is a premier intellectual driving force in the Arab world, but also because the manifestations of popular anger in that country have taken on the dimensions of an uprising.

Whether ageing president
Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt with an iron hand for the last three decades, weathers this particular storm remains to be seen. But what's not in doubt is that change is imminent across the Arab world. Egypt has already fulfilled many of the conditions of a successful uprising, the only question now is for how much time the old order will hold out. And if Tunisia and Egypt go, autocratic rulers in neighbouring countries can hardly sit easy. Demonstrators have gotten the better of police forces in the streets of Cairo, and the military has been called in to keep the peace. But there are signs of open fraternisation between soldiers and demonstrators, which suggest the old regime is fraying. And given that Egypt's intelligence apparatus has often been blamed for heavy-handed repression of dissent Mubarak's appointment of his intelligence chief as the vice-president, in response to the gathering protests, shows him to be dangerously out of touch.

A critical issue in the
Middle East is how western powers respond to Egypt's uprising, given Mubarak's role as a western ally in the region. The problem is that through the second half of the 20th century the West has often pursued a Faustian bargain with the region's autocratic rulers, shoring them up for reasons of Cold War realpolitik or to gain access to its oil resources. That has undercut lip service paid to democratic rights, while the region's rulers too have used the Islamist bogey to undermine international support for democratic change.

But President Obama would do well to remember that the case for change he articulated so eloquently for America is an aspiration that's sweeping across the Arab world as well. And so far both the Tunisian and Egyptian movements have been about democratic rights and relief from economic distress rather than about religion. Obama struck the right balance when he said that the people of Egypt have democratic rights that are universal. The worst outcome now would be if western powers tried to impose cynical and shopworn 20th century style realpolitik on the Arab world, which is trying to grow into the 21st century.







The decay and haphazard development which scars our cities was addressed by Kamal Nath at Davos. But the recently anointed urban development minister must make the case in cabinet when he comes home from Davos, and do his utmost to reform urban development along the lines he has suggested.

Noting the failure of urban authorities such as the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), Nath proposed public-private partnerships rather than public monopolies for urban development. It's in our cities, rather than in our villages, that our collective futures will be decided.

Cities will generate 60% of GDP, 70% of jobs and house over 500 million Indians by 2020. Quality infrastructure attracts more investment and increases prosperity. Providing urbanites with adequate facilities needs to become a premier focus of policy.

A greater role for the private sector has to be complemented by devolution in financial matters. Funds for city development can be routed directly instead of through state governments, because states are not necessarily interested in their cities. Nor does a uniform set of criteria for the release of funds work in a country as diverse as ours. Nath proposes to reform both facets.

Such reform would build on the 74th amendment which empowered city dwellers by creating three new types of municipalities, and devolved to them greater functional and financial responsibility. The benefits have been dissipated by the states' unwillingness to enact reform and by problems at the grassroots pertaining to taxation and corruption. The Centre must ensure states implement the 74th amendment and adequately self-regulate. Ultimately, urbanites having been empowered, they will vote to hold city governments accountable.








Jammu & Kashmir is strategically located on the border of Pakistan. One-third of the state's territory is under Pakistani occupation. Kashmir is part of Pakistan's unfinished agenda since the partition of India. Pakistan, after initially snatching away a part of our territory, has consistently attempted to internationalise the issue. Its initial strategy of conventional war to occupy larger territory has failed. India's military strength was superior.

For two decades Pakistan resorted to proxy war through cross-border terrorism. The world started frowning upon terror tactics. India gained strength both in intelligence and security operations to crush terror. Pakistan's strategy did not work beyond a point. Through separatists in Kashmir it is now resorting to a strategy of stone-pelting while arguing that it is a peaceful protest.

Violence has always been the separatists' strategy. It invites police and security action. In clashes that follow, many innocents suffer. This results in curfews, hartals and disruption of normal life. Homes are searched and human dignity is compromised. Separatists feel, by adopting this strategy, they can create a wedge between the people and the Indian state. In a peaceful Kashmir, separatist leaders are reduced to becoming Friday speakers. In a stormy Kashmir they become mass leaders. Violence and disruption of life suits them, not the Indian state.

How did we reach this stage? Three historical mistakes were committed by our government immediately after independence. Firstly, when a natural migration after the partition was taking place, the then government did not allow resettlement of any refugee in J&K. Refugees who migrated from the PoK region have not been accorded the status of state subject till today. Secondly, Nehru's insistence on ascertaining the wishes of the people - a principle not adopted anywhere else in the country - resulted in the plebiscite resolution, the UN's resolution and the internationalisation of the issue.

Thirdly, grant of special status prevented J&K's economic development. It created a psychological barrier between the state and the rest of India. The state's political merger was complete with the signing of the instrument of accession. Accession to Indian law, however, was incomplete because of Article 370. The six-decade journey of separate status has not been towards fuller integration but towards separatism. Separate status created a faint hope of azadi in the minds of some. It prevented investments in the state. Even with its huge human resource potential and natural beauty, the state could never realise its economic potential. It did not gain from economic development in the last two decades.

Pakistan has aided separatists and terrorists. Violence, terrorism coupled with security actions harassed the Indian state and the people of J&K. The faint hope of azadi at times culminated in a realisable reality in the minds of separatists. None amongst Kashmir's people has considered whether azadi is realistically possible. Azadi's political content and the prospect of an 'azad' state's survival have never been seriously analysed. It was an idea of protest against India.

If separate status gave birth to this faint hope of azadi, mainstream parties, by advocating autonomy, pre-1953 status, self-rule and dual currency, aided and abetted this.

Under our constitutional scheme, J&K enjoys more executive and legislative powers than any other state in India. The Centre's jurisdiction is confined to security, defence, currency, foreign affairs, telecommunication and the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and Election Commission. None of the above-mentioned jurisdictions can ever be transferred to the state. J&K's current problems are due to the environment being created by separatists, terrorists and our western neighbour. The problems may be economic, employment-centric or those of regional imbalances. None has anything to do with inadequacy of power being vested in the state legislature or state government.

The whole object of some political parties is to weaken the political and constitutional relationship between the state and the nation. Special status already started this, with a relationship of modest strength. Autonomy, self-rule and azadi are all intended to weaken this relationship even more. It is for this reason symbols of India's national identity are objected to by the votaries of separatism. There was an objection to the army's presence in the state. Army cantonments are objected to. If yatris visit the Amarnath shrine, grant of land for basic toilet or lodging amenities was objected to. If a national political party endeavours to fly the national flag at a prominent market place in the state capital, it is considered provocative.

The tragedy of J&K is that the Nehruvian policy of this loose political and constitutional relationship between the state and the Centre was flawed. Votaries of this policy never accepted its disastrous consequences. They wish to further pursue it to loosen the relationship. Hence the present dichotomy. If somebody advocates segregation of the state from the Indian nation, it is free speech; if you fly the national flag, you will be arrested for breach of peace.

It is time governments and policy makers realise the consequences of what they have pursued for over six decades. Unquestionably to eliminate separatism we need to have the people of J&K on our side. Our policy has to be people-friendly, but not separatist-friendly. The state needs peace, prosperity, jobs and security. It does not need moves which strengthen the separatist psyche. Regrettably, the move to consider the unfurling of the national flag by the BJP youth wing representatives in the Valley as a possible breach of peace was psychological surrender to the psyche of the separatists.

The writer is a BJP MP and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha.






Anthony James Leggett , professor of physics at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, US, won the Nobel prize for physics in 2003 for his earlier work on superfluidity. Of late, he has done pioneering work in the exciting new field of quantum computing and cryptography exploring the boundary between the strange, counter-intuitive world of elementary particles and the 'classical' world that we perceive with our senses. He spoke to Subodh Varma recently in Kolkata where he was attending a conference on quantum entanglement organised by the S N Bose Institute for Basic Sciences:

What is your family background?

Well, on my father's side, my forebears were cobblers in a village in Hampshire, UK. But my paternal grandfather opted to become a greengrocer. My maternal grandmother, who was Irish, worked as a domestic servant since a young age. Both my father and my mother were the first in their families to get a university education. In fact they met at university. They became schoolteachers in London. I studied in the local school and then got a scholarship to Oxford. I was interested in academics but not in science. I took my first degree in arts from Balliol College, and then later a second degree in physics at Merton College. I taught in Sussex for some time and then shifted to the US semi-permanently in 1983. I have been at Champaign-Urbana since then.

What is the connection between superfluidity for which you got the Nobel and quantum entanglement?

It's a rather marginal connection really. In some superconductors and in Fermi superfluids like Helium-3, for instance, a Bose-Einstein condensate is formed between an entangled pair of particles. I developed an interest in quantum mechanics, especially entanglement in parallel.

What are you working on currently?

I'm trying to understand low temperature superconductivity as well as quantum computing and topological insulators, although i haven't contributed much to the latter field. There's another project of mine with an Indian collaborator from IIT, Kharagpur. It is concerned with low-temperature properties of glass, which is a neglected subject, but it is very important.

Is it correct that a new quantum age is beginning?

Certainly. There are a number of tasks that were earlier impossible to perform using classical means but they are possible now using quantum entanglement. Certain kinds of quantum cryptography are an example. Completely secure cryptography is now possible using quantum entanglement. Admittedly, there are other quantum mechanical schemes that don't involve entanglement but its use is particularly elegant. Even ideas like 'pseudotelepathy' and 'teleportation' are now beginning to take shape in reality, in the sense that people have done experiments and shown that these ideas work. And certainly quantum cryptography works in real life. People have used it to send election results and i would guess that it is being used quite seriously by the military.

What is your impression of India's role in this field?

There are individuals in India who have made substantial contributions to quantum mechanics in general and quantum entanglement in particular. Many Indians are working in the field, some on the theoretical front, like Professor Arvind of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali, and others on the experimental front, like Professor Anil Kumar of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. It is not the kind of field that requires huge resources for experimental equipment. My impression is that the Indian educational system is not that bad in selecting good people and giving them appropriate training. So, we can look forward to more contributions in the future. The right people are there, now it's a matter of time.







'Remove baby before folding' - on a pram. 'Warning: May contain nuts' - on a packet of nuts. 'Open packet, eat nuts' - yes, again on a packet of nuts. 'Do not use for drying pets' - in the manual for a microwave oven. 'For indoor and outdoor use only' - on a string of Chinese fairy lights, and so on and so forth.

Not one of these product warnings is a figment of my imagination, but before you start frothing at the mouth at them for taking us to be block-heads, look at their side of the picture. Mums and dads are busy beings, what if they forget? What if the people haven't paid attention to what they are buying? What if they don't know what to do with the packet? What if you can't stand to see your dripping pet shivering in the cold and try to dry him out in seconds? And what if you think the fairy lights are some sort of exotic Chinese neckpieces? You see?

Would you blame the fast food biggie's caution in printing a 'Hot contents inside' warning in big letters after burning its fingers by paying big bucks in damages in some of the 700 serious injuries its hot coffee had caused?

If not to avoid litigation, at times, the reason behind stating the obvious is pure milk of
human kindness, a fellow feeling worth emulating.

Take the walnut pack which i bought yesterday. It had '100% Natural!' written on it in bright green. "Is there any other kind?" hubby sniggered. What he doesn't see is that how do you know if there isn't an artificial kind? How thoughtful of the company to let us know that the walnut we are consuming is natural. The sign on a popular hair colour box is the soul of concern for consumers; 'Do not use as an ice cream topping'. One could very well do that, especially when the model on the box looks good enough to eat! But the one which created a lump in my throat was this one on a hairdryer; 'Do not use while taking a shower'. Do you realise that the manufacturer foresaw our penchant for multi-tasking? He knew one might think of washing and drying hair together to save precious time if not life. Had there been a Nobel prize for 'Life-saver of the year', he would've been the top contender for it.

We really shouldn't overlook the far-sightedness of these noble souls. One gem on a disposable razor said, 'Do not use this product during an earthquake'. Could anybody but the composer of the warning foresee that an earthquake means a disaster, a disaster means TV crews and one has to look presentable on TV? Of course, shaving would and should be the first thing on a person's mind during an earthquake!

At times, preventing us from looking like fools may also be the reason behind the warnings. The other day i caught my elderly aunt staring glumly at a strip of sleeping pills with, 'Warning: May cause drowsiness' on it. Obvious? A first rate fool you'd feel if you took it for a good night's sleep and ended up only drowsy!

A current advertisement of a popular brand of chewing gum on TV shows people switching the moon on and off by flicking open or shut the 'new' flick-open pack. A line below says 'An imaginary interpretation'. And i, for one, find it perfectly logical - one doesn't know how many of the viewers may still believe in the rhyme they learnt at momma's knees, 'Chanda mama door ke', and try to do the same as the people in the advertisement.

My point is, look for the deep thought before condemning the caring souls.







Vigilance certainly seems to have been the casualty in the appointment of the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) PJ Thomas as facts now reveal. It is passing strange that his role in the palmolein import case in Kerala for which the state sought sanction to prosecute from the Centre did not find mention in the facts before the selection committee. The case was a high-profile one of corruption and any association with it could not have passed unnoticed when appointing a high constitutional authority like the CVC.

The government's fond hope that Mr Thomas will do the right thing and conveniently go away seems misplaced with the beleaguered officer digging in his heels and proclaiming his innocence. It now appears that he might wait for the Supreme Court to take up the issue again on February 3. Whatever the outcome of the court proceedings, the damage to a government already on the ropes has been immense. Even more worrying is the manner in which the Congress party that heads the government is trying to wash its hands off the case by contending this is outside the purview of political parties. It is ironic that corruption has come to touch even the top corruption watchdog, a turn of events which can further undermine public confidence in these once inviolable institutions. Stories of back channel negotiations with officials and members of his family to get Mr Thomas to go quietly does even less credit to the government. Surely, this is not the way in which procedure should be conducted in this high office.

The question which will now be asked is whether those in government who seem to have pushed Mr Thomas's case, superseding at least one officer we now learn, thought that facts about his record would not come to light. Were there no other less controversial contenders for this post? Instead of attempting a clumsy cover-up, it would be best if the government were to lay its cards on the table and admit to lapses, if any. This comes at a time when corruption features in almost every sphere of life from fuel adulteration to land scams to the spectrum controversy. Irrespective of whether Mr Thomas is culpable in the allegations against him, this mess has certainly diminished the gravitas of his office. There are some tough questions to be answered and even tougher decisions to be made. But any hope that by dragging things along, this issue will fade away is misplaced. If nothing, people are more vigilant on allegations of official misconduct than ever before. And they are not likely to drop their guard in a hurry.






If Sourav Ganguly's rather unceremonious exit from the Indian Premier League 4 was not damaging enough for Bengali confidence, this one is cause enough for a near fatal stroke. The International Cricket Council (ICC) on Saturday rejected the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) request to give it a fresh deadline for Eden Gardens to host the India vs England World Cup match on February 27. The ICC took the decision after its venue consultant visited the 'Edayen', which is being renovated for the World Cup. The Eden Gardens has already missed the ICC deadline twice - November 30 and then January 15.

For many, this could be just another confirmation that the Kalmadi virus is spreading across the country at a steady and insidious pace. But for cricket crazy Bengalis, it's a loss beyond repair. There can be nothing more beautiful, better and bigger than the billiard board-green turf of the Eden Gardens and the viewing experience from the galleries. For the record, the Eden Gardens is not (okay, we can already hear someone shouting 'down with imperialism' somewhere) the biggest cricket stadium, it's behind the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia. Nevertheless, a World Cup in India and not a single India match in the Eden Gardens! It's better not to have the World Cup then, some would argue.

This is how we see the event unfolding - no news, absolutely no news, is bigger than the one on the Eden Gardens. Maybe fish prices will rise and fall according to the changing moods of the Kolkatans, but one thing is for sure: the last of the two remaining safari suit-wearing sports bosses of the country, Cricket Association of Bengal president Jagmohan Dalmiya, will not have it easy if the Eden doesn't get an India match. Maybe Kolkatans will do what ICC boss Sharad Pawar could not: send Dalmiya packing.







With the Supreme Court directing the government to bring back black money stashed in foreign banks and also find its sources, the Centre finds itself in yet another complex situation. The government has so far pleaded helplessness in dealing with the issue in the absence of a legal framework but its detractors are insisting that it was lack of will which prevented the sensational disclosures.

The apex court's observations came close on the heels of a press conference convened by Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee where he said that the names of the defaulters in relation to information provided to the authorities by the German government could not be disclosed. He also said that the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and the Exchange of Taxation Information Agreement were two instruments under which the Centre can obtain information and the government has already amended pacts with 23 countries.

Though the finance minister held his press conference at the behest of the prime minister to explain the government's standpoint, there are many who are also reading a deeper meaning into his statement given the power struggle within the Congress party. Knowing that Pranabda rarely makes a statement without taking a considered view, it is

being said that his proclamation that he knew the names (but could not disclose them) was meant to put some of his colleagues and detractors in Parliament and outside on notice.

It is common knowledge that the government has the names and had even informed the Supreme Court about the existence of such information in an affidavit. But for Pranabda to state it when he could have skirted the issue is being interpreted as a warning of sorts. There is already wide speculation over who figures in the list of those having foreign bank accounts. These names include those associated with the present regime and the previous one. And since Switzerland, where most of the black money is stashed, is not going to disclose the information, 'the names' may find their way into the public domain, though without proper authentication. If that happens, the government will find itself on the backfoot.

A fresh controversy has already erupted so far as the Bofors kickbacks are concerned and the Income Tax Tribunal's order has confirmed that there had been a pay-off. The government finds itself in a defensive position. The Quattrocchi angle will once again surface as the government refuses to learn from past mistakes that in order to end speculation, you have to get to the bottom of things. The reality is that in India with its culture and past, corpses (issues in this case) can only be cremated and not buried. If they are buried, they will

be exhumed from time to time to haunt those connected with the controversy.

The credibility of the government, thanks to the numerous scams, is so low that even if half-truths are spread, people tend to believe them. There is no attempt to address issues head-on and many matters that could have been sorted out to the satisfaction of all are being allowed to linger.

The black money issue has assumed serious proportions because people expect that the government will take steps to get it back and order action against those responsible. It is also being argued that in the case of some of the accounts, the government must move Swiss courts with evidence that the money parked in banks there was being used for terrorism purposes or other illegal activities. Under such circumstances, the confidentiality rules can be relaxed.

At the ground level, since the government has the names, raids must be conducted at the premises of the suspects based on information obtained from various sources, including the German government. Their businesses should be sealed and they must be held accountable. Otherwise, our democracy will be stuck at the crossroads. Between us.







We don't need drugs, we don't need alcohol and we really don't need guns or rifles or other fun, lethally explosive devices. As a society, we don't need any of these things because we have, like, cars.  

Our middle-class has millions of cars, and since we are a democracy that tries to be inclusive - at least about the important things - we've made sure that many members of our working classes, millions of them, are also settled behind the steering-wheels of buses and trucks. An overwhelming percentage of people driving internal combustion vehicles in this country are male. So, really, if you actually think about it, we don't even need penises, at least not for sexual pleasure. Because we have power-steering and the clutch and accelerator pedals that give us our thrills.

These kicks come to us in waves despite that entirely idiotic, obsolete thing that sticks out between clutch and accelerator, the kabab-mein-haddi, one that always gets in the way of our busy feet, the thing they call a brake, the one that's about as useful as an appendix or a sixth finger. Which is why only the weakest among us have ever learnt to step on that thing. For every smart Indian knows that the point of a car is to drive it fast - very, very fast no matter where you are - and surely not to slow it down or stop it.

Slowing down a car is just like slowing down the economy. So, yaar, why do it? Braking the car and bringing it to a stop feels like a total market crash. What are we, Wall Street or the City in London that we should, like, suffer crashes? We don't mind a few accidents here and there, but we over here don't like crashes.

If car production goes down or highway construction slows then that's a crash, a few hundred thousand people dying in road accidents is, well, an accident. Do you see what I mean? No? Never mind. Anyway, it's not right to make too many jokes about the Sardarji, so I'll tell you a Santa-Banta joke I recently got on SMS.

So, Banta was one night having marriage-relations with his wife. They were moving along happily when Banta suddenly froze. Then he resumed. Then he froze again. This got Bibbi-ji puzzled and angry. "Oy, ji, what you think you are doing!?!" She snapped. "Arrey chup karo ji," replies Banta, "I have seen this on computer when I'm downloading the porn. It is called buffering!"

The fact is that being in a traffic jam in this country, city or highway is like being trapped in a very bad porn site: you're surrounded by unmoving, plastic bodies of foreign design, if not manufacture; your money is burning like over-priced petrol; you're breathing in your own bad smoke; your palms are sweaty as you search for any gaps ahead while you are, simultaneously and constantly, straining your neck looking over your shoulder. And, at the end of it, when you get out of the freeze, you can only hit about 30kmph.

It's so frustrating, it's enough to make a man want to drive over someone.

Alternatively, say you're caught in the frozen buffering that is the parking at Khan Market, which could also be described as one large aneurism in the clogged veinous network of New Delhi traffic. Like a lethal blood-clot, it's something that could, did and will again burst through to cause fatal damage, in which direction you can't be sure.

Because, one of the things that we Indians are psychotic about is the 'look' or 'show' of our cars - we treat them as more sacrosanct, more precious than our most intimate bodily parts.

It's strange, this: on the one hand we treat our cars as an extension of our bodies and use them like we do our hands and shoulders, "Bhaisahab, thoda sa hatiye!" we say as we jump the queue and take up space and priority on the wrong side of the road, "Hatt bey, mujhe jaldi hai!" we say, as we nudge forward on red lights, jumping them at the last second before they turn green. We thrive on the crowd and the melee, but unlike our complete disregard of any Western concept of bodily space, we demand by some lunatic logic that another vehicle must not touch the delicate extension of our being, our four-wheeled petrol-persona, our pride and joy.

So much so, that if someone (as is inevitable in this constant pilgrim-rush of traffic) does scratch our door or knock a hole in our tail-light, we become homicidal.

We Indian men have the same reaction to minor accidents as we might have if someone was molesting our daughter or sister. We beat them up and we keep beating them up. When they get into their car to drive away we don't stop, we grab their steering wheel and we hang on, still trying to beat them up. When they stamp on the accelerator in panic and we get pulled under their car and when we then get our skull smashed, we call it 'road rage'.

Which is, of course, the wrong phrase. What we should be calling it is Parking Psychopathy or, if you like, Buffering-Bloodbath. It's very important to label actions correctly, especially actions that are about to become ever more common and frequent in the near future.

Ruchir Joshi is a writer, filmmaker and the editor of Electric Feather: The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories. The views expressed by the author are personal








If there's a distinction between the emotion we feel when something dear is suddenly taken away from us and that we feel anticipating a loss, it's the suspension of belief that goes with holding on to the last vestiges of what may soon be no more. But what does it mean to hold on to a consumer perishable like chocolate? And where is the human animal that relishes chocolate that is also capable of putting away those bars as long as possible? Unless it's bad teeth — often a consequence of bad chocolate karma — or unwanted weight gain?

Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to doomsday forecasts at our historical moment. Something always appears to be approaching its endgame. For chocolate lovers, the bad news is from the Ivory Coast. The world's largest cocoa producer is in the midst of political unrest. However, the stand-off between a president who won't vacate office and another who's recognised internationally may finally elicit more than faint airings of displeasure in distant capitals. Why? Because the world's sustainable supplies of cocoa may soon be exhausted, as early as 2014. The Ivory Coast has become a no-go area for cocoa traders and new farmers cannot be trained. Although Ghana, the second largest cocoa producer, is witnessing a spurt in smuggled cocoa from its neighbour, the price is much higher.

If chocolatiers are to be believed, we may soon have to pay a king's ransom, with cocoa prices reportedly at their highest in 30 years. Some others argue that a manifold price rise is irrelevant as there simply isn't enough certified cocoa left. The EU, moreover, froze the assets of Ivory Coast's cocoa- and coffee-exporting ports on January 14, even as the Ivory Coast curbed cocoa exports. If the chocolate lover's nightmare is political turmoil in a cocoa superpower, will talk of a chocolate drought subside when that ends? Or is there no catcher left in the rye?






The Budget session of Parliament will begin on February 21, and this time around the legislative business that awaits both Houses is expectedly more packed than usual. Parliament lost the entire winter session to disruptions over the opposition's insistence on a joint parliamentary committee to look into telecom licences. This renders the task before the government ever more ambitious. Not yet two years into its term, the UPA cannot afford the atrophy in governance that comes with a deadlock in the legislature; and put another way, just over a year into its term, the UPA still has space and political opportunity to carry through game-changing legislation to turn around UPA-2's meagre record.

Naturally, a large number of pending bills have been carried over from the winter session. Plus, this year's budget exercise itself will require a great degree of political nuance, as the current inflationary scenario demands greater attention to the fiscal deficit. In addition, there are indications that the government is keen to take up legislation related to major financial sector reform. That was virtually on hold in the UPA's first government, given the Left's veto. The finance ministry is, for instance, keen to reintroduce the lapsed Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill. As reported in this newspaper, there are also moves to take up other bills on insurance and banking.

It is therefore critical that the two Houses of Parliament be freed from the daily threat of adjournment. No government and no major opposition party can emerge unscathed in such a scenario. Parliament needs to be divested of the sharp and polarising confrontation that's been seen over what is, in fact, a trifling matter of a JPC. At the very least, the homeopathic reshuffle in the council of ministers, and the prime minister's promise of a more substantive one after the budget session, must yield more skilful floor management by the Congress party. Any inability to have critical legislation passed transacted and to get Parliament back in its normal rhythms will impose a drag on the government that no amount of political firefighting can reverse.






Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal appears to have come around to the right way of thinking. On Saturday, he announced the broad details of the new policy for telecommunications spectrum that is being drawn up by the government, and said, in particular, that the age of free spectrum — or spectrum "bundled" with a licence — is over. The basis of the new plan, as Sibal laid it out, appears simple: a unified licence will be issued to operators, making them eligible to provide any of the many telecom services. The spectrum that the operator will need for whatever services it intends to provide will not come with the licence, however; the company will have to pay for that spectrum in what the minister assures us will be a "market-driven process."

This is, of course, the simple principle that should have been followed from the beginning.

Instead policy arbitariness at various points caused the playing field to be far from fair, and has caused the exchequer to lose a great deal of money — even though Sibal, on a previous occasion, argued eloquently that no money was lost. Regardless of that widely-disbelieved statement, though, it is nonetheless notable that Sibal is sticking to his guns as a well-known reformer and is beginning to push through what needs to be done to clean up this sector, and perhaps reverse some of the damage.

A reformist agenda, of course, should not stop here. Sibal has already indicated that he knows the direction in which his new ministry needs to go in order to clean up its act: moving quickly on those firms that benefited from A. Raja's lax regulation. A fortnight after assuming control last November, Sibal sent notices to 85 companies that the comptroller and auditor general had determined had gained licences while not even being eligible. The notices demanded the companies show good cause, within 60 days, as to why their licences not be cancelled. The necessary next step is to work on extending that investigation to the other beneficiaries of Raja's decisions. And also to ensure that all the firms who got 157 licences from Raja, including the 85 already put on notice, either pay a market-determined rate for the spectrum they received — or have their licences cancelled, so that their spectrum can be re-assigned, again at a market-linked price.







Amr al-Khatib updated his status on Facebook diligently. He informed his friends in Egypt, and those outside, of protest sites and developments. Then suddenly, late on Friday night, he disappeared. His status updates went silent, his protest pictures stopped, his telephone went dead. Amr had gone offline.

He is amongst the protestors now, walking along the Corniche in Alexandria, the road the skirts the Mediterranean, facing off with tanks, wiping his stinging eyes as teargas canisters are lobbed one after the other. He is one among the million who have taken to the street — the street that we have all been watching.

This revolt was televised.

Now in its sixth day, a fever rages in the minds of Egyptians. They defy curfews to chant, "Out, out, Mubarak we don't want you." Yet Hosni Mubarak, the Pharaoh, won't budge. Secure behind the doors of Abdeen Palace, protected by his army, he has responded with cosmetic changes. The cabinet has been dissolved. A new cabinet now takes shape — with his spymaster, his trusted confidant, his right hand man, Omar Suleiman, as vice president. Has he effectively cut his son out of the succession?

Will these changes pacify the street? Note that one of the protestors' central demands is the rejection of a political dynasty. Yet they continue to chant, "We don't want a new cabinet, we want you out." Those that have taken to the streets are mainly the under-30s that make up two-thirds of Egypt's 80 million. They are angry about inadequate housing, over the shortage of jobs — nine out of ten jobless people in Egypt are under 30.

Now they stand emboldened by the experience of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution, finding an example and icon in the Tunisian "martyr" Mohammed Bouazizi. It is unfortunate that a young boy, his face and body covered in a white cloth, burnt and mummified, is what it took for the Arab world to ask for more freedoms. His death was a catalyst for change in Tunisia; and now the Egyptians are attempting to emulate their fellow North Africans.

But Egypt is no Tunisia. For one, it is the most populous part of the Middle East, a sort of barometer to events in the larger Arab world. They've said for centuries that what happens in Egypt affects the rest of the

Middle East. It is also a power of great strategic importance — both as the country that governs the Suez, the crucial transit point for America's warships and the world's cargo, and as an economic powerhouse.

Look closely at the protestors; look at their signs and slogans. They read, "freedom" or "out with the Pharaoh" but has anyone spotted a banner affiliated to a political party? Where is

Mohammed el-Baradei, who returned from Europe to join the protestors? Where is his party's flag? He was tipped as the man who could — but, under house arrest, with his party disunited, it seems he can't.

Then there's Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful opposition. They have a parliamentary presence; and yet it is from their ranks that al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri emerged. Finally, on the sixth day of chaos, they have begun to urge their foot soldiers on the street — as looting and thuggery take hold. In the confusion, from a series of peaceful protests, Egypt's streets are beginning to host a law and order crisis. And the questions come: without Mubarak, is Egypt leaderless?

Meanwhile, as ever, conspiracy theories circle. Is it Mubarak's police creating a sense of lawlessness? Fighter jets circle, prisoners escape, and Al-Jazeera is off the air. Is the Pharaoh playing both good cop and bad cop?

The Arab world seems totally unprepared for any transition. Look, always, at the streets. Algerians too have taken to them, protesting Abdelaziz Bouteflika's military regime. In San'a, opposition to the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh mounts, and Yemenis are out in numbers for the first time in his 32-year dictatorship. These countries too, undemocratic, authoritarian and unyielding, will have to act.

For too long in the Arab world too much has been censored. Holocaust. Jews. Democracy. Certain words never factored into the teaching syllabus in Arab countries. History books had lines, whole chapters, blacked out with permanent markers.

Curious students held books up against the light; they could just barely make out what they weren't meant to have read.

Now they've read the fine print, they've seen the injustice, and, if not revolution, nothing less than reform will satisfy. The first: the lifting of the 30-year Emergency Law in Egypt. Remember: what happens in Egypt doesn't stay in Egypt. Change is coming to the Middle East.








The Republic of India is running the risk of imitating the models of Weimar Germany and the numerous French republics where partisan polarisation took precedence over consensus on all matters, even those that were critical for the country. This is distinct from the Anglo-Saxon model where parties which vigorously oppose each other, yet nevertheless come together when it really counts.

In such an atmosphere, opposition tends to be constructive and sober, not destructive and poisonous. Consider the great financial crisis of 2008 — definitely the worst since 1929. The United States was on the very brink of another Great Depression. And yet, the country managed to step away from the vertiginous precipice. Not everything that was done was right. But all the political players understood that partisanship had to be put on the side. In the middle of a loud, bitter presidential political campaign, McCain and Obama took a day off to fly to Washington DC and endorse a course of action that President George W. Bush was proposing.

Neither of them fully agreed with the plan. Both were trying to distance themselves from someone who they saw as a discredited president. And yet they went along with him and in the process they definitely averted the catastrophic possibility of 30 per cent unemployment rates emerging. And let's not forget the fact that both McCain and Obama paid a price for their actions. Large sections of voters were angry that they were party to bailing out fat-cat bankers who were seen as having caused so much general misery.

President Obama is still paying the price for what he could have passed off as actions attributable to his predecessor. Hilary Clinton and Obama faced off against each other in a pretty brutal primary campaign. And yet when it was over and the proverbial dust had settled, Clinton joined Obama's cabinet as a loyal colleague.

The situation in India is very different. Political opposition is taken as an end in itself, and leads to disequilibrium situations which can be destructive — and not just to individual political parties. In recent times, one could argue that it is the BJP which started the chain of unprincipled opposition. During the NDA rule, the Congress gave support to the BJP on issues like insurance sector reform where the two were on the same page. The BJP has not reciprocated. Its opposition to the Indo-US nuclear treaty was the worst example of this.

Most BJP leaders would have conceded in private that the treaty was on balance in India's interests, and was taking forward the initiatives of the Vajpayee government. And yet, for short-term gains, they were willing to jettison a unique opportunity to get India out of the shadow of nuclear apartheid. There was every reason to believe that once President George W. Bush was out of office, this opportunity would not recur. Even this knowledge did not result in sober good sense prevailing.

In economic matters, the opposition of the BJP states to the GST which is a pro-growth, pro-poor measure remains both immature and inexplicable. The Congress has now responded with a similar non-constructive approach. Rather than apologising for the corruption scandals happening on their watch on the national scene, the UPA 2 dispensation is simply stating that BJP states also have their share of corruption. The novel idea that your opponent's crime justifies your own has no place in civilised jurisprudence, and yet this argument is being trotted out repeatedly.

What is worse is that the Congress seems to be working overtime to weaken the few autonomous institutions which have safeguarded our republic, and which have helped us to avoid the fate of neighbouring Myanmar or Pakistan. The violation of the accepted process of consensus in the appointment of a controversial person as the Central Vigilance Commissioner is being brazenly defended. It is almost as if there is a deliberate and conscious effort to destroy the credibility of this independent institution.

The covert and not so covert attempts to weaken the RBI and Sebi by creating a new executive-dominated council and by taking financial autonomy away from Sebi follow this same pattern. The recent attacks on the Comptroller and Auditor General once again take us back to the display of executive arrogance so characteristic of the Indira Gandhi days. The nation's hope that the Congress party will learn the right lessons from history, imitating Indira's strengths rather than her weaknesses, is being betrayed even as we speak.

The principle of destructive mutual opposition seems to prevail even inside the canopies of coalition politics. In Maharashtra, it is no secret that any measure proposed by the Congress will be opposed by the NCP and vice versa. We even have the strange situation of the long-promised bridge between the island city of Mumbai and the mainland being endlessly postponed merely because two different state agencies are involved — one supervised by a Congress minister and the other by his NCP colleague.

It seems that we do not need external adversaries. We are quite capable of paralysing ourselves into inaction with no help from the sinister "foreign hand".

As for the unproductive nature of the coalition politics derived from the Congress party's association with the Trinamool and the DMK, the less said the better. With friends like these, the Congress must much prefer open opponents like Karat and Advani! In the UK, despite many differences among their rank-and-file followers, Cameron and Clegg seem to be able to move on with politically difficult decisions. But learning from our erstwhile rulers does not seem to be to our liking. Many French politicians took the position in the 1930s that supporting the Germans was better than supporting the incumbent French prime minister. No wonder France collapsed ignominiously in 1940.

Let this be a warning to us. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood. It is incumbent upon us not to convert every issue into one of extreme partisanship. The Republic of India deserves our coming together on matters of common interest.

The writer divides his time between Mumbai, Lonavala and Bangalore








Have you been called stupid, ugly, useless or garbage by your parents? Were you ever caned, slapped or spanked? Were you barred from watching TV and made to practice music for hours?

Most of my Western friends were shocked when I told them I had been subjected to all of this as a child. Yet in Hong Kong there is nothing unusual about it — this is just normal parental discipline.

To those who were outraged by the strict disciplinarian Chinese parenting style touted by "Tiger mother" Amy Chua in her controversial new book, some perspective is necessary. Most Chinese parents have a Hobbesian view of the world: They see it as their job to toughen up their children and arm them with the skills necessary to survive in a competitive and brutish environment.

Like the typical Chinese parents described by Chua, my mother expected toughness from her children. In our household, lack of interest or aptitude was not an excuse for poor performance. If you failed, you simply had to work harder.

I was made to practice the piano for at least an hour a day, and when we were out of school, it was three hours. We were not allowed to watch TV, except for news. When I scored less than 90 in dictation (that is, getting two words wrong), I had to explain why I didn't do as well as before.

I didn't look forward to weekends or term breaks — they just meant more music practice and tedious long sessions of drilled academic learning and homework.

Did my mother's high-pressure approach work? In a way, yes. I have never been a top student, but my academic performance was always above-average. I went to a prestigious boarding school in England; I have two degrees and won a scholarship for a research fellowship at the University of Oxford. I passed a strict exam for piano studies with merit at age 14 and played a piano concerto with an orchestra at 17.

Early on, a sense of anxiety was instilled in me; if I didn't do well, I would be in big trouble. I always push myself to work at full capacity and never allow myself to give up, no matter how daunting the task.

Could this parenting approach yield stereotypically successful children?

At least in terms of academic and musical achievements, the answer appears to be yes. Just look at the Asian households that produce all those musical prodigies and math geniuses. But there is a downside as well. As someone who has survived this regime, I believe what often propels these Chinese kids to succeed is a deep sense of insecurity — that they are only worthy of love so long as they keep getting top marks.

Even as adults, the emotional scarring from the harsh words and name-calling never quite leaves you. Behind the determination of many young Chinese to excel is a deep-rooted anxiety that they will be ridiculed and shamed unless they succeed.

This parenting philosophy also fails to yield a genuine sense of confidence, and instead results in a sense of insecurity so damning that the child has to spend the rest of his life trying to prove himself to be a worthy person.

Many people I know who were brought up this way ended up having a strained relationship with their parents. Some might be successful in their careers but are angry that they never had the chance to discover who they are. The less successful ones never quite recover from low self-image.

Is it a good thing for our world to be full of emotionally insecure individuals or less brilliant but more contented people with an inner confidence?

As a tiger daughter, I think I know the answer.

The New York Times







After the circus, at the safe distance of a week, we may reflect on the hopes and anxieties we've chosen to bring back with us. Foremost is the expansion of self-definition the Jaipur Literature Festival is attempting. Perhaps in trying to cloister the term "literature" — which we all do for reasons our own, in accordance with our affinities — everybody fails, and the bottom falls out.

Times and life around us are changing faster than we can key in words. Martin Amis worries about how the human brain is physically morphing with its current preoccupations — the way we read on a computer is changing our brain which is changing the way we read on a computer. Reality, which we never can quite capture in words our own, or our chosen literary masters', is our topmost concern (indeed, when was it not?).

Our present obsession with non-fictional, mostly journalistic, writing can be explained, and explained away, on the grounds of 9/11 and the resultant emphasis on "current affairs". However, it didn't begin there; and it's not quite untrue of the non-Western world either. The zippy journalist can get there and can be out with a book in a month, or a year, technically. The novelist won't get there for a full half-decade — Don deLillo's Falling Man took six years. The literary writer must endure the foment in her head, a typically long novelistic gestation period. But despite that delayed birth, we don't quite get to the novel's universal death.

In the 1960s, Philip Roth complained about how American reality was outpacing American fiction. Tongue-in-cheek but true as it was then, the 1960s seem a rickety stage carriage now. And yet, the novel didn't die in the last three centuries; it isn't dying now. It may not be possible to write a Humboldt's Gift any more, if you agree with Amis. Or it may be, some time in future, when things have slowed down again, if you would rather go with Richard Ford. Talk about the novel's impending death is less climate change (irreversible) and more inter-glacial (we take some melting, then carry on).

Nevertheless, we were entertained and enlightened by the likes of Rory Stewart, David Finkle, Jon Lee Anderson debating their reporting from war zones. What would you hold against a young, rock star-type (Stewart) who's been on both sides of the governance divide — governing in Iraq, preceded by his long wintry walk across an Afghanistan without a government, who's now a Westminster MP? Or Finkle, with his sincere humanitarian concern and human empathy for a crushed, over-theorised, little-understood people? Or Scotsman Ben MacIntyre, divulging the researching and writing of Operation Mincemeat, knocking audiences off their seats in the Durbar Hall with his slideshow and quips, discussing something that another speaker would have kept the humour out of? A vanishing British wit much like the people in his book, a species which vanished after World War II.

We are warned never to twist facts to suit our theories if non-fiction is what we make a living by. That too for purposes of archiving the documentation of reality; not for sales figures. Well, we at least know right from wrong. Not to make our living by, but our karmayoga.

But is it time to worry about the grip the social sciences are expanding around the literary fest's neck? A gala like Jaipur must perforce be thoroughly democratic, allowing every man, woman and maybe even child to walk in, without dispersing it into an über civic chaos like the Calcutta Book Fair. Yet, must vaulting ambition, exploding crowds, an extending range of speakers, invite with open arms JNU Sociology 101? That's not Christopher Bayly, or Gulzar. That's classroom Calmpose and EPW.

The rumour goes, next year, artists and art historians are promised. Bring them in. And maybe music — not the evening jive with the wine, but a couple of sessions on the purest, the mother of all art forms? In the beginning was music; behind everything is music.

A.C. Grayling, the god humanists everywhere pray to, doesn't come down every day. Just as another god, J.M. Coetzee, doesn't read his work on your front lawns for post-lunch lazying. Throttle not our quietening imagination; leave us our little aesthetic feast. Let this be the only fundamental query debated every year: do you write for yourself, giving not a damn about the audience (Amis & Co)? Or do you burn to tell a story (Henning Mankell)?







Decades ago Sri Aurobindo, the visionary genius, commenting on the growing clamour for universalising education wrote that "there is not quite so universal an agreement... on what education is, or practically or ideally should be... We have in fact entered into an atmosphere of great and disconcerting confusion." If I had withheld the source, the readers would have assumed this to be an astute observation on the state of education today.

The founding fathers of St Stephen's College were committed first and foremost to the meaning and purpose of education, and only thereafter to the size and scale of its practice. The bane of the modern age, said Albert Einstein, is that means are pursued to the neglect of goals. The mechanism, in other words, overrides the meaning; the process eclipses the purpose. The founders of College had a clear idea what a Stephanian — the end-product of education — should be like — and, hence, how it should contribute to fostering a sane and wholesome society. To them — in the late '70s of the 19th century, as indeed to Swami Vivekananda later — education was all about man-making, the harmonious and holistic development of young persons, nurturing them to be responsible citizens "alike of heaven and of earth."

At a time when this institution is completing 130 years of its tryst with the destiny of India, it is with mixed feelings that I view the ever-growing enthusiasm for its educational sanctuary. As against the 12,000 applications for 400 seats in 2007, there were 28,000 in 2010. Perhaps we should be proud? Perhaps not!

It all depends on why young women and men are desperately keen to be on College's rolls. Is it because of the awesome Stephanian alumni network, ensconced wherever it really matters to be, such that it pays to bear St Stephens' stamp, amounting to immanent job-reservation in important places? Or is it the hype over the disproportionate representation of Stephanians in Parliament and the cabinet at the present time? Or, alternately, is it because the vision and practice of education pursued here is life-enriching and is, for that reason, to be preferred above all else?

Is St Stephen's, in other words, an invitation to engage with the soul of education, or is it a lurid label, a brandname, to be coveted? This is a crucial question as it affects day-to-day educational transactions; it will redefine our "heritage," honouring it or cheapening it, as the case may be.

Ironically, those who relate to an institution for its brand value erode its brand value. The reason is simple. Brand value is alien to the purpose of every great educational enterprise in history. This would degrade one's relationship with one's alma mater into one-way traffic, subverting character-building. It recasts students into parasites, and prevents them from developing into responsible, harmoniously developed citizens.

As St Stephen's completes 130 years of service to the nation, there is a need — indeed a duty — to be clear about the basics; for it is not only by what we do that we serve the nation. It is, even more fundamentally, by what we are.

To the founders, the teacher-student relationship was the soul of education. The importance that the character-smiths of the Stephanian tradition attached to this shaping principle of education is obvious from even the layout of the campus: 90 per cent of the infrastructure is residential! The academic and living spaces comprise a seamless whole. Educational experiences cannot be confined to classrooms. The campus, indeed the nation as a whole, is the nursery for human formation.

Second, the total growth of the person, not competition and success, is the raison d'être of learning. Joy is the hallmark of growth. Joy morphs into gratitude and enduring bonding. The fact that this indeed was the case in the Stephanian tradition is amply evident from (a) the stature of the alumni, which does not have to be argued (b) the deep bonding that they continue to experience with their alma mater. You can be only as attached to your college as you have grown on account of it. It is urgent to note this, as market forces, gatecrashing the sanctuary of education, today sideline the holistic growth and character-formation of students. Young women and men are extremely talented. They achieve a great deal. But will they be a blessing on the nation? And what will be the substance of their commitment to realising the India of our dreams?

Finally, its founders envisaged St Stephen's as a river of blessing, spreading on the surface of this sub continent, kindling dignity and hope, unity and brotherhood, competence and conscience, achievement and greatness. The best come to St Stephen's. We must send out the very best. They must be imbued with a sense of duty to serve as catalytic agents in the unfolding destiny of this great nation. St Stephen's is happy to welcome into its fold all who want to participate in the educational renaissance of India, which has to be as much a matter of the heart as it is of the head.

The writer is principal of St Stephen's College and a member of the National Integration Council







The recently released Annual Survey of Education Report serves as an important reminder of India's greatest challenge: converting increased financial outlays to improved development outcomes. Since 2004, India's education budget has more than doubled, increasing from Rs 152,947 crore in 2004-05 to Rs. 372,813 crore in 2009-10. For the same period, ASER has tracked learning outcomes — and found that learning levels have remained depressingly stagnant. Nearly half the children in Standard 5 are still unable to read a Standard 2 text.

This outcome failure is not unique to education; nearly every social sector suffers the same fate. What explains the status quo?

The crux of the problem is well known: service delivery is governed by an incentive structure that privileges inputs — infrastructure creation — over quality and performance on actual outcomes. This input emphasis has created a target-driven, rule-book governed bureaucratic culture where quality problems are invariably reduced to input deficits addressed through guideline-driven expenditure.

Consequently, government infrastructure is simply not geared to deal with the more complex task of actually delivering services, and ensuring a minimum quality: making sure infrastructure is maintained and operational; trained staff are motivated and present. So deep is this problem that, not only do regular investments fail to yield results, but well-meaning reform efforts to improve quality also flounder.

Take the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). To improve health services, the scheme introduced a system for providing discretionary funds to district societies. The objective is to incentivise local innovation and ensure that spending matches local needs.

To facilitate expenditures the rule-book offers a "suggested" list of activities on which money can be spent.

A recent evaluation by the Planning Commission looked at the use of these funds in Bihar, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh and told a depressing story. The study found that funds, when spent, usually go towards fulfilling infrastructure needs at the health facilities. But more interestingly it also found that officials and society members expressed a clear preference for using funds for the rules' suggested items rather than exercising their discretion.

The Nirmal Gram Puraskar (NGP) is another example. Launched in 2003, it is an incentive scheme that offers a reward of up to Rs 50 lakh for panchayats that have achieved total sanitation. The NGP is a sincere effort by the government to move away from the earlier target-driven sanitation policy that emphasised building toilets — which were rarely used for its intended purpose — to one that focuses on changing people's behaviour toward toilet use, through local government innovation, awareness-raising and generating demand for better sanitary facilities in rural areas.

In its early years, the NGP managed to achieve some success. But the programme did not invest in building capacity and motivating implementation officials. As a result, the input approach has crept right back in. While there is no serious research, anecdotal evidence indicates that officers are driven by the desire to win awards, rather than through a sustained behaviour change. An increasing number of panchayats have not been able to maintain their total sanitation status.

So, how do we break the input trap to ensure improved outcomes from increased outlays? This is a difficult question to answer. If international experience is anything to go by, service delivery systems in most countries are locked in the input trap.

But there is some good news. Going back to elementary education, this year's ASER report highlights the case of Punjab, which has seen significant improvements in learning outcomes. This was a result of strong leadership that chose to break the input trap by focusing on learning goals and experimenting with changes in pedagogy. One simple innovation: grouping children according to their ability levels. Punjab focused on fostering leadership amongst teachers, thereby addressing the input problem.

Bihar too has experimented with, amongst other things, improving access to teaching materials. In 2008 the government launched a Rs 30-crore campaign for schools to buy textbooks over a two-month period. With political weight behind the programme, a traditionally slow bureaucracy managed to get money flowing at lightning speed and books were bought within two months.

Hyderabad city's district administration is yet another example. The administration is trying to improve education through stronger parent teacher-interaction — by mobilising school management committees to make school development plans. Motivating frontline officials to work with the committees is critical to this effort.

These experiences show that it is possible to break the input trap. Punjab and Bihar show that change is most effective when state governments take ownership, and are willing to innovate and experiment. Yet, ironically, the current architecture of service delivery is dominated by schemes that are Centrally-funded, Centrally-designed and Centrally-controlled.

Moving away from such a system to one where states are incentivised to take leadership and produce innovation is critical. But above all, these experiments demonstrate the importance of investing in building local leadership at the district, block and community level. As the NRHM and NGP experience shows, the success of a programme depends on local providers, their motivations and incentives. The guideline culture will only be broken when service providers are encouraged to take leadership, to ask questions and to act autonomously.

To ensure quality, increasing local autonomy needs to go hand in hand with regular performance monitoring and reporting on outcomes. This is how accountability for outcomes is ensured. Credible and easily accessible performance indicators generates public pressure for action on outcomes — and also enable providers to see the results of their choices, and thus encourage innovation.

For years now the government of India has promised outcome monitoring — from the outcomes budget in 2005 to the presidential speech in 2009, when the UPA promised to set up an independent evaluation office and prepare annual reports on social-sector performance. But these promises remain unfulfilled.

Rather than investing in new input-driven efforts, the UPA would do well to focus its energies on fulfilling these promises. Only then will outlays translate to outcomes.

The writer is with the Accountability Initiative, New Delhi








If the collapse of the stock market in the first month of the year hasn't been bad enough, inflation levels don't look like they're going down in a hurry and, now, India Inc's bottom line growth is also slowing. Top line growth for a common sample of 611 firms (excluding banks and financial institutions) has fallen to 19.5% from 21% in the previous quarter and bottom line growth is also down. The growth in net profits at 17.6% for the December quarter is actually an overstatement since 'other income' grew at a faster pace as compared to the previous quarter (25% and 8.3%, respectively)—on an apples-to-apples basis, net profits for the sample firms grew 20.7% in the September quarter and this fell to 16.1% in December. The slowdown in India Inc's performance was, of course, always expected because of the high base effect coming into play, but the macro-environment has been deteriorating for a while with wholesale inflation ruling at 8.5% or more in 11 of the last 12 months.

What had not been factored in was the extent to which high prices of commodities could play spoilsport, the extent to which the government would be a helpless bystander, the slowdown due to environment-led issues, due to the stalemate in Parliament, and so on. So while it's not too much of a surprise that JSW Steel's margins have come crashing, it is a shock that order books at two of the country's biggest engineering firms have fallen by more than 25% year-on-year. Consumer giants like Hindustan Unilever haven't even been able to hold on to their bottom line, let alone grow it. Total expenditure has risen more than the top line, pushing down operating profit margins by nearly 90 basis points year-on-year. The recovery seen in the tech space has been reassuring but that apart, there's little to suggest that corporate profits are going to remain as robust in the near term.

Since they're buying neither coking coal nor palmolein, banks have done brisk business in the December 2010 quarter, turning in strong pre-provisioning profits, up more than 31% year-on-year for a clutch of 33 banks. The star performer is HDFC Bank, which seems to be able to hang on its margins and keep its loan book as clean as ever no matter what. But with interest rates set to move up further, the cost of funds can't stay at current levels, and if investment is slowing, who are banks going to lend to? While consumer demand remains fairly strong, watch out for some earnings downgrades.






With the Supreme Court continuing to push the government on getting back black money stashed in overseas tax havens/banks, the buzz is that the government may just come up with another amnesty scheme for black money in the Budget. While doing so, it must keep in mind that, thanks to lower tax rates, using computerised tax-bases that talk to each other, and better-designed tax systems like VAT (and eventually the GST), compliance is up dramatically. Tax-to-GDP ratio rose from 15.7% in 1991-92 to 17.7% in 2007-08 before falling to 16.5% in 2009-10. Corporate tax-to-GDP is up from 1.6% in 2001-02 to 4.1% in 2009-10, individual income tax up from 1.4% to 2% and service tax from 0.1% to 0.9%—given the 57% share of services in overall GDP, this is the area to focus on (with its 28% share in GDP, industrial taxes or excise duties are 1.6% of GDP). Getting black money stashed overseas is important, but raising tax-to-GDP ratios is far more efficient, more so given the economy's growth in recent years. The most successful amnesty, VDIS-97, unearthed Rs 33,697 crore of black money, around 2.2% of that year's GDP. Raising the tax-to-GDP rates by just 0.5% will get that much today, and a lot more each year, given how GDP is growing.

Also keep in mind that amnesties turn off honest taxpayers.

VDIS-97, for instance, was designed to be full of holes, and the government never changed this despite front-page stories in the newspapers. The scheme allowed evaders to declare their wealth in bullion and to self-declare the purchase date. The scheme said that any bullion bought before April 1, 1987, would be valued as on that date. So, an evader could buy gold in 1997, say he bought it in 1960, and be asked to pay taxes on the basis of the gold's value on April 1, 1987. Since the value of gold rose by 84% between 1987 and 1997, this lowers tax rates on black money by 45%. The CAG pointed out huge undervaluation of jewellery and bullion in the range of Rs 7,277 crore to Rs 9,671 crore—a circular from the finance ministry directed taxmen to issue VDIS certificates even if they felt the declarations were 'unusual' in nature. Loopholes in valuing real estate allowed property in Kolkata and Mumbai to be declared as being worth Rs 5,530! With the amnesty scheme more black than white, the last thing we need is a repeat of it.







After an extraordinarily brazen defence of his predecessor's decision to hand out 122 licences (and another 35 'dual-technology' ones) in 2008 at 2001 prices, where he rubbished the CAG report on it by arguing there was a zero loss to the exchequer, telecom minister Kapil Sibal has finally begun operation clean-up. By announcing that all new 2G spectrum would be auctioned in the future, and that Raja's beneficiaries wouldn't get the next lot of 1.8 MHz of contracted spectrum for free, Sibal has also admitted that, in effect, the CAG was right all along. After all, the CAG argued the prices prevalent in 2001 could not be charged in 2008; that auctions were the only way to decide winners when just 122 licences had to be given to 573 applicants; the CAG's Rs 1,76,000 crore loss figure that both Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalia ridiculed was based on the Trai's view that 2G spectrum should be valued at least at the 3G rate (in some cases, it said, the value was 1.5 times)—it's a different matter the independent Trai will now come up with a new 2G-3G number …

Sibal's announcement, though more than welcome, is problematic since he hasn't made the mandatory consultation with Trai before announcing policy, but leave that aside since he is trying to limit the huge losses Raja caused the exchequer. If the Justice Shivraj Patil committee report, due this week, says Raja's process was illegal, or if the Court cancels the licences, we could even recover a large part of the loss Raja caused.

What is interesting is the huge contradiction between the minister's earlier and current stance, and the problems this is likely to cause.

l Auctions cause tariffs to rise: Sibal made much of how the idea was to keep tariffs low, how having auctions would raise tariffs for customers, he even quoted various government documents to show how raising revenues was not the government's top priority. When many argued tariffs were not determined by auction costs but by the level of competition, Sibal disagreed and said there wasn't enough competition. On Saturday, he said the opposite: "The stage has been reached when there is enough competition to warrant a market-driven process." Well, all 122 of Raja's beneficiaries (if you exclude the 35 dual-technology ones), have a market share of 5% three years after getting their licences! News agency PTI put out a story that most papers carried on Sunday, based on Sibal's old argument, saying tariffs would rise as a result of the new policy of auctions! Hoist with his own petard.

l Level-playing field: If we give the newcomers licences at auction prices that are higher than those paid by the older firms in the 2001 auctions, this will create an unlevel-playing field. This was always specious since someone buying land in 2008 can't get it at the same price paid by another person in 2001, and Sibal has done well to finally accept he was wrong. But, Tata Teleservices, one of Raja's beneficiaries, is using Sibal's old argument to ask why it has to pay a market price for the additional 1.8 MHz of spectrum when its licence says 6.2 MHz has to be given for free, something the Trai concurs with—the older telcos are being asked to pay for their 'extra' spectrum only beyond 6.2 MHz, so the level-playing-field argument requires that they also get 6.2 MHz free, or both should be asked to pay for spectrum beyond 4.4 MHz. Sibal's going to have a hard time reconciling his new stance with the old one.

l PM's stand: When Sibal was against auctions, he said the press had got it wrong, the PM had never asked Raja to auction spectrum, never mind that everyone in the press has a copy of the PM's letter. Now that Sibal is in favour of auctions, can we know the latest official view on the PM's then official view?

l Government affidavit: Since the minister said the media had blown his remarks out of context when the Supreme Court expressed its unhappiness over his there-was-no-loss press conference, it's a good idea to focus on the most official document that expresses the government's current view—and that's the affidavit filed in the Court. The affidavit gives the old auctions-raise-tariffs and level-playing-field argument, and also says that all 573 applications for licences will be processed by the government and not just the 122 that Raja awarded—clearly this isn't going to be happening now. So is there a level-playing field between the 122 firms and those that are left?! The sooner the affidavit is junked, the better.

This, of course, is what happens when the government decides to find cute answers to each problem as and when it encounters them, instead of coming up with an honest and clean solution to the problem. Sibal didn't want to admit to the huge losses Raja cost the exchequer, so he said what he did, about tariffs, about level-playing fields. Now, when he's realised it isn't going to wash, he's moved to the sensible solution but since he's still not willing to admit to the loss, he has the unenviable task of reconciling all the half-truths and untruths told in the case so far.

Will it work? In all probability, though it depends on what the Supreme Court does since it has been the one driving the process, including getting the CBI to raid Raja and his friends and forcing the government to act. The BJP, for all its initial activism, has lost interest and is indulging in tokenism, perhaps because it feels its misdeeds will also be exposed or because it is harder to get its head around complex issues than it is to whip up sentiment on even immoral issues (but not illegal, its chief tells us!) like allowing Yeddyurappa to continue—2G is Bofors many times over, but understandably for a party which bases its legitimacy on the past going back to Lord Ram, it's natural to not want to deal with contemporary issues.

The older telcos are happy that Trai will oblige by coming up with a lower 2G-3G number and the recommendation that these firms be asked to renew their 2G licences at 3G rates (they'll start coming up for renewal after 4-5 years) has been put on the back-burner—makes you wonder if the 2G-costs-more-than-3G and renewal-at-3G prices was just aimed at softening up these firms when they protested Raja's largesse. Even if you assume 85 of the 157 licences issued by Raja are cancelled, this means Sibal is not moving on roughly half the licences and will allow them to gain from the 4.4 MHz they got virtually free. Unless of course the Justice Patil committee report, due later this week, says the entire Raja process was illegal, and all 157 licences are cancelled. We live in hope.







The ongoing debate on whether RBI should have hiked interest rates 50 basis points instead of 25 basis points at its most recent policy meeting may be interesting, but misses the point. The reality is that international investors made up their minds about India long before January 25. Inflation and what policymakers do (or don't do) about it has been the primary focus of investors for several months now. Rising inflationary pressures have dampened emerging market equity performance and uncertainty about anti-inflation policies has been rising as price inflation of commodities from oil to coal to grains and softs continues to accelerate.

Given this context, investors' verdict on India has been resoundingly negative. Compared to its BRIC peers, Indian equity markets have spectacularly underperformed over the last two months, falling 5%. That compares with declines of 2.6% and 0.9% in China and Brazil, respectively, and a rise of 9.4% in Russia. RBI and the government are perceived not only as still being behind the curve on inflation, but they also didn't seem to care. Instead, policy overall is biased towards maintaining high levels of economic growth at all costs, setting the stage for a shift to a high growth/high inflation cycle that will depress equity markets in the near term.

How else can one explain the recent statement by the finance ministry's Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu that "we want to take steps to bring down inflation but we do not want to be so single minded in bringing down inflation that you have unemployment going up to 20%". Or the RBI governor Subbarao's repeated insistence that higher interest rates do not address the structural roots of food inflation, the driver of prices in this cycle. While technically correct, the explanation does little to mollify investors when the government remains unwilling to confront the causes of food inflation and invest in improving productivity of the agricultural sector. Or the business lobby's call for a softly, softly approach to inflation lest it choke off growth.

Or the government's unwillingness to roll back fiscal stimulus.

Now compare India's schizophrenic attitude towards inflation with that of Brazil, where inflation is 5.9%, well above the 4.5% target. Since taking office on January 1, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first ever female President, has gone out of her way to show how 'macho' she is on inflation, pledging in her inaugural speech to protect Brazil from the 'plague' of inflation and announcing cutbacks in government spending. On January 18, the Banco Central delivered and raised rates 50 basis points to 11.25%. This reassured investors that Brazil would do what it takes to keep inflation under control and sets up the possibility of a rally in equities once the turning point in the inflation cycle becomes clear.

Among the BRICs, the situation is Russia is the most favourable for equity investors. High oil prices are improving the government's fiscal position and will help bring about a modest decline in inflation from December's 8.7% level. That, combined with net capital inflows, will continue to sustain a rally in Russian equities over the near term.

The fact that China stands alongside India as one of the BRIC underperformers—Chinese equities have lost 2.6% since early December—is of scant comfort. China is also perplexing markets with its seeming lack of action on the inflation front, which is also largely being driven by rising food prices. But at 4.6% in December, Chinese inflation is much lower than India's 8.4%, and the government is taking concrete measures to boost food supply that will prevent the spikes in prices that can destabilise markets and negatively influence inflation expectations.

In India, on the other hand, there is little evidence of a comprehensive strategy to address structural supply bottlenecks that are responsible for food inflation. And, even as RBI only grudgingly raises interest rates, there is little support for fiscal consolidation à la Brazil. Instead, the Congress is likely to go the other way, and keep in place subsidies on diesel and nitrogen-based fertilisers and continue to increase social sector spending that it sees as a key to continued electoral support. (The Congress faces five state elections this summer.)

The crisis of confidence in Indian economic policymaking couldn't have come at a worse time. India's carefully cultivated image of a relatively transparent democracy, with strong, stable, reform-oriented leadership, has taken a beating in recent months. And with it has gone the political premium Indian equity markets have commanded in recent years. The recent series of political and corporate governance scandals have not only precipitated a political crisis, it has weakened the government's credibility and effectiveness. The recent half-hearted Cabinet shuffle only highlighted the leadership vacuum within the Congress-led government. The India brand will find it difficult to recover its mojo. And until then other emerging markets will take centrestage.

The author is global markets director of the research service, Trusted Sources






Defying a curfew and violent repression, the people of Egypt are refusing to back down until President Hosni Mubarak — the dictator who has ruled for 30 years — goes. They regard the concession he has made, the dismissal of his own Cabinet, as a contemptible joke. Hundreds of thousands have occupied central areas of Cairo and other major cities, and their ranks have swelled even as the tear gas has spread and the beatings have intensified. The ruling National Democratic Party's building has been burnt down; the state TV building and the Foreign Ministry have been attacked. Over 1,000 people were arrested in the first three days and a similar number have been injured in Cairo alone, with figures not yet known for Alexandria and other cities. Newspapers report over 100 deaths so far, but the protests show no diminution despite the closure of access to the Internet and mobile phone networks. The mass rage has many causes, from long-term structural unemployment through rising and apparently uncontrollable food prices to rampant corruption and the brutality of the notorious security agencies. Yet unlike the 1977 bread riots, which forced Anwar Sadat to restore a grain and fuel subsidy, the present and still largely leaderless protests are directed against the entire political structure in a country of great importance to the region and the rest of the world. Egypt's population of 80 million is far and away the biggest in North Africa and West Asia, and the country is the guardian of the Suez Canal.

Tunisia's brave people, who recently ended Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule, may well have inspired Egyptians. Another factor has been the influential role played by Al Jazeera — the standout voice of aggressive, independent journalism in the Arab world — in channelling popular discontent through the region. After an absurd attempt to blame the Ikhwanul Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood, the Mubarak regime turned to violence, with the police and semi-official thug militias using tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets against protesters. Tanks have also been deployed. Cables released by WikiLeaks show that the United States has had no illusions about the régime. Washington and its allies now stand thoroughly exposed for using aid of over $2 billion a year and silence over internal repression to turn Cairo into a crucial agent of their regional policy, particularly in suppressing demands for justice for the Palestinians. The Egyptian people's uprising is showing the world that this highly prized western ally is utterly devoid of legitimacy. That message will echo through every other dictatorship in the region. We are almost certainly witnessing a transformative moment in the modern history of West Asia.





The grisly murder of Malegaon Additional District Collector Yeshwant Sonawane in Manmad, Maharashtra as he confronted a gang pilfering fuel from tanker trucks has sparked widespread outrage. More than 1.5 million State government employees struck work for a day, among many other protests. The atrocity draws attention once again to the scale of the great fuel robbery going on in this country. By one reckoning, 40 per cent of kerosene is stolen during transportation from depots to retail outlets. Estimates of the value of this organised racket, which also sees quite a bit of the kerosene used to adulterate diesel, exceed Rs.10,000 crore a year nationally. The fraud seems to be growing in direct correlation to the rise in fuel prices. However, official responses have mostly been weak-kneed, even after the murder of Indian Oil Corporation employee S. Manjunath in 2005. There is no satisfactory explanation for why the Petroleum Ministry gutted, instead of revamping, its own 2006 'marker' scheme aimed at curbing adulteration.

The scale of organised criminal gangs in this sector in Maharashtra is much larger than earlier understood — as the seizures and arrests in raids at more than 200 places reveal. Maharashtra's mafias in sand and milk are, by the very nature of those commodities, very much in the public eye. Organised crime in the petroleum trade is less easily seen. That could change with this horrible murder, as should official attitudes and responses to such racketeering. Hopefully, Maharashtra's law and order situation will also get the badly needed scrutiny. Several RTI activists and whistleblowers have been attacked and some of them murdered over the past three years. The State has also seen several atrocities against Dalits (of which Khairlanjee was just one that got any attention). A senior Member of Parliament from Marathwada stands charged with murder. In the present case of fuel diversion and adulteration, the opposition has alleged there is high political backing for the racket across the State. Generally speaking, if there is big money to be made in Maharashtra, there is a mafia that steps forward to make it. The crackdown that is on now and the arrest of all ten suspects in the murder of Mr. Sonawane are positive signs. The hope is that Union Petroleum Minister Jaipal Reddy's resolve to curb the adulteration menace will not prove short-lived. A great deal of work waits to be done on the ground, and a start can be made by acting on the Supreme Court's 2001 suggestion of an additional agency to carry out independent checks and actions in the fuel sector. Else Mr. Sonawane and others like him would have lost their lives in vain.








On January 26, the Federation Council, Upper House of the Russian Parliament, endorsed the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty Moscow and Washington signed in April 2010. The U.S. Senate approved the pact last month. Over the next seven years the U.S. and Russia are to reduce the number of warheads they deploy on strategic nuclear delivery vehicles from 2,200 to 1,550, a reduction of about 30 per cent from the levels agreed upon in the 2002 Moscow Treaty.

The New START has been hailed as a landmark pact that revives the process of disarmament stalled in recent years. Experts in both countries believe that the U.S. and Russia could pursue much deeper cuts in the next round of negotiations without weakening either nation's ability to deter a nuclear attack on its territory. In a joint study published in the September/October issue of the Foreign Affairs, U.S. and Russian military experts said it would be safe for the two nuclear powers to cap their arsenal at 1,000 warheads before they ask other nations to join in reductions.

Washington and Moscow have indeed vowed to carry forward the disarmament agenda, but progress will be neither easy nor fast, given the clashing interpretations the treaty has been given in the U.S. and Russian ratification documents. Moreover, some differences are so deep that they may even derail the implementation of the New START.

The U.S. Senate adopted a 30-page ratification resolution that gave its reading of the treaty and set conditions for implementation. Some of them enraged Moscow. A three-line initial draft bill on the New START ratification prepared by the State Duma, Lower House of the Russian Parliament, swelled into a 10-page document and two separate declarations that countered point by point the U.S. Senate amendments, which "distort the sense of the treaty," according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The main disagreement is over missile defence. Russia has strongly rejected the U.S. Senate's claim that "the New START Treaty does not impose any limitations on the deployment of missile defences" and that the preamble, which asserts the linkage between offensive and defensive strategic weapons, "does not impose a legal obligation on the Parties."

The ratification law approved by the Russian Parliament reaffirms the linkage as also the country's right to withdraw from the New START if the U.S. or "any other state or a group of states" (read the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) deploys missile defences "capable of substantially reducing the effectiveness of Russia's strategic nuclear forces."

The risk that the U.S. missile defence plans may actually wreck the New START may not be very big, as the treaty is to be fully implemented by 2017, whereas the U.S., according to President Barack Obama's Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defences in Europe, will not begin to deploy SM-3 interceptors capable of shooting down Russian long-range missiles till 2018. But if the U.S. acts on its plans to build a global missile shield, Russia will most likely refuse to slash its nuclear arsenals beyond the New START level.

"Either we reach agreement on ballistic missile defence … or another round of the arms race will take place," Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said in his state-of-the-nation address last November.

Russia and NATO, at a landmark summit in Lisbon in November, agreed to discuss ways of joining their efforts at building a common missile shield in Europe and to prepare "a comprehensive Joint Analysis of the future framework for missile defence cooperation" by June 2011. However, Russians fear this "cooperation" pledge may be little more than another U.S. ruse to allay European concerns that a unilateral missile shield would antagonise Russia. Earlier this month, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen ruled out a joint missile defence system with Russia, saying the alliance favoured building "two independent but coordinated systems" that would share information. Russia's NATO envoy Dmitry Rogozin effectively rejected this information-sharing plan as it would be "aimed at deterring Russia's nuclear potential under the guise of protection against Iranian missiles." Moscow has proposed developing an integral European ballistic missile defence belt divided into the Russian and NATO sectors of responsibility.

As the Russian Parliament gathered to ratify the New START, Mr. Medvedev warned the U.S. against trying to hoodwink Russia over missile defences.

"We have two options," he said, "Either we … agree with NATO on designing an integrated system of anti-missile defence or, if we fail to reach agreement, we will subsequently be forced to make an entire series of unpleasant decisions on the deployment of an offensive nuclear missile group."

Mr. Medvedev's warning apparently refers to Russia's threats to station short-range nuclear-tipped missiles along NATO borders and deploy its newest RS-24 "Yars" long-range missiles, whose multiple warheads can streak to targets at an altitude of less than 100 km, which puts them out of reach of U.S. missile interceptors. This could trigger a new arms race.

Another focal point of disagreement is the New START's provision concerning non-nuclear strategic weapons such as "hypersonic manoeuvrable vehicles" and space-based weapons. The U.S. Senate claimed that the New START does not affect U.S. plans to create a global strike capability using strategic delivery vehicles equipped with non-nuclear warheads. "Nothing in the New START Treaty prohibits deployments of strategic-range non-nuclear weapon systems," the ratification resolution stated.

This claim is a glaring overstatement. The New START does impose restrictions on non-nuclear strategic weapons if only because it makes no distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear warheads installed on strategic missiles. The limit of 1,550 warheads allowed for either side under the treaty includes both nuclear and non-nuclear weapons. This is what makes the New START different from previous Russian-American pacts and a major success for Russian diplomacy in the light of the U.S.' current focus on non-nuclear strategic systems.

In a further constraint on the development of new strategic systems, the New START says such systems would be discussed by a Bilateral Consultative Commission "before this new kind of offensive weapons is deployed." The Russian Parliament said that should the U.S. ignore this provision and go ahead with deploying new strategic weapons, Russia could walk away from the New START.

The U.S. and Russian legislators also set forth contrasting positions on further arms reductions. The U.S. Senate, in its ratification resolution, committed the President to starting negotiations with Russia on tactical nuclear weapons within a year of the New START going into effect. Even though neither side has disclosed its stockpiles of tactical nukes, Russia is believed to have 2,050 weapons and the U.S. about 500, half of them deployed in Europe.

The U.S. idea of discussing tactical nuclear weapons in isolation from other security issues is a non-starter for Moscow. The U.S. tactical nukes in Europe have a strategic dimension for Russia as it would take an F/A-18 Hornet fighter a mere 15 minutes to deliver a handful of them to Central Russia. The Russian Parliament urged the U.S. to remove its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe to its own territory and dismantle the infrastructure for their re-deployment. Russia has made it clear any future talks on tactical nukes must be linked with NATO's overwhelming superiority in conventional forces in Europe.

Speaking at the ratification debate in the Russian Parliament, Mr. Lavrov said that post-START negotiations must address all factors affecting strategic stability — the U.S. plans to develop non-nuclear strategic weapons, deploy space-based arms, and build a global missile shield as well as NATO's superiority in conventional weapons in Europe.

"Follow-up talks can be launched only if all these circumstances are factored in in their totality and once we are satisfied that the Americans are implementing the New START," Mr. Lavrov told Russian legislators during the debate.

Widely differing interpretations of the New START and deep suspicions over Washington's defence plans make Moscow extremely cautious in embarking on further arms reductions talks.

"I am convinced that before talking about any further steps in the sphere of nuclear disarmament it is necessary to fulfil the new START agreement," Mr. Lavrov told reporters.

Only "then will be it be clear what additional steps should be taken to strengthen global security and global stability," Russia's top diplomat added.








At a time when the whole nation is exercised about how to tackle corruption in the delivery of public services and the management of precious public funds, the Central Vigilance Commission is the last body that should have got embroiled in a major controversy. In my view, the Commission has been deliberately sabotaged by a few small-minded people in the establishment. Not that P.J. Thomas could have greatly helped the ruling coalition to cover up any dubious decision. From my knowledge (that dates back to the halcyon days of a decade ago), the organisation has been a mere paper tiger, yet another adjunct to the Executive. It is meant mainly to accommodate superannuated civil servants, defeating the original purpose of providing meat to the crusade against corruption among public servants.

Even if it is stating the obvious, Mr. Thomas's choice was downright tendentious. It was made only to prove the point that ultimately it is the ruling clique that prevails in such matters, whatever noise the Opposition may generate in protest. Otherwise, I do not think that Mr. Thomas — even if he were to choose to act arbitrarily — could have helped much to suppress vital facts concerning the 2G scam, which the Opposition suspects is the motive behind his installation. Persons in the background who constitute extra-constitutional centres of power, who may have driven hard to bring in Mr. Thomas, must be squirming in their seats. They should reflect whether he was worth the fight, particularly now that he has decided to be stubborn and hold on to the job come what may. This is one area where two basic principles of management, due diligence and cost-benefit analysis, would have persuaded those who call the shots in the ruling group not to root for Mr. Thomas, even long after the scam of his installation had been uncovered.

There are several issues surrounding Mr. Thomas's appointment that only a person who has served in government can appreciate and explain lucidly to the layperson — who is anxious to educate himself but is woefully short of facts. There is a process of empanelling senior officers for Government of India positions in the various Ministries and field offices, such as Joint Secretary and those above that level, from among officers found suitable to hold these important slots. This is a clinical drill by which the unsuitable ones (from the point of view of both ability and integrity) are eliminated, and those whose Personal Files, which carry their annual appraisal, reveal that they have had a uniformly good record of service without any recent blemish, are chosen. This scrutiny definitely makes sure that there is nothing that impinges on an officer's personal integrity when he or she is empanelled. The pendency of departmental action or criminal proceedings, and even a reporting officer's snide remark touching on the honesty of the officer reported on, is good enough to keep an official out of such a panel. When this is the yardstick for even routine and inconsequential jobs, however high the person may be in the hierarchy, it is a travesty of sorts for the government to take the implied stand that a charge sheet in the infamous palmoelin case did not make Mr. Thomas ineligible to be the CVC. It is a sensitive assignment, at least on paper. I am almost certain that the Supreme Court is not amused, and that it will have a lot to say on the ludicrous defence of an appointment that is totally indefensible.

Apart from the empanelment of officers found fit to hold jobs of and above the level of Joint Secretary in the Government of India, short-listing is done for posts such as that of the CBI Director, heads of the Central Police Organisations, and members of the Central Vigilance Commission. The object of such a panel — which will normally contain three names for each position — is to give the Executive enough flexibility to choose a person, who, in its opinion, is the most suitable of the lot.

This is an unexceptionable arrangement. But this is where subjectivity enters the process. While the names are arranged in the order of merit by the select group (normally, but not always, comprising the Cabinet Secretary and the Secretaries of the relevant Ministries) that is entrusted with the job of preparing the panels, the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC), which takes the final decision, is not bound to choose the person who tops the list. (The ACC includes the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned.)

The names in the reckoning are invariably leaked, generating (read, encouraging) lobbying and a rat-race before the crucial decision is made. Very often there is mud-slinging aimed at the lawful and most eligible claimants to a job by their rivals. The one who ultimately gets the nod is made to feel obliged for what is considered a 'favour' done to him or her by the Executive. This is the flip side to the device of empanelment, which was originally conceived to ensure that only the best and the honest got into vital positions in government.

I am sure that Justice J.S. Verma, one of our most illustrious judges who gave the forthright hawala judgment in 1997 that defined the parameters for the composition of the Central Vigilance Commission and the appointment of CBI Director, must be a disillusioned man. However, there is no alternative to the mode of creating panels for the top jobs, as it is the lesser evil compared to arbitrary appointments by a government that does not set much score by traditional values. One is tempted to recall the pre- hawala judgment days when the CBI Director was changed as frequently as one changed a shirt. The longevity of a Director in those eminently forgettable days was just a few months, compared to the present tenure of two years. Admittedly, a fixed tenure does not necessarily bring in total independence. But at least it gives some courage to a feisty incumbent to stand up to it when faced with unreasonable, and sometimes downright illegal, demands made on him or her by an unscrupulous government.

When the Supreme Court laid down in 1997 that the Leader of the Opposition should be involved in the process of choosing a CVC, it would not have dreamt that the country would reach a stage of incivility where the views of the former would be totally brushed aside and a choice imposed on the nation. Consensus was implied, but definitely not steamrolling of the kind that has been witnessed in Mr. Thomas's case.

When it gave the hawala ruling, the Supreme Court rightly believed that at this dizzy level of authority, responsibility and accountability, grace and public spirit, would prevail over narrow political considerations. Sadly, that belief has been totally belied. In making such a vital choice, a brute majority cannot rule over dissent in a democracy such as ours, whatever the motive behind such dissent.

The Attorney-General's admission that the facts of Mr. Thomas's involvement in the palmoelin case were not placed before the selection committee compounds the impropriety of ignoring the Leader of the Opposition. The failure to place all the relevant facts before the committee is shocking, and makes the civil servants who were responsible for preparing papers for the discussions culpable. However, I am not willing to buy any theory that this was a mere slip-up and not an act of dishonesty. I am also intrigued over why Sushma Swaraj was not more explicit when she opposed Mr. Thomas's appointment. Only the affidavit that she has now threatened to file before the Supreme Court can throw light on this aspect.

I am sure some heads in government are going to roll. My only anxiety is that some straightforward civil servant in the Department of Personnel and Training should not be made the scapegoat. I do not rule out this possibility, knowing as I do how governments operate on the basis of political expediency rather than considerations of civil service morale. The Supreme Court is certainly watching closely, much to the discomfiture of those who had erred, that too unpardonably.

(The writer is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)







Dead people have a history, much of it apocryphal, of mucking up elections. There is the story of an Ohio man dead for two decades who voted in the 2004 election, and the tale of a woman from Guam who donated thousands, from the grave, to the Tea Party.

But in the Bronx, it is a dead man who was presented as a candidate for state Senate in 2010 who has perplexed local officials.

The man, Raphael M. Klapper, an ophthalmologist and an immigrant from Poland, died in May at age 85 of complications from pancreatic cancer. Six months later, he was listed on the ballot as the Conservative Party candidate in the 31st District.

Klapper, who lived in Riverdale, never expressed an interest in running for office, family members say. But by the time polls closed, he had collected 828 votes, or about 2 per cent of the total without knocking on any doors or delivering a single speech. Adriano G. Espaillat, a Democrat, won the seat with nearly 40,000 votes. "The whole thing is bizarre," said Klapper's son Jeffrey, who, it should be said, ran twice for office. "We're not exactly sure what happened."

Election officials, similarly baffled, have asked the Manhattan district attorney to investigate.

Though the rolls of the deceased have long been a trove for schemers searching for votes, nobody seems to know why anyone would want to put up a dead man for election. But in the weeks after Klapper's death, Conservative Party officials gathered 38 signatures, enough to nominate him for the Senate seat.

In a district representing northern Manhattan and a small part of the Bronx, where conservative voters are about as rare as tumbleweeds, the nomination did not stand out.

The paperwork sailed through, and the Board of Elections sent Klapper a notice in July confirming his candidacy. His widow, Erika, consumed with other things, did not pay close attention to the mail. Nobody seemed to notice when Klapper failed to show up at a candidates' forum in late October at the Riverdale YM-YWHA.

William Newmark, chairman of the Conservative Party in the Bronx, described the episode as a "real fluke." He said Klapper's name had been suggested by a party member, whom he declined to identify. He said that he did not know Klapper had died until he got a call from a Board of Elections official about two months before Election Day, and that he assumed the board would remove Klapper's name from the ballot. "When the guy died, I was totally shocked," Mr. Newmark said. "Why in the world would I put the person on the ballot? How does it benefit me? It's ludicrous."

Mr. Newmark said he had met Klapper once, at a fundraiser in 2008, and had no reason to check in with him before the party began gathering signatures in June. Officials at the Board of Elections said the party should have more closely monitored the gathering of signatures and immediately reported Klapper's death. The board never received his death certificate, said a spokeswoman, Valerie Vazquez.

When Klapper's relatives saw his name on the ballot, they were irate. Later, they discovered a stack of letters at Erika Klapper's home threatening penalties for his failure to make the necessary financial disclosures. Erika Klapper contacted the chairman of the Conservative Party of New York State, Michael R. Long, who notified the Manhattan district attorney.

"There is no reason in the world you would put a person on a petition without their knowledge," Mr. Long said. "I thought somebody was playing a game with the party, or in fact involved in some kind of identity theft."

The district attorney's office would not say whether it was investigating. Mr. Long said investigators from the office had asked him if anyone had been paid to gather signatures, and that he told them no. Election law experts said any investigation would focus on whether anyone who had been involved in the effort knew that Klapper was dead and what he or she had intended to accomplish.

"If nobody knew he was dead, they just made a mistake," said Jerry H. Goldfeder, an election lawyer. "But," he added, "it's hard to believe that no one knew he was dead." Klapper was one of five people on the ballot for the Senate seat, which was previously held by Eric T. Schneiderman, now the state attorney general. Espaillat, who ultimately won the seat, said he could now claim the "dubious honour of being the only state Senator who beat a deceased opponent."

"All I can do is extend my condolences to Klapper's family and urge the Board of Elections to stop putting dead people on the ballot," Espaillat said.

Klapper was a physician for more than 50 years, with an office on the Upper West Side. He came to the United States in 1952 to escape the post-war chaos of Poland, and fell in love with medicine after reading the Sinclair Lewis novel Arrowsmith, which centres on the travails of a Midwestern doctor.

Klapper's politics had a conservative bent, his family said, but he was not a natural fit for the Conservative Party; members from the Bronx had persuaded him to join. Though he enjoyed bantering about taxes with friends, he never signalled any interest in pursuing public office, family members said. His son Jeffrey, however, was a Conservative Party candidate for the state Assembly in 2008. The younger Klapper, who works for a nursing home, got about 400 more votes than were cast two years later for his dead father.

    New York Times News Service






A major cocaine bust in Spain is highlighting the growing drug-trafficking ties between Argentina and Europe and causing headaches for the government of Argentina's President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Spanish authorities in Barcelona seized an executive jet from Argentina this month that was carrying about 2,000 pounds of cocaine. An Argentine company specialising in private medical transfers, Medical Jet, was operating the plane, which was being flown by pilots whose fathers were generals during Argentina's bloody dictatorship.

Investigators in Spain and Argentina have remained tight-lipped about the inquiry, but questions have swirled around the possible involvement of Argentine military officials and politicians who flew on Medical Jet, and deeper connections to Colombian and Mexican drug cartels.

Arturo Puricelli, Argentina's Defence Minister, has expressed concern about the possible involvement of the air force, saying on Wednesday in a radio interview that he would push for an investigation. "There is great indignation about the case within the air force."

The Argentine judge Alejandro Catania is investigating 18 air force officials for possible involvement in the drug shipment, the Argentine news media reported. He declined to comment on the case. The seized drug cargo was only the most recent of dozens of cocaine shipments to Spain originating in Argentina since 2006, experts on organised crime in Argentina and Spain said.

"Argentina has become a producer and exporter of cocaine over the past five years, and Europe is looking to Argentina for cocaine," said Claudio Izaguirre, president of the Argentine Anti-Drugs Association, a nongovernmental group in Buenos Aires.

Most of the drugs from Argentina seized by Spanish authorities have been camouflaged in cargo ships with myriad exports.

In the most recent case, the plane bound from Buenos Aires to Barcelona stopped over in Cape Verde for refuelling. Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo previously insisted that the drugs had been loaded there, not in Argentina. But Security Minister Nilda Garre acknowledged last week that airport controls "had relaxed a bit" and that she was rethinking whether the drugs could have been loaded in Argentina.

(Charles Newbery contributed reporting from Pinamar, Argentina, and Andres Cala from Barcelona, Spain.)

New York Times News Service






A recent newspaper report noted that the Union Government had gazetted the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 2011 and received strong criticism from organisations that work for protecting coastal ecosystems and fight for the rights and welfare of fisherfolk. About 20 organisations working in the field of protecting fishermen's rights and lawyers backing them have taken strong exception to the notification. This is on the ground that the new notification, gazetted on January 6, 2011, will cause widespread destruction to the livelihood of the fishing communities and will badly affect the other coastal poor as well. The critics also fear that coastal ecosystems that provide protection to 25 crore people living in coastal areas from natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis may also get damaged owing to the changes proposed.

The 2004 tsunami experience

On reading this, my thoughts went back to the nightmare of the Asian tsunami of December 2004, which hit the Indian coast and devastated the lives, livelihood, and property of many thousands of families.

Needless to say, fisherfolk were the worst affected. As a journalist who toured most of the affected areas for about two weeks in Tamil Nadu for Frontline coverage, I could learn a lot about the coverage of massive disasters of this kind. My interactions with the affected people, especially fisherfolk, enriched my knowledge about the life, work, and plight of the poor and their extreme vulnerability to any kind of setback. I learnt that coverage had to be not just extensive, but also highly nuanced and sensitive, particularly because it had a bearing on the lives and livelihoods of large communities such as fishermen who have an age-old culture and tradition of their own.

Journalism, I felt, should respect their sentiments and traditions.

Even when, after the initial trauma, they could comprehend the magnitude of the loss they had suffered, I found many of them positive about their future. They seemed keener on going back to the sea than in getting immediate benefits. "Food we need, but we would love to resume fishing and earn our daily bread," one of their leaders told me. Such was their spirit, even at this, the most painful moment of their lives. The tsunami, this leader noted, had swallowed one-third of the sea-faring fishermen in the village but the survivors should resume fishing, and the government should provide full subsidies to buy catamarans, to begin with. "That would help the fishing community come out of the crisis." ( Frontline, January 28, 2005).

Many influential newspapers and news magazines, and some television channels did extremely well in educating their readers and viewers on various aspects of the lives of fisherfolk and the livelihood issues that confronted them every day. They also focused on the extreme insecurity of these poverty-stricken people. Scientists, most importantly Professor M.S. Swaminathan, threw light on the need to protect the ecosystems of the coast and explained how mangroves could minimise the impact of such disasters.

Environmentalist Vandana Shiva declared in an interview: "The first lesson [from the tsunami] is about development in coastal regions. Respect for the fragility and vulnerability of coastal ecosystems has been sacrificed for hotels and holiday resorts, shrimp farms and refineries. Mangroves and coral reefs have been relentlessly destroyed, taking away the protective barriers." ("Lessons for Life," The Guardian, January 12, 2005). Recalling a study of the 1999 Orissa cyclone that killed 30,000 people, she pointed out that the destruction was much more severe where the mangroves had been cut down for shrimp farms and an oil refinery. Ms Shiva also recalled how the people's movement against industrial shrimp farming had resulted in a court order to shut down the farms within 500 metres of the coastline and how "the shrimp industry tried to undo environmental protection laws by seeking exemption from the government." The fisherfolk and their supporters today are particularly apprehensive about the intent and interests behind the central government's alleged undermining of the 1991 Notification. It was seen as the first major progressive legislation to protect the rights that fishermen won after many a struggle; it related to their livelihood, personal security, dwelling places, free access to the sea, the parking of boats, and so on. Even more disturbing to them was the government's other action of legalising about 23 amendments that sought to "dilute" the 1991 Notification, amendments that were opposed by the fishermen and their representatives during consultations organised by the government. The fears that these changes would make the notification ineffective in protecting the fisher people's rights do not appear to be ill-founded.

After Dalits and the tribal people, it is the fisherfolk who constitute perhaps the most neglected community in India. They account for about 15 million households. At least 7.5 million enterprising fishermen venture into the deep sea at odd hours and contribute substantially to the food basket of the country. Yet most of them eke out a miserable, insecure life. The activities prohibited by the CRZ Notification 1991 in its original form, but sought to be created in the new notification, include the setting up of new industries and expanding existing ones, any construction activity between the High Tide Line (HTL) and the Low Tide Line (LTL), setting up and expanding fish processing units, land acclamation, mining of sand and rocks, building industrial, commercial and entertainment units, and so on. In short, the motive behind the CRZ Notification has been diluted to make it more and more commercial and profit-oriented, pushing the rights and needs of the fisher-people back.

The CRZ Notification 1991 was a specialised legal instrument for governing development activities throughout the coastal stretches. As a guiding document, the CRZ Notification remains relevant, particularly at this stage of rehabilitating the victims of the 2005 tsunami. The function of the notification as an environmental protocol for human actions in a sensitive region is evident from the principal legislation from which it draws its powers — the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the relevant rules.

The Act substantially empowers the Government of India's Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to take actions "for the purpose of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing, controlling and abating environmental pollution." This includes the promulgation of specified notifications for the purpose.

The CRZ Notification is issued under Section 3(1) and Section 3(2)(v) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. These clauses outline the powers of the central government to protect and improve the quality of the environment and take preventive measures to control and abate environmental pollution. This includes the power to delineate areas where anthropogenic activities can be regulated and restricted. The importance given to the notification is clear from the fact that considerable powers are vested with the agencies responsible for its implementation.

Attempts to dilute CRZ Notification

The Coastal Regulation Zone comprises the coastal stretches of seas, bays, estuaries, creeks, rivers and backwaters, which are influenced by tidal action (in the landward side) up to 500 metres from the HTL and the land between the LTL and the HTL. The 500-metre CRZ boundary is drawn at a radial distance (as the crow flies) uniformly from the HTL and runs parallel to the coast.

Yet another change: the 2011 Notification added provisions that degrade or dilute the powers of the National Coastal Zone Management Authority and States Coastal Managements Authority constituted under the Supreme Court of India's orders in 1996. This, the fisher people's lawyers contend, is in violation of the Supreme Court's verdict.

In the wake of the tsunami, the news media could sense the growing attempts to dilute the CRZ Notification 1991. The way rehabilitation was sought to be done gave enough indication that big business, real estate interests, hoteliers and the like had their own plans to enter the field in an aggressive way. In other words, the post-tsunami scenario was approached as an unprecedented opportunity to change the face of coastal India. Fisherfolk who could not be persuaded to vacate their houses were forced to accept houses in far off places. Hundreds of households were given houses in many places far away from the sea despite objections that it would be highly expensive for them to go to sea and back and that the shifting would affect their school-going children.

Today much of the press and television seems to treat real life problems and issues of mass deprivation such as these in disappointingly low key. This raises a key question for Indian journalism. Is informative, detailed, nuanced, and sensitive coverage of the conditions in which the losers in the development game live and work relevant only when a big crisis like a tsunami overwhelms them? Does the social responsibility of journalism mean that in normal times coverage of 'rising India' can be wholly or mostly celebratory or 'positive'? I should think not.








Sir, I agree with the views expressed by Suresh Singh Katoch in his letter Sporting events suffer because of corruption (January 30). India faced criticism due to mismanagement in the Commonwealth Games and now the cricket stadium at Eden Gardens is not ready to host World Cup matches. In a fresh blow to Eden Gardens' hope of hosting a World Cup match, the ICC's central inspection committee has sent a letter recommending that the remaining matches be also shifted out of Kolkata's Eden Gardens. Earlier, the ICC had recommended shifting of the India-England tie, citing that renovation of Eden Gardens was far from complete. Why was the stadium not prepared in time? Clearly, it is corruption that has put India's reputation at stake.
Shoma Das

Via email

Take severe action to rein in oil mafia

Sir, The gruesome murder of additional district collector Yashwant Sonawane by the oil mafia is shocking. Equally disturbing is the fact that no action was taken when Sonawane had reported against Popat Shinde, his alleged killer, months back. Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan visited the late Sonawane's family to offer his condolences and had announced a compensation of `25 lakh for his family. Mr Chavan said "This cannot happen in Maharashtra, we will stop this." I hope Mr Chavan keeps his promise.

Pranjal Vaidya

Via email

Paes, bhupathi should keep playing as a team

Sir, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Indian tennis stars Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes in the Australian Open doubles final (Oz Open eludes Lee, Hesh again, January 30). The Bryans claimed their 10th Grand Slam title together and their fifth Australian Open in six years. The pair of Bhupathi and Paes has won many titles for India, but due to some misunderstandings they parted ways in 2002. Although they have lost, it's good to see the Indian pair back in the field.

Unnayan Agarwal

Salt Lake, Kolkata

Sir, The Australian Open men's doubles finals brought mixed emotions for fans of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. While the Grand Slam title eluded Paes and Bhupathi, it was a fabulous start for the Indian pair who re-united after nine years. Lee-Hesh could not stop Mike and Bob Bryan and lost 3-6 4-6 to the top seeded American twins. I hope that the thirdseeded Indian pair takes a cue from this and keep playing together.
Uttarayan Dutta

Via email

BJP tried to breach peace in kashmir

Sir, Arun Nehru, in his article An unholy nexus (January 30), is right in saying that the BJP's Ekta Yatra was unjustified. Since Independence, little has changed in the Kashmir Valley. The BJP leaders should have respected the orders passed by the Jammu and Kashmir government. It was unfortunate that the BJP leaders deliberately caused a breach of the peace. Its effort to push a political agenda would have certainly affected peace and law and order in Jammu and Kashmir.

M. Lavanya
Via email






From the time I was a small child, I remember climbing onto the terrace of my grandfather's house every morning and saluting as some member of the staff unfurled and hoisted the national flag. In the evening it was our solemn duty to see that the flag was lowered at 6 pm or sunset, only to be hoisted again the next day. In later years, we always had functions at school on Republic Day and all children stood in attention while the national flag was hoisted. Political life in the Congress has always begun with the hoisting of the national flag at the party headquarters in the national capital and all state capitals, and for all of us who are MPs, office-bearers or senior members usually spend the whole day driving to hundreds of villages hoisting the national flag at roadside junctions, schools, party offices and marketplaces. We sing the national anthem and talk about the glory of our nation to the assembled crowd.

This is a way of life in the Indian National Congress. We are the party that fought for the Independence of this great country, when other parties who are so vocal today either did not exist or even supported our colonial masters, the British. Our nationalism runs in our genes and in our blood and is a part of our lives. We don't need to wear it on our sleeve, or far worse, politicise nationalism and use it as a divisive tool to try and gain some cheap electoral gain by polarising people of different religions.

So far as I am aware the Indian National Congress is perhaps the only party where all workers gather at the party office on Republic Day and hoist the national flag. I am not aware if any other parties actually follow this practice. However, this is not ground for doubt or criticism. The fact of the matter is that nationalism and patriotism are or ought to be deeply felt and held values, which may easily be manifested in a variety of ways and hoisting the flag is our way. Others may well have different ways to express their patriotism.
In the last few days, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suddenly discovered unique patriotism and heroically set off to hoist the national flag at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar. The roadshow was allegedly by the yuva morcha, but it was constantly "inspired" by rousing speeches from senior BJP leader L.K. Advani and in the last lap led by Leaders of the Opposition in Parliament Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. As the crowd of BJP workers set off from Kolkata the impression a lay person would have received was that they were setting off to conquer enemy territory, not that they were going to what is indisputably a part of India, a state ruled by a democratically elected government, with a chief minister with whose party the BJP had been in coalition just a few short years ago.

The BJP and its leaders did not care that by singling out the Kashmir Valley for flag-hoisting, they were actually giving credence to the claim of separatists who assert until today that Kashmir never acceded to the Indian Union. They did not care that when a huge crowd of emotionally-charged young men converge upon a critical and sensitive area like Lal Chowk, the law and order situation is bound to be affected badly and the crowd is likely to over-react and get out of control. They did not care that the stone-pelters who had created so much trouble in the Valley have now finally brought under control and the hard-won peace in the Valley would be brutally shattered by their confrontational display of nationalism.

Every right-thinking Indian would like to ask the BJP some simple questions. If they wanted to exhibit their new-found enthusiasm to hoist the national flag, why could they not do it in Lucknow, Patna, Bhopal or Bengaluru ? Or in their own homes? Did the national flag fly on Republic Day in the homes of BJP leaders and workers? The answer is a resounding no. It is equally true that they only chose Srinagar in order to stir up a political controversy and try and polarise citizens on religious lines.

Next, why did the BJP not feel this patriotism in those six years when it was running the Union government in Delhi ? Was it not necessary, in their view, to hoist the flag at Lal Chowk during those six years? Except for one time in 1992 when Murli Manohar Joshi tried to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk, the BJP has never attempted to go to Srinagar to unfurl the national flag. Obviously this newly-discovered enthusiasm has to be attributed to ulterior and extraneous reasons and certainly not to any genuine nationalism.

Assuming that every yuva morcha worker of the BJP was seized by a fierce desire to see the national flag fly in Lal Chowk, as opposed to their own homes or party offices or cities, what prevented them from attending the official function at Srinagar where the democratically-elected chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir unfurled the national flag? They could have participated whole-heartedly in the official function, loudly sung the national anthem and showed their patriotism. There was absolutely no need for them to engage in a competitive display of nationalism with the government of the state, thereby allowing the separatists to have the last laugh.
It is commendable that the government acted firmly to stop this misadventure, despite meaningless provocative remarks from BJP leaders. It is important for us to remember at this time that Mr Advani, who was present at the demolition of the Babri Masjid, later declared that he was agonised over the incident, which had actually occurred because the karsevaks had gone out of control. This came after he had led the most disruptive, violent and communal rathyatra, which destroyed communal harmony in our country. Had the BJP been allowed to have its way at Lal Chowk the consequences would have been equally disastrous. In the face of the depressing downward spiral of the BJP's political activity, the nation can only appeal to BJP leaders to function with a modicum of responsibility, the very least that is expected of a constructive Opposition.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.

The views expressed in this column are her own.






The key point in the new telecom policy announced by Union minister Kapil Sibal on Saturday is that of delinking operating licences from spectrum allotment.


This was perhaps inevitable because the controversy around 2G spectrum allocation during his predecessor A Raja's tenure was that licensee had hold of spectrum as well, which then could be bartered with a third party.


This was at the heart of the scandal, when licencees leveraged their share of spectrum in attracting investors for their venture which was manifold over what they paid the government in the first-come-first-served system. This leverage did not change significantly in the 3G spectrum auction except that it fetched a higher market price in the bidding process.


In the new framework, the two-in-one allotment gives way to separate payments for the licence and for spectrum. The Telecom Authority of India (Trai) will announce the price mechanism for spectrum, which will be reckoned at market rates. Further, the spectrum allocation would not be on the basis of a one-time payment. It is to be a revenue-sharing arrangement.


Sibal has said that this new shift in policy will pave the way for a level playing field and that it will also encourage competition. The existing operators and those waiting to get in fear that this would mean that their operating costs would go up and that they cannot peg their services at a low tariff anymore. It is true that competition will keep prices on an even keel because Indian consumers are hyper-price-sensitive. It would also mean that tariffs will have to be rational and there cannot be ruinous cut-throat competition.


Whatever may be the economic nitty-gritty of the policy, the big picture issue is that the phenomenal telecom revolution based on the nearly 700 million mobile telephone subscriber base should remain intact, and governmental intervention should only help in its further growth. That is a reasonable expectation. It can only be sustained if the rules are fair. Sibal promises the new changes will ensure fairness. The success of the new policy will be judged on that basis alone. This would not, however, put a lid on the clandestine and murky dealings that unfolded through the backchannels, involving politicians, industrialists, lobbyists and journalists and created a political stink — the 2G spectrum allocation scam — that has reached the skies. There are enough people around to spoil a good party.







It started as the 'Jasmine Revolution' on December 17, 2010, in Tunisia and led to the rapid departure of its president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.


This movement is now spreading across the region as people in what is known as the "Arab world" have been taking to the streets, protesting bad governance and corruption and demanding a change of government. Yemen followed Tunisia but the biggest upheavals are now being seen in Egypt.


For the past week, the largest Arab state has seen massive groups of people gathering in the streets demanding the removal of Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for almost 30 years. At first stunned by the enormity of the protests, Mubarak took time to react but then acted as expected — sent the military out, leaving at least 30 dead and shut down the internet. However, he has not been able to ignore public anger — he has sacked the government and promised reforms.


Also knocking on his door is Nobel laureate Mohammed El Baradei, who has expressed his willingness to lead Egypt. Baradei is under house arrest but his presence constitutes a real threat — he is well-respected and forward-looking and acceptable to the world.


The Western world finds itself in a quandary here. While promoting democracy at home and paying lip service to the concept elsewhere, it has supported the most terrible dictators and despotic states in order to fulfill selfish interests. Mubarak was useful to the US in the Israel-Palestine conflict. So although the world is pushing Mubarak to reform more, it will be interesting to see how far it will go. Similarly, in spite of the fundamentalism and rigidity of Saudi Arabia, it remained a key US ally because of oil.


Now, however, as people clamour for democracy in some of the world's most oppressed countries, the test has to be passed by everyone. The globe is much smaller than it used to be and once freedom is tasted by the people, it becomes addictive. If lack of freedom and governance are the issues which rile people, then administrations can only hold sway by terrible oppression — which may no longer be possible. Already, the ripples of these people's revolutions are frightening despots everywhere from Libya to Saudi Arabia.


It is too early to paint a happy end. But when there is movement, there is change, and that has to be welcomed.








The minute we forge a relationship with the world, we label it with one word — mine.And then, we cling — to people, places, property, all of which we proclaim as ours! Kahlil Gibran said, "Your children are not your own, they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself". But how can we grant that? Especially as we believe that our family and friends are our extension? And we have proprietary rights over them?


The Buddha went further. "This house is mine, these sons are mine, the fool deludes himself and thinks, when he himself is not his own". In a world where each insignificant individual dreams of claiming the planet, this is a moot point. We own nothing, least of all our own selves. We are only custodians, even of our identity, not its owners.


Diogenes, the Greek philosopher, sometimes went to outrageous lengths to teach King Alexander a lesson. Once, he entered the royal gardens and plucking an apple, began munching on it. Arrested for stealing, he was brought before the king. "How dare you pilfer fruits from my trees?" Alexander yelled. Diogenes gave him a thoughtful glance and replied, "Your majesty, the seed for the tree was dropped by a bird. It grew on the earth, watered by the rains, nourished by the sun, assisted by the winds. Tell me, which of these do you own — the bird, the earth, the clouds, the sun or the winds? If they do not belong to you, how then can the fruit?"


It is said that when Guru Nanak as a lad would help his father in his grocery shop, his calculations were found wanting on many occasions. His father tried to glean the cause and secretly observed the boy. He noticed that Nanak could count up to twelve quite well. But when he came to the number thirteen, which in Hindi was pronounced as 'terah', he would stop. Then, dancing in ecstasy, he would call out to God, "All things are yours. What can I claim as mine?" For, the word 'terah' had another meaning — 'yours'. Enlightenment requires only one shift — the replacement of 'mine' with 'yours'.












The Citibank fraud, wherein investors at a branch in Gurgaon were duped, is a wake-up call for individuals who often find themselves in a similar situation when dealing with financial intermediaries.


Thus, while the legal processes will hopefully address the concerns of customers affected by this particular fraud, there is also a need to do some house cleaning as far as buying and selling of financial products is concerned.


Ask yourself how often have you, as an individual banking customer, found yourself accosted in a bank branch and made to do things that you did not intend to? To give an example, when you go to open a fixed deposit or renew the same with a bank — normally a private sector bank — the manager will give you a sales pitch and convince you to move your funds to an insurance scheme, which gives a higher assured return compared with a bank deposit. The manager shows a photocopy of a scheme, which is not on the website of the insurance company, and the standard explanation is that the scheme has just been brought in and is meant only for special customers for a very short period. This has been my personal experience when I had visited a large new private sector bank branch in Mumbai.


There are two concerns here: First, the bank official has stringent targets to meet by way of cross-selling products of related businesses, for which he gets a commission. Insurance, with its commission to sellers, makes more sense than a plain vanilla fixed deposit. The bank too earns more by way of commissions, and hence this is a good business. Second, one is not sure if this money can be diverted to something else, especially when you are asked to give a blank cheque. This was also the case at Citibank.


The housekeeping should begin with the regulator laying down rules for banks to ensure that customers are not misled. Prior to reforms, when there were only two products offered by banks — deposits and loans — everything was straight. The new system resembles a supermarket where there are lots of products and a customer may not always understand all of them. For instance, platinum credit and debit cards are issued by banks when your balance exceeds a limit without your concurrence or just by pressing the star button on your phone. Clearly, banks are going overboard in pursuing numbers.


Bank officials, who serve as wealth advisors, need to be controlled. To begin with, they need to have the qualification to provide such advice. Second, to avoid conflict of interest, their bonuses should not be linked to business generated. Third, advice should be provided only when solicited and not in an obtrusive manner. Fourth, there should be an audit on the processes followed when selling products such as cards or home loans, where banks tend to be aggressive. Fifth, there should be utmost transparency when it comes to the terms of contracting any product with the customer. The charges should be highlighted and not be in fine print.


It is in this context that one needs to commend the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) for doing away with the high commissions that were being paid by funds to agents, which did lead to questionable selling to the public. While some have been critical of this action as being responsible for lowering the interest in mutual funds, from the point of view of customers, it has helped. Those who believe in the worth of an agent continue to use them while the rest either deal on their own or have opted out of the market. This move has addressed the issue of customers being guided by agents into buying funds that offered the highest upfront commissions.


This is probably also a signal for the insurance sector.Commissions are paid on an ongoing basis and there is incentive to sell those schemes that offer the highest returns to the agents. The result is that of the Rs100 being put in by the customer, there could be the case of just Rs70-85 being invested by the insurance company with the trailing commissions being as high as 5-7%. These agents target high value customers to meet their own 'targets' and hence rarely encourage you to go in for single premium schemes that give a commission of just 2%, but where the balance of your funds are invested by the company.


Investor education is extremely important and it is the job of the regulator to carry out this exercise. At present, most of these products are urban-centric, as intermediaries see a lot of untapped potential here, and the ticket size is large. But, at some point of time, there will be a need to look at the rural areas, where the customers are less savvy. In the absence of such awareness and audit, we could run into the same rut as we have done on the lending side in the case of, say, microfinance. It would be better to tackle the issue right away.








By the time you read this, chief vigilance commissioner PJ Thomas may have resigned. If not, the common expectation is that he will do so in a day or two. If he does not… then frankly, what else can be expected from a person like him? The resignation is just another insult heaped upon the UPA government, coming as it does after the CWG scam, the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, food inflation in double figures … the list is long.


Yet, in all these scams, nothing implicates prime minister Manmohan Singh as directly as the appointment of the then telecom secretary PJ Thomas as CVC. The PM, home minister P Chidambaram, and leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj, had to decide on the new CVC. The irony is hard to miss: Swaraj flatly refused to endorse Thomas while Singh and Chidambaram rooted for him. Surely these two men, rated as among the most brilliant in the cabinet, should have known better than to back a man who had a impaired history. Thomas was then being probed by the CBI for his role in the Kerala palmolein oil import case, and it would have been evident to a blind person that as a key secretary then, even if he might be proved innocent of any wrongdoing, there was no way that he was above suspicion.


Worse, at the time he was picked to be CVC, Thomas was the telecom secretary, working as the number two man in the ministry headed by A Raja, who stands accused of causing India's worst scam till date. The telecom minister was already under a cloud for the manner in which he sold the 2G spectrum, causing a notional loss to the exchequer of Rs1.76 lakh crore (no one believes Sibal when he says the loss suffered was zero!). Is it possible that Thomas was unaware of what Raja was doing? Why didn't he speak up? Why didn't he, as secretary with certain powers, refuse to allow the sale? True, that may not have stopped Raja from his misdeeds, but at least it would have made evident that the telecom minister was committing misdemeanours and might have brought about intervention from others.


Yet, using the power of brute majority, Singh and Chidambaram overrode Swaraj's arguments and appointed Thomas. Was it the UPA's way of showing that they cared two hoots for the opposition parties (and leaders)?


Hedrick Smith, in his book, The Power Game: How Washington Works, wrote that invariably, US presidents foundered in their second terms. Whether it was Nixon with Watergate or Clinton with Monica Lewinsky, presidents who actually had little to lose since they would not be standing for re-election, actually messed up much more in their subsequent terms. India too has witnessed a similar phenomenon: Nehru blundered from 1957 onwards leading to the China war, and Indira messed up her second term with the JP movement and Emergency.


Manmohan Singh started his second term with what appears to have been a winning hand: a decimated opposition and no troublesome Left as an ally. Alas, he frittered away the goodwill the country had for him. While in many cases, he might get away with the lame excuse that he was not directly involved or that as a coalition government, the Congress (and therefore, he) had its compulsions, as far as appointing a besmirched Thomas as CVC goes, he is directly responsible. He and Chidambaran decided on that, despite all the evidence pointing to the contrary. What, one wonders, will be his excuse this time?









Not everybody is possibly as lucky as English poet John Milton has been more than three centuries ago. In his life-time he was able to follow up his epic poem Paradise Lost to write Paradise Regained. He had thus succeeded in a way in reversing --- figuratively speaking --- his earlier sense of loss; it needs to be made clear that his second exercise was in terms of giving new dimensions to his intellectual prowess without compromising with his genius which was unconcealed. There is no end to a composer's flight of imagination. What has happened in our case in this State is something to the contrary. We have suffered a setback from which no immediate recovery is in sight. No less creative and definitely equipped with better tools our film producers from the tinsel world of Bollywood continue to be hesitant to wholeheartedly resume their date with the paradise on the earth --- the Kashmir Valley. The link snapped by the vicious tussle of the gun is flimsy at this point in time. It is high time that they pondered over their missing enthusiasm in this regard. It is true that as the inhabitants of the State we have to take the major blame. What is this if not our failure that we have not succeeded in prevailing over a handful of misguided persons among us that they should not set their own house on fire? They have picked up the latest guns, gone on a shooting spree and committed a sort of hara-kiri. By now, they themselves have gone through tremendous amount of self-inflicted torture: killing of some of the finest sons of the soil, fratricidal wars and bestowing a sort of legitimacy on violence in the land which has otherwise been nurtured by the likes of Sheikh Nooruddin Noorani. Habba Khatoon and Lal Ded. Some of them have retraced their steps but not before inflicting severe damage. There are others who have realised, even though belatedly, that they have been caught in a maze of their own making. They want to retrieve the bliss but are clueless about how to do so.


A grim fall-out is that on the current reckoning the gun appears to have come to stay for long in our midst. Its mere mention is enough to scare away the people who spend billions of rupees to make a movie and their stars whose faces are not only worth billions but they also move billions of their fans. Arguably, they are face to face with the gun even on their home turf: Mumbai has been the target of big terrorist strikes more than once. Nevertheless they have not lost the advantage totally in the country's film capital. They can shoot the movies there according to their will. And, if they require something like the Valley as a backdrop they can always recreate it given the technical skills at their disposal. They are moreover encouraged by naturally gifted other states as well as foreign countries to use them as locations for their ventures. There are countries that are well aware of the tremendous appeal of Hindi films and the growing penchant in India for travel to explore unexplored venues. Their leaders know that if their picturesque spots get highlighted the cost of their hospitality to Bollywood's dream merchants would be more than compensated. It is talent, glamour, tourism, entertainment and business all combined under one roof. In sharp contrast, the film producers don't find it still possible to click their cameras openly, for instance, in the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar. They do require more than just an ordinary security bandobast. Restrictions on their natural flavour dampen their interest for translating their script into a celluloid beauty. It is galling for those among them who have captured the Valley's beauty with gay abandon in the past only to find that they have to bear with certain serious curbs on their freedom from invisible quarters. Just to cite an example, the manner of the shooting of Priyanka Chopra-starrer Sat Khoon Maaf recently is not the same thing as was Shammi Kapoor's Kashmir Ki Kali in the bygone era. Very rightly it is said that our movie-makers, like the other sections of society, should contribute towards the restoration of normalcy.


To say that they are not at all doing so will not be fair. After all, they have made a number of films keeping in view the Valley's trauma. It is true that they may have worked in their studios or in other states. Who can ever forget Roja in this genre? Off and on they have tried to come in a big way to the Valley---- Mission Kashmir certainly being a notable venture with a relevant appeal. At a different level 3 Idiots has strengthened the perception about Leh being an idyllic land beyond the Himalayas. One hopes that Leh gets its due at the hands of film makers. The challenge for us at the moment is to restore the Valley's status as a bewitching stage of love and fun. In fairness, all chief ministers regardless of their political affiliations have made efforts to lure back Bollywood to its one-time favourite haunt. This shows that there is a deeply entrenched feeling that we should not go on losing on this count. Together we need to put our heads together in order to find a solution. Those who hold the purse strings know that their hard-earned cash is not a bottomless pit. They have the urge but they need the correct environment to express it. It is for us to provide that not only through the uniformed men (which successive governments have been prepared to do) but also by our orderly behaviour. Our State has quite a few veterans who have done proud to us in the highly competitive Mumbai. Several youngsters have been striving to emulate them. Mukesh Rishi of this city (a familiar face on the big screen as a character actor and villain), Sanjay Suri (of Jhankar Beats fame) and Aamir Bashir (his brilliant performance in A Wednesday overshadowed by a superb Jimmy Shergill) have proved that we have rich talent in our midst. Undeniably it will get better recognition if the Bollywood-State connection is not only restored but also placed on a firm footing.








The maiden test flight of the most advanced 'Tejas' aircraft has brought the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme ''very close'' to the Initial Operations Clearance. It is the ninth test vehicle to join the flight line to undertake development flight trials of the LCA Tejas towards operational clearance for induction in the IAF by the end of the year.

The IOC paves the way for the IAF to get the fighter aircraft, the first in June. It will have four LCAs with it by the end of the year to put them under several flying missions for attaining the Final Operational Clearance (FOC), which will be the last hurdle before the LCA joins operational squadron service.
"Successful, copy book maiden test flight of Limited Series Production-3 (LSP-3) is significant on many counts,'' the DRDO said in a statement.

Tejas is a lightweight multi-role jet fighter. It is a tailless, compound delta wing design powered by a single engine. Originally known as the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)- a designation which continues in popular usage- the aircraft was officially named "Tejas'' by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 4 May 2003.
As India joined a select group of nations manufacturing warplanes with the home-grown Light Combat Aircraft moving a step closer to its induction into the Indian Air Force 27 years after the project was initiated, Defence Minister A K Antony said, ''This is only the semi-finals. The LCA will enhance national security and build the country's own fighter aircraft capabilities.''

The LSP-3 is the quantum jump in terms of the equipment fit on the aircraft and is almost the final configuration including the new air-data computers, multi-mode radar, new communication and navigation equipment and radar warning receiver.

Tejas is expected to fill a crucial gap in India's defence requirements and future variants. Hopefully, it will be of export quality, providing cost-effective air power to the smaller, cash strapped nations of the world.
The flight took off from HAL airport in Bangalore and all the flight's objectives were met within the duration of 52 minutes. ''With this flight the total number of test flights accumulated across nine test vehicles of Tejas programme has reached 1,350 and has logged about 800 hrs of flight,'' the DRDO said.

The aircraft, with an investment of over Rs 14,500 crore, has been developed by DRDO's Aeronautical Development Agency after battling technology denial regimes and sanctions for nearly three decades.
''After crossing a number of challenges and accomplishing a significant series of milestones including weapon delivery, in over 1500 sorties, the country is poised for a major turning point with the declaration of the IOC,'' Antony said.

The IAF has plans to induct a total of around 200 planes of which orders for the initial 40 have already been placed by the IAF.

The aircraft, which costs between Rs 180 crore to Rs 200 crore per piece, is presently powered by American GE-F-404 engine and the advanced GE-414 engines have been chosen for powering the LCA Mk II aircraft, which are likely to be developed by 2014.

The development of the aircraft, primarily to replace the ageing Russian MiG-21 and MiG-27s, was affected by the US sanctions in 1998 after the Pokharan nuclear test. The technology denial had led to delay in importing some items and developing alternative equipment, since vendor identification and development to production cycle took time.

On increasing the indigenous content of the LCA, DRDO chief V K Saraswat said, ''At present, the aircraft has 60 per cent indigenous content but by the time it gets its FOC, it will have 75 per cent indigenous equipment on board.''

Asked if the DRDO would go for achieving a 100 per cent indigenous aircraft, he said, ''There is nothing like 100 per cent indigenous one. Even the shirt worn by you is not indigenous.

''It will not be correct and cost effective on our part to attempt 100 per cent indigenisation. Because then you will make an aircraft which will be costliest aircraft with largest infrastructure,'' he said.

But, at the same time, IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik has said that the indigenously manufactured Light Combat Aircraft would be an advanced version of the MiG 21 fighters, which have been the mainstay of the force and are on their way to be phased out in the near future.

''Considering the technologies involved, it (LCA Mk II) will be a MiG 21 ++ aircraft and it will render yeoman service to the IAF,'' was his assessment of the aircraft.

''This means first in endurance, second in performance, third in load carrying, fourth is the number of weapons it can deliver. Fifth is the weight with which it can navigate with and the vintage of the aircraft or avionics and sixth is radar.'' It would be just short of Swedish Gripen NG single engine aircraft.

The Russian - origin MiG 21s started being inducted into the IAF in the 1960s and despite their old technology, continue to be in operation till date and are expected to be phased out by the IAF in the near future.
On the role to be played by the LCAs in the IAF, experts said an air force requires high, medium and low end aircraft to perform its tasks and the indigenous fighter would be used to fill in the gaps at the ''medium and low'' level.

IAF has placed orders for 40 LCAs in IOC mode and is expected to procure another 160 LCA Mk II later in the decade.

Though the induction of Tejas marks a watershed moment for the country's military hardware capability, the larger objective ought to be proactive policy so that heightened defence research and procurement positively impact and genuinely benefit the Indian economy. (PTI)








Soft options are not particularly effective to take hard issues head on. But, that is exactly the way it has been with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) II Government, a captive of various vested interests, whose please-all policy seems to have forgotten the poor and the common man in the process. For instance, the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) latest 0.25 per cent bank (repo) rate increase provides a clear signal that the country's central bank has given up on fighting inflation. It suggests, if anything, the RBI's near capitulation to the wishes of the government, big business, foreign financial institutions (FIIs) and stock market on the inflation management issue.

For the Government, maintaining a high economic growth holds a bigger priority than controlling inflation. The big business is always against interest rate hikes. FIIs thrive under low interest, low corporate tax regime. Stock markets all over the world are against high interest rate regimen which drives away public funds from speculative stocks to more secured bank fixed deposits. The common man's plight in a situation of high inflation as it is being witnessed in India for more than a year has rarely been a cause of concern of these vested interests. These groups have been exerting a vice like grip on the country's central bank to prevent it from taking any hard measure that would flush out surplus liquidity from the system and cause their discomfort.
This explains why all the official and media hypes over a possible one per cent bank rate hike to rein in the continuing runaway food and general price inflation situation ended in a whimper as the central bank left the cash reserve ratio (CRR) and statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) untouched at six per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, until the next financial year. The CRR calls for the proportion of deposits that banks are required to set aside. The SLR signifies that banks liquidity position will not be under any extra pressure following higher bank deposits which are expected to be generated by a higher savings rate. The reverse repo rate, the interest the RBI pays banks for deposits, goes up also by 0.25 per cent to 5.5 per cent.

These measures may push up the interest rates now being offered by banks on fixed deposits for short durations - say, between 400 days and 600 days -- by 0.25 per cent to 0.50 per cent to 8.75 per cent to 9.50 per cent. Fixed deposits from senior citizens attract an extra interest rate of 0.50-0.75 per cent. Different banks offer different interest rates on fixed deposits and term loans. The present deposit rates are certainly not attractive enough to suck up a good chunk of extra liquidity with the middle class and upper middle class, the biggest consumer segment in the market, from the shopping arcades to bank lockers. The general and food price inflation rates at retail markets are ruling at much higher levels than commercial banks' savings rates on fixed deposits. Thus, the RBI's half hearted inflation control measure is unlikely to yield the intended reduction in the money supply with the public or contraction of general demand of goods and services for middle-class consumption.

A 0.50 to one per cent increase in car loans or housing loans under the current market situation will have little on-ground impact on the demand for either luxury goods and services or things like housing, passenger cars and motor bikes, blended scotch whiskey, beer and wine, air travel, computers and laptops, fizzy drinks and, of course, processed foods. Without any hike in the bank rate, the prices of construction materials, white goods and brown goods, capital goods, airfares, oil and lubricants, readymade garments, electricity charges and wood and metal products have appreciated by 10 to 20 per cent in the last three months alone. The higher prices have not adversely impacted their sales. Prices are soaring. And, so are the demands. It's a peculiar situation. The middle-class is loaded with such large amounts of surplus money that the sudden hike in domestic airfares by 100 to 150 per cent in most sectors, less than two months ago, has shown no adverse impact on the air travel by this large fund-flush section of consumers.

The increasing demand for processed foods is driving away a lot of common consumption items such as wheat, rice, pulses, vegetable fats, spices and fresh vegetables like potato, onion, bananas, copra, garlic and ginger, from the common man's daily meal menu to malls, supermarkets, big stores, restaurants and fast-food shops for the consumption of the cash surplus middle-class and their high spending children. In the last three years, the prices of some of the food articles, vegetables and fruits have gone up by almost 200 per cent.

Thus, the fear is that the inflation rates are likely to continue to the disadvantage of the majority of the country's population who are cash-starved, under-employed and under-paid in the absence of a strong monetary control measure by the RBI. In a similar inflationary situation in the early part of the 1980s, the RBI had opted for a double digit bank rate. The term lending rates of commercial banks varied between 15 and 18 per cent. The overdraft rates were as high as 20 to 22 per cent. Large companies, in both the public and private sector, were forced to raise short-term public deposits at 12 to 14 per cent. There were others which issued equity and preference shares, bonds and debentures to minimize their credit exposure with banks.

The RBI's tight money policy coupled with some pragmatic fiscal measures by the Government kept the price inflation of wage goods under control. While, the industrial growth in 1986-87 was still around 10 per cent and agricultural growth was in the negative due to two successive years of drought, the common man managed to survive. India's middle-class was much smaller in number then. Industry was less free to pursue with profit motives before social expectations. The stock market was controlled by local investors and the Unit Trust of India (UTI) and not highly opportunistic FIIs. The Government was still willing to see some virtue in socialistic principles. The rich were extra-taxed, both for income and for luxury consumption. The poor were encouraged to save more. India did not boast billionaires, then. Paradoxically, some the country's economy managers in the 1980s are also at the helm of the present Government.

Thanks to the western-style economic reform embraced by the country since 1992, India's economic management is no longer under the exclusive control of the Government and statutory institutions such as the RBI. The hard truth is that a large part of India's economy is now being controlled - indirectly, but emphatically -- by foreign entities and institutions such as FIIs, multinational corporations, foreign banks, international credit rating agencies, bi-lateral and multi-lateral agreements, regional trade blocks like Saarc and Asean, the World Trade Organisation and the Group of 20. It may sound odd, if not quite harsh, India will have to live with the current economic reality and high inflation, even if it means making a sacrifice of the interest of the poor and common man for the prosperity of the rich and the middle class. (IPA )








The Indian Government may draw some satisfaction that the incidences of attack on Indian migrants have declined and also bank on Australian Government's assurances, but the recent figures tell a different story of a sharp decline in Indian migration, particularly due to the fear factor.

At present there are around 400,000 persons of Indian descent in Australia which is over two per cent of the Australian population. Indian community is Australia's fourth biggest migrant community, and students are a significant proportion of that. But in the year 2010 there was a sharp decline of about 30 per cent in the Indian students' migration to Australia. Indian students generally head for higher education to Australia.
In the year 2009 approximately 120,000 Indian students had enrolled in Australian educational institutions. But enrolment is one and actual commencement is another, as the Australian government calls it. According to the figures of the Australian Ministry of Education the actual commencements in 2009 were 67,974. In 2010, between January and November 2010 the enrolments were 100,236 and the actual commencements were 42,447. So, approximately there has been a dip of 30 per cent.

Migration of Indian students to Australia was on the increase till the series of recent violent attacks. Much of this increase took place in the vocational education sector. The incidences of violent attacks are no doubt the main reason for the decline in migration of Indian students to Australia. Some, however, attribute it to the education becoming costly in Australia due to the Australian dollar firming up to the level of almost one to one with the US dollar.

India and Australia have worked in close concert to tackle this issue. A series of steps are being taken by Australia on whether it is more policing, whether it is more patrolling, whether it is audit of educational institutions, whether it is review of visa procedures, establishment of helpline, counseling. But much of the responsibility of maintaining law and order rests with the provincial Governments in Australia.

The Indian Government has also taken quite a few measures to address the concern. It has introduced Bills in Parliament seeking to punish those who have provided false or misleading information to student and make it mandatory for all education agents to register themselves. It has proposed that all Indian students proceeding abroad for studies enter their details with the government. The Government has recently introduced the Indian Community Welfare Fund to provide financial assistance to Indian citizens in need and this has been used to assist several needy citizens and students in Australia.

The issue of violent attacks of Indian students was raised by the Indian Minister of External Affairs, SM Krishna with the Australian Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd during recent visit to Australia, this month.
Both Krishna and Rudd in their joint statement of January 20, 2011 welcomed the Council of Australian Governments' International Students Strategy for Australia, launched in October 2010, and progress with implementation of recommendations from the Baird Review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act to improve further the experience of international students in Australia. This includes strengthening students' consumer protection rights and cooperation between the two countries to support the regulation of education agents.

The next meeting of India-Australia Joint Working Group on Education and Training is expected to be held in Australia in April 2011 and the annual dialogue of the minister of the both the countries on education will be hosted in India in September 2011. These two meetings will take stock of the situation. This will also pave the way for setting up of the Australia-India Education Council.

The changes in the skilled migration programme had significantly impacted on Indian students already studying in Australia, many of whom had taken heavy loans to pursue their studies. Krishna raised this issue with Rudd and requested consideration of Indian students who had come to Australia under the old rules being placed in a special category that allowed them to fulfill the demand that existed in Australia for their skills.
Rudd noted the components of the February 8, 2010 changes to skilled migration in Australia and highlighted the generous transition arrangements for most holders of international student visas at the time of the changes. Rudd also noted Australia's review of its student visa program, announced in December 2010 and expected to be completed in mid-2011.

Issues of concern for Indian students are security, availability of accommodation and other support services, transport concession, greater financial assistance, regulation of rogue agents and dodgy institutions and introduction of effective orientation and assimilation processes both in India and Australia.

Krishna also discussed the issue of safety and security of Indian stidents in Australia with the new Premier of Victoria Province, Ted Baillieu who had made the law and order situation in Melbourne as one of the major issues of his election campaign. Baillieu had reportedly assured him that the safety and security of the Indian community will continue to be addressed pro-actively and that he had already initiated moves to increase the number of police and guards on the transport system, introduce tougher sentencing, improve the system of compensating victims of crime.

The India- Australia relationship is underpinned by diverse and growing people-to-people links. The Indian community in Australia, particularly those in higher jobs, are making a most valuable contribution to building Australian society. Cultural and artistic links continue apace. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations has been increasingly supporting these links. In November 2010, it sponsored a Rajasthani folk music and dance troupe to visit 9 cities in Australia including towns hitherto not covered such as Townsville and Ballarat. 2012 has been designated as the Year of Australia in India. But despite all these efforts and gestures, unfortunately, the misery of Indian students in Australia still continue. (IPA)









The recovery of foreign exchange worth more than Rs 6 crore from the monastery of Tibetan spiritual leader Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorje has quite understandably caused a stir. The followers of the 17th Karmapa, who is touted as a possible successor to the Dalai Lama, claim that the money came through donations by his followers, but the security agencies are not convinced. They have reasons to suspect that the Karmapa may be a Chinese agent sent here deliberately to create another power centre among Tibetans. The discovery of a huge sum in Chinese currency yuan has particularly brought to limelight the questions which have been asked ever since the Karmapa "escaped" from Tibet in the year 2000. He had claimed that he had hoodwinked Chinese authorities by going into exclusion and reaching Nepal. Intelligence agencies are of the view that such smooth passage could not have been possible without the support of Chinese border troops.


The money seizure needs to be seen in the backdrop of Beijing's larger plan to gain control over monasteries in India and downgrade the stature of the Dalai Lama among Tibetans. For the past several months, the Chinese have been distributing pamphlets among the locals in Arunachal Pradesh that since the Tawang monastery there pays tribute to Lhasa, which is in China, Tawang must be recognised as Chinese territory. They also aim to build a monastery in Dharamsala with a stature similar to the Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, which was the seat of the 16th Karmapa in exile, but has been kept out of bounds for Karmapa Trinley Dorje on the suspicion that he may be a Chinese prop.


All these suspicions will have to be thoroughly investigated by the Himachal Pradesh Police. If the money is traced back to the Chinese, then it is an extremely serious matter. But even otherwise, it comprises a gross violation of foreign exchange laws. The allegedly benami land deals of the Karmapa also call for a foolproof investigation.









The fiasco surrounding the International Cricket Council cancelling the impending India-England World Cup match at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, marks an avoidable embarrassment for the Board of Control for Cricket in India and is a first in the history of Indian cricket. While there have been instances of matches being called off due to unplayable pitch conditions, as was the case at the Ferozshah Kotla in New Delhi in December, 2009, to have a match being cancelled for the stadium not being complete in the stipulated time is something unheard of. Last-minute efforts by ICC President Sharad Pawar and Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee have apparently failed and the most likely alternative venue may be Bangalore.


BCCI is an extremely cash-rich organisation and the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) has also done well, thanks to the enterprise shown by Jagmohan Dalmiya over the years. That is what makes this situation even more surprising. The original date for completion of this stadium, and Wankhede in Mumbai, along with three stadia in Sri Lanka, was December 30, 2010. However, all five venues were given an extension till January 25, 2011. But according to the ICC, an inspection of Eden recently showed that the venue would not be ready in time, forcing the cancellation.


While it must be emphasized that the sanctity of a deadline must be respected, there are also undertones of a political game being played between the BCCI authorities and Dalmiya, who has been at odds with the body for a long time now. If it is true as is being suggested that none of the other four venues (which have been cleared) were in any better shape than Eden, it smacks of politics. Whatever be the final outcome, there can be little doubt that the Eden episode has left a bad taste for which the BCCI and the CAB cannot be absolved of blame.









The latest in technology is the tablet, a portable personal computer that uses a touchscreen as a primary input device. Modern tablet PCs are essentially bigger than mobile phones and smaller than laptops. The electronic tablets have become the latest and the most convenient way of accessing the wide world beyond the physical reach of the users. In many cases, the tablet is like a laptop without the bulk, with Internet connectivity and many freebees thrown in, including phones and cameras. In a year since iPad was launched, millions of such devices have been sold throughout the world. The official launch of iPad in India signals a new interest from the company that has sold most of the tablet computers in the world and set the standard for others.


It is not just the device but the entire eco-system built around it that has made it such a success. There are thousands of applications built for users of these devices, which provide information, entertainment, utility and even road directions. While Apple is the market leader with its remarkably intuitive and smooth interface, it was a closed tightly-controlled system. It is increasingly being challenged by the Android operating system, made freely available by Google, and adopted by most of the tablet PC makers. Windows has not made a significant impact as yet, and RIMs BlackBerry tablet, with its own operating system, is not yet available to customers.


Tablets are more suitable for users who receive information than those who input it. Not surprisingly, they are an overwhelming majority. For users in India, there is a paucity of local content available, both in English as well as local languages. There is, thus, an urgent need to generate subject matter suitable for a new generation of IT-savvy users. The Indian consumer responds well to anything that he feels has utility. The tablets, which are e-book readers, multimedia platforms and browsers, too, are an ideal platform with which users can enrich themselves even as they stay connected. The tablets are here, we must make full use of their capabilities.

















The classical growth model states that the agriculture sector is the prime mover of overall economic growth and development of the agrarian economy through the process of generating wage goods (capital) and surplus labour as the sector moves on a higher production curve through the medium of improved production technology and management efficiency. Here overall factor productivity improves to generate surpluses of agricultural commodities for the market. There are also an improvement in productivity per worker through the modernisation of production technology and better management techniques and skills. The labour employed in the sector is also rendered surplus successively.


As a result, when the capital and labour move to the secondary and tertiary sectors, that stimulates growth in these sectors, and the economy is put on a higher growth path. No doubt, the capital investment mobilised from outside does provide exogenous stimulation, but in an agrarian economy the role of agricultural growth in providing a solid base to the growth process of the economy cannot be denied. In India, more than two-thirds of the population is directly dependent on agriculture. With the growth of this sector lagging behind the overall economic growth of the country, the exclusiveness of this large segment of the population increases from the development process.


It is, therefore, essential that the agriculture/rural sector must register a matching growth to make the growth and development of the country inclusive in its nature. Further, substantive growth must take place in rain-fed areas for the sake of inclusiveness, because the poorest sections of the rural population live in these areas. Growth in these areas on a sustainable basis reduces the yearly fluctuations in the over all agricultural production of the country.


No doubt, in the agriculture sector in India, productivity levels per unit of land have gone up owing to the improved production technologies, adoption of high yielding varieties of crops and higher use of inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides, water, power, machinery and labour, productivity per worker trapped in the agricultural/ rural sector has remained low due to various natural and man-made constraints. Sufficient surplus labour has not, therefore, moved out of this sector due to the non-availability of matching off-farm gainful employment opportunities. In developed countries and also in many developing countries, farm workers are getting older while young people are moving out. In developed countries, even the overall growth of population is going negative.


In India, in spite of substantive development of the secondary (industrial) and tertiary (services) sectors of the economy matching gainful employment opportunities have not been generated to absorb the surplus labour moving out of the agricultural/rural sector. Hence, whatever labour moves out that ends up in slums in the urban areas, where the people live under unhygienic conditions, with no clean drinking water, sewerage or power facilities. For instance, Ludhiana in Punjab alone has 180 such colonies, where it is difficult to find even a few matriculate youth who can be trained for employability.


On the other hand, the agriculture sector cannot fully absorb the rural labour and farming population gainfully in agriculture. Except during the planting and harvest seasons, farm workers remain underemployed or suffer disguised unemployment. All this is evident from the decreasing size of the operation holdings. For instance, in 1980-81, average operational farm size in India was 1.81 hectare, down from 2.30 hectare in 1970-71. In Punjab, the average operational size of the land holdings was 2.89 hectare while in Haryana it was 3.78 hectare in 1970-71.


In 2001, this was reduced to 1.33 hectare in India and 2.32 hectares in Haryana. It is only in Punjab that the holding size increased to 4.03 hectares due to reverse tenancy and large number of village youth moving out to foreign lands. In rest of the country, the holding size has decreases continuously. Further, the farm size distribution shows that in 1981, farms below two hectares were 74 per cent of the total farms in India. The percentage of farms in this category increased to 81.8 per cent in 2001.


This shows that in spite of all the programmes and projects as well as development of industrial and services sectors and overall accelerated growth of the economy, the pressure of population on land in the agriculture sector is increasing, especially in the rain-fed areas. Consequently, the economic development of the country is bypassing these segments of the economy.


It needs to be realised that the income problems of farmers and rural populations cannot be resolved within the agriculture sector alone. First, the rural economy would need to be diversified and second, the agricultural production pattern would require to be diversified and third, within the production system cropping pattern would need to be diversified. It is only then the rural and agricultural economy would move on a higher growth path that would fuel the inclusive higher growth of the economy. Planners and policy makers, therefore, must realise that the agrarian economy of India cannot achieve the objective of inclusive higher growth without diversifying the rural economy and within that. the agricultural economy of the country.


In order to diversify the rural economy, industrial and services sectors, small and clean units and ancillaries should be encouraged to shift to rural areas. The affluent, if any, from these units must be treated on their premises without polluting underground water and disturbing the healthy ecology of the area. For this purpose, if need be, capital subsidies should be given to such units. Further, substantive tax concessions should be given to such units for at least 10 years to begin with. Necessary condition should be that these units would employ at least 80 per cent of their employees from the local population within the radius of say 10 kilometers. This would help turn the small farmers into part-time farmers. This would increase rural incomes and capital would flow to agriculture for mechanisation and other improvements.


The extent system of industry and services concentrated in cities does not attract the rural youth due to paltry wages and the system, therefore, creates innumerable slums with migratory labourers, leaving the rural youth unemployed that creates socio-economic problems in the rural areas leading to drug addiction and suicides. This model would certainly help create gainful employment opportunities at the place and overall growth in these areas would become effectively inclusive in its very nature. However, all this can happen if our political leaders take to development through rational policies.


The writer, a former Vice-Chancellor of Punjabi University, Patiala, is a well-known agricultural economist.








I was always a one-night wonder in correlation to my exams during my university days in Patiala. So the evening before my exams was the most crucial one. It was May of 2002 and the electricity cuts in Punjab were at their horrific best.


As usual I whiled away the time during the day with the hope that the evening and the night  are all mine. When I was all set for a rocking night of studies, there stuck what I would like to call a "natural calamity", the power grid had tripped and as a result the power supply had  fizzled out.


With it also fizzled out my feeling of being the rock-star as I was the only one left looking vulnerable with everyone around me appearing confident as most of them were through with their syllabus.  Even the candles brought from the market couldn't do the needful, because with every flicker tears clouded my eyes as a testimony to my weak eyesight. I was aghast in despair, and told myself that I was all set for a repeat of this examination after one year.  


In those days I was reading a book called The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz, and one of the suggested  remedies was that when one was in despair one should take a long walk in fresh air. I was walking in the inner circular road of the university in my contemplative and sad mood when I saw the newly installed ATM of a bank radiating light brilliantly. It was, perhaps, air cooled too.


My grey cells worked. But to study there, I needed an ATM card. Someone patted my back. He was Mr Marwaha, a newly-appointed lecturer of the department. I immediately asked him: "Sir, do you have an ATM card?" He replied in the affirmative. I took the card from him, ran towards my hostel, picked up my study material and sat on the floor of the ATM crosslegged.


I sat at my ingenious place of study the whole night, did my revision and even managed to catch 40 winks in the air-cooled cell.











For the closely-linked global business that aviation is, the year 2011 will be challenging. IATA, international trade body representing major world's carriers, predicts global profitability to fall from $15.1 billion to $9.1 billion in 2011, a 1.5 per cent margin on revenues of $598 billion.


Driving this deterioration in profitability are these factors: IATA estimates oil price at $84 per barrel in 2011, up from $79 in 2010. This will add $17 billion to costs, bringing the fuel bill to $156 billion. With oil nearing $90 per barrel, this appears to be a rather conservative estimate.


Globally, GDP growth is predicted to fall from 3.5 per cent to 2.6 per cent in 2011. And topping it all is over-capacity. While capacity will grow by 6.1 per cent, demand is likely to increase only by 5.3 per cent. Therefore, there is a clear mismatch.


In all, while 2010 witnessed "better-than-expected profits but had nothing for shareholders", profits are expected to deteriorate in 2011, warns IATA.


This is the ground reality as Indian aviation companies go shopping for planes. The industry added 10 per cent capacity last year. However, the capacity was outpaced by an 18 per cent increase in passenger traffic, leading to a shortage of seats and inflated fares in the festive period.


Each airline now has ambitious expansion plans for the country's fast-growing aviation market.


The industry, which has a combined fleet of 419 aircraft, is expected to add 50 more aircraft in 2011, for which it will require 5,000 additional personnel, including 500-700 pilots and 1,200-1,500 cabin crew.


The national carrier Air India, plans to double the size of its fleet over five years, even while it struggles to cut costs and reduce losses. The airline, with a current fleet size of 135, plans to lease 107 aircraft by the end of 2015. IndiGo recently placed order for 180 Airbus A-320 passenger jetliners-the largest single order that evoked collective gasps on the basis of sheer figures involved. Another low-cost carrier, SpiceJet, has also placed an order for 30 Boeing jets and 30 turboprop aircraft from Bombardier


The airlines are trying to return to expansion mode to meet growing demand. However, the question is: How will they get those extra passengers to fill that additional capacity, especially with key costs, including operational costs, heading north?


Indian Airlines have just about managed to emerge from two years of turbulence due to surging costs, excess capacity and intense competition.


The airline industry, more than any other business, is not just sensitive to global economy but circumstances as well, e.g., when Europe froze, business got affected everywhere, including India. This is why the years ahead may turn out to be extremely challenging for Indian carriers as they try to balance ambitions of individual growth with competitive airfares to lure travellers. In fact, keeping airfares in control will be the biggest challenge, both for airlines and the government.


Last year, when airfares spun out of control, public and media outrage forced former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to intervene. The biggest challenge before new Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, apart from competing with his predecessor's suave image, will be to ward off inherent craving of airlines for "predatory pricing" without hurting their financial prospects, apart from making national carrier Air India profitable


Industry sources, however, maintain that there is no way the government can curb airlines on fares because there is no sector mechanism to stop them. Faced with rising ATF prices and other expenses, airlines have no other option. "The government has business interfering in a liberalised sector," is what they say.


Indian carriers are gripped with challenges that are also impacting the industry across the globe-high ATF prices, rising labour costs, shortage of skilled labour, excess capacity, huge debt burden and intense price competition. It also has to deal with spiralling inflation back home.


The comfort zone for domestic flyers except in business class is between Rs 3,500 and Rs 5,500, and airlines know this well. No matter how good the service you provide is, an airline is chosen on the basis of fares, aviation expert AN Hanfee says.


Today, flying has become more expensive for passengers, thanks to development fees levied at airports. The fare gap between full and low cost is almost non-existent. If airlines want more people to fly, they will have to somehow keep costs down, even with high ATF and other flying related expenditure. With the government watching, the airlines' biggest challenge will be to manage the growth and rationalise airfares to attract new flyers.


There is a strong case for giving jet fuel declared goods status, attracting a sales tax of 3 per cent, but the issue continues to be in a limbo. States are reluctant to lower sales tax rates on ATF, as they stand to lose revenue without any immediate offsetting benefit.


Indian carriers also have to deal with serious legacy problems. The combined loss of Indian airlines shrank in 2010, but their huge debt burden remains a matter of concern, IATA Director-General Giovanni Bisignani says.


Fortunately, India is the leader in the world's most interesting region — Asia Pacific. Indian aviation market will grow to 150 million passengers by 2015 from the current 72 million. India is a big market with 42 million domestic passengers, 34 million international passengers and an enormous potential for growth. The current capacity is 117 million seats per year, 0.1 seats for each of the 1.2 billion population. In comparison, the US has 3.5 seats per person.


Indian spending power is set to triple over the next two decades, fuelling continued rapid growth. The good news is that the private airlines have started reporting profits, or at least shrinking losses. "In the face of major challenges, Air India's position is also improving. However, Indian carriers will still lose an estimated $0.4 billion this year. Also, I am concerned about their $13-billion debt. In a market as rich in potential as India, this precarious financial situation indicates that structural weaknesses must be addressed," Bisignani explains.


The government's Rs 2000 crore bailout is linked to performance on some key parameters. Air India's wage cost is estimated to be 17 per cent of its overall operating costs. The airline had drawn a plan to cut wages by Rs 500 crore, but was able to achieve only Rs 100 crore saving on this account.


Estimates put AI's wage bill at around Rs 3,600 crore a year. It has 125 aircraft in operation. In comparison, Jet Airways, with 107 aircraft and 12,000-odd employees, has a wage bill of about Rs 1,200 crore. AI, in fact, is not just overstaffed it also overpays its staff.








After suffering from the impact of the recession for more than two years, India's aviation sector is poised to show a turnaround. Major airlines like Air India, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Indigo and Spice Jet have reported healthy increases in passenger load which has increased by more than 18 per cent by the end of 2010 over the corresponding period of the previous year.


The aviation sector has crossed a milestone, ferrying 520.1 lakh passengers in 2010 as against 438.4 lakh passengers in the previous year, according to data available from the Union Civil Aviation Ministry.


The last quarter of 2010 saw the highest number of people flying by air. According to data available from the Director-General of Civil Aviation, the number of air passengers during this period amounted to 147.1 lakh passengers as against 119.8 lakh passengers in 2009.


On the whole, the aviation sector has turned bullish with IndiGo placing the single largest order for jets in the history of commercial aviation when it ordered 180 A-320 aircraft from Airbus Industrie. The Rs 70,000-crore order will be executed over the next decade. The airline has also increased its market share in the month of December tying with Kingfisher for the Number 2 spot with a market share of 18.6 per cent. Jet Airways continues to hog the top spot while national flag carrier Air India is pushed to the fourth position.


With the surge in passenger growth, India's major airlines are expected to return to profitability in the first quarter of this year, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. However, analysts say it would be a while before India's major airlines return to the pink of health. The country's three major airlines - Air India, Kingfisher and Jet Airways - have a combined debt of around US $13.5 billion, much of which was incurred for expansion before the 2007-08 recession.


While Air India is depending on the government to bail it out, the private players will have to take recourse to the market. Jet Airways with debt amounting to nearly Rs 12,000 crore would have to raise fresh rounds of capital, according to analysts. And so will Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines. The liquor baron's aviation foray would be requiring funds for working capital apart from purchasing new aircraft for growing the business, according to brokerage houses.


As a result the airlines are going slow on capacity expansion, even though there are signs that passenger growth will balloon over the next several quarters. In all, they will add just 50 aircraft this year to the combined total capacity of 419 aircraft. Some of the aircraft being added will be smaller airplanes like the Bombardier Q400 jets being deployed by SpiceJet. These 78 seaters will be deployed in smaller towns, where the budget carrier is seen expanding this year.


India's biggest airline Jet Airways, which has a 26 per cent market share, will be expanding aggressively in the global market, according to a grapevine. It will be unveiling new services to cities like Paris, the Middle-East and South East Asia using its Boeing 777 aircraft, say sources. Another private airline, IndiGo, will also launch its international operations in this year. To facilitate its global foray, the airline will be adding 16 more aircraft to its fleet of 32 in 2011 alone.


Meanwhile, all the airlines are showing signs of solid growth, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. According to the latest data available, Jet Airways along with Jetlite ended November 2010 as the country's largest carrier handling 1.3 million passengers. Kingfisher came behind handling 932,000 passengers while IndiGo, with 8,43,000 passengers, took the third spot. India's flag carrier Air India took the fourth spot with 8,36,000 passengers.


The airlines are also packing in more passengers to increase profitability. According to CAPA IndiGo's load factor, or the number of seats filled in the average flight, rose to 91 per cent in November 2010, while SpiceJet, Kingfisher, GoAir and JetLite also reported load factors in excess of 80 per cent. However, Air India was a laggard with a load factor of just 76.9 per cent.








The state administration lead by chief minister Omar Abdullah needs to learn that rhetoric alone cannot bring peace to Kashmir where politics and issues are far too complex, complicated and historical. Rather boastful phrases can only further exacerbate the situation. Following the footsteps of chief minister, bureaucrats in his administration and ministers in his cabinet have begun parroting that they would not allow violence on the streets of Kashmir this coming summer. Rather than publicly making such resolutions, which have the potential of sounding dangerously provocative also, it would be better for the government to get its act together, which seems to be nowhere in sight. The young chief minister could have drawn lessons from the recent flag hoisting controversy and how it was mis-handled by his more strongly worded vocal reaction, provoking and enabling the BJP to garner more support for its Ekta yatra, which was a virtual non-issue. That the BJP's sinister communal designs were all too well known and that his government did what was deemed necessary in view of the precarious law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir is hardly disputable but his rhetoric could easily have been avoided to pave way for a much less controversial end of the BJP's ill-conceived march. Two years ago when he took over the reins of administration and was seen as a young dynamic politician who could bring about a change in Kashmir's politics, he started on a promising note that he did not believe in words but actions. Ever since, all one has seen is noises, much of which have not even gone down too well with the different constituencies of the state, and virtually no action, either in easing the situation or on the road to development and accountability. His sole contribution appears to be an amended Right to Information Act and the much over delayed appointment of chief information commissioner. However, one still needs to see whether the implementation of the law would finally yield results.

There is much more that Omar's state administration would have to think of before assuming the optimism of a violence free Kashmir. While governance needs to be improved by inducing in the much needed elements of accountability and transparency as also greater focus on development issues, an equal amount of emphasis also needs to be induced for tackling the alienation and anger of the masses, which has subsided in the past few months. The atmosphere at the moment is congenial for the state administration to begin making amends, after having miserably failed last summer to contain anger or the spiraling violence that led to 112 deaths. The signs however so far do not spell any optimism. The Omar Abdullah government may have to begin first of all with understanding and analysing last summer's situation fairly, without any prejudice and realise that a negative role played by the police and security forces in handling a situation is responsible mainly for flaring up a situation which could have been easily contained and controlled to a great extent. The manner in which his government has acted on the cases of brutal murders by police and CRPF during the street battles, with abject refusal to even lodge the basic FIRs in these cases and by dragging feet on the only official probe in 17 deaths does not give any indication of any right kind of moves. To begin a process of fairly probing these cases and pinning the blame is the task at hand for the state government before it begins sketching a rosy picture to fool itself. Though the political dispute of Kashmir lies at the core of last summer's agitation, the protests were sparked and fuelled by a vicious cycle of violence, human rights abuse and deaths. The government's role is not only to ensure that these are stopped in the future but also to investigate the killings that took place. Much of the onus also lies on the Centre, both in dealing with human rights situation and also resolving the political dispute through a process of negotiations. A well informed chief minister, however, can very well fill in the gap by pursuing this case with the Centre, not by rhetoric but through closed door meeting and constant parleys with the central government. Unnecessary words need to be discarded totally. Action based on a well informed opinion would be more suitable.






The recent attacks on humans by the leopards and bears from the wild in various parts of Jammu and Kashmir leading to killing of wild animals in reaction from the people should act as a pointer to the shrinking space of wildlife. In fact the increasing number of attacks of the wild animals on the people living in the isolated villages and in areas in close proximity of the forests are attributed to encroachment of forest lands by the rising population in J&K. These cases of attacks are restricted to parts of J&K alone but in the entire country wherever the people are living in close proximity of the forests and wildlife enclosures. Every day, unfortunately, there are reports of conflict between the people and wildlife animals. Apart from this there are also reports of poaching of wild animals by the unscrupulous people involved in the smuggling of their skins and bones for medicinal purposes in different countries of the world. These activities are going on under the very nose of the forest department, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting the wild animals and also preserve the wild live enclosures besides relocation of the habitat which has been encroached upon by the people. There have been discussions on account of removal of encroachments from the forest areas but no action appears to have been taken on the ground to prevent recurrence of such incidents of attacks by the wild animals. In fact many forest officials have been found to be conniving with the smugglers in killing and selling the animal skins and bones to the traders. Moreover, development activities like carving out of roads and construction of new residential colonies are also putting a lot of pressure on the forests lands and their resources. This is not helping in maintenance of wildlife habitat in various parts of the country particularly in J&K. In order to maintain ecological balance and protect the habitat of the wildlife it is necessary that steps are taken to ensure minimum damage to forest resources in a state like J&K which is blessed with natural resources. Apart from this, the encroachment on forest lands needs to be prevented for avoiding conflict with the wildlife so that precious human lives are not lost in the process. It will be in the fitness of things to ensure development which is consonance with the maintenance of ecological balance.







Imagine a stunningly beautiful ecosystem with virgin rainforests, a great mountain range, and immense diversity of plant and animal life, where two great rivers originate. Add to this a flourishing farming, horticultural and fisheries economy. And you have the Jaitapur-Madban region in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district, on the Konkan coast in the Western Ghats.

This segment of the Satyadri mountains is the source of the Krishna and Godavari. It's also the home of the world's most famous mango, the Alphonso (hapus), and grows chikoos, cashew, pineapple and coconut too, whose high yields mean even marginal farmers do reasonably well.

Now, suppose a monstrous force wanted to destroy this magnificent ecosystem, termed by the Biological Survey of India as India's richest, for its size, for endemic plants. What better way than nuking Jaitapur? That's precisely what Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd and the government are doing by erecting six giant (1,650 MW) reactors designed by the French firm Areva.

Jaitapur will become the world's largest nuclear power station, generating 9,900 MW, or more than double India's current nuclear capacity. It will also irreparably destroy a delicate ecosystem and livelihoods of 40,000 people. It will replicate on a much larger scale the economic disaster called the Enron power project, by generating electricity that's three to five times costlier than power from other sources. It's no small irony, if a cruel one, that the Enron plant is located in Ratnagiri district.

However, Jaitapur will be a nuclear Enron-capable, like all commercial atomic reactors anywhere, of undergoing a catastrophic accident similar to Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. Admittedly, this is not highly probable, but it's possible. And the consequences of a reactor core meltdown are so enormous as to be wholly unacceptable. Chernobyl was the world's worst industrial accident, which killed an estimated 65,000 to 110,000 people from radiation-induced cancers and other effects.

Such fears are not alarmist. Scientists and engineers who have designed, operated or licensed nuclear reactors have written tomes warning us that all of them are susceptible to terrible accidents in which the fission chain reaction goes out of control, leading to a loss of coolant (usually water, which must rapidly remove heat from the reactor), and the melting and explosion of the core.

The risk could be far higher than in Jaitapur because the project is in a seismically active zone and based on a reactor design that's untested and unproved. Areva's European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) bristles with problems and hasn't been cleared by the nuclear regulatory authority of any country. Yet, in a feat unmatched for its stupidity, India wants to install six EPRs-although the Department of Atomic Energy or NPCIL lacks the technical competence to evaluate their safety.

So hell-bent has the government been on the Jaitapur project that it started acquiring 968 hectares (2,300 acres) for it four years before an agreement with France was signed, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared, and clearance granted. It has treated the project's critics as anti-science, anti-development Luddites who suffer from "misconceptions". It has refused to give them a proper hearing.
Under India's environmental law, all villagers must be given the EIA report in the local language one month in advance of the mandatory public hearing. In Jaitapur, only one of the five affected villages got it-four days before a farcical hearing last May.

Worse, as I noted during a recent visit to Jaitapur, the state has unleashed savage repression on the local people who have sustained a strong movement against the project. It routinely arrests and serves externment notices to peaceful protesters, and promulgates prohibitory orders under Sec 144 of the CrPC and the tough Bombay Police Act.

An instance is a frail 70-year-old diabetic, falsely charged with pelting stones at the police-when he couldn't have lifted a pebble. He was detained for 15 days. Others have had false charges framed against them, including attempt to murder. The higher judiciary, apparently afraid to question the Holy Cow of nuclear technology, has refused them anticipatory bail.

Eminent citizens who wanted to visit Jaitapur in solidarity with the protesters were banned. They include Communist Party of India general secretary AB Bardhan, former Chief of Naval Staff L Ramdas, former Supreme Court judge and Press Council chairman PB Sawant, and outstanding ecologist Madhav Gadgil, chairman of the Western Ghats Ecology Experts' Panel of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
Former Bombay High Court judge BG Kolse-Patil was detained for five days and not even produced before a magistrate within 24 hours. This unprecedented repression resembles the police raj in Maharashtra's Naxalite-affected areas.

The government seems intent on turning Konkan into a unique collection of polluting projects, including mining, pesticides production, steelmaking and power generation, which are degrading the ecosystem and imposing a disproportionate burden on the area. Its power need is just 180 MW, but it's being made to produce over 4,500 MW, and eventually 20,000-plus MW. The government treats the local people like sub-human animals who can be lied to, ignored, or beaten at will.

This amounts to a massive assault on democracy. The people oppose the project because it will destroy their livelihoods, just as the Tarapur reactors nearby have done. The Jaitapur population is highly literate, and knows of the hazards of radiation and the DAE's poor safety performance, including the exposure of hundreds in Tarapur to radiation exceeding the permissible limits, genetic deformities from uranium mining in Jaduguda, and high incidence of cancers near reactors in different locations.

The people's resolve to oppose the project is impressive. More than 95 percent have refused to take the Rs 10 lakhs-an-acre compensation for land; most of those who did are absentee landowners living in Mumbai.
The villagers, faced with repression, have launched a non-cooperation and civil disobedience movement. They refuse to sell food and other goods to state functionaries. When the government recently ordered teachers to brainwash pupils into believing that nuclear power is clean and green, people withdrew children from school for a few days. Ten villages didn't hoist the Tricolour on Republic Day.

The government will be tempted to use diabolical divide-and-rule tactics in Jaitapur, including fomenting tensions between Muslims (30 percent of the population) and Hindus; violence by agents provocateurs; and branding of all dissidents as Maoists/Naxalites, the latest lie being used to suppress popular movements. These methods must be exposed and resisted.

The Jaitapur public has much to fear from EPRs. Western Europe's first reactor after Chernobyl, also an EPR, under construction in Finland is in grave trouble-delayed by four years and 90 percent over budget. Finnish, French, British and US nuclear regulators have raised 3,000 safety issues about it. A reactor's control systems must function even if it loses power. The EPR doesn't meet this criterion.

Given its large size, the EPR will generate seven times more iodine-129 than normal reactors. Any design changes will add further to its capital costs, already Rs 21 crores per MW, compared to Rs 9 crores for domestic reactors and Rs 5 crores for coal-fired power. Even on current (Finnish) estimates, Jaitapur's unit power cost will be Rs 5 to Rs 8-compared to Rs 2 to Rs 3 from other sources, including renewables.

However, the EPR's greatest problem is safety. Nuclear power generation routinely exposes occupational workers and the public to radiation and harmful isotopes. Their effects, including cancer and genetic damage, are incurable. Radiation is unsafe in all doses.

All reactors leave behind high-level wastes which remain hazardous for thousands of years. For instance, the half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,400 years and uranium-235's is 710 million years. Science hasn't found a way of safely storing, leave alone neutralising, radioactive waste. When a reactor exhausts its economic life of 25 to 40 years, it must be "decommissioned", or entombed at a cost that's one-third to one-half the construction cost.
All these hazards are unacceptable. The Jaitapur reactors pose an additional one: the high temperature of the cooling water discharged into the sea. This will be 5 øC hotter and destroy mangroves, corals and numerous marine species, reducing oxygen availability precipitously.

The EIA conducted by the ill-reputed National Environmental Engineering Research Institute hasn't analysed these effects, or the ecosystem's carrying capacity. And it doesn't even mention high-level wastes! Yet, the MoEF cleared the project for political reasons a week before French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit last December.

Jaitapur is an unmitigated disaster, undertaken only to pander to the crisis-ridden global nuclear industry, which is desperate for new orders. More than 150 reactors (world total, 420) are due to retire in 10 to 20 years. Only 60 new reactors are being planned, two-thirds of them in China, India and South Korea, and hardly any in the West, where there's greater environmental awareness and longer experience with nuclear power.
Globally, nuclear power has exhausted its technological potential. It has a bleak future. India must stop chasing the nuclear power mirage-and drop Jaitapur.

email: bidwai@


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The new Union minister for petroleum and natural gas Jaipal Reddy can implement the brightest ideas from the smartest bureaucrats and yet the root of the problem that resulted in the murder of Mr Yashwant Sonawane, a district official in Maharashtra who sought to curb the adulteration of petrol by the kerosene mixing mafia, will not be touched unless India's fuel pricing policy is shaped by the logic of simple economics. Various estimates have been provided in the past few days of the size of the domestic black market in kerosene. Some put it upwards of Rs 16,000 crore annually. This is a huge amount of money that can finance large and even globally powerful mafias, not to mention two-bit gangsters like the ones who killed Mr Sonawane. There was a time when Mumbai was in the grip of smugglers. With some simple policy steps like lower tarrifs, liberalization of gold imports and such like these all-powerful mafias were marginalized and largely confined to Bollywood movies. In the case of kerosene and diesel an export smugglers mafia has been created with India's lower priced fuels smuggled to Nepal and Bangladesh.

Mr Reddy has come forward with several ideas to deal with the problem of petrol adulteration. Few of them are new. Most of these ideas would have been dusted out of old ministry files and presented to him by his officials. Chemical markers for subsidized kerosene and the use of new communications technology may be helpful, and will certainly increase government expenditure, but may not put an end to adulteration and the role of mafia if price differentials between alternative fuels are not reduced. Mr Reddy is not a diehard socialist, nor an admirer of Stalinist bureaucracies. He began his political career as a Swatantrite, an admirer of Bertrand Russel, Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Minoo Masani. He is more a rationalist than a socialist. His liberal and rational instincts should take him in the direction of rational economics. The only way in which mafias get eliminated is by the elimination of the economic basis for their existence. It is not prohibition that finally ended the power and wealth of bootleggers and illicit liquor mafia but a liberal policy that allowed the sale of properly priced alcohol. This is not to reject or deny the need for proper policing. But, as the Nashik tragedy showed, policing is not an efficient means to address the problem.


 As a first step, the government must reduce the price differential between diesel, kerosene and petrol. This will not only have the positive effect of reducing the fiscal burden of the humungous oil subsidy, but also encourage a more rational use of both diesel and kerosene. The under-pricing of these two fuels has encouraged the growth of highly energy-inefficient and environmentally dangerous means of power generation and fuel utilization. Moreover, for an import-dependent country like India subsidized fuel increases the trade deficit and contributes to external payments problems.

Against all such economic arguments there would be socialist and populist views that would flag the cause of the poor. An inclusive democracy like India must offer some subsidy to the poor. However, the gap between alternative fuels and between market price and the subsidized price should not be as big as it presently is between petrol, diesel and kerosene. Conceding the equity argument, we still believe there is a case for reducing the margin. There is no substitute for a rational price policy especially in the case of imported fuels.





Between the Reserve Bank of India, the Union finance ministry and the army of economic advisors that surround Prime Minister Manmohan Singh no one seems to have a clue about how to get a grip over food inflation. Not only has the recent episode of high food prices seen surprisingly sharp spikes in the prices of vegetables and fruit but it has lasted longer than any other episode of inflation in recent memory. At the end of a long consultation earlier this month the prime minister reportedly said in exasperation that nobody seemed to know what to do! Apart from the usual mantras on the pursuit of supportive monetary and fiscal policies, the only other substantial idea forthcoming related to the reform and liberalization of agricultural product markets. Economists have expressed surprise that higher prices do not seem to be sending adequate market signals to the producer to increase supply. After all, supply can respond fairly quickly to price signals in the case of vegetables, where the highest rates of food inflation have been witnessed. The reason for this gap may well lie in the fact that high retail market prices are not translating into adequately attractive farm prices, which means the producer is not getting the price signal, with traders cornering the margins. If this is true, then retail trade liberalization and agricultural marketing reform is called for. Imperfections in agricultural marketing were sought to be removed by the creation of agricultural produce marketing committees. These regulate agricultural mandis and were meant to ensure fair trade, preventing monopolies and cartelization. In practice APMCs have failed to deliver in most states. Several states have amended APMC laws but with little impact on outcomes. The number of intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer in the food trade chain still remains high. This pushes up price at every tier of marketing. Moreover, adequate post-harvest infrastructure for cleaning and grading of produce, its efficient transport, storage and retail are all missing. All this would help transmit retail price signals more effectively to actual producers, enabling supply response.

Another explanation for persistently high food prices could well be the rising demand for food on account of higher income, including the income of the poor. This is not a very popular argument among left wing economists and Congress Party socialists who smugly berate the rising demand hypothesis. But policy makers must consider the possibility and draw appropriate policy conclusions. The rise of India and China has pushed up commodity prices in general and is likely to keep food prices high for a long time as consumption at the bottom of the pyramid rises. Does this mean the world is entering a new phase as far as inflation is concerned? Is the low inflation of the past decade firmly behind us? No informed answers are as yet available.







Has it taken nearly two decades after the introduction of economic reforms and liberalization, including wide ranging industrial decontrol and delicensing, for India's manufacturing sector to revive itself? It would seem so looking at who's at the top among Indian companies.


 The BS 1000, which ranks Indian companies in terms of market capitalization, has shown an interesting trend over the past two decades. On the eve of economic liberalization the top 100, and indeed even the top 20 (see table), was littered with manufacturing companies. While Tata Steel occupied the pride of place at the very top (it does not figure in the top 20 in 2010), Tata Motors was at No.3 (it slipped out of the top 50 in 2000 and has just slipped back in to the top 20 in 2010 — a tribute to Ratan Tata's leadership).

At least six textile companies figured in India's top 20 in 1990, by 2010 not one! Apart from the Tatas, Reliance and a few textile companies the other big manufacturing firm in the top 20 in 1990 was Larsen & Toubro, almost at the very bottom, and it too has experienced an impressive revival of growth by 2010, having slipped out of the top 20 in 2000.

The composition of the top 20 tells a story. If on the eve of liberalization traditional industries and a couple of multinationals were at the top, by 2000 the impact of the information technology revolution and the great Y2K opportunity made its mark. As many as seven of the top 20 companies, in terms of market capitalization, were firms in the information technology business.

The 1990s was the decade of restructuring for many traditional manufacturers in the top 20, and most of them slipped out of even the top 50 by 2000. Among the survivors — Reliance, ITC and Hindustan Lever successfully rode out the post-liberalisation storm and remained in the top 20 even in 2000 — only Reliance was big in large-scale manufacturing. Among the top 20 of 1990, only the Tatas tapped the IT opportunity. Indeed, if the Tatas had not grabbed the IT opportunity in the 1990s, they would not even have figured in the top 20 in 2000, with both Tata Steel and Tata Motors slipping down the list. Only TCS held the flag for the Tatas in the top 20 in 2000, climbing further to the third rank in 2010.

Several interesting trends are discernible at the top from the chart provided here. First, the shift at the top of the Indian business pyramid in the decade of the 1990s was radical. Only three firms survived the decade at the top — ITC, Reliance and Unilever. Equally dramatic, companies that had barely been heard of in 1990 climbed all the way to the top — Wipro, Infosys, HCL, Pentamedia, Zee, Satyam and NIIT. Third, despite all the anxiety caused by the Uruguay Round agreement for the future of Indian pharmaceuticals, two pharma companies — Ranbaxy and Cipla — entered the top 20 in 2000. Finally, a private sector bank unheard of in 1990, HDFC, was there at the top close to the famous SBI!

The changes in the list in the subsequent decade draw attention to the rising importance of resource-based companies, a phenomenon widely commented upon in recent months in the context of the growing concern about crony capitalism and the advantages conferred upon incumbents by a new licence-permit Raj. Consequently, if manufacturers had a pride of place in 1990, few of them did in 2010.

Not only did information technology based firms continue to remain at the top (TCS, Infosys and Wipro in the top 20, with Satyam not surviving its moment of glory in 2000), but resource-based companies like ONGC, Coal India, NTPC, MMTC, NMDC, IOC have all climbed to the top. Next come the telecom giant Bharti Airtel and banks and finance companies. India's manufacturers are represented in the top 20 by L&T and the resurgent Tata Motors.

At the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century it is difficult to forecast what the composition of the top 20 would look like in 2020. It is entirely possible that resource-based companies, especially in scarce commodities, will dominate the top. It is also possible that IT and telecom companies will not remain as big as they are if competition increases the number of players and restricts the size of incumbents. It is possible that banks and financial firms will grow bigger with consolidation.





Tata Steel


Reliance Industries


Hindustan Unilever


Tata Motors

Infosys Technologies


Century Textiles


Coal India

Hindustan Unilever


Infosys Technologies




Reliance Industries

HCL Technologies



Pentamedia Graphics

Bharti Airtel


Zee Entertainment





SIV Industries


Larsen & Toubro


St Bk of India





Bajaj Holdings

Satyam Computer


Saurashtra Cement

Tata Communications


Uniphos Enterprises

Ranbaxy Labs.


Bombay Dyeing





Indian Oil Corp

Larsen & Toubro


Tata Motors

Nestle India



However, if manufacturers have to return to the top, in a more competitive market, chances are that defence equipment manufacturing industries, including in the aviation sector, could rise. If so, both L&T and the Tatas are well-placed to exploit that opportunity, and so might Reliance and Mahindra. The defence opportunity would also help IT companies to grow. An incipient indigenous military-industrial complex could well alter the shape of the top of India's big companies.

Policy planners in government, inspired by the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, have been talking about the need to pursue 'industrial policy' to encourage manufacturing growth. The best way to do this without returning to the discredited policies of the past would be to put in places laws and infrastructure that would promote manufacturing sector growth. The second best option would be to encourage the growth of a strategic industrial sector.

Most major industrial powers have used the defence and strategic sectors to push manufacturing growth. The United States, Russia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Sweden and, more recently Brazil and Malaysia, have promoted manufacturing through the growth of defence and strategic industries. Perhaps India will, too, and that would play an important role in defining who will be at the top of India's business pyramid.







In the backdrop of the ongoing heated debate on the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG)'s report on the 2G spectrum allocation, it seems many of the apprehensions could arise due to limited appreciation in the public mind about the audit process per se and the functioning of the national auditor. It would not be inappropriate at this juncture to look at the role and functions assigned to the CAG by the Constitution.

In fact, the 2G audit report is one of the 100-odd reports produced by the CAG in the last year. In the preparation of all its reports, the institution takes meticulous care by giving adequate opportunity to the organisation audited at different stages, from the initial field audits till the finalisation of the report, to respond to the findings and recommendations of the report. However, only a few reports get wide publicity and are subject to deliberations by the government, the opposition parties, the media and the intelligentsia.


 Since the CAG's audit domain extends to all the receipts and expenditure of the Union, states and Union Territories, public enterprises, autonomous bodies and authorities substantially financed by the government, the institution is mandated to audit all of them. According to Constitutional provisions, the CAG is required to submit his reports to be laid on the table of Parliament and state legislatures for examination by their committees. The committees then make recommendations to the government for taking appropriate corrective and preventive actions.

Though the Indian Constitution makers created the office of the CAG on a pattern more or less identical to that of the UK, an important distinction was that in India the CAG was not made an officer of Parliament but of the Constitution, unlike his UK counterpart. The CAG in India is constitutionally obligated to apprise Parliament and states legislatures that the moneys granted by them have been spent by the executive "with wisdom, faithfulness and economy" and also the accounts of receipts reveal no serious irregularity.

Of the three financial committees of Parliament – the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Committee on Public Undertakings (COPU) and the Estimates Committee – the Estimates Committee comes at the stage of proposals and the CAG has no connection with it. The CAG used to be called in the UK as "the probing spear head", "acting hand", "its guide, philosopher and friend". He was sometimes described as "the official blood hound" in the committee's service, because he "beats the bush and starts the hare; the committee runs it down and the Treasury breaks it up".

In India, the CAG has always been functioning as a watchdog rather than a blood hound. He assists the parliamentary committees with due diligence and prepares a detailed memorandum of important points mentioned in the audit report for circulation to the chairman and other committee members. The committee meets informally before its formal meeting to examine the witnesses. The CAG representatives assist it by providing documentary evidence and adding further questions during the examination to assist the committee in examining the witnesses. The CAG sits on the right side of the chairman and consultations go on between him and the chairman throughout the meeting. In the UK, the CAG is required to sit opposite to the Treasury officials and is allowed to intervene in the deliberation only when specifically asked by the chairman.

The draft reports of the committee are informally sent to the CAG for verification of facts and further comments if any. The CAG's presence is recorded in the proceedings of the committee. Being an adjunct of the parliamentary committees, the relationship of the PAC, COPU and the CAG remains complementary and mutually dependent and is kept beyond the realms of any partisan lineage. He is, therefore, treated as a friend, philosopher and guide to assist technically the committees in discharging their arduous responsibilities. His relationship with the committees is unequivocally objective and purposeful; ensuring that audit critique is objective, impartial, and free from fear or favour, but never irresponsible or obstructive or partisan.

The audit process for CAG's report making is an elaborate exercise. First, the audit plan is prepared on the basis of a risk-based-assessment, following the best benchmarked international practices. While conducting an organisation's performance audit, the audit team communicates its intent, objectives, scope, methodology, approach and evidence-gathering techniques in the entry conference with detailed presentation. The team issues its preliminary observations, obtains the organisation's response and modifies audit findings. Then it issues an Inspection Report to the senior management of the audited entity, specifically urging for replies within a limited time frame. If the response is not forthcoming, the report is issued to the department or the administrative ministry, once again seeking its intervention and response. The report is finalised after undertaking the entire stringent gamut of verification of findings and amendments on the basis of entity's response. The audit team also conducts an exit conference in which it apprises the organisation of its findings and obtains the response of the entity and its administrative ministry, if any. This drill is invariably adhered to giving abundant opportunity to the audited entity to reply to the contention of the audit report before finally processing it as the CAG's report to be placed in Parliament.

The most challenging and critical issue encountered by an auditor in a parliamentary democracy like India is that the audit reports are seldom given due importance and attention except for the exceptional ones that deal with issues of enormous value to the interested stakeholders including the media. Though the CAG's reports discuss significant themes concerning the general public, due to constraints of time and sheer volume of reports, the committees are able to examine only a few selected ones in detail. Unless the reports are deliberated threadbare to find out the root causes of inadequate performance, below the prescribed parameters and timely remedial and preventive actions are taken to avert it, the systemic and procedural lapses will keep cropping up. This will defeat the very purpose of a CAG report in a parliamentary democracy.








"Let China sleep. For, when she wakes up, the world will tremble" 
— Napoleon Bonaparte

"Transformations that in other countries took centuries to accomplish had been telescoped into a few decades in China" — Pallavi Aiyar in Smoke and Mirrors (An Experience of China).


 The recent, well-publicised visit of the Chinese President to the United States, and the news that, as estimated by Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute of International Economics, China's GDP in purchasing power parity terms is already larger than that of the United States, have obviously attracted a lot of media attention (to be sure, some economists disagree with Prof Subramanian's methodology). The Financial Times recently published a series of articles with the collective heading "China Shapes the World," proving Napoleon's point. In terms of GDP at the market exchange rates, it is the second largest, next only to the US (it ranked sixth as recently as 2001), and is projected to become larger than the US by 2017.

The difference in the two GDP calculations can be easily understood by looking at the addition, say, a haircut makes to GDP — at market exchange rates, this is roughly $1 in India and perhaps $20 in the US. PPP calculations are made on the basis that a haircut should add the same amount to GDP. Even in an increasingly globalised world, such price disparities remain, particularly in the non-tradeables sector.

The astounding growth rate of the Chinese economy (10 per cent a year compounded, on an average, between 1979 and 2010), unparalleled in global economic history, and its current size, mean that Chinese economic power and global influence will be increasingly felt in the 21st century. (A corollary would be the internationalisation of the yuan.) The growth is a tribute to the pragmatism of the post-Mao Chinese leadership, and their purposeful pursuit of the strategic objective of beating the "barbarians", as Chinese call foreigners, and re-occupying the prime place in the globe it had occupied until the 15th century.

As a global economic superpower, it also has a large problem on hand: the re-balancing of economic activity with a much lower reliance on exports for growth (China became the largest exporter in the world, beating Germany into second place, in 2009), and an increasingly larger contribution from domestic consumption: she needs to accomplish this as much to mitigate western pressures to up-value its currency faster as to improve the people's living standards, even while maintaining fast growth rates and employment creation. In 2010, for example, its 10.2 per cent growth led to the creation of an estimated 20 million jobs. Job creation on a massive scale and continuing improvements in the standards of living and consumption of the people are a must for social stability which the leadership values above everything else, and also to provide legitimacy to the one-party rule of the Communists, even when they have abandoned the tenets of socialist ideology three decades back.

In one way, the rebalancing is already on the way. As recently as 2007, the current account surplus was 11 per cent of GDP; it had come down to a little less than six per cent by 2009, but has gone up marginally in 2010. The IMF projects it to go up further gradually to eight per cent by 2015. This would surely exacerbate trade friction. In comparison, Japan's surplus was about four per cent of GDP in the 1980s, when it was accused of mercantilism, of wanting to take over the world, and pressured into allowing its currency to appreciate fast. The stagnancy of the Japanese economy in the last two decades is obviously an example of which the Chinese leadership would be wary while framing its policies.

Growth has been maintained despite the sharp fall in the current account surplus, not by increasing domestic consumption, but by increasing investment. Consumption accounts for just 36 per cent of GDP, roughly half other large economies. Household sector savings are not too different from India's but the main difference comes from savings of the corporate sector, particularly the public sector. As Nouriel Roubini wrote recently in Newsweek, "… no country can be so productive that it can take, every year, half its GDP and reinvest it into more capital stock without eventually ending up with a huge excess capacity and a mountain of bad loans. Thus, China needs to radically change its growth model from net exports and investment to reduced saving and more consumption." One way adopted by the authorities to increase consumption is a sharp rise in wages in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors: 15 per cent average last year. Another, perhaps more lasting, would be a sharp hike in dividends by the public sector — and using the funds to improve social security; the less-than-adequate old age pensions and public health services are also reasons for the high savings rate.

However the rebalancing takes place over the medium term, the fact is that, in the 21st century, China will be the most powerful force in the global economy, a point to which I will revert next week.  







The commodity cycle in 2010 has been interesting, defying as it does movements in fundamentals at times. Prices have tended to increase over the year across all categories at a time when the world economy is just about recovering — the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects developed countries to grow by 2.7 per cent in 2010 and emerging markets by 7.1 per cent to bring a cumulative growth of 4.8 per cent for the global economy.

Two issues flow from this. One, if the present increase is being brought about by emerging markets, then when the developed economies grow, there will be a further strain on prices. Two, even farm products have shown an increase in prices when there was no apparent crop failure.


 The accompanying table gives information on global price movements for various commodities over the 12 months to November 2010. There are different stories emerging from various commodity groups. Both gold and silver moved up but the increase in gold price was moderate compared with silver. More interestingly, the traditional link between dollar movements and the price of gold was severed. The dollar movement was quite idiosyncratic — strengthening vis-à-vis the euro when the Greek crisis unfolded and declining subsequently. But bullion held on quite well and became the preferred asset class with investors finding it a safe haven. Silver gained further as investors in the futures markets took greater exposures. Further, the physical demand for silver increased thus putting pressure on the price. The coefficient of correlation between gold and silver prices remained high at 0.93. However, the same between gold and the dollar was -0.1065 against a long-term relation of -0.95. The fact that currencies are volatile and that inflation is a concern given the liberal monetary policies being pursued has made bullion a safe bet.

Non-precious metals follow the rules of demand and supply. Demand is normally associated with the upswing in the economic cycle. Has the cycle turned? One is not sure as central banks are still pursuing liberal monetary policies to provide liquidity and keep rates low so that the recovery can follow. Metal prices declined in the middle of the year at the time of the Greek crisis and then moved up.

Crude oil has shown an increase on a point to point basis, though there were phases when the price remained at lower levels. The price rise was also sharp in euro terms thus challenging the argument that prices were up only due to the weak dollar. Quite clearly, higher demand as well as the seasonal winter effect has fuelled this price increase.


Range of price change 
% (Nov-Nov)



Zinc, Rice


Aluminium, Lead


Crude oil, Barley, Sugar


Sorghum, Copper, Nickel, Gold, Steel


Soy oil, Wheat


Coffee, Groundnut oil, Palm oil, Maize, Rubber

Above 50

Copra, Coconut oil, Cotton, Urea, Tin, Silver, Iron

Source: World Bank

Agriculture has been a curious case because despite sanguine projections for most crops, with minor distortions coming in wheat (Russia), prices have increased. USDA data shows higher production levels for rice, oilseeds, oils, cotton and sugar. Yet, prices have shown an upward tendency. This is a concern because it shows that overall farm growth has not kept pace with demand, so prices are being dragged upwards. This is a kind of a wake-up call across the world to bring about the necessary farm improvements as demand would tend to grow at a steady rate and has to be met with enhanced supplies. In fact, in several developing countries like India, which are witnessing high growth, lower levels of deprivation have increased demand for food products and higher growth in future will bring more people into the consumption stream which will put further pressure on prices.

2010 has quite clearly been a boom time for commodities where rising prices have delivered good returns to investors, even though consumers, both at the retail and industry level, paid more for their products. Looking ahead in 2011, growth should pick up in developed countries, which means that demand for non-precious metals will remain bullish unless there is a downward curve for the emerging markets, which looks unlikely because consolidation is in place. Bullion will be a favourite as currencies remain unstable and central banks pursue easy money policies. One is still talking of QE3, which means that interest rates will remain low and funds will flow to the emerging markets, and bullion will draw the benefits of being a safe anchor. Crude price will depend on OPEC in general, as demand will remain steady. With the dollar-euro struggle to persist, crude will remain stable in the range of $80 to $100 a barrel. Farm products will continue to be driven by the major producers and weather conditions in India, the US, Brazil, Russia and China in particular will swing the direction. Given the maintenance of income growth, a downward movement is unlikely and a gradual increase is possible. In short, looked at from any way, we will remain up on the commodity cycle in 2011. That is good news for investors.

(The author is Chief Economist, CARE Ratings. The views expressed are personal)









Writing on corruption and probity in public life, ancient political theorist Chanakya started with a slightly banal observation in the Arthashastra: "Just as a fish moving deep under water cannot be possibly found out either as drinking or not drinking water, government servants may not be found out while taking money for themselves."

Then, reflecting darkly on the mysterious opaqueness of the inner wheels of governance, he had a remarkable insight, "It is possible to ascertain the movement of birds flying high in the sky, but it is not possible to ascertain the movement of government servants or their hidden purposes."


Historians still argue whether the Chanakya of the Arthashastra was really the same Chanakya who is said to have guided Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of the first truly pan-Indian empire but there is no question that his understanding of the sinister-sounding 'hidden purposes' of government servants sounds as true for Manmohan Singh's government as it might have to Mauryan ears.


Consider the knots the government has tied itself in over the curious case of Polayil Joseph Thomas. The Kerala cadre IAS officer was appointed Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) at the height of the hysteria over corruption in the Commonwealth Games, but at a time when telecom was clearly emerging as the next big scandal.


The Comptroller and Auditor General's damning report on spectrum allocations by the Telecom Ministry was about to be made public and you didn't need to be a rocket scientist to see that there could be a clear conflict of interest between his last job as Telecom Secretary and his new one as India's vigilance czar.


The controversial 2G allocations were, of course, made before Thomas' time but critics argue that he did not set Sanchar Bhawan on fire either with a clean-up or with action against 69 of the 122 telecom licencees who did not roll out services as they were required. In fact, he presided over the Telecom Ministry at a time when it was vigorously questioning if CAG had any power at all to audit the allocation of 2G licences.


But so intent was the government in appointing him CVC that it scored a self-goal by over-ruling the Leader of Opposition who openly dissented. The resulting outcry and ongoing challenge in the Supreme Court has meant that we now have the irony of a Vigilance chief who not only has had to excuse himself from overlooking the greatest corruption scandal of the decade, but also a pending chargesheet against himself.


This is not a judgment on whether Thomas is innocent of the charges against him or not. Indeed, he must be held innocent on every count, unless proven otherwise. This is about propriety in constitutional appointments and upholding basic principles.


The government erred on two counts. First, the very rationale of including the Leader of Opposition in the CVC's selection committee is to have bipartisan consensus on such a crucial appointment, and to check the government of the day from making a politically motivated choice.

By over-ruling Sushma Swaraj, the government exposed itself to the charge of blatantly fixing appointments when it should have been reassuring the public that it was serious about cleaning up. Why have an Opposition Leader on any selection committee when she will always lose in a majority verdict in any case?


Second, we now have a mea culpa from the Attorney General himself that Thomas' service record presented before the selection committee did not list that he had decade-old chargesheet still pending in the palmolein oil import scandal. In fact, RTI records show that his service record presented by the Department of Personnel did not mention his tenure as Kerala Food Secretary, when the controversial purchase took place. This is an astonishing revelation, especially when all personnel records are computerised. Manipulating files is known to be an old bureaucratic trick, but to not have them in order for such a high-profile appointment? Can anyone then be blamed for suspecting 'the hidden purposes' of government servants for such a huge oversight?

As the government response moved from an obdurate defence of its choice of CVC, to quiet behind-the-scenes implorations for a resignation, one thing has remained constant: PJ Thomas' insistence that he is innocent, coupled with the argument that his chargesheet in Kerala was the result of being caught in a political crossfire between the Congress and the Left. May be. Maybe not. We won't know till we have a judicial verdict.


Meanwhile, surely he can see that the institution he heads will continue to be clouded until he is cleared. Thomas did not appoint himself. The government did and politically speaking, this is a self-made mess. But perhaps the gracious thing to do now is for the CVC to step down, rather than being forced out.








AHUGE business opportunity is passing India by: India-specific applications for smartphones and tablet computers. Smartphones are going to replace the basic mobile phone sooner than people imagine, and not just in urban centres. The rate at which the price of these gadgets is falling had not been foreseen even 10 months ago. While the Apple iPad is an expensive device and will remain beyond the reach of most Indian consumers, what it does is to trigger the launch of thousands of computing tablets, some more capable than the iPad, and some very, very affordable. What these smartphones and tablets have in common is an appetite for applications, known only as apps, developed by third parties and made available for download and installation at the consumer's choice on his device. The majority of apps on the Android platform are free, while you have to pay for the majority of apps meant for Apple's i operating systems. The vast majority of the apps now available cater to the lifestyle needs of post-industrial, urbanised societies, with a bias towards entertainment or self-engagement. While a tiny section of Indians, too, would be completely at home with such apps, the much larger market looking for practical utility is badly underserved. Indian companies need to come up with apps that will have a direct connect with the daily lives of Indians and meet needs they are not even aware can be met through a gadget. Nursery school or college admissions in Delhi, planning weddings, tracking traffic jams and alternate route possibilities in any town in India — the possibilities are endless. App developers lure customers by giving stripped-down versions free and then charging nominal sums for value-added versions. Millions of downloads make for serious moolah. The apps that are developed for India would lend themselves to customisation for much of the developing world as well.


Telecom companies that are looking at bleak growth from call revenues have every reason to take the lead and encourage app developers and operating system developers to work together. Developing apps by the thousands would pave the way for Indian IT entrepreneurs to bridge the gap between services and products as well.






THE government's proposal to allow Indian companies easier access to US equity markets through American Depository Receipts in order to counter the slowdown in foreign direct investment (FDI) smacks of a dogged refusal to address what really ails FDI flows into India: lack of policy clarity, policy flip-flop, procedural delays, corruption, in short, all the reasons listed in the World Bank's Report on Doing Business in India where we are ranked a low 134, below Cape Verde and Malawi and just above West Bank and Gaza. ADRs do make some investible resources available to domestic industry, but is devoid of the specific benefits associated with FDI, namely, strategic vision for business growth in the country, technological know-how and managerial expertise. If the government is seriously concerned about our rising current account deficit, estimated at about 3.5% of GDP, an issue that the Reserve Bank of India has also flagged, it needs to look for ways to increase genuine, rather than sham, FDI flows. FDI, unlike foreign institutional investment (FII) flows that are easy-come-easy-go, is not only sticky but also has huge positive externalities in the form of ancillary industries and employment opportunities. Today, it is hard to think of, say, Suzuki exiting India, certainly not with the ease of some foreign institutional investor. All the more reason why the government should try to reverse the recent trend in overseas capital flows characterised by a decline direct investment and a rise in portfolio flows.

But ensuring reliable funding of our current account deficit (CAD) is only one side of the problem. Getting our CAD/GDP ratio under control is vital. This means getting our fiscal deficit or excess government spending under control. A current account deficit represents the extent to which a country draws on resources from the rest of the world. For a developing country like India, it supplements available domestic resources. However, a CAD beyond a certain point, say, 3% of GDP, might prove unsustainable. Hence, even as we try to alter the composition of flows in favour of FDI, we must also work at reducing the size of the CAD. Reducing the current account deficit essentially means raising the level of domestic savings to account for a larger share of investment. A two-pronged attack and a search for genuine solutions is the only way forward.







INDIA is now quite used to certain uniquely desi business phenomena giving western universities plenty of food for thought, but a look across our eastern border should give us something to chew on too. Egged on by claims that it's tougher to make it to the burger school than conventional business school — only 1% of applicants make the cut — the evocatively named Hamburger University in Shanghai has been drawing in the creme of Chinese youth for the past 10 months. The company's original burger school back in the US has apparently rolled out some 80,000 top-grade Mcmanagers in 50 years, but there is every chance that China's billions will soon make mincemeat of that figure. The idea, presumably, is to mould well-ground(ed) managerial Mccadre who will never think out of the bun, let alone fly the coop to the competition. And that may mean that Ronald McDonald could come within sniffing distance of Colonel Sanders in the race to capture mainland China's fastfood market.


 So far, there has been no indication of a similar institution being contemplated here, but there is nothing to stop Indian entities taking the cue. Even though Indians have shown a tendency to (ca)noodle with Chinese food, the desi palate has tended to throw all international recipes for success out of the window. So, with the world increasingly warming to Indian flavours, there could also be a sizzling market for a Curry College or a Tandoori Tech, a Chaat School or an Annam University, with both local and external campuses. There is enough temptation for potential entrants into the Indian market — and for those who wish to cash in on the masala boom abroad — to flock there to study what's really cooking.





THE imperative of global demand rebalancing requires domestic demand in emerging market economies (EMEs) to grow faster, and structural reforms to be implemented in both developed and developing countries, if the world is to return to pre-crisis levels of growth.


In this context, the Indian Prime Minister's suggestion at the Seoul G20 Summit that global imbalances could be leveraged to address developmental imbalances, including, inter alia, bridging the infrastructure deficit in developing countries, was widely welcomed.


There has been large, but uneven, investment in infrastructure in developing countries. However, the big gap with advanced countries, especially in urban infrastructure, needs to be quickly bridged. Over the next few decades, more people would move into urban areas in developing countries than the number residing in cities presently. By any measure, the financing requirements for urban infrastructure are mind-boggling. Several trillion dollars of investment is needed for orderly and environmental-friendly urbanisation.


Cross-border infrastructure — broadly defined to include wholly nationallyowned infrastructure with cross-border connectivity to contiguous countries — is also particularly deficient mainly due to the difficulties of burden-sharing in international cooperation and the problem of political risk. Since intra-regional trade (especially in Asia) is growing faster than the total world trade, greater cross-border connectivity is needed, particularly in South Asia, which is the least integrated region in the world.


The absorptive capacity of several developing countries, including those in Africa, which have been growing at much faster rates than before, has increased of late. Large infrastructure investments will increase national income and also make higher developing country growth rates more sustainable. This would also help converge national per capita incomes and help bridge the development gap.


Infrastructure development typically requires huge public investment. While the fiscal position of EMEs is now generally better than those of advanced countries, national budgets would nevertheless need to be substantially augmented to meet the huge demands for infrastructure. There is a basic difference between public investment in infrastructure and most other kinds of public expenditure. The latter tends to deprive the private sector of resources that could be invested to boost growth, except during economic downturns, while public investment in infrastructure actually 'crowds in' more private investment by increasing investment opportunities and returns. It frequently involves building ahead of demand, on account of its multiplier, productivity and crowding-in effects. Public borrowing for infrastructure is consequently eminently justified as it will pay for itself through higher growth and revenues.


The challenge is to direct the large savings available in the global economy, which were in the recent past directed towards unsustainable leveraged consumption in developed countries, to infrastructure, especially urban and cross-border infrastructure, in developing countries.


However, historical experience and current trends suggest that infrastructure investment is a big challenge in the best of circumstances. With many an advanced economy facing recession, their national budgets are in disarray and foreign aid is likely to shrink in real terms.


 SINCE most of these excess global savings are generated in developing countries themselves, rebalancing also requires an 'enabling environment' for investment so that these savings are spent on infrastructure and not exported, especially since most accumulated savings in the EMEs remain with central banks rather than with governments.


To direct savings towards developing country infrastructure, public expenditure patterns must shift from subsidies to allocating more taxpayer funds for infrastructure investment.


Secondly, more private savings need to be attracted to infrastructure through public-private partnerships. This would entail a more enabling investment environment, especially greater political support for user charges to facilitate cost recovery, and development and deepening of financial markets, including long-term finance.
    Thirdly, it must be recognised that the bulk of such investments would have to be publicly funded or guaranteed, as has been the case in the past. Private investment is likely to be limited to some sectors such as telecom, transport and power. Therefore, residual, unabsorbed, private savings would need to be redirected to government debt for investment directly or indirectly in infrastructure. What level of public debt is sustainable? While this depends on potential growth and interest rates, the Domar debt sustainability equation indicates that given higher levels of growth, the public debt bearing capacity of developing countries is higher than that of developed countries.


Fourthly, while a greenfield international investment fund is a possibility, this would be akin to existing multilateral development banks (MDBs). MDBs have a wealth of experience and expertise in the area of infrastructure financing to channelise global surpluses productively into financing infrastructure in developing countries. They can mop up the global savings glut and redirect the resources to infrastructure investment, thereby shifting the utilisation of these savings from leveraged consumption to leveraged investment. This will require massive recapitalisation of MDBs, currently being resisted in certain quarters. Only a small proportion of this, however, needs to be paid up; the balance could be in the form of callable capital against which MDBs could borrow from governments and international markets, giving returns slightly higher than US Treasury Bonds.


The advantage of MDB intermediation is that this would address political and repayment risks, since governments would generally be more willing to lend to and counter guarantee MDBs than individual countries. MDBs need not pass on such large funds as project finance, as this would require huge expansion of MDB staff and capacity. The same objective could be achieved through national budget programme support.


An earlier version of this article     appeared as G-24 Policy Brief # 61     (The author is a civil servant.
    Views are personal.)








IT HAS become abundantly clear in January 2011 that the government has no viable prescription to tame the food inflation of 16-18%. Vegetables, milk and pulses are now a prime headache, while prices of grains, oilseeds and edible oil are within manageable limits. Though the authorisation of January 1 for export 5 lakh tonnes of sugar was fundamentally flawed, no one expected that panic reaction on onion prices will derail this export policy. Instructions to income tax officers to raid onion traders were weird. The announcement on the continuation of the ban on non-basmati rice or halting export of wheat products (wheat flour) is irrelevant to inflation. The pressure on food prices will continue.


Though the current level of Indian food inflation is precariously alarming, this is moderate when compared with the rest of world. Internationally, wheat/corn have spiked by 60-70%, soybean 80-90% and sugar almost 90-100% during last six months. The wrath of weather gods has shrunk production prospects in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Russia and the US, while China is importing more corn and soybean in a rising market. Nevertheless, inflation in India is sending warning signals.


Forecasting of food pricing has undergone a paradigm shift and old remedies for containment of inflation cannot be applied. The arithmetic of 'today's' supply/ demand and stocks cannot be the sole criterion for policy formulations. Severe volatility in futures markets due to the lightening speed of information, diversion of agro products for ethanol/biodiesel and their linkage to crude oil price, increased weather unpredictability, interventionist and monetary policies of governments, turbulence in stock markets, aggression of hedge funds in commodities, speculation on certainty/uncertainty of coming harvests, seeking political arbitrage due to the media and communication revolution, complexity in Centrestates relationships, coalition compulsions — all this and much more have outdated the task of reining in prices by the traditional bureaucratic apparatus.


According to sociologist Max Weber, bureaucracy follows rational and systematic means of operation at the expenseofspeedandefficiency.Bureaucracy cannot provide rapid response in new high-paced economic jungle. Alvin Toffler, the futuristic sociologist, opined 30 years ago that the bureaucratic system will not be workable in the 21st century as it is 'precedent based' for decisionmaking. Rate of change in the era of 'future shock' has no room for precedents. He anticipated 'adhocracy' to be more effective than bureaucracy. Handling of voluminous information hitting computer terminals at electronic speed demands 'fire-fighting' reactions. The procedure has to be simply bypassed for lessening hierarchical ladders.


In the Indian context, while long-term plans can be assigned to bureaucratic structure, short-term market response (domestic/international) requires 'adhocracy'. Neither bureaucracy nor 'adhocracy' can be trusted with the ethics of nobility. But 'adhocracy' carries the merit of speed and efficiency.


On January 21, China partially secured itself for the 2011-12 requirement of soybeans by a making a single non-tendered adhoc purchase of 11 million tonnes (worth $7 billion) from US agro giants Cargill, Bunge and ADM. (Annual Chinese import of beans has escalated to more than 50 million tonnes.) This could be an advance exercise of stockpiling to meet the growing demand. This is the new world order emerging, buying in rising market, and China showing the way of adhocracy.


Such situations/contingencies might arise in India, too. Political will needs to be mustered for framing a code of conduct of 'adhocracy' for bureaucrats, identifying in advance players/departments that will run this adhoc mechanism and naming the institution to whom such a system will be accountable. It can become operational for 'action' whenever emergency arises and will not be subservient to craziness of antique rules. Research in 'adhocracy' calls this as the bureau-adhocracy. And such a system cannot be termed 'scam' as this will operate under an authorised adhoc procedure.









LAST week, we met Mrs Soma Mukherjee in rural Bengal. She lives in a two-room home with her six-year-old daughter, her mother-in-law and her husband, who works as a mason. Her daughter goes to the school nearby. Her house has basic furniture, a colour TV, a DVD player and represents what we would call Middle India. Mrs Mukherjee's household expenditure has spiralled out of control in recent months. As a result, she has cut back on eggs, has switched to a coarser rice that costs less, consumes less cooking oil, uses the same washing powder for utensils that she washes her clothes with and has stopped using the cosmetic cream that she loves. Despite these sacrifices, she is unable to save any money.


Take a look at the data. NCAER-CMCR has divided the country into five income quintiles based on the National Survey of Household Income and Expenditure. The top quintile (20% or about 45 million households) accounts for almost 52% of aggregate income and 39% of consumption. However, they account for an even larger 45% of aggregate non-food consumption. This is the upper class that has driven a bulk of the incremental consumption in India. They have adopted a whole set of new categories and their consumption baskets have widened dramatically. This set of consumers epitomises the surging confidence of India having arrived. Considering that this quintile contributes almost 93% of aggregate savings, food inflation will have no impact on it.


Then there are the bottom two quintiles (40% or 90 million households) that account for 14% of income and 22% of consumption. Their share of food consumption is 26% and non-food consumption 17%. They spend a bulk of their income on food (63) and buy the bare necessities in terms of non-food items. Given their massive spend on food, these are households that are being squeezed with inflation. They are being forced to make even greater sacrifices than they are normally used to. However, there is no impact on their savings since these households did not save money anyway.


The most transformative impact, however, is felt by households like Mrs Mukherjee's. These are households that fall in the middle two quintiles (40% or 90 million households). These households account for almost 34% of aggregate income and 39% of aggregate consumption. They spend about 54% of their income on food and about 5-7% each on housing, education, clothing, durables, health, transport and other nonfood items. Their spend on food has now spiralled up to 65-67% of their income. To cope with this, they are the ones that are likely to cut back consumption where possible, buy cheaper products given alternatives, postpone the purchase of little indulgences and cut out discretionary spend altogether. With food sucking up more of their incomes their saving is likely to disappear altogether.


What happens to Middle India will affect the Indian consumption story. Many categories that form a part of routine consumption could see a slowdown in growths. Equally, there could be downtrading with consumers buying cheaper products as they seek to cope.


However, what is even more significant is the impact on consumer confidence. After all, the Indian consumption story is not just based on what happens today but the confidence and the hope of a better tomorrow. Middle India today accounts for only 15% of aggregate household savings. With burgeoning spend on food, savings will evaporate. Tragically, this drop in savings will be invisible at the aggregate level given the relatively low contribution of this consumer class to overall household savings.


While consumption attitudes may be severely affected in Middle India, life will continue as usual for the top quintile of households. Their attitudes will continue to remain positive since they will see little or no impact on their disposable incomes due to inflation.


As a result of the difference between the impact on the top quintile and the middle quintiles, the structure of consumption could become even more polarised. We could see a schizophrenic situation with a widening disparity in consumption and attitudes amongst the top and middle.


This volatility and structural shift in consumption will have consequences for both companies and policy-making. Companies will need to be far more flexible in understanding and navigating this new reality. The need for clarity on which consumer to target, how to play the product portfolio, clarity on what will drive growth, the role of pricing and innovation, and the need to weed out all unwarranted costs will be ever more important.


From a policy perspective, however, it is clear that food inflation is a national crisis of economic, social and emotional well-being that will affect not just the poor but also Middle India. If this is not addressed with urgency, there could be a slow down in consumption. But the real damage will be to confidence, well-being and social disparity.


 (Vittal is executive director and a member of     the board of HUL. Shukla is director of     NCAER-CMCR.)






DRIFT and procrastination and the consequent listlessness and drag can be counted as the major causes for poor time management. Often, this state within manifests without as hurry, frenzy and busy-bee living. The concerned persons constantly complain of the problem of 'no time'. Some even go to the extent of finding alibis and excuses for inaction in the claim that their 'commitments' and 'problems' are more than those of others! Such exhibitions are classic examples of drowning oneself in mere 'activities' instead of doing so in real 'action'!


Analysis of such pathetic state of affairs would reveal the causes of this malady. These would vary from case to case. Tendencies to escapism from having to face oneself square on; morbid obsession to impress others by becoming a 'workaholic' through managing to find something to be occupied with always; lack of assertiveness, ending living by others' priorities, trying to please all, though, finally ending up pleasing none; inability to plan, organise, control and review — the list would go on thus. The unfortunate victim would be afflicted by one or more of such 'bugs'!


In short, the situation is that of three 'Cs' within (confusion, clutter and conflict), which invariably lead to three 'Ds' (drag, delay and deferment).


Healthy and frank analysis and synthesis would enable the seeker to apply brakes when and where necessary, weed out those needless issues, not necessary for his own pursuit and thus focus only on those which matter.

This, truly, is the process of casting away too many 'irons in the fire' and thus arriving at the answer to the inner query, 'Quo Vadis?' and in consequence, progressing to knowing one's work upon this earth (swadharma). This process, when persisted with intelligently, would lead, naturally also to that supreme freedom — that freedom from the three 'Cs' and the three 'Ds' and various other afflicting aberrations. The Bhagavad Gita, referring (2,45; 5-3, 25) to conflicts (dwanda), also conceives (5-27, 28) of being thus liberated (mukta) from various 'enemies within'.


This liberation and clarity also lead to the portals of those virtues of briskness, efficiency, effectiveness and joie de vivre. In these lie the capacity to pack much real work into one's limited time. This joyful clarity, and this alone, is worthy time management!







Ambiguous regulations compounded by opaque accountability — and not the lack of funds — must be blamed for delays in worthwhile projects.

It is one tradition that will not die easily: as North Block plans for its Budget presentation in February, claims on it for funds are made almost every day by one arm of the government or other. Till a few months ago, almost every department was talking the same language of fiscal prudence, the need to trim budgetary spends to the most efficient and necessary. As the new year gets underway and the fiscal year draws to a close, however, the clamour for more public money can be heard echoing in the corridors of North Block. So is it this year, with the Planning Commission now stretching out its hands for a larger share of budgetary allocations to complete the targets of the Eleventh Plan in its terminal year. What should North Block do?

At first glance, Mr Pranab Mukherjee may find it difficult to refuse. The Planning Commission, after all, oversees many core projects that would help economic growth and the government's flagship programmes for inclusion. The Plan panel's argument that the Eleventh Plan had been denied 20 per cent additional budgetary resources on account of such contingencies as the fiscal stimulus and subsidies and Sixth Pay Commission awards also appears reasonable. But it is not. The reasons for targets slipping do not lie in the lack of funds but in the dismal delivery mechanism that has become a hallmark of almost every public project all through every Plan. Innumerable reports by official agencies attest to the poor record of target fulfilment. Consider the power sector: the Eleventh Plan target of an addition of 78,577 MW in five years has been scaled down twice; the Planning Commission first reduced it to 62,000 MW and recently, the Power Ministry expressed doubts about that too, suggesting a more modest 55,000 MW. And why have there been delays or cutbacks in targets? The Plan panel and Power Ministry blame shortages of equipment and technical glitches, but the latter is just a euphemism for land acquisition and environment clearance issues. The Economic Survey last year dolefully noted a poor record of road contracts under the National Highway Development Programme. Similarly, in primary education for instance, funds are not the problem so much as the quality of education, with school drop-out rates still far too high.

Unlike the past, lack of funds cannot be blamed for tardiness in, or absence of, worthwhile projects. The causes lie in the "eco-system" of arcane or ambiguous regulations and opaque accountability; so long as that does not change, targets will remain elusive.






The policy mandarins in New Delhi cite rising incomes, thanks to high growth, as the cause of inflation. This story of optimism is not borne out by the growth of the unorganised sector. Besides, it is perverse to blame NREGA for inflation.

January 31, 2011:  

Last week's third quarter review of the economy and the repo rate hikes by the Reserve Bank of India confirm the English-speaking, urban middle class' increasing acceptance of three broad but connected streams of perception: One, that GDP growth is not just climbing to the trajectory of the halcyon days of pre-September 2008 but is about the best in the world, a feature that makes India one of the most uniquely admirable economies in the world; second, inflation is at an "elevated" pitch and could derail growth, but the RBI is at the controls monitoring its intricate by-ways with cold efficiency; third, if inflation persists despite the RBI's best efforts, blame it on the way demand for non-cereal foods has outpaced supply.

Incomes, a freshly-minted argument goes, have risen even in the rural sector, because of enhanced minimum support prices and the NREGA that has put additional purchasing power in the hands of those who did not have any and who now add to the growing volume of demand that, in turn, pushes up prices of the most essential foodgrains.


These three strands create their own sub-texts that have also insinuated their way into the popular discourse. One, GDP growth of around 8-9 per cent on the back of rising industrial output and services vindicates the government's cheery economic outlook about and aggressive authorship of, India's economic destiny.

So, despite all the mud that sticks to virtually every minister and the fact that just about a third of India's population has anything to do with GDP-led prosperity, India stands tall among a sea of countries sobbing at the sink, as the developed world copes with new financial skeletons tumbling out of their cupboards.

Second, the best option for inflation control is the stern hand of the RBI even if it admits that to a large extent, inflation is a consequence of shortages and "supply constraints" beyond its control (global prices and domestic incomes rising far ahead of supply) — and not the government's stasis or activity bereft of meaning.

Small wonder then that the moment price indices inch up, eyes turn towards the RBI and wise sages nod at the prospect of another rate hike, disregarding the fact that despite a year of such hikes, inflation still governs our lives.

Finally, the third subtext recently disseminated suggests rising incomes as both the consequence of rejuvenated growth (pioneered by the step-up in government expenditures and fiscal stimulus) and the cause of inflation.


The idea that rising incomes are responsible for food inflation is a perverse one; recall that the Bush administration blamed India's new-found prosperity to explain away the speculative rise in global food prices in 2008. Despite some righteous anger from New Delhi, the message seems to have wormed its way into the policymaker's psyche, for we now have them telling us that the very growth they are supposed to have piloted is to blame for the price rise.

Consider the argument for what it is worth. Could incomes have risen so extensively and steeply as to cause a shift in food habits enough to create persistent and double-digit spikes in food prices? That assumption would rest on the premise of growing and sustained employment across sectors, leading to an almost universal rise in incomes.

The available data do not bear out any large scale sustained employment in manufacturing over the magical period since 2004. The Arjun Dasgupta committee on employment showed that the informal economy accounted for more than 80 per cent of total employment and calculated that by 2017 more than 95 per cent of the workforce would find jobs in the unorganised sector, a trend almost endorsed by the findings of the Economic Census for 2005; more than 95 per cent of the total establishments employed less than five workers; a fraction, just 1.51 per cent of the firms had more than 10 workers, confirming the informal economy as the prime employer in India's manufacturing.

What about employment in the organised that is the registered industrial segment? First, it employs a tiny fraction of total workforce: but what kind of employment does it enjoy?

A study by the United States Labour Department (published in Monthly Labour Review May 2010) on India's organised sector production workers found the size of contract workers (with slimmer pay packages and few privileges) almost doubling, from 15 per cent to 28 per cent, between 1998 and 2005. If contract workers are becoming the fashion, then, clearly, employment in the organised sector is not what it is made up to be in the air-conditioned halls of seminar rooms.

And neither is the size of incomes enough to warrant a "demand pressure" on prices.


What about NREGA adding to purchasing power and inflation? According to official data in 2009-10, the scheme provided work for some 45 million that were out of any assured work for any time of the year, especially women.

The argument that the entry of the dispossessed into the food "market" causes supply problems surely casts doubt on the assiduously-built reputation of self-sufficiency in foodgrains, of surplus buffer stocks and of grain exports.

The RBI is worried about the build-up in "demand pressures" from higher wages for NREGA. When did the marginalised become akin to urban consumers that create overheated demand for real-estate, thus calling for monetary intervention? And what can be more perverse than the worry that higher pay for NREGA beneficiaries would stoke inflation?

Leave aside the suspicion that India's ruling elite has passionately embraced the notion of twisting reality or ignoring parts of it to conform to pet economic predilections. We are now led to believe that the villains are the people. For the UPA-2 dream merchants, reality must behave.






Marriages are made in heaven is the common adage, but Mumbaiites seem to prefer Bangkok. Mumbai five-star hotels bill no less than Rs 2,300 per plate, apart from a host of other charges, complained a businessman.

And usually, the minimum number of invitees would be more than 1,000, (being the home country, the groom and the bride tend to invite more people), and several meals would have to be served.

Instead, two-way tickets for a 200-member family entourage to Bangkok, and stay at a star resort for three days works out far cheaper, he said. In fact, two of the top city hall decorators are full-time on this business.

Unearthing telecom policy

Having announced that a New Telecom Policy 2011 will be formulated within 100 days, the Telecom Ministry recently asked the Department of Telecom to study the procedures followed when NTP 1999 was formulated. However, it was discovered that the Policy Section of the department had no records pertaining to NTP 99. The Cabinet Note on the basis of which the policy was approved was also not available. After much searching across the 14 floors of Sanchar Bhawan, 11 files with some links to NTP 99 were unearthed. At this rate, one wonders whether the new telecom policy can be finalised in 100 days.

Inappropriate award ?

Tobacco is a product that gets the maximum flak as a health hazard around the world. There are instances, in the US and in other countries, of tobacco manufacturers being sued for causing cancer. Tobacco ads are banned in India. Yet, the boss of the largest cigarette maker in India has been conferred with a Padma award. No wonder, the Delhi-based Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth has written to the Prime Minister, and to the Ministers of Health and Home Affairs, saying that the nomination of ITC's Chairman "for the country's most prestigious civilian awards is inappropriate and undermines the very sanctity and significance of these awards."

Small town take-offs

It is a growing trend among corporations to seek employee buy-ins for big projects. It's time the government-run Airports Authority of India did the same. A colleague who sat next to an Airports Authority engineer on a flight was surprised to hear him rage about some of the airport projects taking off in the country, especially the one in Jalgaon (Pratibha Patil's home turf). "Which private airline would want to fly to Jalgaon?" he queried.

He had his point — as confirmed by a colleague from Chennai, who struggled with train connections to Jalgaon despite there being an operational airport there. But the AAI official's rage was also because of frequent transfers to the hinterland. With airports being talked about in places such as Phaltan, Dhule, Karad and Chandrapur in Maharashtra, Bhatinda in Punjab, and so on, AAI employees are an uneasy lot!

PM's motorcade

Within a few minutes of the Prime Minister's motorcade arriving at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi, twitterati were tweeting indignantly about the 18 cars, which included 10 BMWs, in the cavalcade. At a time of fuel price hikes, how could the economist PM arrive in "non-green" cars was the refrain!

Awards in abundance

With almost every publication, news channel and sundry other organisations instituting corporate awards, there are winners announced almost on a monthly basis. At a recent press conference to announce the quarterly results of a leading public sector bank, a senior official with the bank said, "Our bank has such a long list of awards and achievements that I could not accommodate them all in a single slide of my power point presentation.''

Dhamra's rival

The Dhamra Port in Orissa, a joint venture between Tata Steel and L&T, which was expected to pose competition to Kolkata and Paradip ports may face competition soon. The Shipping Ministry has extended the limit of Kolkata Port to cover Kanika Sands, an island off Orissa coast, close to Dhamra port. Kolkata proposes to start bulk cargo operations from Kanika Sands; large bulk carriers which cannot navigate through Hooghly river can unload their cargo at Kanika and then transship them to Kolkata or Paradip. This is not very comfortable news for the promoters of Dhamra port.

Costly aircraft (or airline)?

At a recent awards function to felicitate Naresh Goyal, Chairman of Jet Airways, for his contribution to the civil aviation sector, an official introduced him as— 'Goyal who buys expensive airlines' but immediately corrected himself to say 'expensive aircraft'.

Just a slip of tongue or otherwise, only time will tell, considering that Jet Airways is in a legal battle over the acquisition of Sahara Airlines.

CoCo retail

If a retailer says 'CoCo', do not assume that he means 'Cocoa'. Like RoRo for 'roll on-roll off' in logistics parlance, 'CoCo' in retail refers to 'Company-operated, company-owned' outlets.

Investors' interest

It was a meeting of potential entrepreneurs and private equity investors. Pre-lunch session: the hall was packed, investors shared their views and expectations of entrepreneurs and what would induce them to bet their money on a project. Post-lunch: it was the turn of those sharing their experience of raising funds. The hall was noticeably less packed.

The moderator, while remarking that the moneybags appear to have left, indicating their priorities, consoled the audience "maybe they have gone looking for more like us to fund!"





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



For once the global business elite's annual jamboree in Switzerland's Davos has turned out to be something more than just a talking shop. Perhaps taking note of the tumultuous developments of late in Tunisia, then Yemen and now Egypt, the world's rich and powerful have pledged to ensure that economic growth across the world becomes more "inclusive" and that poor people benefit from any global economic revival. India's Chanda Kochhar, chief executive of ICICI Bank, said the challenge was to create enough basic facilities — schools, roads and housing — so that "growth really benefits everyone". Coca-Cola, facing flak in Kerala over water pollution, vowed to ensure safe drinking water for all. Only time will tell if these are just platitudes, or something more real. This year's forum had seen NGOs and civil society groups warn business leaders to become more responsible, else they would face greater regulation. Not surprisingly, the World Economic Forum 2011 saw global CEOs lobbying for a plethora of concessions to do business in India. Retail giants such as Wal-Mart and Tesco sought opening up of FDI in that sector. To his credit, the commerce minister, Mr Anand Sharma, bluntly told them opportunities in India were immense in the "back end" sector — warehouses and cold storage chains — which would definitely benefit farmers. At present, 35-40 per cent of post-harvest production is destroyed due to lack of storage facilities, and these global giants can play a vital role in investing in such infrastructure. If they and their Indian partners hope to reap profits when this sector is eventually opened up, it is only fair that they contribute to the building of infrastructure and not expect the government to bear all the losses. On the vexed question of labour reforms in India, it is inexplicable why the government does not first put its house in order before moving forward. In the West a ruthless "hire and fire" policy is possible only because of the existence of a well-run social security structure, with food stamps for the jobless and indigent. India does not even have a safety net for those in the organised labour force, while those in the unorganised sector are completely unprotected. In such an environment, talk of labour reforms is like putting the cart before the horse. Concerns have also been expressed in certain quarters on how delays in environmental clearance — and its outright denial in some cases — have hit critical infrastructure projects, thus also slowing the flow of FDI to India. The government must take a balanced view — for it cannot be denied that many of these projects, and the land acquisition for them, have worked against the interests of the nation's tribals. With the Maoist insurgency on the rise in the country's heartland, the last thing we need is to give cause for further disaffection.






From the time I was a small child, I remember climbing onto the terrace of my grandfather's house every morning and saluting as some member of the staff unfurled and hoisted the national flag. In the evening it was our solemn duty to see that the flag was lowered at 6 pm or sunset, only to be hoisted again the next day.

In later years, we always had functions at school on Republic Day and all children stood at attention while the national flag was hoisted. Political life in the Congress has always begun with the hoisting of the national flag at the party headquarters in the national capital and all state capitals, and for all of us who are MPs, office-bearers or senior members usually spend the whole day driving to hundreds of villages hoisting the national flag at roadside junctions, schools, party offices and marketplaces. We sing the national anthem and talk about the glory of our nation to the assembled crowd.

This is a way of life in the Indian National Congress. We are the party that fought for the Independence of this great country, when other parties who are so vocal today either did not exist or even supported our colonial masters, the British. Our nationalism runs in our genes and in our blood and is a part of our lives. We don't need to wear it on our sleeve, or far worse, politicise nationalism and use it as a divisive tool to try and gain some cheap electoral gain by polarising people of different religions.

So far as I am aware the Indian National Congress is perhaps the only party where all workers gather at the party office on Republic Day and hoist the national flag. I am not aware if any other parties actually follow this practice. However, this is not ground for doubt or criticism. The fact of the matter is that nationalism and patriotism are or ought to be deeply felt and held values, which may easily be manifested in a variety of ways and hoisting the flag is our way. Others may well have different ways to express their patriotism.

In the last few days, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has suddenly discovered unique patriotism and heroically set off to hoist the national flag at the Lal Chowk in Srinagar. The roadshow was allegedly by the yuva morcha, but it was constantly "inspired" by rousing speeches from the senior BJP leader, Mr L.K. Advani, and in the last lap led by Leaders of the Opposition in Parliament, Mr Arun Jaitley and Ms Sushma Swaraj. As the crowd of BJP workers set off from Kolkata the impression a lay person would have received was that they were setting off to conquer enemy territory, not that they were going to what is indisputably a part of India, a state ruled by a democratically elected government, with a chief minister with whose party the BJP had been in coalition just a few short years ago.

The BJP and its leaders did not care that by singling out the Kashmir Valley for flag-hoisting, they were actually giving credence to the claim of separatists who assert until today that Kashmir never acceded to the Indian Union. They did not care that when a huge crowd of emotionally-charged young men converge upon a critical and sensitive area like Lal Chowk, the law and order situation is bound to be affected badly and the crowd is likely to over-react and get out of control. They did not care that the stone-pelters who had created so much trouble in the Valley have now finally brought under control and the hard-won peace in the Valley would be brutally shattered by their confrontational display of nationalism.

Every right-thinking Indian would like to ask the BJP some simple questions. If they wanted to exhibit their new-found enthusiasm to hoist the national flag, why could they not do it in Lucknow, Patna, Bhopal or Bengaluru? Or in their own homes? Did the national flag fly on Republic Day in the homes of BJP leaders and workers? The answer is a resounding no. It is equally true that they only chose Srinagar in order to stir up a political controversy and try and polarise citizens on religious lines.

Next, why did the BJP not feel this patriotism in those six years when it was running the Union government in Delhi? Was it not necessary, in their view, to hoist the flag at Lal Chowk during those six years? Except for one time in 1992 when Murli Manohar Joshi tried to hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk, the BJP has never attempted to go to Srinagar to unfurl the national flag. Obviously this newly-discovered enthusiasm has to be attributed to ulterior and extraneous reasons and certainly not to any genuine nationalism.

Assuming that every yuva morcha worker of the BJP was seized by a fierce desire to see the national flag fly at Lal Chowk, as opposed to their own homes or party offices or cities, what prevented them from attending the official function at Srinagar where the democratically-elected chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir unfurled the national flag? They could have participated whole-heartedly in the official function, loudly sung the national anthem and showed their patriotism. There was absolutely no need for them to engage in a competitive display of nationalism with the government of the state, thereby allowing the separatists to have the last laugh.

It is commendable that the government acted firmly to stop this misadventure, despite meaningless provocative remarks from BJP leaders. It is important for us to remember at this time that Mr Advani, who was present at the demolition of the Babri Masjid, later declared that he was agonised over the incident, which had actually occurred because the karsevaks had gone out of control. This came after he had led the most disruptive, violent and communal rath yatra, which destroyed communal harmony in our country. Had the BJP been allowed to have its way at Lal Chowk the consequences would have been equally disastrous. In the face of the depressing downward spiral of the BJP's political activity, the nation can only appeal to BJP leaders to function with a modicum of responsibility, the very least that is expected of a constructive Opposition.

* Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in this
column are her own.






I am in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighbourhood of Singapore, and the principal, A.W. Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class. All the 11-year-old boys and girls are wearing junior white lab coats with their names on them. Outside in the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a "crime scene" and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered.

The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the students into little CSI detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.

I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade. When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said no. She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the same direction early. A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent — but impressed.

This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between "what world am I living in", "where is my country trying to go in that world" and, therefore, "what should I teach in fifth-grade science".

I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in US politics today. Republicans favour deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defence budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation's priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.

US President Barack Obama just laid out a smart and compelling vision of where our priorities should be. But he did not spell out how and where we will have to both cut and invest — really intelligently and at a large scale — to deliver on his vision.

Singapore is tiny and by no means a US-style democracy. Yet, like America, it has a multiethnic population — Chinese, Indian and Malay — with a big working class. It has no natural resources and even has to import sand for building. But today its per capita income is just below US levels, built with high-end manufacturing, services and exports. The country's economy grew last year at 14.7 per cent, led by biomedical exports. How?

If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive. "We're like someone living in a hut without any insulation", explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. "We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don't have to be so responsive". And we have not been.

Singapore probably has the freest market in the world; it doesn't believe in import tariffs, minimum wages or unemployment insurance. But it believes regulators need to make sure markets work properly — because they can't on their own — and it subsidises homeownership and education to give everyone a foundation to become self-reliant. Singapore copied the German model that strives to put everyone who graduates from high school on a track for higher education, but only about 40 per cent go to universities. Others are tracked to polytechnics or vocational institutes, so the vast majority graduate with the skills to get a job, whether it be as a plumber or a scientist.

Explained Ravi Menon, the permanent secretary of Singapore's ministry of trade and Industry: "The two 'isms' that perhaps best describe Singapore's approach are: pragmatism — an emphasis on what works in practice rather than abstract theory; and eclecticism — a willingness to adapt to the local context best practices from around the world".

It is a sophisticated mix of radical free-market and nanny state that requires sophisticated policymakers to implement, which is why politics here is not treated as sports or entertainment. Top bureaucrats and Cabinet ministers have their pay linked to top private sector wages, so most make well over $1 million a year, and their bonuses are tied to the country's annual GDP growth rate. It means the government can attract high-quality professionals and corruption is low.

America never would or should copy Singapore's less-than-free politics. But Singapore has something to teach us about "attitude" — about taking governing seriously and thinking strategically. We used to do that and must again because our little brick house with central heating is not going to be resistant to the storms much longer.

"There is real puzzlement here about America today", said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, "because we learned all about what it takes to build a well-functioning society from you. Many of our top officials are graduates of the Kennedy School at Harvard. They just came back home and applied its lessons vigorously".






The information age is here

The creaky government information machinery is often seen as outdated and representing a bygone era. Now change is in the air. With more than half of the country's population comprising of people less than 25 years old, the government is planning to jazz up its machinery to influence them.

The Press Information Bureau has decided to go hi-tech and will now be uploading videos of press conferences by Union ministers on its website. The plan is also to conduct live streaming of these events and put up a few short clips on the Web, which can be easily downloaded. This will be of help to regional media outlets that don't have a representative at the central level. They will be able to download these videos and utilise them. And the government will also be able to reach out to the masses through them. That is two birds in one clip, so to say.

Ramesh the vigilante

Everyone including Congress leaders is wary of the Union environment and forest minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh, especially after he ordered demolition of the scam-ridden Adarsh flats in Mumbai, cancelled the Vedanta project and made it difficult for Posco to find its way. The two projects — Vedanta and Posco — failed to see the light of day despite they being the Orissa Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik's favourite.

The nervousness of Congress bigwigs was expressed in a jocular manner by the party treasurer, Mr Motilal Vora, who is the man behind the construction of the new AICC headquarters at Deendayal Upadhyay Marg in the national capital. "Thank God we do not need to go to Mr Ramesh for environment clearance for the project", he said.

Mr Vora, however, was quick to add that Mr Ramesh was also a secretary in the party and so may not have created problems vis-a-vis the AICC headquarters. But still the fact of the matter is that the Congress finds it easy to get scores of clearances from the Bharatiya Janata Party-controlled Municipal Corporation of Delhi than Mr Ramesh.

Casteism, Congress style

The Congress in Uttar Pradesh does what it condemns publicly and never does what it claims to believe in. While the entire party leadership, including Mr Rahul Gandhi, claims to be intent on demolishing casteism, the chief spokesman of the Uttar Pradesh Congress, Mr Subodh Srivastava, recently sent an email to all newspaper representatives that actually promoted casteism. The email informed that the hitherto unknown "Kayastha Institute" would felicitate all meritorious students belonging to the Kayastha caste in the third week of February. He asked meritorious Kayastha students of Classes X and 12 to send their applications and marksheets to the institute so that they could be felicitated.

Once the email became news, every other leader washed hands off it and blamed the chief spokesman, who is the blue-eyed boy of the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president. Mr Srivastava, incidentally, had created many controversies in the past too, including putting out a statement welcoming the Ayodhya verdict last year.

Literary, but unparliamentary

As usual, the Jaipur Literature Festival drew a large number of writers, musicians, critics, stars and book-lovers. But this time around, it also attracted many politicians. The Rajasthan Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Gehlot, visited the festival thrice and the former chief minister, Ms Vasundhara Raje, was also present when noted poets read out their works.

The Union minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, and the Congress leader, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, also shared the dais with writer and authors. In fact, the event made people realise that Mr Sibal was a poet too. He read out his poems while Ashok Chakradhar was present to praise his literary talents. However, the "real" poets were not impressed by creative outpourings of the netas. "It is not necessary for them to use literary language but they should at least use parlimentary language," was a poet's quip. Now that's a tough call as every neta will admit.






Nanak was commissioned by Divine Will in a superconscious trance to go back and reunite people with their Creator. He took time pondering over how best to fulfil that mission. After prolonged deliberations, he concluded that fulfilment of his mission won't be possible if he stays at home. So he decided to leave his home.

He set out one day along with his companion Mardana on unforeseeable journeys. During his odysseys, his general practice was not to enter a habitation but to stay out of the village or town and sit under the shade of a tree and sing his self-composed hymns in praise of God.

During his first odyssey before long, he reached a town called Sayyadpur. There, he made an exception to his usual practice and entered the town, and went to the hutment of a carpenter friend named Lalo to be with him for a few days.

Lalo was a very poor man. All he could afford was a coarse, now extinct, grain called kodhra. Nanak, nonetheless, enjoyed his simple, but loving hospitality.

In the same town lived an affluent kshatriya celebrity, Malik Bhago. He had amassed great wealth by exploiting others. In order to make an impression of his opulence upon people, he arranged a Brahm-bhoj (sacramental meal) to which he invited all the sadhus and other holy men of the town. He expected that no one would stay away. A brahmin in the neighbourhood of Lalo informed Nanak of the Brahm-bhoj and invited Nanak to accompany him thither, but Nanak politely declined.

The brahmin then left for the bhoj, and after having eaten to his fill, went to Malik Bhago and told him that one, Nanak, a holy man, kshatriya by caste, had declined to accompany him to the bhoj. Even worse, he was staying with a low-caste shudra and preferred to partake of his shoddy food. Bhago was infuriated and sent his men to bring Nanak over; even by force, if he declined to comply.

When Nanak came, Bhago asked him, "Why did you choose to abstain from my Brahm-bhoj?"
Nanak said, "I am always content with whatever God sends me".

Bhago: "Then what was your objection to eating at my place?"

Nanak: "So many have enjoyed your bhoj, if one didn't, what difference does it make?"

Bhago: "But you are a kshatriya bedi and you preferred to eat with a shudra and declined to join my meal. Am I not a kshatriya like you?"

Nanak: "Caste-considerations are not legal tender in God's court. You set up your bhoj on the strength of your wealth. But that has been amassed by exploiting others. It smacks of blood of the poor that you are habituated to suck. My friend Lalo, on the other hand, earns his modest living with the sweat of his brow. He is honest as well as humble. The meal of the coarse grain that he lets me share with him is nothing short of amrit (ambrosia) for me".

Guru Nanak upheld the dignity of honest labour.

— J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse.

Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.






There are other historic bromances in the news. King George VI and Lionel Logue. Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But rarely has there been a partnership that rocked the world the way the Chicago odd couple did. The lean, neat one and the hefty, messy one accomplished what seemed impossible: Getting a black man the nation's worst job, as the Onion memorably put it.

So it was a parting of sweet sorrow this weekend for the Brand and the Keeper of the Brand. The unsentimental Barack Obama and the sentimental David Axelrod said goodbye Friday night over an intimate dinner in the White House residence. (Along with their wives.)

The adviser will return to Chicago — to his family; his beloved deli, Manny's; the re-election ramp-up; and to his pal, Rahm. Obama and Axelrod agreed the West Wing team had gotten too insular. "As one of my colleagues said, the White House is a bit like working in a submarine: it's better to come up for air", Axelrod recalled Friday in his small office in a White House consumed with Cairo fires and pelted with Washington snow.

The 55-year-old former newspaperman and political consultant became an early muse to the young poet who bewitched a nation. It was a coup de foudre for the idealistic strategist. "I've not made any bones about my feelings about him", he says, when asked if he's too adoring. Robert Gibbs jokingly dubbed Axe "the guy who walks in front of the President with rose petals".

But once Obama got deluged with a torrent of presidential crises, the poetry stopped, and the adviser in charge of the message got some blame.

"Yeah, we were too prosaic", he said. "We all got sort of dragged down, you know; we were a triage unit. I think all of us have been guilty of neglecting that really important part of the presidency, where you're operating in the world of ideals and values and vision."

He continued: "There were a lot of hands on the words, a lot of concern about every nuance. And it is true that this is a place where an errant clause can send markets tumbling and armies marching, and you're always aware of that".

The vaunted change gave way to the usual logrolling. "It was, so, you need this guy's vote and therefore, perhaps we shouldn't emphasise that issue because they will be less apt to support us on the recovery plan and the country could slip into a depression", Axelrod said.

The US President recaptured some inspirational force in Tucson, his heart clearly touched by nine-year-old Christina Green. Her parents told Obama that their daughter had gotten interested in politics partly because she was drawn to him.

The US President is "happier" taking a more optimistic, big-picture approach, Axelrod said, noting, "He's in the zone in which he's most comfortable".

Packing boxes leaned against the office wall. David Plouffe, a more orderly, reserved type — a man who shows his affection for Obama by studying the turnout models for Congressional swing districts — is moving in Monday.

Though Axe can wax endlessly about Washington's wayward ways, he admitted to friends that it's harder leaving than he thought, and he plunged into bon voyage parties and dinners. Asked about the cascade of "exclusive" exit interviews he was giving, he warned drolly: "Don't turn on the Shopping Network!"

"The White House is like fantasy camp for him", said his charming assistant, Eric Lesser. "He could go to an Afghan war council in the Situation Room, meet Sandy Koufax and have a baseball signed, and have lunch with Caroline Kennedy."

Axelrod's final Friday began with Lesser bringing the usual oatmeal. (Now that the boss has lost 25 pounds, Lesser permits him a sprinkling of brown sugar again.) Pointing to some "victimised" ties hanging on the door, the strategist noted: "The one thing I learned on this job is, don't eat your oatmeal standing up".

The avid punster offered a parting pun at the 8.30 am meeting — urging everyone to "plough forward" on a plan for genetically produced alfalfa.

Axelrod is not tech-savvy. There was that time he was in such a rush for an early campaign bus that he mistook a bar of hotel soap for his BlackBerry, later pulling the soap out of a pocket to check his emails. And the time he killed a BlackBerry with glaze from a doughnut. So it was a surprise Friday when he said he was going to open a Twitter account so he could "leap into the debate from time to time".

I asked Axelrod what he'd like to steal on the way out. Nodding toward the Oval Office, he replied conspiratorially, "He has the Emancipation Proclamation in there. That would be a nice going-away present".

By arrangement with the New York Times









ONLY one issue arises from the dismissal of Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot from the CWG Organising Committee ~ why was that not done immediately after the Games concluded when the Prime Minister had already announced a comprehensive probe into multi-dimensional misdoings? It would be stretching things much too far to expect aam aadmi to believe that the supposed "action" was the result of the change of sports minister. Ajay Maken is too lightweight a politician to have authorised their sacking on his own.
  Similarly his predecessor would never have dared sit on a request for their removal by the investigators had he not received signals from "higher places": in political terms he carries less weight ~ as distinct from boastful swagger ~ than the new incumbent. It is unlikely that the multiple probes will examine the sacking issue, so the PMO should be a "good sport" and come clean. The question as to why the standard procedure of removing suspected persons from the scene of the "crime" during a probe had been ignored has been asked earlier too. Chances are slim that a convincing answer will be forthcoming this time around. Did the government really have to wait for complaints from the investigators, then seek expert legal advice, to do what is routine? And does anyone expect to discover incriminating material at this late stage, after allowing Kalmadi & Co. a free run these past several months? Since this is "question hour" (Parliament's is consistently disrupted) maybe there could be a re-look at how a non-official committee was entrusted with running the Games at huge taxpayer's expense. How about an indication of how the government proposes to recover the huge sums "loaned" to the OC?

It might appear cynical, but not far from reality, to suggest that the focus on the scams surrounding the OC are a sinister ploy to divert attention away from the other versions of CWG loot. There has been little heard of efforts to probe the rampant irregularities in the execution of a range of Games-related projects in the Capital ~ many were delayed or left incomplete. Surely Sheila Dikshit's leading a broom and bucket brigade to "rescue" the Games Village does not suffice to sweep away what pained and bled the citizen even more than the shenanigans of obnoxious Kalmadi and his cohorts.



Medical treatment knows no frontier, ideological or geographical. The Dantewada administration's warning to the International Committee of the Red Cross and Medicines Sans Frontieres that they run the risk of prosecution if they continue to treat Maoists mirrors an administrative aberration of the Chhattisgarh government. The attitude begs two simple questions for the Medical Council of India. Are Maoists not entitled to medical care for the very specious reason that they are members of a "banned outfit"? The BJP government's skewed mindset is concordant with the miscarriage of justice against Dr Binayak Sen, a paediatrician who was treating tribals in Chhattisgarh. In other words, attending to infants born to Maoist couples was the first charge against him; playing the role of a courier of letters addressed to Maoists came later. It is a cruel scorched earth policy that makes a mockery of the Hippocratic oath  and deems medical treatment for a section of the populace as a cognisable offence, if not sedition, almost in the manner of kangaroo justice. Aside from treating tribals and Maoists, there is no other charge against the ICRC and MSF.  Both entities enjoy international repute; the second had even been awarded the Nobel prize for Medicine in the late Nineties. If they have been allowed entry into Chhattisgarh, it would be grossly inhuman and unethical to expect them to distinguish between patients. As reported in this newspaper, Dantewada's Senior  Superintendent of Police has advanced a thoroughly illogical explanation: "I don't  welcome the ICRC and MSF treating Maoists who kill police and civilians.'' To link the two is to be grossly inhumane. Theoretically, the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act provides for "action for having any direct and indirect link with the Maoists". This is a sweeping piece of legislation that stops short of clarifying whether a doctor's interaction with a Maoist patient can also incur prosecution.
Palpably, the government is out of its depth in attempting to countenance the Left radical. The Salwa Judum strategy has been a mortal disaster. The lower judiciary has been universally condemned for the miscarriage of justice against Dr Sen; to put it bluntly, as we must, it has used the word "sedition" without realising its import. In the net, Maoism thrives in one of the permanently deprived parts of the country. Just as law and order on occasion calls for central intervention, Chhattisgarh's policy on medical treatment for Maoists calls for reflection. A beleaguered state would rather that they are reduced to the level of the sick and the dying. The policy is as cruel as it is daft.



THE Great "grow" on you. Usha Uthup has been so integral, yet so vivacious a part of the popular music scene in this country for some four decades now that we tend to take her for granted. So enchanted have we been with that husky voice, a personality ever vibrant, and a "heart" that has led her to sing for so many charitable causes that we often forget her rare capability to sing in 17 Indian and eight foreign languages. Since the Indian music industry is so heavily film-oriented it is inevitable that much of her success has been registered on the sound track of Bollywood movies, yet she more than anyone else has never been shackled to celluloid. It is her "live" performances that have stamped her unique. In that she has carried on the tradition of the "Sami Sisters" of Bombay. Usha now has her own group, her elder sisters crooned with bands as famous as those of Ken Mac, Chick Chocolate and Maurice Concessao. While all five sisters made their mark singing popular songs in the English language, Usha went even further in attaining rare multi-lingual skills. Only to emphasise the sentiment articulated in her signature tune "I Believe In Music".

What makes so very special the addition of the Padma Shri to an already overloaded awards cabinet is that Usha has shaken the "establishment" out of its sarkari straitjacket. Even though economic liberalisation and satellite television opened our society up to fresh cultural influences, the type of music in which Usha has attained iconic status has long been "looked down" upon by the stuffed shirts in government. Forcing them to abandon narrow, stereotyped outlooks is one of her greatest achievements: more so because she made no specific effort to do so. She just "grew" on officialdom too. It is too soon to know if others who excel in western popular music will be similarly honoured in future: some will regret that the opening-up came well after legendary jazzman Rudy Cotton (Cawas Khatau) stopped blowing his saxophone. Decades ago the 'JS' (Junior Statesman) had given Usha many a "splash", we now take pride in offering her a salute.









THE thoughts that guided Sri Aurobindo during various stages of spiritual evolution were those of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. The former guided him thrice. At Baroda he heard the distinct message of Sri Ramakrishna: "Aurobindo ... Mandir Karo ... Mandir Karo". Later in Pondicherry, he asked Sri Aurobindo to evolve from the lower to the higher  self. On 18 October 1912, he guided him further: "Make complete sanyasa of  karma, make complete sanyasa of thought, make complete sanyasa of feeling ... this is my last utterance."

Swami Vivekananda also spoke to him, carrying the message of spiritual evolution. Recalling the inspiration of Swami Vivekananda at Alipore jail, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

"He explained to me in detail the work of the Supramental ~ not exactly of the Supremental, but of the intuitivised mind, the mind as it is organised by the Supramental. He did not use the word "supermind", I gave this name afterwards. That experience lasted for about two weeks".

When Nirodbaran asked Sri Aurobindo, "Was that a vision?" he replied in the negative: "No, it was not a vision. I would not have trusted a vision" (Talks with Sri Aurobindo vol 1, page 164). He asserted:


"Vivekananda gave me the knowledge of intuitive mentality. I had not the least idea about it at that time. He too did not have it when he was in the body."

It was at Alipore jail that Sri Aurobindo heard the distinct voice of Vasudeva or Sri Krishna. As he recollected his experience in the famous Uttarpara speech:

I looked at the jail that secluded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in my cell, but it was not a tree. I knew it was Vasudeva who surrounded me ... it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there and holding over me His shade. I looked at the bars of my cell, the very grating that did duty for a door and again I saw Vasudeva. It was Narayana who was guarding and standing sentry over me. Or I lay on the coarse blankets that were given me for a couch and felt the arms of Sri Krishna around me, the arms of my Friends and Lover. This was the first use of the deeper vision he gave me. I looked at the prisoners in the jail, the thieves, the murderers, the swindlers, and as I looked at them I saw Vasudeva, it was Narayana whom I found in these darkened souls and misused bodies. (Tales of a Prison Life, pages 111-112)

As Lord Sri Krishna was born in prison to redeem the world, so too did the spiritual reincarnation of Sri Aurobindo take a decisive turn at Alipore jail. Sri Krishna formed a common chord of support and inspiration for both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo in verse.  In his lyric, "The Living God", Swami Vivekananda emphasises the need to worship the divinity within every individual.

Ye fools! Who neglect the living God,/ And His infinite reflections with which the world is full./ While ye run after imaginary shadows,/ That lead alone to fights and quarrels,/ Him worship, the only visible!/ Break all other idols.

The supreme realisation that the individual self is not dissociated from the universal self led Sri Aurobindo to celebrate the "single self" in the sonnet "Cosmic Spirit":

I am a single Self all nature fills/ ... My life is the life of village and continent.

The awareness of the universal soul led to greater freedom and deeper awareness of the spirit. Earlier during his confinement in Alipore jail, Sri Aurobindo had composed the poem "Invitation". The poem begins with a number of queries relating to national reconstruction under challenging circumstances:

With wind and the weather beating round me/ Up to the hill and the moorland I go./ Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?/ Wade through the brook and tramp through the snow.

The lines resonate with the same spirit as Swami Vivekananda's poem, "The Song of the Free". It celebrates the true freedom of the soul.

Sri Aurobindo's advocacy of spiritual freedom along with his political involvement met its challenge in the tyranny of the oppressors. As the editor of Bandemataram, he was arrested for sedition on 16 August 1907. Eight days after his arrest, Rabindranath Tagore wrote his "salutation" to Sri Aurobindo:
Rabindranath, O Aurobindo, bows to thee!/ O friend, my country's friend, O voice incarnate, free,/ Of India's soul!/ The fiery messenger that with the lamp of God/ Hath come ~ where is the king who can with chain or rod/ Chastise him? Chains that were to bind salute his feet,/ And prisons greet him as their guest with welcome sweet.

In 1910 Sri Aurobindo retired from active politics and lived in Pondicherry for the rest of his life in pursuit of  yoga and the realisation of what he called the Supermind. As his biographer points out, Sri Aurobindo chose Pondicherry as his "cave of  tapasya, an impeccable choice in the given circumstances". In 1910, Pondicherry, as Srinivasa Iyengar observes, "was not quiet, it was actually dead. It was often referred to as the "dead city". The general feeling was that "Sri Aurobindo has fixed upon a cemetery for his sadhana. This was to become the spiritual seat of Sri Aurobindo, a place for deep meditation, enlightenment, recollection and mystical visions.
Sri Aurobindo has pointed out that poetry is not an aesthetic pleasure of the imagination, the intellect and the ear, a sort of elevated pastime. It is not a matter of faultlessly correct or at most an exquisite technique. True poetry is self-vision or world vision ~ it is the spiritual excitement of rhythmic voyage of self-discovery among the magic islands of form and name in the inner and the outer worlds. The poet is truth-conscious, the truth-finder, and his poetry is born as a flame from earth. Yet it is also the heavenly messenger from the Immortals.
To guide a resurgent India towards its spiritual destiny, the country needed poet-visionaries like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Perhaps one of Sri Aurobindo's greatest philosophical achievements was to initiate the notion of evolution and progression into Vedantic thought. He proposed an evolution of the spirit along with that of matter in his verse. As the explorations in verse and thoughts testify, both Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo shared a vision that India must be reborn. The underlying reason is their conviction that in her regeneration lay the prospect of the humankind. Both held that India had the unquestionable prerogative to extend spiritual sway over the entire world.

As Swami Vivekananda pointed out in My India: The India Eternal, "India will be raised, not with the power of the flesh, but with the power of the spirit." In Sri Aurobindo's words: "India's spirituality is entering Europe and America in an ever-increasing measure. That movement will grow."

This indeed does not imply spiritual imperialism, but the restoration of  the dignity and identity of every individual with a spiritual goal. Only a yogi of Sri Aurobindo's intuitive perception could fructify the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda in the right perspective.






Japan has over a trillion dollars of foreign exchange reserves; only China has more. Its exports grew by a quarter in 2010. Its economy grew 4.5 per cent last quarter — the highest amongst developed countries. It ran a balance of payments surplus of over half a billion dollars in the third quarter of 2010, and earned over a quarter of a billion in income on its investments abroad. This is the country that was downgraded by Standard and Poor's from AA to AA- (the highest rating being AAA+). The rating agency had much explaining to do, especially since its grades have been so bad at predicting which country would be in trouble next. And since it sells its ratings at a good price to its subscribers, it could not give the explanation free to the confused common man. He could get its reasons only filtered by the world press.

But the import of its laboured explanation is clear: it is not the country of Japan that is heading towards bankruptcy, but the government of Japan. Even if it took away the income of all the Japanese for a year, it would not be able to repay its debt, for Japan's debt-gross domestic product ratio is 115 per cent. There is no reason for it not to borrow even more, for its central bank has conveniently reduced the rate of interest to zero; and it has every reason to spend, since it sees insufficient spending as the root of the economy's ills. For it to borrow, someone has to be prepared to lend it money. For long the Japanese people were its ideal victims. As the Japanese economy stagnated, the cautious people worried about their future and saved money.

But in the last decade, the people of this rich country have felt increasingly poor; in this aging country, the proportion of people who have retired and are living on their savings is rising rapidly. Those who had not retired still could not see why they should lend to a feckless government at zero interest. So household savings have virtually disappeared. It may appear strange that a country in which people do not save and the government dissaves should export so much more than it imports. The paradox is explained by the fact that Japanese companies are avid savers. It is they in this country of addicted spenders that continued to produce, export, make profits and put them aside. They too found times increasingly tough as the Japanese got rich and their wages rose far above those of other hard-working Asians; production in Japan was no longer viable. But they found a solution; instead of expensive Japanese, they employed cheap Chinese labour, and became the biggest investors in China. Thus did the two former enemy countries become inseparable bedfellows. Global economic vicissitudes have led to some unusual fraternal relationships amongst countries.






The covert disdain in the provision that the upper limit of the maintenance due to a divorced woman should be Rs 500 was, rightly, erased a decade ago by an amendment to Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code. But attitudes towards women change little, if at all. The Supreme Court has had, once again, to remind an unwilling ex-husband and his lawyer that there is no upper limit to maintenance, and that this amendment to a Central law would automatically override contrary provisions in state laws. The husband, and a family court, had decided that Rs 1,500 would be good enough to maintain the divorced wife. The Madhya Pradesh High Court, to which the woman had gone, had decided on Rs 4,000, but her former husband's lawyer was bent on Rs 3,000 at most, claiming that the state law set that as the limit. The Supreme Court rejected this argument. It may be noticed that this periodic reiteration of amendments by the Supreme Court is usually made whenever a law touching on women's rights — or the lack of those — is invoked, as for example in the case of absolute right to inherited property. The rights are there, but women must still fight tooth and nail at every step to get them.

Yet the amendment to Section 125 had been made with some care. Not only was the upper limit of Rs 500 removed, the principle behind the change was made clear on more than one occasion. The wife, even if she were earning, was entitled to maintenance if her earnings were not enough to keep her in conditions fit for a family situation. She need not live luxuriously, but she should not be punished for having undergone a divorce. The divorced woman should not live in penury, or even wait till she had nothing in order to apply for maintenance. The principle is both rational and civilized; it is another thing that Indian society is neither when women are concerned. That the same principle applies in the case of a man when he has been deserted and is asking for a divorce is a fact that is conveniently glossed over. Equality on paper still means very little in everyday practice.






To climb down from power is an excruciatingly difficult exercise. Consider, for instance, the controversy currently engulfing the International Monetary Fund. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, the institution got known for its authoritarian ways. Countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America, embarking on ambitious development programmes, would face awkwardness in managing their balance of payments and approach the Fund for short- or medium-term accommodation. The Fund, in the tight grip of the Western powers led by the United States of America, loved to indulge in the ideology of the free market. It would accommodate the poor countries approaching it for emergency foreign exchange assistance, but only on the basis of strict 'conditionalities'. Countries incur balance of payments problems, the Fund was firm in its belief, because they spend beyond their means and their governments, profligate in expenditure, land themselves in budgetary deficits which in turn set in motion a price spiral, thereby severely affecting the prospect for exports as well as enlarging the size of imports. Such countries need to be disciplined; the Fund would have a standard list of prescriptions for them: they must devalue their currencies so as to both boost exports and restrain imports, and cut back on public expenditure. They must, besides, liberalize their economies, move towards eliminating trade and exchange controls, encourage foreign investment, reduce direct taxes so as to stimulate incentive, and so on ad infinitum. Never mind if the internal conditions obtaining in the countries happened to be vastly different, the Fund would insist on imposing the same 'conditionalities' on all of them. This kind of rigidity on the part of the Fund would often create more trouble for the countries concerned: a drastic reduction in food and social welfare subsidies ordained by the Fund would provoke widespread social unrest; the economy would therefore get further destabilized and public expenditure, instead of shrinking, would bulge even more menacingly because of the greater outlay called for to restore law and order.

There would be outcry in country after country against the Fund's whimsical ways, but it would remain unmoved. Its letters of agreement lay it down that all its decisions must be endorsed by at least 85 per cent of its stakeholders. Since the same letters of agreement assigned more than 16 per cent of voting rights within the institution to the US, the US administration would have a stronghold on its policies and programmes. The 'conditionalities' enforced by the Fund reflected the official American view on how the world economy needed to be governed.

The past two decades have transformed the picture. The US is in deep recession, the West European countries are faring no better. In contrast, a number of Asian countries have been able to maintain impressive rates of growth despite the global crisis; they have been kept company by quite a few Latin American countries as well. Economic power is shifting away from the countries of Western capitalism. This has sparked off a demand that the IMF must be forced to climb down from its high horse, accept reality and reappraise its general stance; it must, in particular, shed its dogma of a uniform set of prescriptions in the name of 'structural reforms' without taking into consideration the specific problems afflicting individual countries.

Changing the Fund's policies, however, necessitates changes in its internal managerial structure and reallocation of the voting strength of the member-countries. Unless the Western powers agree to shed some of their voting rights in the Fund's executive board, no meaningful shift in policies would seem feasible. Pressure has been mounted within the Group of 20 nations which acts as a sounding board and forum for mutual exchange of views for both the advanced industrial economies and some developing countries to coax the Western governments to relax their control over the Fund's activities. Following a meeting of the group in South Korea a couple of months ago, the Fund management announced with much fanfare that a revolutionary change is being effected in its organizational structure: the economically advanced nations have agreed to a voluntary scaling-down of their voting strength in the executive board, the developing countries would, therefore, have a greater say in its affairs. At about the same time, a so-called informed piece of gossip was set afloat. An even more spectacular change was reported to be in the offing. Ever since the birth of the two institutions, the World Bank and the Fund, the US had the exclusive right to choose the Bank's president while the West European countries would name the managing director of the Fund. That monopoly, rumour said, was going to disappear; the West European countries would surrender their right to choose the Fund's chief executive officer.

It has taken a bare few weeks to realize that the promised re-ordering of the Fund's organizational and managerial structure is just an eyewash. For real change to take place in the Fund, three preconditions must be fulfilled: (a) a major fraction of the total voting strength in the Fund's executive board has to be transferred from the advanced industrial countries to the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America; (b) the letters of agreement of the institution need to be amended in order to divest the US of its veto over decisions taken by the Fund, and (c) the crucial post of the Fund's managing director must cease to be a monopoly of the richer countries.

A scrutiny of the contents of the decisions announced in November reveals that while the voting share of the advanced economies has been pared down, the paring is by only 2.6 per cent, from 57.9 to 55.3 per cent of the total. This marginal shift in voting strength is laughably insignificant and cannot change the balance of power within the Fund. There is no proposal either to change the letters of agreement so as to deny the US its veto. Finally, the West European countries are evidently in no mood to relinquish their claim to the post of managing director.

The more it changes, it is obvious, the more it remains the same. But are not the countries of capitalism being extraordinarily short-sighted? By stalling attempts at reforming the Fund, they are actually endangering the future of the institution itself. The US as much as the Fund management have of late been expressing much concern over the danger of competitive currency devaluations by countries in their anxiety to promote exports and thereby improve the state of their economies. Competitive currency devaluations, it is justifiably argued, constitute a suicidal course, since these end up leaving each country equally disadvantaged and create grave instability in the international currency market. Should the Western powers, however, not agree to change the Fund's managerial pattern, and, by implication, its overall policy framework, countries experiencing balance of payments difficulties might begin to seek other alternatives rather than approach the Fund for bailout measures; they might try to build their own foreign exchange reserves, so as to enable them to cope with the problem of a sudden jump in their balance of payments deficits. In their endeavour to build their own stock of foreign exchange, they could well be lured into taking recourse to devaluating the currency, thereby encouraging a spree of competitive currency devaluations. By resisting a change of guard in the IMF, the Western countries might therefore be directly responsible for creating a situation where chaos should invade international currency movements; the advanced industrial economies could be the worst victim of such chaos.

Abdication of authority is no easy task. Moving away from dogma is equally difficult. If things were otherwise, no revolution would ever take place in human societies.






By Friday afternoon, the protesters in central Cairo were chanting, "Where is the army? Come and see what the police are doing to us. We want the army." And that is the main question, really: where is the Egyptian army in all this? Like armies everywhere, even in dictatorships, the Egyptian army does not like to use violence against its own people. It would much rather leave that sort of thing to the police, who are generally quite willing to do it. But in Alexandria, by mid-afternoon on Friday, the police had stopped fighting the protesters and started talking to them. This is how regimes end. First of all, the police realize that they face a genuine popular movement involving all classes and all walks of life. They realize that it would be wrong — and also unwise — to go on bashing heads in the service of a regime that is likely to disappear quite soon. Best change sides before it is too late.

Then the army, seeing that the game is up, tells the dictator that it is time to get on the plane and go abroad to live with his money. Egypt's ruler, Hosni Mubarak, was a general before he became president, and he has always made sure that the military was at the head of the queue for money and privileges, but there is no gratitude in politics. They won't want to be dragged down with him. All this could happen quite fast, or it could spread out over the next several weeks, but it is probably going to happen. Even autocratic and repressive regimes must have some sort of popular consent, because you cannot hire enough policemen to compel everybody to obey. They extort that consent through fear: so when people lose their fear, the regime is toast.

It would require a truly horrendous massacre to re-instil the fear in Egyptians now, and at this stage neither the police nor the soldiers are likely to be willing to do that. So what happens once Mubarak leaves? Nobody knows, because nobody is in charge of this revolution. The first people out on the streets were young university graduates who face a lifetime of unemployment. Only days later, however, the demonstrations have swelled to include people from every social class and walk of life.

In a fix

They have no programme, just a conviction that it is high time for a change. Two-thirds of the 80 million Egyptians have been born since Mubarak came to power, and they are not grateful for the poverty, corruption and repression that define and confine their lives. But who can fix it all? Washington and the other Western capitals that supported Mubarak for the past three decades are praying that the revolution will choose Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as its leader. But he is probably not the Chosen One.

The likely winner of a genuinely free Egyptian election, according to most opinion polls, would be the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers are not particularly radical as Islamists go, but the first thing they have promised to do if they win power is to hold a referendum on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. And most Egyptians, according to the same polls, would vote to cancel it. That would end the flow of official US aid and private foreign investment that currently keep the Egyptian economy afloat, even though it would probably not lead to an actual war. And there is no reason to believe that an Islamic government could make the Egyptian economy grow any faster, although it would distribute the poverty more fairly.

These longer-term considerations will have no impact on the events of the next few weeks, when Egypt's example may ignite similar revolts against decrepit regimes elsewhere in the Arab world — or not, as the case may be. But it's not just Tunisia any more. Egypt is the biggest Arab country by far, and culturally the most influential. What happens there really matters.


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




The controversy over the appointment and continuance of P J Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner has only deepened with the government's submission in the supreme court that his selection was made without taking all the facts in his bio-data into consideration.

Attorney-General G E Vahanvati told the court that the information about the pending chargesheet against Thomas in the palmolein import case had not been presented before the selection committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of the opposition. It is anybody's guess if the submission meant that Thomas may not have been selected if the committee knew about the chargesheet.

This is doubtful because the attorney-general simultaneously said that the omission did not vitiate the selection process.

If the attorney-general was trying to absolve the prime minister and the home minister of responsibility for a bad and dubious decision, he has only succeeded in showing the two and the entire government processes and procedures of selecting persons for high offices in poor light. It was wrong if some facts about Thomas were blacked out. Even the fact of his tenure as Kerala's food secretary, when the palmolein import decision was taken, was not mentioned in his bio-data.

This could not have been a  genuine lapse or oversight. If it was, the selection processes in the government lose all credibility. Is the background check for appointment of persons for such high positions so shoddy? Even if there was no mention of the chargesheet, the information was in the public domain. The opposition leader had written to the panel about the charge but for some reason this was ignored.

It is also known that Thomas' name was empanelled after ignoring the claims of officers who were senior to him and he was appointed after rejecting more eligible officers. All this only shows that the government had a vested interest in appointing him as the CVC but is now, with increased public and judicial scrutiny of the decision, finding it difficult to justify it.

But the cover-up and whitewashing attempts have brought ridicule to the government. It has tied itself up in complicated knots which are difficult to unfasten. Thomas' position, which has long since become untenable, has become more so in the wake of the government's latest argument to defend his appointment.






The choice of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyona as chief guest of India's  Republic Day celebrations this year was not without reason. Indonesia's first president Sukarno was the chief guest at the first Republic Day celebrations in 1950. The invitation was not, however, just about symbolism. There are substantial reasons for India reaching out to Indonesia. India was signaling the importance it accords Indonesia in its global strategy.

Indonesia and India are natural partners. They share a civilisational heritage and are multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies. Both emerged from years of colonial rule to become democracies with non-aligned foreign policies. Although Indonesia came under authoritarian rule for a couple of decades, since 1999 it has returned to a democratic system. Its democracy is no less vibrant than that of India. The two countries are geographically close too.

During Yudhoyono's previous visit to India in 2005, the two countries initiated a strategic partnership, with a focus on bilateral trade and cultural exchanges. They set a trade target worth $10 billion by 2010. The two countries exceeded this target and finalised a free trade agreement (FTA) in goods, making Indonesia the sixth ASEAN country with which India has an FTA. During Yudhoyono'a visit, business deals worth $15 billion were signed. The countries have pledged to increase trade to $25 billion by 2015.

Relations are robust. However, there is immense potential that remains untapped, especially in the area of maritime security co-operation. Keeping the Malacca Straits safe from pirates and terrorists has been a shared concern of the two countries. India is part of a multinational anti-piracy patrolling effort in the Malacca Straits which has contributed to bringing down dramatically incidents of piracy near this vital waterway. India must tread carefully in projecting a role for itself in the Malacca Straits. It must ensure that its role remains non-intrusive, co-operative and benign.

Both India and Indonesia are keen to ensure that the evolving security architecture in the Asia Pacific is open and inclusive. As India takes its 'look east policy' to the next level, beyond Southeast Asia and East Asia to the Asia-Pacific, it will look to Indonesia as a crucial partner. For decades, outside powers have kept Asia divided through a system of alliances, pitting one country against another. India and Indonesia can become the core of an Asian effort to change that architecture.






And so the imam is caricatured with an elongated beard and twisted eye; the pandit has an exaggerated tuft, obese stomach and gloat; the Christian father wears a sanctimonious air barely disguising a leer. This nonsense is largely due to the decline of religion in the ebbing moral universe of modern man, and partly due to the existence of a radical extreme at the edge of every clerical class, which justifies violence in the name of a higher power.

Faith — mosque, temple or church — has been a traditional sanctuary of the people in their constant struggle against innumerable forms of autocracy and dictatorship that have been the tragedy of human history. The institutions of god provide a comfort zone to the individual persecuted by institutions of man, particularly during moments of distress. Faith is often a symbol of resistance, as autocratic Arab regimes are discovering today when the streets are finally alive with the thunder of long-overdue protest against smug dictatorships that confused their harsh intelligence services with intelligence.

Competent governments, whether of dictators or democrats, have understood the power of the clergy and chosen a dual response: repression of the radical extreme and a continuous attempt to co-opt the clergy into the establishment through a less-than-discreet combination of flattery and bribery. The real test for the clergy comes not during periods of relative calm, but during phases of social and political oppression.

If we want to understand the influence of the ulema in the life of the Indian Muslim, particularly in north India, then we must remember the sterling part they played in the age of decline, the 19th century, when every other of pillar of sustenance crumbled, either eaten by the worms of decay and decadence, or defeated by the rising force of British arms. It was the clergy that held the community together, even as its radical wing, led by the students, or taliban, of the seminary of Shah Waliullah launched a jihad for the restoration of political power. That war failed, but those who did not go to war provided a greater service through leadership at the micro level to a community that was under such economic and social pressure that it feared the loss not only of sustenance but also its most cherished elements of language and culture. Out of such traumatic conditions was an institution like the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband born nearly a century and a half ago.

Theological importance

Its founders refused to accept a single rupee as donation from the British; its small band of teachers and students ate what the local community offered. Mahatma Gandhi recognised not just the theological importance of this seminary but also the empirical influence of its grassroots level connections. Deoband was the antithesis of the elitist, nawab and landlord-dominated Muslim politics of the early 20th century.

Deoband is often demonised by a western-influenced discourse. Yes, there is a fringe that has converted Deoband into a fatwa factory for regressive pronouncements; and some of its influences have been distorted to justify violence. But every great centre of education produces a few children who dishonour their intellectual parent. Deoband is a tremendous resource for those Muslims who do not have the advantage of birth or lineage. It is the hope and dream not only of those who want to serve Allah through the mosque, but also young men who see in its educational repository a chance for a better life. The place it commands in the affections of Muslims makes Deoband a power centre; and where there is power, there will be politics. What we are seeing at the moment is a political battle between factions, and the vested interests that feed off them, for the control of Deoband.

There are many reasons for the unrest generated by the appointment of Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi as mohtamim, or virtual vice chancellor. Vastanvi is a remarkable maulana who started a school with just six students in a hut in a tribal region on the Gujarat-Maharashtra border in 1979, and built it into an institution with 2,00,000 students across the country. This is why he is the first person from outside the immediate UP region to be given this honour and responsibility. His presence promised the reform that students thirst for; but it also threatened to upset the cartel that has used Deoband to squeeze out personal benefits from Delhi and abroad. These deep-seated interests would have challenged Vastanvi on any pretext; they found an emotive one with the help of narcissistic, power-hungry journalists in their club.

Deoband is, as has happened before, at a crossroads. If Deoband has become the property of a clerical group that wants to exploit this great name for its own greed, then Vastanvi will be driven out. If Deoband remains honest to the ideals of its founding fathers, then it will lead the way to educational reform and open thought that can turn an underprivileged Indian Muslim child into a privileged adult.








Liberation Square was liberated on Saturday. Shadowed by the landmarks of a government that turned promises of secular nationalism into a withering authoritarianism, thousands of young people did what the state of President Hosni Mubarak never allowed in 29 years. They seized control of their lives.

Through the day, past the smouldering headquarters of Mubarak's party and beside the travel agents who catered to tourists his government seemed to favour, youths took it upon themselves to organise traffic, snarled by the withdrawal of the despised police from the streets.

Young boys cleaned incinerated refuse from a night of looting that left more than a few ashamed. Others dragged makeshift barricades before the Egyptian museum, the receptacle of a glorious culture whose more modern incarnation has stagnated for decades. A few sweaty young men, fired by the euphoria of what they called a revolutionary moment, even dispensed water to the thirsty.

Breathing new life

Even in Liberation, or Tahrir, Square, there was a current of anxiety over what the protests would lead to, and what the arson and looting of a night before portended.

There were reports of lawlessness and a pronounced unease in Cairo's wealthier neighbourhoods and across the country. For now, though, fleeting as it may be, an ossified order breathed new life.

The streets of Cairo have seethed before — over the US' war in Iraq and Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. Last Saturday, America was mentioned more as a symbol of Mubarak's subservience. The rebellion of youth stood as an uprising of the dispossessed.

Some suggested that the once-omnipotent security forces would manage to crush the uprising. Indeed, the government seemed more intent on Saturday on enforcing a curfew. But the forces that have driven a week of unrest suggest a broader reality: a people who once complained of their own quiescence would no longer stay quiet.

The sentiments drew on another moment, where the anger of poor Egyptians clashed with the perquisites of the privileged. Liberation Square took its name after a revolution in 1952 carried out six months to the day after mobs burned Cairo, setting fire to the symbols of colonial rule and status. The Cinema Opera went up in flames as it played 'When Worlds Collide'.

"The biggest mistake Mubarak did was to take this country for granted. How can you take 80 million people for granted?" asked Yahya Ismail, an architect born in 1981, the year Mubarak rose to power.

The older protesters in the crowd drew a comparison to the tumultuous events this month — the protests in 1977 when the government of President Anwar el-Sadat increased the price of bread. In those demonstrations, which threatened his rule, one slogan went, "Sadat dresses in the latest fashion, we live seven to a room."

The chants on Saturday evoked those sentiments. In that, there seemed to be a simple national consensus, felt by car mechanics in Upper Egypt and the cafe society in Cairo: the government has failed them.

"I'm glad people have started to realise what's going on," said Eid Khaled, who works in a car parts shop in Badrasheen, earning a salary so meagre he was embarrassed to discuss it, except to say he could not marry anytime soon. His complaint was not just with Mubarak, but all political parties and the retinue of politicians they employ.

Some protesters said they woke up smiling — in the words of Ismail, "for the first time." Others talked of a pride in a country haunted by nostalgia.

Through his reign, Mubarak eschewed the dramatic for the mundane, ever the methodical officer who became a hero after the 1973 war with Israel when he planned Egypt's air defences. In the end, though, the country began to reflect his taciturn personality. Egypt is a far cry today from the country that unquestionably led the Arab world in the 1950s and 1960s, when it radiated culture and power.

Down the road, children pushed a rickety green trash bin, cleaning up trash. Others threw what they collected in the bed of an incinerated police pickup truck. No one seemed to be sure where the moment would lead. But everyone understood that it was, in fact, a moment.

"If god is with us, we'll take a clump of dirt in our hand and turn it into gold," Osama Abdel-Ghani said as he directed occasional traffic in Liberation Square. "We're going to take care of our country. Who else is going to protect it but us?"

A driver careered past a makeshift barricade. "Take it easy," he shouted at him.







The beast had this beatific look on its face as it rumina-ted on the colourful blossoms.

The evening brought a story book ending to a day punctuated with silences, spaces and picture-perfect views of distant blue hills, towering pines and open sky. Watching a crackling fire, I slipped into slumberland under a quilt of dreams. The next thing I knew I was being pummelled and poked by an excited husband who had already woken the children. I hummed and hawed as I opened one eye to look for my slippers and dragged myself through the front door.

The blast of chill air drove out the last flush of sleep as I squinted in the half light of a breaking dawn to focus on the object of my family's rapt attention. What I saw next had me covered in goose bumps. We had a most unexpected visitor by the porch of our holiday cottage.

Standing there by the porch, dreamily gormandising on nasturtiums was a bison. Fear, curiosity and wonder coursed through me. Although the family was huddled together close on the porch, we were oblivious of each other. Collectively, we must have looked like a family of catatonic lemurs, all stiff, stunned and staring. The beast had this beatific look on its face, studying us, as it ruminated on the colourful blossoms. It meandered to the azalea bush, looking as harmless as an absent-minded grandmother. I was now directly in the crosshairs of its dark, beady gaze. It snorted and I froze.

I might have laughed at another time at the incongruity of the situation. In front of me stood a dark and dangerous creature with its low threatening forehead and the meanest looking pair of horns, swinging its dewlaps as it daintily picked the most delicate pink and purple flowers to feast on. The thought that this humungous creature could flatten me in a second had me instinctively stepping back. I could have sworn that I saw a glimmer of amusement in its black, beady eyes at the picture I made in my strawberry pink flannel pyjamas and fluffy socks.

Even as I embraced the moment, I felt a jab in my ribs and a whispered, 'camera'! I scurried into the room and scrambled in the dark for one. By the time I could 'point' and get my numb fingers to 'shoot', the bison switched its tail and turned its expansive rump in my camera's face. This bison with a wicked sense of humour had snootily turned its back on me. As it rambled down the garden slope, I noticed the distinct, white markings on its legs, like socks. The lord of the wild looked resplendent in his regalia and I, the city dweller, felt frumpy by contrast.

When we shared our excitement with the caretaker over breakfast, he told us that a herd of 14 bisons visited the Retreat centre everyday at dawn and dusk. The social animals and the wild ones kept a respectful distance but happily shared the same Edenic state. It seemed time had stood still at an age where the circle of life was still a religion. I must confess how I liked him, my visitor at dawn. "How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet. And depart peaceful, pacified, and thankless". I felt like Lawrence when he met his 'snake' … honoured and humbled by this 'king in exile'.







The Justice B K Somasekhara Commission of Inquiry, set up to probe the violent attacks on churches in coastal Karnataka during September 2008, handed in its final report to the state government on Friday. It has completely exonerated the state government, the organisations of the Sangh Parivar, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the police and politicians of involvement in the attacks.

Then who attacked the churches?

The commission says the attacks were carried out by "misguided fundamentalist miscreants who presumed they would be protected by the party in power", though it acknowledges that "some" of the attacks were deliberate, and cites instances of misuse of power by local administrations and of "excessive" police action against protesting Christians.

Interestingly, Justice Somasekhara has contradicted his own prima facie report of February 2010, which said that top police officers, the district administration and other authorities seemed to have colluded with members of the Bajrang Dal and the Sree Ram Sene directly or indirectly in attacking the churches. He now says that the attacks were "blown out of proportion" in some cases, and that the allegation of police and administration collusion with the attackers "has no merit".

The Bajrang Dal had claimed responsibility for the attacks, claiming they were directed against "conversions". Dal leader Mahendra Kumar was arrested and released on bail. Though the commission has said calls for Kumar's prosecution are justified, it says "true Hindus" had no role to play in the attacks, and holds so-called "misguided fundamentalist miscreants" responsible, but does not name them.

The commission admits there were "no conversions at all by Roman Catholic churches". Yet, nearly all the churches that came under attack were Roman Catholic. Conversions, the Commission says, were by "a few organisations and self-styled pastors". But this, says Justice Somasekhara, has damaged the reputation of "true Christians"…!

And the reason for the attacks? Justice Somasekhara has identified circulation of derogatory literature with an "insulting attitude" towards Hindus and "conversions" as the main reasons for the attacks. Remarkable, is it not then, that the Commission cannot name the groups behind them? The only individual named in the report is former Bajrang Dal head Mahendra Kumar. He too, is accused only of "publicly justifying attacks", not of organising them.

It could be material for a whole new film that can be called 'No One Attacked the Churches'.
Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily has demanded that since the Commission has failed to name the organisations involved in the attacks, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be given the probe. We agree.

The Head of the Forensic Department of the Goa Medical College (GMC) Hospital Dr Silvano Sapeco has deposed under oath before Panjim JMFC Shabnam Shaikh in clear and simple terms that Cipriano Fernandes was killed due to an injury caused by a sharp blunt object on the middle and left portion of his skull, which caused an internal swelling of the brain. Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Sabaji Shetye, who is conducting an inquiry into Cipriano's death, has deposed that Cipriano's death occurred while he was in police custody.
This ought to set at rest any unnecessary confusion caused by the Head of GMC's Pathology Department Dr R G Wiseman Pinto and a local newspaper that his death was from "natural causes".







The role of our Army is to protect the country's borders from external aggression and also from internal dissensions. They have been doing this ever since Independence in 1947. They were first called upon to act against the combined forces of the Pakistani Army and the tribesmen-raiders who attacked Kashmir in 1948. The remarkable feat of Major Somnath Sharma and his courageous company of 4 Kumaon, which had been airlifted from Delhi to Srinagar, just in the nick of time, to stem the advance of the raiders. They saved the Kashmir valley, as Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded J&K to India.

The country must remember that this is a 1.25 million army and a rare case of molestation, indiscipline, attempted murder or misappropriation of funds and violence here and there can happen. Though this is not desireable, the army itself is taking measures to eradicate such undesirable traits. Unfortunately, the Armed Forces lose much of the constitutional rights guaranteed to their civilian counterparts. They can not go abroad while in service! They can not go to the press/media to defend their honour! They cannot take part in politics or stand for any political office! For them, leave is a privilege and not a right. For them, the honour, safety, and security of the country comes first always and every time, even if at the risk of losing their lives. The discipline of the army has been exemplary. Not even one attempted coup.

To our left, we have Pakistan which has been under army rule for most of the time except initially for a brief period of civilian rule and democracy. To our right, we have Burma or Myanmar which has done only marginally better than Pakistan. The Indian army did nothing of the sort. The bureaucrats have all the protection and security, besides the maximum pay and perks.

Promotions are few and far between:

Less than 600 of 60,000 men that are recruited every year, retire as Subedar Majors, on an average. Of the 1,100 officers that are commissioned each year, no more than 600 rise to command their battalions/regimental units. About 125 become Brigadiers, 50 rise to Major Generals, 15 can see three stars on their car and a plucky and lucky one or two, can reach the apex rank. Retirement is also rank related. With every promotion, a soldier earns the right to serve for an additional two years.These highly coveted promotions are earned through sheer dint of hard work and commitment to the service. Medical fitness and discipline standards are the other two determinants for ascendancy. Lately we observe that it is the yes men that have often reached the dizzy heights. The "Ji Hazzur Civilian Style" seems to have taken firm root in the services. The new Chief of Army Staff has recently proclaimed that he will ensure that whistle blowers will be protected. I can say quite honestly with my hand on my heart and thirty seven years in uniform, that no whistle blower has ever been or will ever be protected in the army or in civil life.

Pay and perks:

The bureaucrats on purpose collaborated with the politicians to keep the Armed Forces underpaid and constantly beholden to them. The army went to the aid of Sri Lanka on orders from the central government and received 25% of pay as foreign service allowance while deployed in Sri Lanka though they were facing the bullets, and paying for it in blood. The civilian officers who were deployed in Sri Lanka for re-establishing law and order and to assist in rehabilitation after the army captured the areas were given a full 100% extra pay as foreign allowance. Can anyone justify this annomaly?

I came home to Goa after retirement at the age of 54, as a Brigadier on a paltry pension of Rs 4,950. Yet we demand the highest levels of patriotism, sacrifice and exemplary discipline to be displayed for 365 days in a year for the 37 years that I was in uniform. The Sixth Pay Commission has redressed many of these ills and today I am much better-off. Today, youngsters of the right type are just not coming forward to join the forces, as they weigh the pros and cons of the service and decide to take a less hazardous, safer and less risky job. This is available in the IAS/IFS/ IPS/other civil services, the corporate world and others in Civvy Street today. The good and bright youngsters join these jobs rather than those in the Armed Forces, which were once upon a time, considered a highly honoured and patriotic profession. Why do bureaucrats and politicians' children not join the Army? It is because they want an easy life which offers more pay, perks and prestige!

Precedence and Discipline:

When we became Independent India, The Commander–in-Chief was the Viceroy and he was number one in the list of precedence. Gradualy over the years, this was watered down to number four, then fourteen and the slide continued till it became below all governors, ministers and members of parliament and many others and today stands at below 850. Be it the case of a child fallen into a bore well, a local law and order problem on the Assam and Meghalaya Border; a fire at the oil storage tanks in Jaipur; the recent Gujjar agitation or construction of the foot bridge at the CWG entrance, the army is called in to deliver the goods.

The Defence Secretary considers himself senior to the three chiefs of army, navy and air force staff. This happens only in a country like India. Yet the services have an outstanding record of loyalty to the nation. How many politicians or bureaucrats have been punished for their criminal misdemeanour in several SCAMs? Cases go on forever till forgotten! But Lt Gen P K Rath of the Sukhna land scam case has already been court martialed and has lost two years of seniority and 15 years of his pensionary benefits and got a severe reprimand. This is the discipline and strictness of the services and yet they are maligned?


The services want to eradicate all corruption by its personnel. Unfortunately the media is fond of exaggerating the acts of commission by the army, as a soldier is not allowed to respond to charges on press or TV. There have been only about 550 officer casualties in the Kargil war. More than half of them were unmarried young officers. A little more than 200 were thus widowed. It is common sence that all of them did not require accommodation in Mumbai, as most of them were from North India. There are 31 floors with four flats each in Mumbai's Adarsh Building, but do so many widows need flats? So it should be clear that this is a trick of some babu sitting in a high position in the mantralaya in Mumbai. Why push it on the Army, may I ask? Please give the services their due credit and do not malign them.







The role of our Army is to protect the country's borders from external aggression and also from internal dissensions. They have been doing this ever since Independence in 1947. They were first called upon to act against the combined forces of the Pakistani Army and the tribesmen-raiders who attacked Kashmir in 1948. The remarkable feat of Major Somnath Sharma and his courageous company of 4 Kumaon, which had been airlifted from Delhi to Srinagar, just in the nick of time, to stem the advance of the raiders. They saved the Kashmir valley, as Maharaja Hari Singh had acceded J&K to India.

The country must remember that this is a 1.25 million army and a rare case of molestation, indiscipline, attempted murder or misappropriation of funds and violence here and there can happen. Though this is not desireable, the army itself is taking measures to eradicate such undesirable traits. Unfortunately, the Armed Forces lose much of the constitutional rights guaranteed to their civilian counterparts. They can not go abroad while in service! They can not go to the press/media to defend their honour! They cannot take part in politics or stand for any political office! For them, leave is a privilege and not a right. For them, the honour, safety, and security of the country comes first always and every time, even if at the risk of losing their lives. The discipline of the army has been exemplary. Not even one attempted coup.

To our left, we have Pakistan which has been under army rule for most of the time except initially for a brief period of civilian rule and democracy. To our right, we have Burma or Myanmar which has done only marginally better than Pakistan. The Indian army did nothing of the sort. The bureaucrats have all the protection and security, besides the maximum pay and perks.

Promotions are few and far between:

Less than 600 of 60,000 men that are recruited every year, retire as Subedar Majors, on an average. Of the 1,100 officers that are commissioned each year, no more than 600 rise to command their battalions/regimental units. About 125 become Brigadiers, 50 rise to Major Generals, 15 can see three stars on their car and a plucky and lucky one or two, can reach the apex rank. Retirement is also rank related. With every promotion, a soldier earns the right to serve for an additional two years.These highly coveted promotions are earned through sheer dint of hard work and commitment to the service. Medical fitness and discipline standards are the other two determinants for ascendancy. Lately we observe that it is the yes men that have often reached the dizzy heights. The "Ji Hazzur Civilian Style" seems to have taken firm root in the services. The new Chief of Army Staff has recently proclaimed that he will ensure that whistle blowers will be protected. I can say quite honestly with my hand on my heart and thirty seven years in uniform, that no whistle blower has ever been or will ever be protected in the army or in civil life.

Pay and perks:

The bureaucrats on purpose collaborated with the politicians to keep the Armed Forces underpaid and constantly beholden to them. The army went to the aid of Sri Lanka on orders from the central government and received 25% of pay as foreign service allowance while deployed in Sri Lanka though they were facing the bullets, and paying for it in blood. The civilian officers who were deployed in Sri Lanka for re-establishing law and order and to assist in rehabilitation after the army captured the areas were given a full 100% extra pay as foreign allowance. Can anyone justify this annomaly?

I came home to Goa after retirement at the age of 54, as a Brigadier on a paltry pension of Rs 4,950. Yet we demand the highest levels of patriotism, sacrifice and exemplary discipline to be displayed for 365 days in a year for the 37 years that I was in uniform. The Sixth Pay Commission has redressed many of these ills and today I am much better-off. Today, youngsters of the right type are just not coming forward to join the forces, as they weigh the pros and cons of the service and decide to take a less hazardous, safer and less risky job. This is available in the IAS/IFS/ IPS/other civil services, the corporate world and others in Civvy Street today. The good and bright youngsters join these jobs rather than those in the Armed Forces, which were once upon a time, considered a highly honoured and patriotic profession. Why do bureaucrats and politicians' children not join the Army? It is because they want an easy life which offers more pay, perks and prestige!

Precedence and Discipline:

When we became Independent India, The Commander–in-Chief was the Viceroy and he was number one in the list of precedence. Gradualy over the years, this was watered down to number four, then fourteen and the slide continued till it became below all governors, ministers and members of parliament and many others and today stands at below 850. Be it the case of a child fallen into a bore well, a local law and order problem on the Assam and Meghalaya Border; a fire at the oil storage tanks in Jaipur; the recent Gujjar agitation or construction of the foot bridge at the CWG entrance, the army is called in to deliver the goods.

The Defence Secretary considers himself senior to the three chiefs of army, navy and air force staff. This happens only in a country like India. Yet the services have an outstanding record of loyalty to the nation. How many politicians or bureaucrats have been punished for their criminal misdemeanour in several SCAMs? Cases go on forever till forgotten! But Lt Gen P K Rath of the Sukhna land scam case has already been court martialed and has lost two years of seniority and 15 years of his pensionary benefits and got a severe reprimand. This is the discipline and strictness of the services and yet they are maligned?


The services want to eradicate all corruption by its personnel. Unfortunately the media is fond of exaggerating the acts of commission by the army, as a soldier is not allowed to respond to charges on press or TV. There have been only about 550 officer casualties in the Kargil war. More than half of them were unmarried young officers. A little more than 200 were thus widowed. It is common sence that all of them did not require accommodation in Mumbai, as most of them were from North India. There are 31 floors with four flats each in Mumbai's Adarsh Building, but do so many widows need flats? So it should be clear that this is a trick of some babu sitting in a high position in the mantralaya in Mumbai. Why push it on the Army, may I ask? Please give the services their due credit and do not malign them.



The power of God's love for us and in us is immense. Therefore, we need to walk in faith and love with each one and another. The more we know of God's love for us, the more we can love others as love will banish all fears from our lives. Only when we love God, we can love others. We see ourselves in a new light when we see God's love for us, to think that God rejoices over us with joy commanding us to love others, is something for us to be glad about. But do we love others, then?

First of all, if we truly love the Lord and have faith in him, it is not we who work but God, and his love which is in our hearts, works wonders for us. That love can overcome all obstacles. So submit to God and let Him work. When we close our hearts to others, our eyes are closed to see the beauty of God in them. No one will offend us when we love God's law, and we can simply love them right past their imperfections. We lose our defensiveness and focus more on God's work in our own lives which enables us to see others as unfinished works in progress also.

Basically we need to love ourselves first. Loving yourself is about self acceptance and learning not to focus on your imperfections. Love yourself and love your life journey. When we live in the spirit of love, life becomes joyful. We find that when we aren't bound up in negative emotions, we have more strength. We appreciate the many blessings of our lives, and the positive energy of appreciation creates more blessings for us to appreciate. All of this is possible when we recognise that we are the source of love.

Relationships can create joy in our lives which brings healing —- or they can create bitterness and anger. We're the only ones who can decide for ourselves which way it's going to be. When God takes charge of us, we cannot think bad things about people. Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. Our life is a reflection of our thoughts. It is impossible to have a good life unless we have trained ourselves to have good thoughts. Thinking right thoughts will often bring us to a better relationship with one and another. Satan tries to defeat us all the time and we need to stop the wrong thoughts and refuse to receive them in our mind. It is necessary to replace the wrong thoughts with the right ones. It is virtually impossible to think two things at the same time. When a new thought comes in, the old must go.

However, we got to have determination to love God in our thoughts as this is the only road to true happiness, and the only way we can be a witness in our world today. Mother Teresa said that 'we need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls. She further said there is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in - that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.'

I end with a quote by Barbara Johnson "Live for today, but hold your hands open to tomorrow. Anticipate the future and its changes with joy. There is a seed of God's love in every event, every unpleasant situation in which you may find yourself."








So often and rhetorically are we informed of the advances in the much-touted Look East Policy (LEP) these days that one is tempted to believe that virtually everything has been accomplished on the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) front. And there is no dearth of self-styled experts in the Northeast to dwell on LEP nuances; after all, the LEP is expected to bring a whole gamut of benefits to this region. But what lies ''at the heart'' of LEP — to quote Sudipto Mundle, Emeritus Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi, in an enlightening newspaper write-up? It is ''reinventing India's relations with countries of the ASEAN region'', which ''is a critical factor in the new global power balance that is now evolving'', he says. He has suggested a four-pronged approach. First, India should be able to ''leverage'' the ''asset'' of ''the historical legacy of its shared religious and cultural ties'' with ASEAN nations. Secondly, the ''high impact field'' of our soft power — viz, cinema and entertainment — should be explored to the hilt. ''Some of our leading stars and songs are popular in the (ASEAN) region even without any promotion,'' says Mundle. Thirdly, we should invest in IT-enabled services in ASEAN countries, an arena in which we have proved our expertise. And fourthly, and ''most importantly'', we should invest in the higher education sector in those countries, given especially our brand institutions like IIMs and IITs. The institutes could be both India-financed and jointly managed. ''Visualize a string of India-financed and jointly managed Institutes of Management or Institutes of Technology in (the ) leading cities of the region, attracting the best and brightest students in those countries. Imagine what that could do for India's prestige and goodwill in the region,'' wonders Mundle — very rightly.

Looking East will entail an informed engagement with the many shades of our relationship with ASEAN nations, all of which are happening as valuable economies and emerging as a high-priority area for both India and China, the two leading, competitive Asian economies. A sagacious government, aware of LEP imperatives and determined to capitalize on the opportunities available, would traverse an extra mile in re-cementing India-ASEAN ties by way of evolving a dedicated think tank if necessary, comprising experts who know the nitty-gritty of it all. The HRD Ministry should be pro-active — there is no gainsaying that India can specially connect to ASEAN economies via the higher education route. Does the Manmohan Singh government have any tangible LEP road map? What are the priorities? What is their order?






T he list of corrupt politicians keeps increasing. Bofors, the Harshad Mehta episode, the fodder scam of Laloo, spectrum allocation by A Raja, repeated change of tax rates by Mayawati, and most recently, allocation of land by Yedurappa are the prominent entries. This is not a new disease, however. Gandhiji was much disturbed about this and had suggested that the Congress Party dissolve itself and Congressmen become members of a non-political Lok Sewa Sangh. Congressmen did not like the proposal, for obvious reasons. The problem is equally pervasive in foreign countries. President Sukarno of Indonesia provided many concessions to his sons and helped them build a vast business empire. All major businesses of Tunisia are controlled by President Ben Ali's family. African leaders are known to routinely siphon off 50 to 80 per cent of aid into their personal Swiss accounts. Prime Ministers of Japan and Italy have had to resign amidst allegations of corruption.

Consider the vocations of politician and businessman. The politician cultivates goodwill of the voters whereas the businessman exploits them. Profits of the businessman are inversely proportional to the wages of the workers. The businessman is not afraid by the public outcry against his obtaining prime land by twisting the rules. His eyes are fixed on the income from the land. Public acceptance or rejection is meaningless for him.

It will be difficult for, say, a moneylender to become a politician. He will suffer loss in his business if he adopts a soft stance towards the borrowers. On the other hand, people will not give him votes if he adopts a hard stance. The politician should, therefore, not engage in the business of money lending.

The politician has no sanctity for the words spoken from the mouth. Chanakya says in Arthasastra: ''A king who is situated between two powerful kings may make peace with them on equal terms. Then he may begin to set one of them against the other and thus cause dissent between them. When they are divided, he may put down each separately by secret or covert means.'' A treaty of peace made by a politician can thus be no more than a smokescreen of deception. On the other hand, businessmen strive their utmost to honour their word. Trust is the bedrock on which their business prospers. Consider the fate of a businessman who enters politics. He will be smothered by political opponents if he honours his words. On the other hand, his business will suffer if he changes his words. Similarly, it is beneficial for a politician to protect one who seeks refuge under him. But a businessman ever seeks to extract as much as possible from a person who has come for assistance to him. The conclusion is that a combination of roles of politician and businessman is a sure prescription for collapse. Sanjay Gandhi tried to enter the business of making cars. The result was not good. When a politician, directly or through his family, enters business, there is a spontaneous tendency to twist rules in one's favour. This leads to one's political demise. Is Yedurappa listening?

The way to control corruption is to provide that the politician and his family will limit themselves to politics and not engage in business of any type whatsoever. They will then have lesser tendency to bend the rules and avoid getting into unsavoury scandals. We must amend our Constitution to that effect.







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

A friend was going — more for reasons of weight loss than spirituality — and I decided to go along. So at an ungodly hour on a cold winter morning, we boarded an Indian Airlines flight from Delhi that took more than three hours to get us to Coimbatore after stopping in Mumbai for what seemed like a needless amount of time. All thoughts of spirituality were dissipated by the cleaning crews that swept through the cabin with noisy vacuum cleaners during our halt in Mumbai. Nobody could understand why we were being subjected to this needless exercise; so it was in irritable rather than spiritual frame that we arrived in Coimbatore.

Sadguru's ashram is more than 30 km from Coimbatore airport, and on the way there I chatted with the Tamil businessman in whose car we travelled about the likely results of the elections to the Tamil Nadu Assembly due in the next couple of months. He told me that he thought the 2G spectrum scandal and sibling rivalries in the Karunananidhi clan had damaged DMK's chances, so in his view it was Jayalalitha who was likely to be the next Chief Minister of our southernmost State. He sounded cheerful about this and in the week I spent in Tamil Nadu I met others who sounded as cheered up by the prospect of Karunanidhi & Family losing the next election.

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

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

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

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

It is a modern gurukul that teaches Sanskrit, English, Yoga, Kalairipittu and Bharat Natyam with the idea that children will specialize in whichever of these subjects they find most conducive to their natural talents. We need thousands of schools like this if we are to preserve what is left of our heritage. In the interests of 'secularism', most Indian schools exhibit a contempt for India's ancient heritage that is truly shameful.

So if Sadguru's Isha Ashram had done nothing else than create the Isha Sanskriti school, it would already have been enough.  But he has done much more. He has built an institution that is run almost entirely by volunteers who are drawn to the Isha Ashram because they believe that they can contribute their voluntary services to building something unique. Even to someone as spiritually challenged as me, it was hard to come away from Sadguru's ashram without being very impressed with what I saw. And, for the record, I continue to practise the Shaambhavi Mahamudra in the hope that it will open spiritual doors for me somewhere along the way.

Tavleen Singh

(Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter@tavleen_singh)








Just last week IDF Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi appeared before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and predicted that President Hosni Mubarak's regime would remain stable.

Kochavi was not alone in his prognosis. Media pundits, academics, and regional analysts were all providing similar projections in the wake of Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution.

But suddenly, in a matter of days, Mubarak's autocracy, held in place by an extensive, well-armed and feared security apparatus was being challenged on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. Mubarak's grip was slipping.

A transfer of power from Mubarak to intelligence chief Omar
Suleiman, the establishment's candidate, appears to be more likely than the toppling of the present military regime and the creation of a vacuum that would inevitably be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood. Still, it would be unwise to rule out such a scenario – particularly in the long term – judging by the speed at which events are unfolding.

Political stability in Egypt is a cardinal Israeli interest.

Relations with Egypt since the signing of the Camp David Peace Treaty in March, 1979 have been cold, yet even a tepid peace with Egypt is of utmost importance.

The quiet along our mutual border has allowed the IDF to redirect military resources to other potentially inflammatory locations – south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip – while reducing the strain on reserve soldiers.

Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the IDF and Egypt have quietly coordinated efforts against Iranian-supplied arms smuggling.

Egypt under Muslim Brotherhood rule would not only put an end to all this, but a sometimes reluctant ally, with the largest and (Israel-excepted) strongest armed forces in the Mideast, based on the most advanced American-made technologies, would be transformed into a bellicose foe.

To cover all the borders as potential military fronts for the first time since the years following the Yom Kippur War, the IDF would need to undergo major structural changes, spreading its already limited resources even thinner.

ANYONE WHO cherishes liberty inevitably sympathizes with the aspirations of Egypt's men and women, young and old, secular and religious, educated and not, who have taken to the streets in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other sites across the country, demanding an end to Mubarak's oppressive government. Those rare blog entries in praise of freedom that managed to skirt Mubarak's Internet blackout were truly moving. Justice is on the side of the legions of young Egyptians blocked from getting ahead by a corrupt and mismanaged economy and a system in which who you know is more important than what you have to offer.

It would be comforting to believe that there is a third way – that when the dust has settled, Egyptians could find themselves led neither by a radical Islamist regime headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, nor by more Mubarak-style repression under Suleiman or someone else. One would like to believe that Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad ElBaradei, leader of the reformist movement, is right when he argues that it is only Mubarak's propaganda that has convinced the West that Egyptians must choose between just two options – the status quo authoritarian regime, or "the likes of bin Laden's al-Qaida."


Yet the sad fact is that an overwhelming proportion of Egypt's populace supports Islamic fundamentalists.

When asked which they preferred, 59% said Islamists and 27% said modernizers, according to the latest Pew poll from last February.


The mass protest on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other Egyptian cities is not an articulate political movement that has clear ideas about what it wants to achieve, other than the ousting of Mubarak. In fact, besides the Muslim Brotherhood or political parties taken over by it, there is not a single significant organized political movement in Egypt that can muster a large enough constituency to present a coherent alternative to the present regime.

Progress that would allow the Egyptian people to live a better life, with basic human rights, freedoms and greater economic opportunities, can most likely only be achieved via a transition from Mubarak to someone like Suleiman, who can maintain order while fostering gradual change. It certainly won't be achieved under yet another radical Islamic regime.

An orderly transition would be better not just for Israel, but for the Egyptian people as well.










So close and yet so far. That was the first phrase that jumped into my mind as the socalled PaliLeaks started to flow into my consciousness early last week. Suddenly, we read how a peace agreement had been so nearly achieved – and yet the gaps were so wide that it remained unsigned.

The borders, too, had never seemed so close, sketched out as they were on what Al-Jazeera nicknamed the Napkin Maps. Each side had yielded land or principles.

Even the distance between Israel Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman and Kadima's Tzipi Livni appeared to have been reduced to the point that they shared the same shaky lines on the redrawn maps: Lieberman's idea of leaving people where they lived and just moving the borders reappears as one of Livni's guiding principles when she took over the negotiations from Ehud Olmert.

But I found it hard to focus completely on the Al-Jazeera exposé. Other borders kept impinging.

Too close for comfort.

While the world examined the Al-Jazeera leaks as proof that peace in the Middle East was indeed possible if not imminent, Israelis kept a watchful eye on the existing borders. Iran's proxy Hizbullah took over Lebanon and Hamas continued to fire rockets from Gaza (already a de facto Palestinian state at war with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah).

Meanwhile, the petals from Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution were carried on the winds into Egypt and Algeria. They didn't smell so pleasant by the time they hit the ground. Jordan also sniffed trouble, wary of an opposition which includes a radical Islamist element, and understandably concerned about the way its Palestinian population could react.

Even Qatar, Al-Jazeera's home and sponsor, is presumably observing the riots and unrest and wondering who's next – and how to use its media to influence events.

The US, incidentally, maintains a mammoth military base in that Gulf state, and would be wise to watch something other than Al-Jazeera for a clear picture of the Muslim world. The leaks, after all, furthered the interests of Hamas and put the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority on the defensive.

The news, from Al-Jazeera and other more reliable sources, was not good.

Israeli politics, dirty though they might be, are clearly a lot more pleasant than what goes on in the surrounding regimes. And the local economy is booming – even while taxi drivers protest the rise in gasoline prices and business tycoons battle the government over who should benefit from the discovery of natural gas off our shores.

We might complain about corruption, but we know that it's nothing compared to what Tunisians have had to put up with. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's villa in Caesarea is no beachside palace erected on the backs of the poor. The appointment of the next chief of General Staff might be delayed as the state comptroller and state attorney discuss whether Yoav Galant illegally extended his moshav home onto state land – and the general public freely ridiculed his taste in architecture – but there was not even a split second in which we thought the army might stage a coup.


Israelis cringe at the thought of all the former ministers and MKs who are familiar with prisons from the wrong side of the bars, but their convictions for criminal – not political – offenses is the exact opposite of the sort of repression that our neighbors, near and far, know and fear.

Our leaders are chosen democratically, regularly, and can be replaced through elections, not revolutions. This is no dictatorship based on nepotism or absolute monarchy. The rule of kings here ended millennia ago, long before the world considered it a problem that Jews lived in Judea and Samaria.

Which is probably why I have yet to meet the resident of Beit Safafa or Jerusalem's Old City who would jump at a chance to become Palestinian by nationality rather than by name, as the leaked documents propose.

Meanwhile the Jews of Har Homa, Ma'aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion are as likely to agree to a peace on those terms as Hamas is likely to lay down its arms and grant Netanyahu the keys to Gaza City.

The most telling lesson of the PaliLeaks revelations was the response of Israelis and Palestinians. While the Israelis tended to see the new information as a tool strengthening their existing positions – be they Left, Right or Center – the Palestinians panicked, retracted and sought to cast the blame elsewhere.

It is even questionable to what extent PA President Mahmoud Abbas would be able to carry out a peace agreement.

His fight is with Hamas and Iran, not Israel and the US.


In any case, peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as I tire of explaining, is not a recipe for world harmony. Even if an agreement can be reached, it will not stop Iran, now on our northern doorstep, from continuing its plans to become a nuclear power.

And that, of course, brings it dangerously close not just to Israel but to Europe.

In an era in which revolutions are furthered on Facebook and by Twitter, and the camera in a cellphone is as much a weapon as the Molotov cocktails of old, reality can change with the speed of an Internet connection.

That is perhaps one of the messages of WikiLeaks, PaliLeaks and all the Leaks that are sure to follow. There's a new world out there. It lives in a global village.

And it's changing every minute.

The change can bring peace, democracy and economic growth – or the exact opposite.

And herein lies the main point raised by PaliLeaks: While the Palestinians argued over borders and land, Israel was no less concerned with the nature of the proposed peace. We have already had peace agreements with the Palestinians – led by Yasser Arafat, who was in a far better position than Abbas to impose his will – and what we got in return were missiles and suicide bombers. Beit Jala never seemed closer to Gilo than when rockets launched from the Palestinian-controlled area blasted the Jewish neighborhood. Gaza is a stone's throw away from Negev communities, but Hamas left the stone age a long time ago; its preferred weapons today are Kassams and Grads.

Abbas is afraid not only of signing an agreement, but even of being seen to have come close to reaching one; Israel is scared of the result – not just in terms of land and homes that might be given up, but of the missiles and wars that might be launched from the surrendered areas.

There is sadly still a huge distance to go until the two sides come together in peace.

The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.









When the time comes for genuine elections in Egypt, the country's future will be determined not by university graduates in Cairo but by 70 million villagers. And also, for example, by the one million people living in the City of the Dead, the cemetery in northern Cairo. They will vote for the Muslim Brotherhood because no liberal party can give them the rapid change desperately longed for by the masses, who suffer from shortages of flour, clean drinking water, jobs and housing.

The parties will be myriad and fragmented, colorless and disappointing, left-wing and right-wing - and all of them hostile to Israel, of course. An unstable, rudderless transition period, a parliamentary democracy in the Turkish model, if not the Iranian, will give rise to a religious regime that within a few years will presumably be in control of the best-trained and best-equipped army in the Middle East.

Many urban, educated city dwellers will calmly accept the will of the people, seeing it as an alternative to the futile, fawning pursuit of the culturally hollow West, which gave birth to exploitative dictatorships. The people love Islam - the culture, the tradition. The proponents of sane and secular freedom will wake up too late, just like the socialists and liberals who took to the streets to bring down the Shah of Iran, only to be hanged in the city squares when the transition government in Tehran was replaced with darkness.

Those who believe that the fear of losing the U.S. lifeline will rein in this process underestimate the Egyptian people. Radical, political religion is what will shape the Middle East in the coming decades.

Even in states where a tiny, tired minority rules over an oppressed majority, like Syria, the alternative's day will come. Freedom, in our secular interpretation of the concept, will not easily represent an alternative. The Gaza Strip is already in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, which took the election decisively, and Lebanon will be controlled by Hezbollah. Islam is the solution, according to the slogan of the movement that was born in Egypt 90 years ago.

The masses in the dictatorships are losing their dread of the regime. For them, the new and relevant "leader," who rules and stirs the spirits, is freedom of information and of technology, the most effective manipulators of which and often its big winners are the fundamentalists. That is the case with the Al Jazeera television network, which is controlled by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood but which cynically benefits from the support of international human rights organizations, which see it as battling for freedom of expression in the Arab world.

The world does not necessarily move forward; it generally goes in circles. And progress does not necessarily lead to advancement. In late 1970s in Iran, too, it was audio cassettes of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's sermons that spread the revolutionary message. It is entirely possible that within a decade or two Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank will be part of the axis of political Islam.

In two decades or so, more than half of Israeli youth will be either Arab or ultra-Orthodox Jews. Most of the Arabs will presumably support the Islamic Movement. The Haredim, for their part, will join the workforce, even high-tech, but their support for political religion and for a justice system ruled by Jewish law will not change. People can become accustomed to anything, and we too, presumably, will gradually get used to religious edicts and a changing reality. Many of us, members of the productive, liberal public, will give up and flee in desperation. Others will remain optimistic. Or skeptical.






The blow that Defense Minister Ehud Barak landed on the Labor Party further diminished its public stature and its parliamentary representation, but it could actually present an opportunity for the party to rejuvenate itself and really take off. This will only happen, however, if several conditions are fulfilled, the first of which is that the eight remaining Labor Knesset members stop quarreling among themselves over the party chairmanship. The selection of Micha Harish as temporary chairman is a step in the right direction.

It's not really important whether Avishay Braverman or Isaac Herzog is the next party chairman. The fact of the matter is that the choice of one candidate or another won't attract even a single vote in elections. The members of Labor's Knesset faction should also be told the following: "Dear friends, get the notion out of your heads that one of you will be prime minister in the foreseeable future." This uncomfortable truth has to be absorbed, since it is not conceivable that Labor will lead Israel any time soon.

That's a harsh judgment for a party that for decades has been the country's dominant force and has to its credit some of the most impressive successes of the 20th century, not only in building a nation and defending it, but also in creating a welfare society under difficult circumstances. There are those who try to deny this today, but the social accomplishments of the Zionist labor movement - the establishment of kibbutzim and moshavim, the emergence of the Histadrut labor federation not only as a trade union but also as a force that controlled the wider public economy, the shaping of the health-care system based on the principle of mutual solidarity - these were all models for emulation and admiration among socialist workers' parties around the world.

These accomplishments have been eroded to a great degree because of the Labor Party itself, which since 1967 was dragged into an agenda in which matters of peace and security were front and center and in which the social-welfare banner was abandoned. As a result, a horrible vacuum was created in Israeli society, which became beholden to uninhibited capitalism, which ate away at the social achievements of the Zionist enterprise.

The Labor Party can raise that social-welfare banner now. It will have a future if it manages to bring together a leadership that knows how to speak the language of social issues. It must direct its attention to the weaker segments of society; develop a credible plan to reduce disparities among the country's population; show concern for the needs of large families, both ultra-Orthodox and Arab; provide encouragement for working women (and not only single mothers ); and make it easier for women to enter the workforce through tax benefits and day-care centers at an affordable cost for the average working person.

It should do what it hasn't done for years, providing realistic alternatives to the weakening of the welfare society. It should revive the Histadrut as a workers' organization rather than just one that represents the strong workers' committees and halt the trend toward privatization of public and social services. If it becomes the mouthpiece for the weaker segments of society, it will then also attract support from among those currently voting for Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu, the Arab parties and even for Likud. These are people whose social interests are being neglected at the expense of nationalist or religious slogans.

Not all citizens are disturbed as is the Labor Party's present base of support, the secular, Ashkenazi social elite, who are rightly troubled by the fate of the Palestinians or the future of the settlements. These are critical issues, but most Israelis are concerned, first and foremost, about their children's future and their children's education, over how to ensure their children decent housing and to provide for their families with dignity. They are also concerned about what will happen when they themselves get old and are in need of assistance.

None of these issues has a patron in the political system. As the next chairwoman of the Histadrut, MK Shelly Yachimovich would be able to make a huge contribution to advancing these issues. Of course, that would be duller and more exhausting than public quarrels in the Knesset, but it is much more important.

The future of the Labor Party is not dependent upon the identity of its next chairman, but rather on its ability to create a united leadership around a clear social platform. In this way, it would be serving the aims of a democratic and socially conscious Israel, and in time also (probably as a junior partner ) as part of a governing coalition. Only Labor can fill that vacuum.






Commentators and various other "sources" are warning about the rise to power of extreme Islamist rule in Egypt. But they are ignoring the popular and secular profile of the demonstrations there, as well as the secular option similar to that in Turkey.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that Israel wishes to maintain stability in the region. His contribution to stability? The Ministerial Committee for Legislation debates a bill that would ban the wearing in public of the burka, the garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the face and body. It's a proposal that the Palestinians angrily termed "a racist campaign against Palestinian identity in Israel" last summer.

The bill is portrayed as promoting women's liberation and is based on the belief that the burka degrades women and their rights. While there is no disputing this, the truth is there is no fundamental difference between the regular head coverings worn by Muslim and Jewish women. The disparity is only a matter of degree.

Dr. Susan Weiss wrote an article indicating that head coverings among Jewish women are, from the outset, a symbol of subjugation and ownership by the husband, relating to female sexuality. True, the head coverings for Jewish females are only meant for married women; among unmarried women, immodestly exposed hair is not an issue. It is only when that exposed head becomes the private property of a particular man that it must be concealed from others.

A few interpreters of Jewish religious law have ruled that men cover their heads as a sign of their subordination to God - but because the subordination to God is only partial, ("The wise man's eyes are in his head," Ecclesiastes says ), his head covering too is only partial. But the woman covers her head as a sign of total subordination, and therefore her head must be fully covered.

Many religious women who would be enraged by the above description cover their heads for a variety of reasons that are not connected to religious faith. Head covering is also a symbol of status, of communal connection. Sometimes it serves as a kind of shield, precisely because of what it indicates.

Muslim women, too, wear head coverings for reasons such as their connection to a specific population, out of "dignity" or as a defense. Capitalist culture, which traffics in the female body, should not be surprised when Jewish and Muslim women feel protected behind veils and head coverings, even if it is a total illusion. There are of course many other women who have no right to decide, but still no one would dream of legislating a ban on Jewish women covering their heads.

The most relevant truth, however, is that in Israel very few women wear veils; it is far from being a phenomenon that must be contained, which makes the proposed law unnecessary for all intents and purposes - beyond the provocation and ferment it creates. Even Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman recently said he would not suggest the passage of such bills considering "our reality." If the government of Israel wishes to advance the status and liberation of Arab women, it would do well to enable them to enter the workforce and earn money. Arab women study; they are more educated today than ever before, proving that the government's contention that tradition prevents these women from working and studying is a lie.

The proposed burka legislation was inspired by the law in France, but its passage there was preceded by long and widespread public debate. Also, that law in France comes as an extension of a law barring any kind of head covering in educational institutions, all of which belong to the same school system - the system of the secular French republic. In Israel, which is not at all secular, every stream of thought has its own school system, and head coverings are accepted and desirable, especially when worn by Jews.

The growing religious fundamentalism in Israel is actually Jewish, not Muslim. While the Arab population here becomes more secular, the religious Jewish public is getting stronger. Instead of fearing Muslims in power in Egypt and Israel, it is worth setting our sights on Jewish fundamentalism and the latest law that it is promoting.





The Middle East is undergoing a revolution, and it's not just evident in the removal of the Tunisian regime or the shaking up of Hosni Mubarak. It's a civil revolution in which the people, not the military, decide that they have had enough with the system, with its violations, corruption and poverty. The people are taking to the street not only to protest but to achieve the well-being they deserve.

This isn't the first time the people in the Middle East have crushed the system. Iran demonstrated its own model of a civil revolution in 1979, public pressure in Lebanon forced out the Syrian military in 2005, and big demonstrations in many Arab states changed economic policies there. Still, every time, there is enormous surprise at the people's enormous strength. There is surprise not only in Egypt and Tunisia, but also in the West and no less in Israel. This is because the people in Arab countries are still perceived as lacking in power and influence, and subject to manipulation by the authorities.

But the rules of the game are changing dramatically. In these countries, the weakening of government censorship, the effective use of the Internet, state bodies that lack authority, and especially the enormity of the suffering transform the people's direct action into an act of great influence.

But the surprise or horror at the takeover of the daily political agenda by civil movements is not enough. The matter requires quick and matter-of-fact conclusions. The first is that the people in Egypt or Jordan, in Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority, are no longer willing to give endless leeway to their leaders in politics, economics or foreign policy. This is a public that considers itself equal to the people in the West, even if it is not as powerful.

Hopefully the turmoil in Egypt, which is affecting all its allies in the Middle East and West, will encourage leaders there and in Arab states to quickly change the contract between the regime and the citizens. This is a new order that hopefully the whole region will move toward. It deserves to be encouraged by the West.






The riots began in Silwan, spread to Sheikh Jarrah, moved on to Shuhada Street in Hebron and reached their peak in Ramallah. College students and the jobless, along with former Hamas prisoners and embittered Fatah activists, took over the Muqata. Masses of people bearing placards condemning the occupation marched toward the settlement of Psagot. A small group of soldiers who were stationed along the way took fright and fired live bullets at the protesters. News about the death of 10 youths inflamed the Arab towns in the Galilee and the Triangle region, and the outrage spread to Jaffa and Ramle. The Israel Defense Forces seized control of the territories and restored military rule. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced his resignation and dismantled the PA.

A hallucination? The product of a wild imagination? If only. Just last week, who among us anticipated the earthquake that has since rocked Egypt? Are the residents of Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and Shuhada Street, who are living under foreign occupation, in a better situation than the Egyptians suffering under a cruel regime? Don't the students at Birzeit University have Facebook accounts?

Don't the Al Jazeera on-the-scene reports about the riots in Egypt spark thoughts of uprising among unemployed Palestinians in the West Bank (especially since the unemployment rate in the West Bank is 16.5 percent, compared to 9.7 percent in Egypt )? And don't the lucky ones, who have permits to stand in a packed line at the roadblock in the wee hours of the morning to get a day of work at a Jewish construction site, understand that even Arabs can revolt against infringement of their basic rights?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday that he was making an effort to maintain stability and security in the region. How will he do that? For example, is he going to help strengthen the moderate secular coalition in the region by announcing that he accepts the Arab League peace initiative - the same initiative that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been begging us to respond to for eight years - as a basis for negotiations?

Come on, really, how could he? After all, it doesn't say there that they'll recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people and a united Jerusalem as our eternal capital.

So maybe, as a gesture to Mubarak, Netanyahu will invite Abbas to his home and present him with a fair proposal for permanent borders?

What does that have to do with it? The Palestinians should be thankful that the prime minister is considering approving an access road to the future Palestinian city of Rawabi.

And what about this idea: Netanyahu convinces members of Congress to increase financial aid to Egypt. He could tell them it's not fair that Israel gets $3 billion a year from the United States while Egypt, whose population is 11 time bigger and whose per capita gross national product is about one-fifth that of Israel's ($6,200 vs. $30,000 ), gets less than $2 billion.

What kind of nonsense is that? Where will we get the money to buy more combat planes? What, are we going to take it from the new roads we're paving for the settlers?

It's not really reasonable, or even fair, to expect that Netanyahu will really make an effort to maintain regional stability and security; the human rights situation in the territories interests him as much as last year's heat wave. The option of withdrawal from most of the territories as part of a regional peace, accompanied by security arrangements and the promotion of financial projects, does not sit well with his political agenda. The "Big Brother" contestant who was kicked off the show yesterday interests Israeli voters more than the risk that Abbas will be ousted tomorrow. The turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt serve as further proof for the voters that in our violent part of the world, we have to build up our muscles - and that there isn't any room for terror collaborators or people who are overly fastidious.

The responsibility for not geting dragged away in the wave of fanaticism and anarchy falls on U.S. President Barack Obama. In June 2009, he pledged that "America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own." At the same time, he called for a total halt to settlement construction, which he said undermines peace efforts. Twenty months later, in his State of the Union address last week, Obama didn't mention the Palestinians or even imply anything about them, while his representatives in the United Nations are working on holding off a proposal to condemn Israel over continued unrestrained construction in the settlements.

The only thing left is to hope that Obama learned something from what's going on in Egypt and will not wait until the territories are aflame before muttering something about the need for confidence-building steps.



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



In the next two months, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature will have to make very difficult decisions about how to close a $10 billion budget deficit — which state offices to shutter, which services and aid to cut, which employees to lay off and which taxes to raise. There are no easy fixes left.

Mr. Cuomo has vowed to balance the budget without borrowing or using any of the accounting gimmicks that helped dig New York into this hole. That's good news.

But we are skeptical of his no-new-taxes pledge and his promise to let a surcharge on high earners expire. Extending that one tax until the end of 2012 would add an estimated $2 billion to the budget in the coming fiscal year and $4 billion the following year.

Without additional revenue, all of the $10 billion will have to come from spending cuts — a reduction of more than 10 percent for the state's projected $92.3 billion operating budget. Half of that goes to schools and Medicaid and other health care. So the state's most vulnerable citizens — the poor, the sick, the elderly and schoolchildren — will inevitably bear the largest burden.

Is there room to cut? Yes. New York spends more per pupil on education and more per enrollee on Medicaid than nearly any other state. Salaries and benefits for state employees outstrip the private sector.

In some cases, such as parts of the Medicaid program, the services are better and would be worth the investment in easier times. In too many cases, those higher costs are the result of Albany's profligacy and its eagerness to reward unions and other special interests.

New York also ranks at or near the top of various surveys of tax burdens. The tax system needs to be reviewed, but there is no way to deal with the budget crises — near-term and long-term — without higher taxes.

We need to live within our means. The challenge is to find ways to cut spending equitably and limit the disruption to essential services and the damage to the state's future. Living within our means also requires finding equitable sources of additional revenue.

Mr. Cuomo's budget for fiscal year 2011-12 is due Tuesday. The Legislature must approve a final budget by April 1. That is not a lot of time. Politicians and voters need to use it well, carefully reviewing and debating policy decisions. Here are some of the issues to consider:

THE NUMBERS New York State has a frustratingly opaque budgeting process, but as of November, the state budget office was predicting a breakdown that includes: $24 billion for health care, mainly Medicaid; $23 billion for K-12 education; $17 billion for state employee salaries and benefits; $6.5 billion for local government grants; and $3.4 billion for welfare and other social services.

Mr. Cuomo wants to streamline government and we will certainly hear a lot more about reducing waste, fraud and abuse. These are admirable goals, but there is no way to find $10 billion in savings without making significant cuts from the biggest-ticket items.

MEDICAID New York's Medicaid program— the joint state-federal health insurance for the poor — is expected to spend far more than any other state's, including the programs in California and Texas, which have much larger populations.

In part that is due to the high cost of medical care around New York City. But New York's eligibility terms and benefits are some of the most generous in the nation. It ranks near the top in providing "optional benefits," such as dental coverage and long-term care. And it spends more than any other state per enrollee on care for the elderly and disabled.

Any cuts must try to minimize harm to patients and communities. Unfortunately, cuts in Medicaid could be almost three times as painful as other cuts: if Albany cuts $2 billion, local governments automatically cut at least $750 million and New York will lose $2.75 billion in federal funds, for a total reduction of $5.5 billion.

The best place to look for savings is in programs for the elderly and the disabled; as a quarter of the enrollees, they receive almost three-quarters of total Medicaid spending. Some is acute care in hospitals, but a lot is long-term care in nursing homes, clinics and at home, where spending is rising rapidly.

The state may need to restrict allowed home visits, placing an even greater burden on families. More long-term care patients must be moved into managed care plans. To save money right now, Albany will likely have to cut the reimbursement rates to hospitals and other institutions. It will need to focus on well-paid providers, without endangering safety-net hospitals.

New York could get some additional help next year from Washington if it is aggressive about applying for demonstration grants to test cost-saving approaches under the health care reform law. If they work, they could also bring lasting improvements to the program.

EDUCATION New York's average per pupil cost of more than $15,000 is well above the national average of about $11,000. In student achievement, the state trails Massachusetts and Maryland, which spend significantly less. That means New York has two challenges: it must address the quality of instruction and the high costs.

Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature must first acknowledge the historical inequity of education financing — and guarantee that the poorest districts will feel the least pain. For decades, Albany has starved poor school districts while lavishing money on wealthy districts.

Under a court ruling, Albany in 2007 adopted a new, needs-based funding formula intended to distribute an additional $7 billion over several years to poor and chronically underfinanced districts. The money was distributed for two years, frozen in the third year and cut significantly last year.

This year, the wealthiest school districts should bear much of the burden, and poor districts should be protected as much as possible.

Last year's cuts cost New York City about $440 million in education funds. The Ilion school district, in upstate Herkimer County, is another that has been long neglected, and last year's loss of about $450,000 in state aid hit particularly hard. The district had to lay off 3 of its 145 teachers and did not replace two others who retired. The superintendent worries that he might have to lay off as many as 10 additional teachers this year.

Ilion is doing many of the right things to cut costs. It buys office and payroll services from a consortium and is exploring a merger with three other districts. Even the most ambitious savings pale when compared with the burden of salaries and benefits, which make up about 75 percent of Ilion's costs.

Ilion's problems are deeper than those of many other districts, but the underlying choices are the same. Savings can be found through streamlining and other creative reforms. But with 75 percent of all local education budgets going to pay for teachers' salaries and benefits, that is where much of the money will have to be found.

The unions may have to accept a salary freeze, and even then layoffs may be inevitable. (Last year, the state lost 9,000 of its 220,000 teachers due to the budget cuts.) Teachers will have to agree to pay more into their pensions and health insurance plans, and to raise the retirement age to 65.

Governor Cuomo's call for a 2 percent cap on property taxes will make a bad situation even worse. It would make it impossible for districts — unless voters overrode the cap — to raise more local school aid at the very time that the state is cutting its contribution. The Legislature should reject the idea.

PERSONNEL Mr. Cuomo's proposed salary freeze for many of the state's 236,000 workers could save at least $200 million next year. Unions are resisting. Freezes are a painful fact of life across the private sector these days. And, thanks to their powerful unions, state workers have gotten raises worth more than 13 percent since 2007.

New York will never get its fiscal house in order unless it deals with employees' extremely generous benefits. By 2013, the average total compensation — salary, pension contribution and health insurance contribution — for a state employee will be $102,000.

While private-sector workers pay about 20 percent of the cost of individual health insurance coverage on average, state employees contribute only 10 percent.

Pension benefits are even more out of line. Until 2009, most employees contributed 3 percent to their pensions, but only for the first decade of employment. In 2009 lawmakers required new employees to contribute 3 percent every year, but that contribution is still less than half of what most other states require. New York also has lower retirement ages and higher disability rates than most states and is one of only three in the country to count overtime in calculating pension benefits.

The state must insist on higher contributions by all its workers to pensions and health insurance, a lower ceiling on the amount of overtime counted in pension calculations and wage increases in line with those in the economy at large.

REVENUES In his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo said that New York has "the worst business tax climate in the nation, period." That was a reference to New York's last-place position in a tally by one research group, the Tax Foundation. Other tallies yield different results. Even using that ranking, it's hard to prove that businesses in New York are at a huge competitive disadvantage, especially since neighboring New Jersey ranked 48 and Connecticut ranked 47, while South Dakota and Alaska were first and second.

More important, taxes generally rank behind education, infrastructure and other criteria when businesses decide where to locate. Trying to balance the budget solely with cuts — in education and essential services — will make New York even less attractive.

With the economy still struggling this is not the time to impose major new taxes. There are some that can bring in a good chunk of revenue, without doing damage.

As we said, New York would get an estimated $2 billion of additional revenue in the upcoming fiscal year if it extended the personal income tax surcharge that applies to couples making more than $300,000 and individuals making over $200,000. (A couple with two school-age children and taxable income of $350,000 would pay $3,500 more. A couple making $1 million, with two children and typical deductions, would pay about $20,500 more.)

Wealthy families got a generous break from Washington with the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Mr. Cuomo should extend New York's surcharge for two more years. Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature should also be looking for other sources of revenue. A penny-per-ounce tax on sugary sodas could raise an estimated $465 million in the first fiscal year. This is a no-brainer.

The governor also needs to order a systematic review of nearly $29 billion in state tax credits and other breaks. Some are necessary to encourage investment and development, but others stay on the books year after year without any analysis of their value. Why, for example, do sellers of precious metal bullion and coins get a tax break that cost the state $185 million in 2010? Doing away with about 5 percent of these deals would bring in nearly $1.5 billion.

None of these choices will be easy. Governor Cuomo has set up several commissions to recommend ways to cut costs and streamline government. We hope the process will promote an honest, transparent debate. New York can't go on this way any longer.






As the world ponders the fate of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak, Americans should ponder this: It's quite possible that if Mubarak had not ruled Egypt as a dictator for the last 30 years, the World Trade Center would still be standing.

This is true even though Mubarak's regime has been a steadfast U.S. ally, a partner in our counterterrorism efforts and a foe of Islamic radicalism. Or, more aptly, it's true because his regime has been all of these things.

In "The Looming Tower," his history of Al Qaeda, Lawrence Wright raises the possibility that "America's tragedy on September 11 was born in the prisons of Egypt." By visiting imprisonment, torture and exile upon Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an Islamic revolution in his own country. But he also helped radicalize and internationalize his country's Islamists, pushing men like Ayman Al-ZawahiriOsama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, and arguably the real brains behind Al Qaeda — out of Egyptian politics and into the global jihad.

At the same time, Mubarak's relationship with Washington has offered constant vindication for the jihadi worldview. Under his rule, Egypt received more American dollars than any country besides Israel. For many young Egyptians, restless amid political and economic stagnation, it's been a short leap from hating their dictator to hating his patrons in the United States. One of the men who made this leap was an architecture student named Mohamed Atta, who was at the cockpit when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center.

These sound like good reasons to welcome Mubarak's potential overthrow, and the end to America's decades-long entanglement with his drab, repressive regime. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern politics is never quite that easy. The United States supported Mubarak for so long because of two interrelated fears: the fear of another Khomeini and the fear of another Nasser. Both anxieties remain entirely legitimate today.

The first fear everyone understands, because we're still living with the religious tyranny that Ayatollah Khomeini established in Iran in 1979, in the wake of a spontaneous revolution not unlike the one currently sweeping Cairo and Alexandria.

The second fear is less immediately resonant, because Gamal Abdel Nasser is now 40 years in the grave. But the last time a popular revolution in the land of the pharaohs overthrew a corrupt regime, the year was 1952, Nasser was the beneficiary — and Washington lived to rue the day he came to power.

Nasser was not an Islamist: he was a secular pan-Arabist socialist, which in the 1950s seemed to put him on history's cutting edge. But under his influence, Egypt became an aggressively destabilizing force in Middle Eastern politics. His dream of a unified Arab world helped inspire convulsions and coups from Lebanon to Iraq. He fought two wars with Israel, and intervened disastrously in Yemen. His army was accused of using poison gas in that conflict, a grim foreshadowing of Saddam Hussein's domestic tactics. And his pursuit of ballistic missiles was a kind of dress rehearsal for today's Iranian nuclear brinkmanship — complete with a covert Israeli campaign to undermine his weapons programs.

The memory of Nasser is a reminder that even if post-Mubarak Egypt doesn't descend into religious dictatorship, it's still likely to lurch in a more anti-American direction. The long-term consequences of a more populist and nationalistic Egypt might be better for the United States than the stasis of the Mubarak era, and the terrorism that it helped inspire. But then again they might be worse. There are devils behind every door.

Americans don't like to admit this. We take refuge in foreign policy systems: liberal internationalism or realpolitik, neoconservatism or noninterventionism. We have theories, and expect the facts to fall into line behind them. Support democracy, and stability will take care of itself. Don't meddle, and nobody will meddle with you. International institutions will keep the peace. No, balance-of-power politics will do it.

But history makes fools of us all. We make deals with dictators, and reap the whirlwind of terrorism. We promote democracy, and watch Islamists gain power from Iraq to Palestine. We leap into humanitarian interventions, and get bloodied in Somalia. We stay out, and watch genocide engulf Rwanda. We intervene in Afghanistan and then depart, and watch the Taliban take over. We intervene in Afghanistan and stay, and end up trapped there, with no end in sight.

Sooner or later, the theories always fail. The world is too complicated for them, and too tragic. History has its upward arcs, but most crises require weighing unknowns against unknowns, and choosing between competing evils.

The only comfort, as we watch Egyptians struggle for their country's future, is that some choices aren't America's to make.






Last Saturday, reported The Financial Times, some of the world's most powerful financial executives were going to hold a private meeting with finance ministers in Davos, the site of the World Economic Forum. The principal demand of the executives, the newspaper suggested, would be that governments "stop banker-bashing." Apparently bailing bankers out after they precipitated the worst slump since the Great Depression isn't enough — politicians have to stop hurting their feelings, too.

But the bankers also had a more substantive demand: they want higher interest rates, despite the persistence of very high unemployment in the United States and Europe, because they say that low rates are feeding inflation. And what worries me is the possibility that policy makers might actually take their advice.

To understand the issues, you need to know that we're in the midst of what the International Monetary Fund calls a "two speed" recovery, in which some countries are speeding ahead, but others — including the United States — have yet to get out of first gear.

The U.S. economy fell into recession at the end of 2007; the rest of the world followed a few months later. And advanced nations — the United States, Europe, Japan — have barely begun to recover. It's true that these economies have been growing since the summer of 2009, but the growth has been too slow to produce large numbers of jobs. To raise interest rates under these conditions would be to undermine any chance of doing better; it would mean, in effect, accepting mass unemployment as a permanent fact of life.

What about inflation? High unemployment has kept a lid on the measures of inflation that usually guide policy. The Federal Reserve's preferred measure, which excludes volatile energy and food prices, is now running below half a percent at an annual rate, far below the informal target of 2 percent.

But food and energy prices — and commodity prices in general — have, of course, been rising lately. Corn and wheat prices rose around 50 percent last year; copper, cotton and rubber prices have been setting new records. What's that about?

The answer, mainly, is growth in emerging markets. While recovery in advanced nations has been sluggish, developing countries — China in particular — have come roaring back from the 2008 slump. This has created inflation pressures within many of these countries; it has also led to sharply rising global demand for raw materials. Bad weather — especially an unprecedented heat wave in the former Soviet Union, which led to a sharp fall in world wheat production — has also played a role in driving up food prices.

The question is, what bearing should all of this have on policy at the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank?

First of all, inflation in China is China's problem, not ours. It's true that right now China's currency is pegged to the dollar. But that's China's choice; if China doesn't like U.S. monetary policy, it's free to let its currency rise. Neither China nor anyone else has the right to demand that America strangle its nascent economic recovery just because Chinese exporters want to keep the renminbi undervalued.

What about commodity prices? The Fed normally focuses on "core" inflation, which excludes food and energy, rather than "headline" inflation, because experience shows that while some prices fluctuate widely from month to month, others have a lot of inertia — and it's the ones with inertia you want to worry about, because once either inflation or deflation gets built into these prices, it's hard to get rid of.

And this focus has served the Fed well in the past. In particular, the Fed was right not to raise rates in 2007-8, when commodity prices soared — briefly pushing headline inflation above 5 percent — only to plunge right back to earth. It's hard to see why the Fed should behave differently this time, with inflation nowhere near as high as it was during the last commodity boom.

So why the demand for higher rates? Well, bankers have a long history of getting fixated on commodity prices. Traditionally, that meant insisting that any rise in the price of gold would mean the end of Western civilization. These days it means demanding that interest rates be raised because the prices of copper, rubber, cotton and tin have gone up, even though underlying inflation is on the decline.

Ben Bernanke clearly understands that raising rates now would be a huge mistake. But Jean-Claude Trichet, his European counterpart, is making hawkish noises — and both the Fed and the European Central Bank are under a lot of external pressure to do the wrong thing.

They need to resist this pressure. Yes, commodity prices are up — but that's no reason to perpetuate mass unemployment. To paraphrase William Jennings Bryan, we must not crucify our economies upon a cross of rubber.








ON Friday, the "day of rage," I was in the streets with the protesters. Friends and I participated in a peaceful demonstration that started at the Amr Ibn al-As Mosque in Old Cairo near the Church of St. George. We set off chanting, "The people want the regime to fall!" and we were greeted with a torrent of tear gas fired by the police. We began to shout, "Peaceful, Peaceful," trying to show the police that we were not hostile, we were demanding nothing but our liberty. That only increased their brutality. Fighting began to spread to the side streets in the ancient, largely Coptic neighborhood.

A friend and I took shelter in a small alleyway, where we were warmly welcomed. The locals warned us not to try to escape to the metro station, and pointed us toward a different escape route; many of them even joined the protests. Eventually, a man drove us in his own car to safety.

Clearly, the scent of Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" has quickly reached Egypt. Following the successful expulsion in Tunis of the dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the call arose on Facebook for an Egyptian revolution, to begin on Jan. 25. Yet the public here mocked those young people who had taken to Twitter and Facebook to post calls for protest: Since when was the spark of revolution ignited on a pre-planned date? Had revolution become like a romantic rendezvous?

Such questions abounded on social networking sites; but even cynics — myself included — became hopeful as the calls continued to circulate. In the blink of an eye, the Twitter and Facebook generation had successfully rallied hundreds of thousands to its cause, across the nation. Most of them were young people who had not been politically active, and did not belong to the traditional circles of the political opposition. The Muslim Brotherhood is not behind this popular revolution, as the regime claims. Those who began it and organized it are seething in anger at police cruelty and the repression and torture meted out by the Hosni Mubarak regime.

And, from the outset, the government decided to deal with the people with the utmost violence and brutality in the hope that the Tunisian experience would not be repeated. For days now, tear gas has been the oxygen Egyptians have inhaled. So much was in the air that there are reports of small children and the elderly having suffocated on the fumes in their homes. The security forces in Cairo started by shooting rubber bullets at the protesters, before progressing onto live ammunition, ending dozens of lives.

In Suez, where the demonstrations have been tremendously violent, live ammunition was used against civilians from the first day. A friend of mine who lives there sent me a message saying that, Thursday morning, the city looked as if it had emerged from a particularly brutal war: its streets were burned and destroyed, dead bodies were strewn everywhere; we would never know how many victims had fallen to the police bullets in Suez, my friend solemnly concluded.

After having escaped from Old Cairo on Friday, my friends and I headed for Tahrir Square, the focal point of the modern city and site of the largest protests. We joined another demonstration making its way through downtown, consisting mostly of young people. From a distance, we could hear the rumble of the protest in Tahrir Square, punctuated by the sounds of bullets and screams. Minute by painstaking minute, we protesters were gaining ground, and our numbers were growing. People shared Coca-Cola bottles, moistening their faces with soda to avoid the effects of tear gas. Some people wore masks, while others had sprinkled vinegar into their kaffiyehs.

Shopkeepers handed out bottles of mineral water to the protesters, and civilians distributed food periodically. Women and children leaned from windows and balconies, chanting with the dissidents. I will never forget the sight of an aristocratic woman driving through the narrow side streets in her luxurious car, urging the protesters to keep up their spirits, telling them that they would soon be joined by tens of thousands of other citizens arriving from different parts of the city.

After several failed attempts to break through the security checkpoints and get to Tahrir Square, we sat in a cafe to rest. Three officers from the regime's Central Security Forces, all in civilian clothing, sat down next to us. They appeared to be completely relaxed, as though they were impervious to the sounds of bullets and shouting, or to the numbers of wounded and dead Egyptians being reported on Al Jazeera, which was being broadcast on the coffee shop's television. They and their colleagues were all over the city, spying on their countrymen.

Hour by hour on Friday evening, the chaos increased. Police stations and offices of the ruling National Democratic Party were on fire across the country. I wept when news came that 3,000 volunteers had formed a human chain around the national museum to protect it from looting and vandalism. Those who do such things are certainly highly educated, cultivated people, neither vandals nor looters, as they are accused of being by those who have vandalized and looted Egypt for generations.

The curfew meant that I couldn't return home, so I spent the night at a friend's house near the Parliament building and Interior Ministry, one of the most turbulent parts of the city. That night, the sound of bullets was unceasing. We watched from the window as police shot with impunity at the protesters and at a nearby gas station, hoping, perhaps, for an explosion. Despite all of this and despite the curfew, the demonstrations did not stop, fueled by popular fury at President Mubarak's slowness to address the people and, a few hours later, indignation at the deplorable speech he finally gave.

On Saturday morning, I left my friend's house and headed home. I walked across broken glass strewn in the streets, and I could smell the aftermath of the fires that had raged the night before. The army, called in by the regime to put down the protests, was everywhere. I tried first to cross over to Tahrir Square, in order to see for myself whether the museum was safe. A passer-by told me that the army was forbidding people from entering the square, and that shots were being fired. I asked him, anxiously, "Is the army shooting at the demonstrators?" He answered, confidently: "Of course not. The Egyptian army has never fired a shot against an Egyptian citizen, and will not do so now." We both openly expressed our wish for that to be true, for the army to side with the people.

NOW that army troops were monitoring the demonstrations, the police force had completely disappeared from the streets, as if to taunt people with the choice between their presence and chaos. Armed gangs have mushroomed across the city, seeking to loot shops and terrorize civilians in their homes. (Saturday night, a gang tried to rob the building where I have been staying, but was unable to break in.) Local volunteers have formed committees to stand up to the criminals, amidst an overwhelming feeling that the ruling regime is deliberately stoking chaos.

Late Saturday, as I headed toward Corniche Street on the Nile River, I walked through a side street in the affluent Garden City neighborhood, where I found a woman crying. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her son, a worker at a luxury hotel, had been shot in the throat by a police bullet, despite not being a part of the demonstrations. He was now lying paralyzed in a hospital bed, and she was on her way to the hotel to request medical leave for him. I embraced her, trying to console her, and she said through her tears, "We cannot be silent about what has happened. Silence is a crime. The blood of those who fell cannot be wasted."

I agree. Silence is a crime. Even if the regime continues to bombard us with bullets and tear gas, continues to block Internet access and cut off our mobile phones, we will find ways to get our voices across to the world, to demand freedom and justice.

Mansoura Ez-Eldin is the author of the novels "Maryam's Maze" and "Beyond Paradise." This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.







When Congress created a commission to investigate the 2008 financial crisis, it did so with the hope that the panel would agree on causes, identify culprits and recommend ways to prevent future meltdowns. Comparisons were made to the famed Pecora investigation during the Great Depression.

Instead, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission got off to a slow start, was plagued by internal friction and suffered from heavy staff turnover. With the release Thursday of its findings, the panel lived down to diminished expectations.


In fact, the commission seems to have become a microcosm of dysfunctional American politics. The panel's four Republicans refused to go along with Democrats, then divided among themselves. Sound familiar?


Of the various explanations for what drove the country to the edge of a second Depression, the majority report is the most comprehensive and plausible. It spreads the blame, citing poor financial regulation, a breakdown in corporate governance and ethics, and recklessness among lenders and borrowers alike. It describes the meltdown as a fire sparked by collapsing mortgage lending standards and fueled by the sale of exoticfinancial instruments that magnified rather than mitigated risk. And it is especially critical of the Federal Reserve for not putting the fire out.


The six members who backed this version were not particularly ideological. Only two, including Chairman Phil Angelides, a former California treasurer, are politicians. The others come from the law and business.


Opinions expressed in USA TODAY's editorials are decided by its Editorial Board, a demographically and ideologically diverse group that is separate from USA TODAY's news staff.


Most editorials are accompanied by an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just the Editorial Board's point of view.


The minority reports, on the other hand, suffer from an ideological aversion to regulation. Their initial dissent, issued in December, took the approach of American Enterprise Institute fellow Peter Wallison, who argues that the predominant cause of the financial crisis was misguided federal housing policies designed to promote home ownership — certainly a central culprit, but hardly the only one.


In the past month, the other three Republicans, including Vice Chairman Bill Thomas, a former congressman from California, decided to lay much of the blame on a global credit bubble, fueled in part by easy lending policies of central banks. A glut of money looking for "safe" investments poured into subprime lending and other risky propositions.


These dissents raise valid points, which are acknowledged in the majority report. But they glaringly omit the many failures of U.S. regulators to spot the growing credit bubble and to take actions to mitigate it. That, unfortunately, seems to be the point. Last year, Congress passed a sweeping banking reform law, and various agencies will craft rules to implement it. The dissenters seem intent on avoiding any conclusion that would argue for tough standards.


Given the immense damage caused by what the majority correctly called a "preventable" crisis — 4 million foreclosures so far, the destruction of $11 trillion in household wealth and 26 million people out of work — it's a shame that the commission couldn't reach a unanimous conclusion.


After all, as the aphorism goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.








Retrospectives on Ronald Reagan as the nation marks the centennial of his birth will touch upon every imaginable aspect of the man. I suspect, however, that the thing most integral to the man, and most consistent throughout his life — that is, his religious faith — will not be as front and center as it should.


That was something I learned quite unintentionally. It began in the summer 2001, when I was at the Reagan library researching what I thought would be a fairly conventional biography. I scoured a fascinating cache of documents called the Handwriting File. There, I glimpsed Reagan's literal input, in speeches, proclamations, you name it. And it was there, in marked-up drafts of speeches such as the "Evil Empire" address, that I encountered an intensely religious Reagan, a man making constant, seamless references to God. I found eye-opening private letters, including one where Reagan employed C.S. Lewis' classic "liar, Lord, or lunatic" argument to, essentially, evangelize the Christian message.


As I dug deeper, I found a Christian faith inculcated carefully, winsomely, by figures from Reagan's youth, from his mother, Nelle, to his pastor, Ben Cleaver, impacting the entirety of his life and thinking, from his views on communism to the sanctity of human life.


Long-standing religious tolerance


But what also struck me was how ecumenical was Reagan's faith. Baptized in the Disciples of Christ denomination, Reagan would attend mainly Disciples and Presbyterian churches. That said, I define Reagan's faith as largely non-denominational, a Protestant with a healthy respect for non-Protestant faiths, especially Catholic and Jewish faiths. This was a religious tolerance nurtured at home, at the dinner table of a devout Protestant mother and not-so-devout but believing Catholic father.


Moreover, it's significant how this religious inclusiveness related to the core struggle of Reagan's presidency: his desire to undermine a militantly, murderously atheistic Soviet regime, one he truly believed was "evil." Indeed, Mikhail Gorbachev himself later lamented that his predecessors had pursued a "savage," "brutal" "war on religion."


There are many indicators of this, which have taken me entire books to flesh out, but a few examples are worth highlighting:


First, consider the Catholic side. Reagan counted many Catholics among his intimates, especially his chief foreign policy players: National Security Adviser Richard Allen, CIA Director William Casey, Ambassador to the United Nations Vernon Walters, Secretary of State Alexander Haig (whose brother was a Jesuit priest), to name a few.


Faith. Religion. Spirituality. Meaning.


In our ever-shrinking world, the tentacles of religion touch everything from governmental policy to individual morality to our basic social constructs. It affects the lives of people of great faith — or no faith at all.


This series of weekly columns — launched in 2005 — seeks to illuminate the national conversation.

Most vital was William Clark, who replaced Allen. Clark supervised and implemented the formal National Security Decision Directives crucial to confronting the Soviet empire. A student of Aquinas, Fulton Sheen and Thomas Merton, who as a young man attended an Augustinian novitiate in upstate New York, Clark was dubbed Reagan's "most impressive" and "most important and influential" adviser by official biographer Edmund Morris. Morris rightly discerned that no other person was as close to the president spiritually. Clark and Reagan prayed together, particularly the Prayer of St. Francis.


Also notable, given Reagan's moniker "the Great Communicator," was the contribution of Catholic speechwriters, such as Peter Robinson, who wrote the Brandenburg Gate speech, Peggy Noonan, author of the Challenger remarks, and chief speechwriter Tony Dolan, who penned Reagan's most memorable foreign policy addresses.


Then there were Reagan's poignant relationships with high-profile Catholics such as Terence Cardinal Cooke, Mother Teresa and, of course, Pope John Paul II. To all three, Reagan confided that he believed God had spared his life during the March 1981 assassination attempt for the purpose of taking down Soviet communism. He and John Paul II were jointly committed to that historic endeavor.


Consider, too, Reagan's respect for the Jewish faith. This was evident in his first presidential statement on Easter. Reagan devoted equal time to Easter and to Passover, exactly four sentences on each. Here likewise, it was the battle against communism where Reagan's concerns were especially salient. He noted that Jews suffered persecution under communism, citing cases as remote as Nicaragua and as blatant as the USSR. He carried in his jacket a list of Soviet Jews held in prison or denied the right to emigrate. Every time he met with a Soviet representative, or when an adviser planned to do so, the list was presented. Reagan lobbied Gorbachev so hard on Jewish emigration that it clearly annoyed the general secretary.


A dramatic example was Natan Sharansky. In 1977, Sharansky was abducted by the KGB outside his apartment and charged with treason. He spent nine years in Lefortovo Prison, where he symbolized Reagan's description of the "religious dissident trapped in that cold, cruel existence." Sharansky later said: "They wanted to use me to destroy Jews who hoped to leave for Israel."


'Reaganite' Bible readings


In prison, Sharansky befriended Volodia Poresh, a Christian. The two secretly started each day reading the Old

and New Testaments. They called these Bible sessions "Reaganite readings." Why? Because Reagan had declared that year the "Year of the Bible," a designation dismissed by the Kremlin, and by some Western elites, but which inspired Sharansky and Poresh. They gained strength from that Bible, coping with the "evil" (Sharansky's word) they faced. When Sharansky was freed, he met Reagan in the White House. The president awarded him the Medal of Freedom.


There is much more that could be said. But isn't it fascinating to see only now, in retrospect, what we couldn't at the time? In the 1980s, President Reagan's faith ranged from non-issue to a negative, given his irregular church attendance (after and because of the assassination attempt) and his wife's consulting astrologers. In fact, it was a deep faith and commendably ecumenical one — fundamental to a presidency that, in Ronald Reagan's mind, was undergirded by something far more profound than mere politics.


Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. His books include God and Ronald Reagan and The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism.








When Oprah's mother was asked on why she had not told her family about the daughter she gave up for adoption, I could have answered for her: shame, humiliation, the sense that you did something gravely wrong. Not wrong in the eyes of the law, but in the natural order of things.


"Because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do, that I ... gave up my daughter when she was born," is what Oprah's mother, Vernita Lee, said. Time doesn't take away the sting. Giving up a child feels like abandonment of your own flesh and blood even if you are turning over your baby to a happy couple, relieved you have not changed your mind.


No matter how much you plan to give up your baby, as I did in 1966, no matter how much you tell yourself that this is the best for the child — she will have two parents, not just one — listening to Vernita took me back to when I had to 'fess up to my own family about the child I gave up for adoption in secret, in another town far away from where I grew up in Michigan. It was just a few years after Oprah's mother gave up her daughter. A conversational opening never presents itself; no one expects you to say: I gave up a baby.


'Fessing up to my family


Five years after I relinquished my daughter, I told my mother about it over lunch. I choked out the words before the entree arrived. My father had already died, but then I had to tell my two brothers. It never got easier, I'm sure my blood pressure rose each time. But telling my family freed me from the awful chains of secrecy, something that Vernita was not able to do until the story came out in the family. This shame is not erased easily, or gotten over ever.


Later, Oprah said she had the revelation that her mother's reason for keeping the secret — to even deny her sister Patricia confirmation that she was her mother — was that her mother was still stuck in 1963, with the mores of that time still internalized.


In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes a variety of opinions from outside writers. On political and policy matters, we publish opinions from across the political spectrum.


Roughly half of our columns come from our Board of Contributors, a group whose interests range from education to religion to sports to the economy. Their charge is to chronicle American culture by telling the stories, large and small, that collectively make us what we are.


We also publish weekly columns by Al Neuharth, USA TODAY's founder, and DeWayne Wickham, who writes primarily on matters of race but on other subjects as well. That leaves plenty of room for other views from across the nation by well-known and lesser-known names alike.


Society and sexual mores certainly have changed enormously in the past half-century. Single motherhood is widely accepted and sometimes celebrated. Teens give away their babies on reality television. But homo sapiens hasn't changed so much that giving up a child today is any less devastating than Oprah's words implied.


The most comprehensive long-term study of the mental health of first mothers was done in Britain and published in 2005. It found that while only 3% of women who gave up their babies had mental health problems before the adoption, during the time between parting with the child and contact many years later, 24% had a psychiatric diagnosis, mainly for depression, with half of them having had inpatient treatment.


Life goes on, but ...


We women who have given up our babies do go on and many of us make what the world sees as a successful life: We have careers, however sidetracked we were for a time; we marry, often quickly after relinquishment and sometimes badly, to subjugate the grief; we have other children, but a disproportionate number do not. Giving away one child for some of us not surprisingly leads to a reluctance to have another, regardless of the circumstances.


Despite the passage of time, a part of us is always going to be still stuck in that moment when we made the decision to walk out of the hospital without our babies. It is a singular moment that, in a very basic way, defines us all of our lives. I am always going to be that woman "who gave up a child."


We know it, and if we are public about it, you know it. No matter what we do, this makes us pitiable in a very real sense because the rest of the human race understands that giving up a child at its core is an act of desperation by a desperate woman that violates the normal order of mother and child. This is so despite the rise of middle-class infertility and the huge demand for adoptable babies today. This is so despite the high incidence of celebrity adoptions. This is so despite the media's glamorization of adoption.


So I had no trouble understanding why Vernita was afraid to meet her daughter, or tell the family about her. That does not make it right to conceal the truth. The relief and joy evident in Oprah's "new" sister's face belied that, and more than offset Vernita's need for anonymity and denial.


If she is to be equal to the rest of us, Patricia has a inviolable right to know her origins. One can hope that these new revelations will spring more first mothers free from the jail of secrecy.


Lorraine Dusky is the author of Birthmark, a memoir about surrendering a child to adoption. She also has long been active in adoption reform,








The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was impaneled to describe to Congress, the president and the American people what caused the financial crisis. What it produced was a story about the financial crisis, but not what caused the financial crisis.


Both the majority report by six Democratic appointees, and the dissent by three of the Republican members, acknowledged that the U.S. and world financial system were badly hurt by the collapse of a huge U.S housing bubble. The bubble's collapse was destructive, everyone agrees, because banks and other financial institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere held large numbers of U.S mortgages — or securities backed by these mortgages — which lost most of their value when the bubble's collapse drove down housing prices.


Left out of both the Democratic and Republican accounts was the vital fact that although many other countries also had housing bubbles, the number of mortgage defaults in the U.S. was many times higher than in any other country. This would suggest that the underlying cause of the financial crisis was the particular weakness of the mortgages in the U.S. financial system — the likelihood that they would default when the U.S. bubble deflated.


Opinions expressed in USA TODAY's editorials are decided by its Editorial Board, a demographically and ideologically diverse group that is separate from USA TODAY's news staff.


Most editorials are accompanied by an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature that allows readers to reach conclusions based on both sides of an argument rather than just the Editorial Board's point of view.


In my dissent, I point out that before the financial crisis began in 2008, half of all mortgages in the U.S. financial system — 27 million loans — were subprime or otherwise high risk. This was an unprecedented number and a far larger percentage than in any bubble in the past.


Why were so many U.S. mortgages so weak? Both the Democratic and Republican reports ignored this central question. The answer is that it was Housing and Urban Development's policy, from 1992 to 2007, to reduce mortgage underwriting standards so that more people could buy homes. Home ownership rates rose. But in 2007 it all came apart.


Then the finger-pointing began — and continued in the two commission reports. But the government cannot escape the numbers. Just before the financial crisis, government agencies, or institutions under its control, held or had guaranteed more than two-thirds of the risky loans that brought the financial system down. If we don't change these government policies, we won't escape the next crisis.







To say that the federal government's "budget ax" is rusty is a major understatement. It has hardly been used in years, as spending has grown beyond all reason, and certainly beyond what is authorized by the Constitution.

But some Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives seem to be taking seriously the message they got from voters in last November's elections: They are proposing not merely cosmetic or symbolic spending reductions here and there, but wholesale cuts across a range of wasteful federal programs.

With our national debt now exceeding $14 trillion, it is high time for exactly that approach.

The proposal by conservatives in the House would slash $2.5 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. The plan comes from the Republican Study Committee. That panel includes Chattanooga's Rep. Chuck Fleischmann as well as Rep. Tom Graves from just across the line in Georgia. It represents a big majority of all Republican members of the House.

Left untouched would be the U.S. military, which is deeply involved in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and the major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicare. (That is not to say that those programs do not need serious reform to keep them solvent, but it is more politically feasible to tackle other spending first.)

The House conservatives essentially would return federal spending among the affected programs to its 2006 level. Spending on those programs would then be frozen.

The Republicans recommend reducing the massively bloated federal workforce by 15 percent and suspending all federal pay raises for five years. That is plainly overdue. The federal government is too big and too intrusive in the lives of the American people. Diverting so much money into taxes and government and out of the private sector kills jobs, since government only redistributes — rather than creates — wealth and economic development.

Also targeted for cuts would be some foreign aid and programs such as unconstitutional Amtrak.

Are the proposed spending reductions broad in scope? Absolutely — and that is what they must be if the United States is going to begin to get its fiscal house in order without imposing crippling tax increases that would only harm economic development further.

"I have never seen the American people more receptive, more ready for the tough-love measures that need to be taken to help fix the country," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told The New York Times.

Maybe so, but no doubt many interest groups will protest when their "ox is gored" by spending cuts. And, of course, the Democrat-run Senate and President Barack Obama are certain to fight the proposed cuts vigorously. They, after all, believe that even more government spending is desirable.

But the American people and conservatives in Congress should not be deterred. We cannot get out of the financial pickle we're in if we do not begin to make serious and, yes, sometimes painful decisions on where we will spend limited tax dollars.

"Anybody who is up to speed on budget issues should be scared to death by what's happening with the debt and the deficit in this country," Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., told The New York Times. "If you're not losing sleep over it, then you're simply not paying attention."

Congress should dig out, polish and sharpen its budget ax — and start some very determined "chopping."





A lot of bad policy — including ObamaCare socialized medicine — has been enacted by Congress under the banner of providing health care to more Americans.

But that is misleading, because so much of health care has to do with things government cannot control.

Health care is everything you do to keep yourself in good physical condition: whether you eat properly, exercise, avoid smoking, etc. Medical care is only one component of health care. It has to do with doctors, nurses, hospitals and so forth.

As scholars such as Thomas Sowell have pointed out, those terms often are used interchangeably — but they are not interchangeable at all.

Critics say, for instance, that Americans' health is worse than the health of people in other countries despite our spending so much money on "health care." They cite that as a reason for more government control to "guide" how our health dollars are spent. But many of the things that kill Americans too early have little to do with government spending.

A new study by the National Research Council, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, blames smoking and obesity for lower life expectancy in the United States compared with life expectancy of people in other rich nations. "While smoking is the key factor, the report also said obesity may account for a fifth to a third of the U.S. shortfall in life expectancy," The Associated Press reported.

More access to medical care was lower on the list of key factors. As an author of the report said, health reform is "not enough to trump a lot of our behaviors."

In other words, we could vastly improve our health by eating right and not smoking. Isn't that — rather than government spending and control — where the focus should be?






It's so easy for Washington to hand down regulations that are full of visible good intentions — and invisible costs.

It was painful to read, for instance, about the big expense that schools face under nutrition rules proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With most money for schools coming from local and state governments, it is astonishing that the federal government is dictating the makeup of school meals to begin with. But the costs to obey those regulations are troubling, too.

Local schools officials "are starting to panic over how they'll afford the hefty prices" that come with complying with the rules, the Times Free Press reported.

"We don't have enough money now to meet the standards they want, so how are we going to do this financially?" asked Carolyn Childs, head of Hamilton County Schools' nutrition department.

She pointed out that putting more nutritious vegetables on a lunch tray is no guarantee that children will eat them.

"They'll do without before they eat something they don't like," she noted. So, spending may rise with little corresponding improvement in students' health.

Washington says it will "help" by increasing subsidies for school nutrition by 6 cents per meal. But, as Childs said, "Six cents is nothing." And subsidies do not eliminate the cost; they merely shift it onto taxpayers.

This sort of predicament is why it is so important to consider the unintended effects and costs of federal regulations before, rather than after, they are imposed.






There are sensible proposals in the U.S. House of Representatives to reduce funding to the U.N. and review its operations.

The U.N. oversaw the corrupt "oil-for-food" program in Iraq and has not succeeded in curbing rogue nations' nuclear aims. It has made other serious policy mistakes, too.

So a review of costly U.S. support for the U.N. is overdue.







Revolutions are tricky business, with outsiders pretty much confined to observing. Multiple, simultaneous revolutions compound the challenge to discern the risks from the gambles. And what is unfolding across the region has little precedent: the slow collapse of the Ottoman Empire? The fast departure of the British Raj from India? Simon Bolivar's quixotic liberation of a continent from Spanish rule?

The search for historical metaphors is on, as we, along with the world, seek to make sense of the transformation that days ago was Tunisia, is today Egypt and tomorrow will almost surely include the Palestianian Authority, Yemen and points beyond. That there are few convincing parallels to what is happening has as much to do with the means of this revolution as any end we might imagine. Sure, the analogy can be made to Iran's revolution, when the forces allied against Shah Reza Pahlavi undermined state control of information with sermons on the then-new technology of tape cassettes.

But that hardly compares with the scrappy satellite TV channel Al Jazeera above and the millions of Facebook-savvy young people below who are choreographing a political ballet with little in the way of a script and certainly no final act. It is clear what they want to get rid of: the hopelessness and powerlessness that defines the lot of majorities, or near-majorities, in so many countries. But it is hardly clear what they want to see in place of the Ben Alis or Mubareks or other tottering dictators across the world's most turbulent region of which we are part.

That America's Barack Obama, the charismatic anti-Bush who captivated the world with his Cairo speech to the "Muslim world" in June of 2009, and other Western leaders have mustered little more than vague calls for "political reform" is as telling as it is clueless. That Western hopes seem pinned to the decent and impeccably earnest Mohamed ElBaradei seem almost a prelude to tragedy. Lenin's immediate predecessor Alexander Kerensky or Iran's last-ditch bet on at a liberal prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, come to mind. In revolutions, nice guys tend to finish last.

And what will be Turkey's engagement? It's a question that must be considered from two sides, neither yielding answers. From outside the arena of events, Turkey has limited its foray into the sweep of change. Can that continue when – like it or not – the only leader with broad credibility on the mean streets of Cairo or Tunus or Gaza City is our own Recep Tayip Erdoğan?

To ask the question from inside the arena is to confront the fact that Turkey is part of the demographic dilemma that is driving revolt. A young population, skyrocketing youth joblessness and an education system poorly preparing hundreds of thousands with marketable skills is in fact our common lot.

Just what happens next? The real answer lies with the young people of Egypt, Tunus, Yemen, Albania… and yes, Turkey.







During a trip to Strasbourg, President Abdullah Gül's remarks on the presidential system a new constitution, representative diversification and a new language of politics helped turn attention toward the Presidential Residence at Çankaya, Ankara, and bringing to light the differences of opinion between the president and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Let me say at the beginning that Gül's latest statements seem like a repetition of earlier remarks. Last fall, and during his address on Oct. 1 2010 to a Parliamentary plenary session in particular, the president explained what thought of parliamentary representation and the language of politics.

The only difference between the two series of comments is that this time, Gül boldly underlined his views on a new constitution and presidential system.

Gül leans toward lower threshold

While the president did not openly say that the 10 percent election threshold should be lowered, he has insisted recently that parliamentary representation should include all mainstream political trends. Gül's remarks in the Oct. 1, 2010 speech: "First of all, parliamentary representation should be deepened and diversified. Political stability and pluralism are not mutually exclusive," are an indirect expression of his expectations.

Erdoğan, on the other hand, fiercely refutes lowering the threshold, especially in favor of what he calls political and economic stability, again recently stressing so during a trip to Ukraine.

It is important that Gül said in Strasbourg that the Turkish Parliament is doing well as far as representation is concerned. He made a similar remark last September when he said: "This Parliament would be missed. This is a parliament with the highest representation capability…"

Though the president did not say so explicitly, one could see in his remarks a reflection of concerns about the possibility of trouble if we had a parliament where the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, was not represented but the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, were still represented by independent deputies.

Gül's statements coincide with those of Erdoğan, who is winking at nationalist voters and is developing a strategy to keep the MHP vote below the threshold in order to gain the political power to be able to change the Constitution on his own. In this sense, Erdoğan's and Gül's stances are different.

A new language of politics, free of polemics

It's not wrong to say that Gül and Erdoğan do not see eye to eye on the subject of the presidential system. The prime minister is at least thinking about the issue, which is no secret. As a matter of fact, he said yesterday in Erzurum: "My people should know everything. What is a presidential system and what not… They should know all this. If the United States is applying it, what is it, how is it?" This is an attitude encouraging debates over presidential system. It is worth paying attention that Erdoğan's move follows Gül's openly expressing concerns over a presidential system.

One of the themes Gül often visits is a new language of politics. In fact, his remarks in Strasbourg could be read as a message to all political parties that they shouldn't adopt a rough edge to their speeches during election campaigns. "The atmosphere following the elections should be as such that everyone should be able to speak about even the most serious issues," said Gül.

This message is aimed at Erdoğan, who is usually known for his bitter language, as much as it aimed at the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and the MHP. During a speech at the opening of Parliament Gül said vulgar language in politics should be replaced by an environment of dialogue and tolerable language.

Finally, one can hardly say that Erdoğan and Gül agree on a new constitution. Gül believes a new charter should be prepared by well-attended participation. Yet Erdoğan is seeking a parliamentary majority in order to be able to change the Constitution on his own.

I think the president's view will gain more importance following the elections.







The Republican People's Party, or CHP, members of the Parliamentary Justice and Constitutional Commission tendered their resignations from the commission and walked out Saturday evening from a key meeting debating a draft on government sponsored structural changes to be made to the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State.

The 10 main opposition members of the parliamentary commission abandoned the meeting and resigned from the commission on the grounds that their right to speak on the draft being debated was seriously curtailed by the ruling party majority – in violation of parliamentary bylaws and the constitution.

The same 10 deputies warned the government last week that if it continued its "campaign of capturing the high judiciary" the nation would revolt, neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street and house by house, against such an advance of autocracy and in the defense of Turkish democracy.

Before walking out and resigning, the deputies apparently consulted party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and obtained his approval.

Obviously, the CHP is right in its assessment that the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is only minutes away from totally domesticating Turkey's higher judiciary. With the lower judiciary domesticated long ago, the domestication of the higher judiciary would mean the AKP and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will obtain the luxury of establishing absolute rule in the country.

Thus, if Turkey has come to the brink of a fascist abyss, should Turkish youth ignore police and other security elements and take up the defense of the Turkish republic and secular democracy as was instructed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey both in his contentious – accuracy is disputed – February, 1933, Bursa speech, as well as in his famous address to the Turkish youth in his 10th Year Speech?

Putting aside the possibility that the 1933 Bursa speech might not be authentic, is today's Turkey living through conditions of the founding period of the Republic, or those of the 10th anniversary in 1933 – when the government of the time, under Atatürk's directives, was trying to undertake a very important reform, prayers in Turkish, that could not succeed?

In the contentious Bursa speech Atatürk was claimed to have said, if at any corner of the country efforts aimed to undermine the republican reforms and the Republic were observed, the Turkish youth should not sit back and watch such happenings, believing that the nation has police, a gendarmerie, an army and the courts, but engage itself immediately for the defense of the reforms and the Republic with whatever means they might have, stones, sticks or their bare hands.

Well, allegedly the Bursa speech was delivered as a reaction to an Islamist mob preventing Turkish call to prayer in that city. Worse, earlier in the day in that same cold February of 1933, Atatürk apparently stopped in the city on his way to İzmir. After learning of the unrest, he reportedly traveled back to the city and delivered that speech against what he considered an Islamist challenge to his reforms, though locals apparently told him the trouble was negligible and was long done with.

It is of course absurd to try to judge what was done and how in 1933 through today's perceptions and mentality. But more seriously idiotic would be to try to answer today's requirements with formulae that might have been valid in 1930s Turkey.

In today's world, particularly in this geography, forcing anti-democratic governments to step down with street demonstrations or through electronic-revolts has become rather popular. Sure, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP have autocratic aspirations, terrifying many people. Some developments indeed indicate a systematic campaign aimed at transforming Turkey into a far more religious and conservative society under an absolute ruler. Yet, Turkey is neither the Tunisia of Ben Ali nor the Egypt of Mubarak.

The main opposition party of this country must act with the awareness of such a reality. Resigning from a parliamentary commission is one way of protesting the anti-democratic mindset of the ruling majority. Resigning en masse from parliament could also be understandable. Going to the nation, staging rallies at every corner of the country, explaining the problem and demanding the punishment of the ruling party in the election box should be the course for democracy, rather than inciting the people to take to the streets.

Of course, people have the right to revolt, but the first option in democracies should be to seek change in the ballot box and through just and fair elections.






By 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, the protesters in central Cairo were chanting: "Where is the army? Come and see what the police are doing to us. We want the army." And that is the main question, really: Where is the Egyptian army in all this?

Like armies everywhere, even in dictatorships, the Egyptian army does not like to use violence against its own people. It would much rather leave that sort of thing to the police, who are generally quite willing to do it. But in Alexandria, by mid-afternoon on Friday, the police had stopped fighting the protesters and started talking to them. This is how regimes end.

First of all the police realize that they face a genuine popular movement involving all classes and all walks of life, rather than the extremist agitators that the regime's propaganda says they are fighting. They realize that it would be wrong – and also very unwise – to go on bashing heads in the service of a regime that is likely to disappear quite soon. Best change sides before it is too late.

Then the army, seeing that the game is up, tells the dictator that it is time to get on the plane and go abroad to live with his money. Egypt's ruler, Hosni Mubarak, was a general before he became president, and he has always made sure that the military were at the head of the queue for money and privileges, but there is no gratitude in politics. They won't want to be dragged down with him.

All this could happen quite fast, or it could spread out over the next several weeks, but it is probably going to happen. Even autocratic and repressive regimes must have some sort of popular consent, because you cannot hire enough police to compel everybody to obey. They extort that consent through fear: ordinary citizens' fear of losing their jobs, their freedom, even their lives. So when people lose their fear, the regime is toast.

It would require a truly horrendous massacre to re-instill the fear in Egyptians now, and at this stage neither the police nor the army are likely to be willing to do that. So what happens once Mubarak leaves? Nobody knows, because nobody is in charge of this revolution.

The first people out in the streets were young university graduates who face a lifetime of unemployment. Only days later, however, the demonstrations have swelled to include people of every social class and walk of life.

They have no program, just a conviction that it is high time for a change – Kifaya! ("Enough is enough"), as the nickname of an Egyptian opposition party that flourished in the middle of the last decade put it. Two-thirds of the 80 million Egyptians have been born since Mubarak came to power, and they are not grateful for the poverty, corruption and repression that define and confine their lives. But who can fix it all?

Washington and the other Western capitals that supported Mubarak for the past three decades are praying that the revolution will choose Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as its leader. He flew back to Egypt last Thursday, and the regime even takes him seriously enough to put him under house arrest. But he is probably not the Chosen One.

ElBaradei is a diplomat who has spent half of his life abroad and is seen by Western governments as a "safe pair of hands." He would be at best a figurehead, but a figurehead for what?

Since it would be the army that finally tells Mubarak to leave, the military would dominate the interim regime. They would not want to put yet another general out front, so they might decide that ElBaradei is the right candidate for interim leader, precisely because he has no independent power base. But there would then have to be elections, and ElBaradei would not even come close to winning.

The likely winner of a genuinely free Egyptian election, according to most opinion polls, would be the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brothers are not particularly radical as Islamists go, but the first thing they have promised to do if they win power is to hold a referendum on Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. And most Egyptians, according to the same polls, would vote to cancel it.

That would end the flow of official U.S. aid and private foreign investment that currently keeps the Egyptian economy more or less afloat, even though it would probably not lead to an actual war. And there is no reason to believe that an Islamic government could make the Egyptian economy grow any faster, although it would distribute the poverty more fairly.

These longer-term considerations, however, will have no impact on the events of the next few weeks, when Egypt's ex