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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

EDITORIAL 01.02.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month february 01, edition 000744 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























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You know something is not quite right when even the self-proclaimed media experts and pundits on television do not have anything to offer by way of an explanation — this is currently the situation in Egypt, where no one quite knows what will happen the next hour or what to expect, either from President Hosni Mubarak, the powerful Egyptian military, or the protesters. As the initial jubilation over a people-power 'revolution' gives away to lawlessness and helplessness in Egypt, it is time to take a hard look at the situation which is fast slipping into anarchy and chaos. Several jailbreaks have been reported and convicts are out on the streets, arsonists and looters are running amok, local businesses haven't opened their shutters in days, banks are closed and food prices are at an all time high. The Tunisia-inspired protests that began last week were coordinated largely through social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. A Facebook group called the 'April 6 Youth Movement', which has existed since 2008, has been particularly active in organising groups of protesters. Its efforts have obviously met with unexpected success: Several thousands of young men and women have responded to the group's call and come out on the streets of Cairo, more specifically, Tahrir Square, Alexandria and Suez, and are now pressing for Mr Hosni Mubarak's exit from office. They want good governance and jobs — a large part of Egypt's population is educated but unemployed — and lower prices for food items, apart from free and fair elections. All this is very fine. But the problem is that this rag-tag 'coalition' of a few thousand youths seems to have no idea about how to achieve these goals, or more specifically, who they think can deliver their demands. And herein lies the crux of the problem: Political mobilisation with the help of social media sounds a great idea and has a certain appeal given its novelty, but this does not necessarily lead to a solution. Movements need organised leadership and designated individuals who can negotiate with those in power. Merely demanding the ouster of the incumbent regime without offering a replacement regime makes little or no sense.

In other words, the mass upsurge in Egypt faces a crisis of leadership although it may be high on enthusiasm and energy. On Sunday night, Mr Mohamed ElBaradei, who is keen to play a role in resolving the crisis (and possibly sees himself as an interim President to facilitate a regime change) visited Tahrir Square. But there was little or no response to either his presence among the crowds or his impassioned plea for change. That would suggest he is not seen as a leader by all. The leaders of the traditional Opposition parties, especially the Wafd Party, are at best trying to remain on the margins lest they be pushed into the dustbin of history along with the NDP. This leaves the Muslim Brotherhood which appears to be playing its cards well. The Ikhwan has been egging on protesters in Alexandria and Suez, where global media attention is low, while remaining on the fringe of the uprising in Cairo. Is the Muslim Brotherhood then keen to see the situation drift and deteriorate to a point where it shall be seen as the only alternative as it can use faith to enforce order? That is a possibility which should not be ignored just because the protesters are in jeans and T-shirts.







Former Supreme Court judge Justice Shivraj Patil deserves to be applauded for laying bare the truth behind the 2G Spectrum scam before the nation despite the Congress-led UPA Government's deliberate and sustained attempts to obfuscate facts. Justice Shivraj Patil's report will be regarded as a watershed in India's long history of pointless fact-finding committees for more reasons than one: For the first time a committee has unequivocally blamed a Union Government and the Minister concerned for policy lapses and procedures followed. Second, it has brought back faith in cynics who think setting up committees and panels are nothing but lollypops to divert people's attention from the Government's obvious sore spots; a ploy to sweep facts under the carpet until public outrage dies down. That Justice Patil has indicted former Telecom Minister A Raja and his close aides Mr RK Chandolia and Mr Siddharth Behuria for irregularities and violating rules serves to underscore that the CAG has been right in declaring that underselling of precious 2G Spectrum has cost the national exchequer a presumptive loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore. Not only has the report dented the credibility of the UPA Government, it has come as a severe rebuke for Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal, who has termed the CAG report as "utterly erroneous". Though Mr Sibal may have tried to put up a brave face calling the report "fearless", but he stands exposed for wilfully trying to mislead the nation by using his famed verbal jugglery skill.

Although the Shivraj Patil panel, which was set up to identify problems in the process of granting telecom licences between 2001 and 2009 after the CAG smelt a rat, did not go into the criminal culpability of the case, it has confirmed the governance deficit of the UPA regime. Seen in perspective, setting up a JPC with the remit to look into various aspects of the telecom loot has become all the more relevant now, as issues of governance need to be discussed. The nation has a right to know what were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Empowered Group of Ministers doing when regulations were being violated. It is common knowledge that in an era of coalition politics, Ministries headed by coalition partners often become their fiefdom, but the Prime Minister must be strong and keep the reins in his hands — a quality that Mr Manmohan Singh visibly lacks. Further, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who had admonished the Opposition for 'politicising' corruption and making a political issue out of the 2G Spectrum sale, must admit that the Congress-led UPA has failed to stabilise not just the regulatory environment, but also in stemming corruption. What remains to be seen is whether the CBI would muster the courage to name the people who had their fingers in the 2G pie.









The Supreme Court should have issued notice to all parties involved in the Graham Staines case before excising portions from its verdict dealing with conversion.

The Supreme Court shocked the Hindu community when on January 25 it succumbed to pressure from Christian activists and modified its January 21 judgement in the Graham Staines murder case, without the filing of a curative petition by any party to the case; without notice to the lawyers of convicted Rabindra Kumar Pal (alias Dara Singh) and Mahendra Hembram; and without reference to representatives of the Hindu community which is the target and victim of Christian conversions in India.

The burning to death of missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons while they were asleep in their vehicle at Manoharpur village in Odisha's Keonjhar district on January 22, 1999, was a grim response to missionary provocation in the State. It was a unique crime in modern India, matched only by the burning alive of Malegaon additional district collector Yashwant Sonawane by the oil mafia on January 25.

The Justice DP Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry, which submitted its report on June 21, 1999, found evidence of the sustained missionary activity of Graham Staines in the form of his despatches to the Australian missionary magazine, Tidings, reports of his colleagues, evidence of his wife, and others.

The police arrested anti-cow slaughter activist Dara Singh from Mayurbhanj forest in January 2000 for instigating and planning the crime; he and Mahendra Hembram were found guilty during the trial. Dara Singh's death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment by the Orissa High Court in May 2005, because he was convicted on circumstantial evidence as none of the eye-witness accounts established his involvement in the crime.

The court noted, "There is absolutely no evidence on record that due to individual act of Dara Singh alone the three deceased persons or any of them died." It added: "The eye-witnesses never attributed any particular fatal injury, for which Dara Singh can be individually held responsible for the death of the three deceased persons or for the death of any of them." The High Court upheld life imprisonment for Hembram and acquitted 11 others for lack of evidence. This verdict was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In its original verdict, the Supreme Court had observed, "The intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity. All these aspects have been correctly appreciated by the High Court, which modified the sentence of death into life imprisonment with which we concur." This was modified as, "More than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced in view of the factual position discussed in the earlier paras."

Second, the sentence, "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of use of force, provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other" (the meaning of the constitutional principle of equality of faiths and non-discrimination in matters of religion) was replaced by: "There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means."

The Supreme Court's original assertions came as a balm to the Hindu community that has long been battered by jihad and crusade simultaneously; but were bitterly attacked by Christian activists. In a flurry of denunciations in the secular media, Fr Dominic Emmanuel, chief spokesman of the New Delhi Roman Catholic Archdiocese, said the bench's statement that "the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity…" and "…flawed premise that one religion is better than the other" came as "a shock to all those who believe in India's secular spirit and Constitution"

Former journalist BG Verghese said attenuation of the punishment because of Graham Staines' converting poor tribals to Christianity was an "appalling statement and should be expunged or reversed by a larger bench". He condemned anti-conversion laws in some States.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of Bishops Conference of India, Mumbai, said the judgement "seems to justify inter-religious and anti-Christian violence." The All-India Christian Council, Global Council of Indian Christians and 'civil society' activists joined the fray. The latter said, "The Supreme Court ruling may in fact send the wrong signals to courts trying cases of religious violence in Kandhamal, for instance … It also tends to pre-empt possible challenges to the black laws enacted by many States in the guise of Freedom of Religion Bills … We expect the Government to ask the Supreme Court to expunge the unnecessary, uncalled for and un-constitutional remarks."

Perhaps the Union Government did 'lean on' the Supreme Court and ensured prompt redressal of Christian 'grievances', even at the cost of compromising basic principles of the Constitution and the Fundamental Rights of India's beleaguered native community, particularly weaker sections like tribals who are continuously preyed upon by the gargantuan international soul-harvesting industry.

Since the plea to enhance Dara Singh's life sentence to death penalty was made by the Central Bureau of Investigation, it would have been appropriate for the Supreme Court to have issued notices to all parties before amending its own judgement and invited a larger national debate on its ruling that, "Our concept of secularism is that the state will have no religion. The state shall treat all religions and religious groups equally and with equal respect, without, in any manner, interfering in their individual right of religion, faith and worship."

Today, the Supreme Court has given weightage to a trans-national imperial religion with a history of genocide and forced conversions, leaving no trace of original faith and culture in lands it now dominates. Its inhuman crimes against adherent-victims, manifesting as clergy-related sex abuse scandals in dioceses across the West, leave no fig leaf that its mission is social service, no matter on what pretext it enters vulnerable societies with its soul-gathering agenda.

Conversions always produce social strife and disharmony. Graham Staines' writings home reflect his awareness of the deep unhappiness he had stirred in the region. The brutal murder of Swami Laxmanananda at Kandhamal in 2008 shows how unsafe Hindu leaders are when fighting conversions; the verdict in this case now worries the Church. Sadly, the Supreme Court has compromised its courage at a very critical hour.








Traditional Israel-baiters who eulogise Hizbullah, Hamas and any organisation that swears by Islamism have been busy blaming the Jewish state for the massive protests in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak's regime

Robert Malley, son of Simon Malley, ace Israel-hater, scion of the Egyptian Communist Party, former White House aide, and a key person in the lobby of West Asia 'experts' trying to get the United States to commit suicide in the region, has told us why there is unrest in Egypt.

On National Public Radio's 'Weekend Edition Saturday', Mr Malley explained that the Arabs have been "humiliated" by not being able to control their own history because of the invasion of Iraq and "the fact that the Palestinians can't get Israel to give them anything".

Hmm, said the National Public Radio host thoughtfully.

So now we know: Israel and America are responsible for all the problems of West Asia. But since many of these same people claim that Israel was behind the US invasion of Iraq (though Israeli policy-makers and decision-makers opposed the operation) it comes down to Israel again.

Iran, of course, said the same thing. And in his country, said a Lebanese expert (a real one, not the type quoted in The New York Times), "You should see the pro-Syrian and Hizbullah people, salivating with excitement at the fantasy that this is the end of Hosni Mubarak." Speaking of pro-Syrian and pro-Hizbullah people, Ms Helena Cobban doesn't just blame Israel but the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby.

Indeed, one of the main Syrian servants with a pen, Ms Rime Allaf, international consultant and an associate fellow at Chatham House in London, wrote the same thing in — you guessed it — The New York Times (which Lebanese are starting to call The New York Akhbar after the Syrian front newspaper (al-Akhbar) that the Times so admires.

She explains, "The Mubarak regime's closeness to Israel and participation in the siege on Gaza were never popular, and if Egyptians manage to go the Tunisian way, there may be a softening of this embrace. It's too early to tell which way Egypt's Army will go, and whether President Hosni Mubarak can survive this wave, but Arabs are rooting for Egyptians to have their peaceful revolution, and for Egypt to become once more a leader in the Arab world."

Lead the Arab world into war with Israel, of course.

By the way, none of these people have any concern whatsoever for US interests. They merely use this as a figleaf for bashing Israel. In fact, they are all on the other side. They want Iran, Syria, Hamas, and Hizbullah to triumph and drive the West out of the region.

What this kind of thinking requires is to erase the fact that Arab countries actually have domestic issues! Yes, incredible as it might seem there are things like unemployment, poverty, repression, personal ambition, ethnic and regional quarrels, dissatisfaction with the functioning of Government institutions, religious conflicts, and all the other kinds of things that make people everywhere dislike their Governments, especially if they live under a dictatorship.

And there are people who have ideas of what they would prefer to replace the existing system: Democracy, Islamism, or themselves and their friends as the new dictators.

Equally, Governments blame Israel and America to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. This approach often works. It isn't working in Egypt right now.

Yet all these factors are often deleted in Western discussions (especially in universities), leaving people unable to conceive that anything might happen without it being caused by Israel. Every time something happens that proves local problems are involved — say, Sunnis and Shias killing each other in Iraq — it must somehow be linked to Israel's existence or actions.

On one occasion a couple of years ago, the head of a United Arab Emirates think tank explained to a startled Swiss reporter how Israel was responsible for the poor educational system in the UAE. Many similar tales can be recounted.

"Actually," says a veteran Cairo resident and Egypt-watcher, "Israel seems to have hardly been mentioned by the demonstrators in Egypt. Only the 'experts' think this is primarily about foreign affairs, US policy or Israel. It is mainly about Mr Mubarak's domestic failures and his party's outright theft of the last parliamentary elections."

News bulletin: There are a lot of other things going on in this region, from Morocco in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east, that pertain to other matters.

--The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.







The Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria is a bastion of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, and perhaps nowhere else are the strengths — and the weaknesses — of the powerful fundamentalist movement clearer as Egypt explodes with protests aimed at removing its long-ruling President.

The Brotherhood appeared to be caught flat-footed by the eruption of protests a week ago, fueled by young, more secular activists, and was slow to join in.

But once it did call out its membership, the result was that Alexandria saw the largest protests — and the fiercest clashes with police — of any city in Egypt, with tens of thousands marching through the streets, a sign of its organising prowess. Still, though it can bring out the sheer numbers, the Brotherhood is reluctant to present itself overtly as a leader or driving force in the protests, realising that storming out with its hard-line slogans of "Islam is the solution" would disillusion secular groups, raise panic that it is trying to take over and bring a harsher Government crackdown.

"This is a people's revolution and it doesn't belong to the Brotherhood," said Amir Hussein, a 19-year old Brotherhood member who was among those in the streets of Alexandria over the weekend — the rhetoric echoed by many others in the movement from its lower ranks to upper leadership.

The question now is how the Brotherhood will deal with other opposition groups as the protest movement tries to coalesce and push through its demands that President Hosni Mubarak step down and his ruling party end its monopoly of power in Egypt. Particularly unclear is how it will relate with prominent reform advocate Mohamed ElBaradei, who some secular protesters are presenting as leader of the movement.

A leading Brotherhood figure, Saad el-Katatni, said on Sunday that the group was talking to other opposition to form a committee to direct the protest movement. Mr ElBaradei would be a member of the committee, but not necessarily its leader unless the members elect him, el-Katatni said.

The Brotherhood, which calls for Islamic rule in the Arab world's most populous nation, is widely recognised as the best organised opposition movement in Egypt. Even though it's officially banned, it has a grassroots organisation across the nation and disciplined followers. That has made it the most rival most feared by the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, which has cracked down repeatedly on the group in recent years, arresting hundreds. But its elderly, secretive leadership can at times be deeply cautious.

And when protests first erupted on January 25 in Cairo and other cities, driven by pro-democracy activists largely operating on the Internet through social networking sites, the group stayed on the sidelines.

When the size of those protests stunned the nation, the movement was in danger of being left behind and changed its tune. said Alexandria journalist Ahmed Aly, who closely follows the group. "The membership saw that it was the regular Egyptians going into the street and facing the battles, the Brotherhood felt like it couldn't miss the opportunity," said Aly.

The leadership encouraged its followers to hit the streets, though it did not officially join in as a movement. "We are encouraging people to take part, but our leadership will not be present," Ahmed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman in Alexandria, said. After weekly prayers last Friday, tens of thousands spilled into the streets of Alexandria, calling for the end of Mubarak's rule.

Clouds of tear gas billowed, fistfights broke out between protesters and riot police, and after hours of street battles, police retreated leaving nearly 100,000 people marching all day. In protests on Saturday and Sunday, Brotherhood members were the clear majority. With the Internet shut down, Brothers went house to house telling each other where to gather the next day, guaranteeing huge numbers on the street. At least 50,000 gathered in front of the unknown soldier statue overlooking the Mediterranean sea on Saturday, with a major Brotherhood contingent. There was celebratory feel to the demonstration, with people hugging and congratulating each other.

People posed with Army tanks that were sprayed with anti-Mubarak graffiti and handed their children to the soldiers for photos.

On Thursday night, the group said 30 of its Alexandria leadership were arrested, including prominent former parliament member Sobhi Saleh. The Brotherhood said they received threats of more arrests if they took to the streets but that didn't seem to deter them. On Sunday, Saleh was among many prisoners who escaped early in the morning and was given a hero's welcome at the Alexandria protest. Thousands marched through the downtown core of Alexandria, with supporters carrying Saleh on their shoulders amid cheers and whistles. A small crowd of non-Brotherhood protesters turned away, looking obviously displeased with the extra attention the prominent Brotherhood member was receiving.

The strong Brotherhood presence in Alexandria marches was a contrast with those in capital, Cairo, where Brotherhood members were generally not overt in the participation until Sunday. Their appearance among the thousands camped out for days in Cairo's central Tahrir Square raised the suspicion of some secular protesters, who worried that the rallies could start to take a more fundamentalist look.

So far that hasn't happened. For the Brotherhood, being part of a wider movement with other groups has its benefits, giving it a degree of legitimacy — but that means not pushing its ideology or agenda too hard.

"The Brotherhood have not been out with their own slogans and banners," said Abdel-Galil el-Sharnoubi, who runs the Brotherhood website. "We have all agreed on a populist stance."

This specia; report was put out by AP.







We are in the midst of a brave new world. The uprisings raging from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen are heralding a new Arab, post-Islamist revolution.

President Hosni Mubarak's days, like those of deposed Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, are numbered. The effects on the region were, until today, unthinkable.

Today's Arab revolution is no less significant than those that preceded it in recent decades in Eastern Europe and Latin America. This time, Arabs are not being led by their leaders — from colonialism to pan-Arabism or Islamism or any other "ism" — as was the case in the past.

Instead, they have turned on those leaders who have failed to provide them their dignity, justice and a better life. Make no mistake, we are witnessing today an Arab people's revolution.

Like those before them, today's Arab revolution will transform the region's politics. What is happening today is nothing short of what the respected Arab commentator, Rami Khouri, prophetically described late last year as the birth of Arab politics. He was right. Politics in the region will never be the same again.

Propelled by the young and the digital revolution, citizens will demand nothing less than the right to choose and change their representatives in the future.

To glimpse the nature of what can emerge, we should understand the rapidly changing social structure of Arab societies. Those societies are more educated, urban and connected than ever before. Due to the phenomenal growth of secondary and university-level education, literacy rates among the region's youths have skyrocketed in the past 40 years. The percentage of people living in Arab cities has risen by 50 per cent in the same period.

The number of mobile phone users and internet users has proliferated to hundreds of thousands since the technology was introduced to the region 10 or 15 years ago. No wonder, then, that the people have finally snapped at the lack of opportunity and representation and the high levels of corruption and control that characterise their lives.

Most tellingly, more has united the protesting people than divided them. Notable has been the absence of a clear, emerging leader of the protests, particularly from Islamist party leadership.

The call for dignity, justice and a better life has been a universal value — not the domain of any one particular opposing party or movement. Instead, the national movements, which these conditions have spawned, will continue to demand a political system that is more pluralistic, democratic and produces effective and competent Governments sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of all the society's people.

Crucially, the unfolding events will also require a new set of calculations from the old regimes' main backers: The United States and its allies. The long-term changes for Western policy in the region should be profound. Gone should be the reflex to side with those who willfully subvert the democratic and constitutional process out of fear of the Islamist boogeyman.

The binary calculation between supporting stability on the one hand and the risks of unprecedented regime change, particularly the rise to power of Islamist parties, no longer holds. The people of the region are deciding.

The irony is that while US policymakers have been playing catch-up, it has largely been US-created technology — the internet, particularly facebook and Twitter — that has sustained the spread of the Arab revolution.

Now is the time for policy-makers to suggest an appropriate response to support a peaceful political transition in each country. Western policy-makers must strike a careful balance between ensuring key interests (including support for a comprehensive peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel's security) and respecting the wishes of the region's people. In this regard, support for the peace process and Israel's interests will best be ensured by real and tangible progress over the next year.

In the case of Egypt, the most populated Arab nation and symbol of Arab leadership, the transition will be particularly important. If managed well, it will provide a useful example for all in the days and weeks ahead. The US, in particular, has a role in persuading Mr Mubarak to outline a peaceful transition of power to an interim administration that will manage the process to a new democratic constitution and elections.

There should also be a role for international and regional organisations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Gulf Council and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to lend technical and material support to the transition.

It has not been lost on many that the US and other Western Governments have been trying to catch up to the unfolding events — attempting to balance support for old friends and allies with a call for restraint and urgent economic and political reforms.

This will not do. It is time to break through the past fears that have guided Western policy with fresh hope for a better future for the people of the region. It is time to choose change.


The writer is Director, Brookings Doha Center.








THE radio tagging of Indian students by law enforcement authorities in the United States is shameful and uncalled for. Admittedly, the students were duped by a university of questionable antecedents. Therefore, the most they can be held guilty of is their lack of due diligence before securing admission into a flyby- night educational institution.


The students entered the US using the proper visa, and the authorities never questioned their entry. Thus, their tagging — as if they were criminals or have committed a legal misdemeanour — raises serious questions.


Sadly, the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of overseas Indian affairs responded meekly until the Indian media took up the cause of the affected students. It was after much hue and cry that external affairs minister S. M. Krishna took up the issue in a firm manner.


It would have been interesting to monitor the reaction of Beijing had some of the students been Chinese, who incidentally make up a large portion of foreign students in the US. The issue is not done and dusted, and lots needs to be done by the Indian authorities in Washington and New Delhi to secure the release of the students, many of whom have spent an enormous amount of money to go there.


At the same time, steps should be taken to prevent such a thing from taking place again.


The US government must make available a list of bona fide universities to all those who seek student visas.


For its part the government of India must ensure that those who are a part of the organised visa racket are punished. Both governments must do their best to aid the hapless victims of the fraud and see to it that they are accommodated in other institutions.



AFTER all the talk about the ' killer' Blueline buses that led to their being taken off the national capital's roads, we are now confronted with the spectre of the swanky lowfloor Delhi Transport Corporation replacement buses faring little better.

These buses may have been introduced to improve passenger convenience and comfort, and bring down the fatality rate associated with Bluelines, but, as a M AIL T ODAY story has highlighted, their drivers have been breaching traffic rules in a host of ways, endangering the lives of citizens.


The clearest symptom of this is the fact that governors that set the limit on speed have been tampered with in many buses. Not sticking to lane driving, overtaking dangerously and stopping in the middle of the road for passengers are making these buses nearly as much of a hazard as Blueline buses.


Considering that the buses have come extremely expensive, the Delhi Transport Corporation must crack the whip on its errant drivers. But the phenomenon is also testimony to Delhi's poor traffic culture. Here the traffic cops need to show more vigilance.


Keeping a tight leash on DTC buses is also important because their example is likely to get emulated by buses run by private companies that are going to hit the roads soon.



WITH the people of Southern Sudan overwhelmingly voting for separation from Sudan in the referendum for independence, it appears that an independent nation will come into being later this year.


The case of Christian- dominated Southern Sudan — where a brutal civil war was fought until 2001 between the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Sudanese government based in the Muslim- dominated North — reflects the troubled nature of nation building in post- colonial Africa. The creation of a new state will breach a major taboo, backed by the African Union, against redrawing the colonial- era boundaries that could open up the proverbial can of worms in Africa.


The secession of oil rich Southern Sudan is bound to have an effect on the economy of Sudan. Equally daunting will be the challenge of creating a new nation in a region where governance barely exists.


The international community must do all it can to maintain stability in the region, even while assisting both parts of Sudan to recover from the political amputation.








EXACTLY nineteen years ago the BJP undertook its first Ekta Yatra led by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi.


It had exactly the same agenda — hoisting the tri- colour in Srinagar and " unifying the nation". However the subtext was different — that was a brand building exercise for the persona of Dr. Joshi while this one was to build BJP's next generation and re- build a covenant with its lost constituency. The twin objectives summarise the BJP's challenges as the party digs in its heels for battle 2014.


Built on the back of an emotive agitation the party witnessed unbridled growth in the nineties. Much as its branches were growing either organically or through grafting its roots were equally undernourished. Much like water gushing to fill in empty crevices during monsoon the party filled in the vacuum left by a decaying Janata Parivaar and a tottering Congress. However a lack of engagement with the masses on day to day economic issues and poor expectation management of its new found constituency took its toll on the party's performance. The gushing water had now become stagnant with all its associated ills.




The defeat in 2009 brought in public domain this stench that the party long tried to feign ignorance about. The fabled " kati patang" was thus bought under a new president whose task was to rejuvenate the sangathan . Though relatively inexperienced in national politics the young president had his task cut out — to jumpstart growth and infuse fresh talent.


The journey has not been without its hiccups. The perceived lack of authority made regional satraps more assertive — In the yesteryear a Keshubhai resigned twice at the behest of the party high command but a Yeddyurappa not even once.


However what came under control were the party's internal processes — it's planning and grooming functions.


Much like the old Jan Sangh the party started meticulously planning its elections, reflected in the party's heightened strike rate in Bihar ( 91 per cent) and a surprise performance in the local body polls in Kerala. Anurag Thakur's leadership of the Ekta Yatra and the choice of Varun Gandhi as election in charge of the crucial north eastern state of Assam indicate a desire to groom the third rung leaders of the party. Whether enough competence has been demonstrated by them or the credibility of their leadership is another debate — but the party has opened a window of opportunity for the third rung now. However the most important piece in the jigsaw that went missing in the first decade of this century was an engagement with the voters on economic issues.


That was the thrust of the party's Gaon chalo campaign launched in mid December last year. With a brand ambassador like Rahul Gandhi not on its side, many more village night stays would be called for than those spent by Rahul Gandhi.


One does not know if the BJP met any of its lofty targets for this campaign — Initial indications suggest it fell way short.


BJP's Thamarai Yatra in Tamil Nadu and Kerala Raksha yatra were also aimed at consolidating whatever little presence the party has in these states. Clearly the party is trying to get its building blocks in place.


When Nitin Gadkari took over as party president he set a target to increase the party's vote share by ten odd percent.


The key is how far can the BJP go given the fact that today its vote share is even less than in 1991. The configuration of the late nineties is unlikely to get repeated again. It was the absence of a charismatic Congress face in the nineties and the decline of the Janata leadership which paved the way for the growth of BJP post Babri. Lack of strategy and political blunders rendered the Congress ineffective in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. The uninspiring leadership drove the urban and rural middle class to the BJP, gifted allies like Mamata and the Dravidian parties to the BJP. The BJP got valuable space in Assam, Orissa, Karnataka and Bihar by virtue of the decline of the Janata Parivaar and the AGP. Its skilful blending of Mandal and Kamandal helped the BJP rope in the peasantry that kept the party perched atop Uttar Pradesh in the 90' s.




With numerous favourable factors it took the BJP seven long years ( 1991- 1998) and three Lok Sabha elections to scale a gain of five percentage points — from twenty to twenty five. That is seven percentage points more than it is today.


The moot point — the BJP's targets are truly ambitious, may be even unrealistic.


If the party were to increase its vote share even by five percent it would need to seriously move into contest in several states where it is now a junior player in an alliance or simply a third insignificant force. In the current scenario if one were to exclude West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, the NDA alliance is out of reckoning in 224 seats or would win only a dozen odd of these 224 seats. Add to these the seats in states like Kerala and north- eastern states other than Assam, and it is quite clear that the NDA as it stands today is in the reckoning in not more than 300 seats — a ballpark number to drive home the point.


The states where the party is in direct contest with the Congress add up to 140 seats: Delhi, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Karnataka and three from the union territories. That leaves a huge 160 seats where the party is going to be dependent on its allies or simply its own effort to win seats.




It is thus extremely important for the party to bring itself into visibility at least in Uttar Pradesh — a state where the party had the weakest base — where a peak vote share of only 36.5 per cent gifted the party an unusually high number of seats by virtue of the first past the post system. With no emotive issues and fewer leaders from the peasantry, it leaves the party with the option of grassroots voter engagement and extensive booth planning to revive itself. At the peak of its performance in 1998 the BJP won one seat for every 3,65,106 votes it polled. In 2009 the party won one seat for every 9,61,663 votes showing a very sub- optimal conversion of votes into seats. Compare that with the Congress which won one seat for every 4,78,869 votes in 2009.


Meticulous psephological planning is thus a key in Uttar Pradesh.


In the other 160 odd seats the party needs to meticulously plan its alliances or candidate strategy so that whatever little increase in vote share is achieved through grassroots engagement is leveraged into alliances or played smartly into the state's social calculus to deliver highest seat share per vote. That's a very tough call as its limited base is all that the BJP has to trade with. Corruption and price rise can only provide a platform; the mass base and the reach has to be worked for.

In 2004 Venkaiah Naidu proudly claimed that the NDA would win because it had three A's — Atal, Agenda and Alliance.


However wrong the NDA got its content it had got the construct right. It understood the elements that constituted a successful political brand — it included a brand ambassador ( Atal), a brand statement ( Agenda) and brand reach ( Alliance).


Today the first is still undecided, the second is yet being edified and the third just does not seem to have taken off. The BJP might be getting its recipe right but one does not know whether the ingredients have the right quality and whether the heat is of the right intensity to cook a sumptuous broth. We will get to taste it in 2014.


The writer is a political analyst









Come July, South Sudan will, if all goes according to plan, be the world's newest - and Africa's 54th - nation. With the results of January's referendum now officially tallied and announced, the vote outcome is every bit as overwhelming as it was projected to be: over 99% of southern Sudanese have opted for secession.

After two civil wars between the Arab Muslim north and the largely black Christian south and the attendant ethnic strife, it is to the credit of both sides that 2005's peace agreement has held in both letter and spirit. But this is not the end of South Sudan's quest for political and religious freedom; it is the beginning of a long road.

Central to the challenges it must overcome to successfully turn the referendum's mandate into reality is the issue of oil revenue sharing. Oil exports accounted for 98% of South Sudan's revenues last year. It holds three-fourths of the oil reserves but North Sudan possesses the pipelines and refineries. Working out a transparent, equitable revenue-sharing agreement - the existing one is set to come to an end with the referendum - is crucial.

Just as crucial is the creation of a national identity. Post-colonial nations have been plagued by ethnic divisions, and Sudan is no exception. South Sudan might have voted itself into nationhood, but its populace is far from unified.

In the past year, the Sudan People's Rebel Army/Movement (SPLA/M) has had to deal with four tribal rebellions - allegedly, often using tactics as brutal as
Khartoum had used against it during the civil war. South Sudan needs peaceful, inclusive means of economic and political competition, and reconciliation with tribes that had sided with the north during the civil strife. The war might be over, but now the SPLA/M must win the peace







With food inflation going through the roof in recent weeks, government food schemes for children have taken a significant hit.

States such as Assam, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Bihar have either not been able to provide supplementary nutrition under the Integrated Child Development scheme or have downgraded to dry rations instead of cooked meals. Midday meal providers in primary schools too are being forced to compromise on their menu.

The net result is a considerable reduction in the nutritive value of the food schemes, which could severely hamper child development.

This goes against the letter and spirit of the Supreme Court direction in 2001 that had directed the government to ensure the supply of nutritious cooked meals to all children in primary schools.

The multiple benefits of the programme, which include eradication of child hunger, keeping children in schools and bridging caste disparities through communal dining, have long been recognised.

Yet the implementation of the food schemes has been lacklustre. India has an estimated 40% of the world's severely malnourished children under five years of age.

Around half of reported infant deaths are related to malnutrition. Securing the future growth and development of the country demands that our children have access to proper nutrition.

It is imperative that the government assigns top priority to the issue and insulates child food schemes from budgetary cuts. Linking the cost of supplementary nutrition programmes to the consumer price index is a good idea.

On the other end of the scale, the issue of unhealthy dietary habits among schoolchildren deserves greater attention. Surveys conducted in Delhi-NCR indicate that around 75% of schoolchildren regularly snack on junk food high on trans-fats and empty calories.

As a consequence of this trend, 16% of children across the country are overweight, putting them at risk of a plethora of lifestyle diseases. There is a strong case for cracking the whip on school canteens that sell junk food such as colas and deep-fried chips and replacing them with healthier options. Besides, much of what a child eats determines his development graph in school.

Independent studies in the UK have shown that healthier menus in school cafeterias have led to improved student performance in subjects such as science and English.

They also cut down student absenteeism due to illness by 15%. Taken together, there is a pressing need to address child nutrition not only in terms of delivery but also in terms of quality.

The solution lies in creating greater awareness among children and parents, as well as robust government-private partnership in mitigating child hunger and promoting healthy dietary standards.









The incarceration of Binayak Sen reminded me of the sophist philosopher Thrasymachus's definition of justice in Plato's Republic. Challenged by Socrates to define justice he says: "I proclaim that might is right, and justice is in the interest of the stronger...The different forms of government make laws, democratic, aristocratic, or autocratic, with a view to their respective interests; and these laws, so made by them to serve their interests, they deliver to their subjects as 'justice', and punish as 'unjust' anyone who transgresses them."

This is the nature of justice meted out to Sen who has spent a lifetime working among the adivasis of Chhattisgarh. Sen is the national vice-president of People's Union for Civil Liberties and general secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit. As an activist, he has time and again spoken against state imperialism in the context of the people living in the forests of Chhattisgarh.

Not many in the cities are fully aware of the harsh life in these areas. The truth is that the adivasis who are the original inhabitants of these forests are steadily being ousted from their habitat. With their beliefs and culture repeatedly challenged, they are left with three stark choices. One, to fall in line, grab some peripheral reservations in jobs offered by the state, learn to tolerate the perpetual harassment and exploitation of their women and watch their culture destroyed in the name of development. Two, seek shelter deeper into the forests, and wait for the forest guards and rangers, aided by insensitive revenue officials, to slowly catch up and destroy their huts, crops and drive them away again. Or, three, stand up and protest against state oppression.

Over the past century, the adivasis of India living in a wide arc spreading across the northeast, 24 Parganas, parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have sacrificed in the cause of development. Each time a steel city sprang up, starting from Jamshedpur to Durgapur to Rourkela and Bhilai, local residents lost a great deal. Every time a new plant came up, lands belonging to the local residents were acquired at a pittance. While some of the able-bodied became factory workers, the majority of men and women lost out. Adivasis who lived in the forests and protected the flora and fauna for centuries were told that the land and forest belonged to the state. Resistance has been ruthlessly crushed, a perpetual reminder of their social backwardness, feeble political voice and inability to be heard.

Local government officials and petty contractors seeped in corruption and insensitive to local cultural traditions have presided over the interior hinterlands and deprived these areas of even basic infrastructure like roads, drinking water, schools, small irrigation facilities or markets where local products can sell at a profit.

Is it not strange that a state - which allows a Phoolan Devi to be a member of the Lok Sabha; negotiates truces and offers amnesty to dacoits and terrorists to buy peace; fails to try the accused in communal riots; is unable to prevent gender or caste atrocities; is inept at combating corruption within politics, industry, civil service and indeed the judiciary - endeavours to shut out voices that speak in favour of preserving local culture, protecting the rights of the tiller, protest against exploitation, corruption and lack of basic infrastructure? How is it that this land of the Buddha, Mahavira and Gandhi now turns a blind eye and deaf ear to the thousands of farmers who commit suicide in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh? Is it then surprising that so many youth, not just the adivasis of Chhattisgarh, are losing faith in the nature of the present state?

Sen has, on several occasions, said that he does not support violence. At the same time, he has strongly spoken against the harsh and illegal activities of the salwa judum that he believes is splitting adivasi society. The salwa judum is an illegal body of thugs that has been formed at the behest of government to "handle" the adivasis who speak against it. Sen has been in touch with Narayan Sanyal, a jailed Marxist ideologue, but this has always been with the formal permission, and in the presence, of the jail authorities. Does this warrant a charge of sedition and life imprisonment? It is reported that he carried letters to the Maoists from Sanyal. These letters need to be published to expose the crudity of the trumped up charges.

Add to this the statement of the director-general of Chhattisgarh police who said his belief is that "dalit movements, women's empowerment movements, human rights movements, environmental protection movements" are all suspect because Naxalites want to penetrate and hijack "movements not linked with CPI(Maoist)". Are these statements acceptable coming from the senior-most echelons of civil administration?

Iqbal once said: "Jis khet se dehkan ko mayyassar nahi roti, Us khet ke har gosha-e-gandum ko jalaa do" (burn every stalk of grain from the fields that cannot provide food to the tiller). Naxalism is a shrill alarm of what the future holds and indeed a hint that
India Inc travel beyond the glamour of rapid GDP growth towards a state where people are able to participate more and get a greater share of the fruits of its growth.

The writer is vice-chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia.






Indian contemporary artist Subodh Gupta's bronze Mona Lisa - sporting a moustache and a goatee - should definitely stand out at its display site in London.

A tribute to French artist Marcel Duchamp's famous 1919 'L.H.O.O.Q' piece that spoofed one of the most celebrated works in European art by adding a significant amount of facial hair to Leonardo da Vinci's muse, Gupta's Mona Lisa takes quirkiness to the next level.

The latter follows in the Dadaist tradition of art that seeks to challenge the conventional. His two-metre high black bronze sculpture of a hirsute Mona Lisa is designed to do exactly that.

It would be unfair to suggest there's nothing original about Gupta's sculpture. True, in concept, it's much the same as Duchamp's iconic piece. But art isn't just about creating new subjects but also interpreting old subjects in new ways.

Gupta's Mona Lisa portrays Duchamp's work in a new light, enlarging it manifold and taking it to a new medium. If the objection is to the parody itself, that too is unfounded. Whether visual art, literature, music or films, parodies can have as much artistic value as the originals they satirise. Breaking with the traditional mould, they question conformism.

Dadaism, surrealism, pop art - such movements deviated from the mainstream and, laced with black humour, explored new dimensions. On a lighter vein, consider spoofs in cinema such as the Scary Movie series parodying horror flicks or Austin Powers mocking James Bond. They make us laugh. They also force us to re-evaluate these genres.

Gupta's Mona Lisa once again forces us to debate what art's role ought to be. It is different, bold, irreverent and pays homage to the rebellious spirit of creativity epitomised by greats such as Duchamp, Salvador Dali or Andy Warhol. Art has always served a subversive purpose. You can't get too comfortable with it or take it for granted.









Yet another artist claims 'inspiration' by the world's most famous painting, so much so he needs to mutilate it. This time the motive is so suspect it begs the question: why? Subodh Gupta says it's to engage and pay homage to the heavyweights of European art, in particular Leonardo da Vinci and Marcel Duchamp.

Only, while his bronze tries to be funny it lacks the distinctiveness that made iconic the artists he suggests are his predecessors.

Da Vinci's painting epitomised high culture. With a few irreverent squiggles, Duchamp transformed itinto a joke. Many perceived this as sacrilegious, but it triggered a debate about bourgeois values confronted with art's ability to shock. His iconoclasm would later inspire many, including Andy Warhol.

But social attitudes prevailing then have lost force. Today, it's generally felt that lack of originality makes artists try to piggyback on the fame of the great masters. Gupta's elaborate work doesn't have the power of Duchamp's simple modification, nor is the casting of Mona Lisa in bronze a technical feat. His other contribution is to enlarge the figure. But apart from producing the big black statue of a woman with moustache and a goatee beard, does he have anything intellectually stimulating to convey? Surely one of India's most well-known artists should make better use of his talents.

Unfortunately, countless artists, writers and filmmakers seem to feel the need to subvert works that make up mankind's artistic canon. Call it shock for shock's sake. Surely comedy, parody, satire - in short, humour in art - must serve a purpose. Else, it'll only be written off as derivative art. Instead of distorting great works or seeking 'inspiration' from the past, creative people must engage with present-day society and have their craft serve contemporary aims. That way, they'll have something original to say.







Although institutions like the American Dialectic Society and the Global Language Monitor and several western dictionaries have been selecting the Word of the Year annually for the past two decades, these words do not strike a chord with Indians - being out of context, perhaps.

Is it not time for Indians to select the Indian Word of the Year (IWOTY), one wonders? 'Spillcam', the camera that covered the BP oil spill, or 'refudiate', the accidental coinage by Sarah Palin for mixing up repudiate and refute, haven't exactly made it big like Munni or Sheila. Instead, what about words like ScamaRaja, ScamIndia and, of course, the familiar, vanilla 'Scam'?

Why not root for our local word, 'ghotala'? For, ever since it made its debut with 'chara ghotala', the scale of the loot has grown manifold and its spread has widened. One can expect a compendium of scams to come out soon, which could be called a "Scamayana".

Coining of new words has always been a necessity to reflect new trends. At the receiving end of the scams is the 'Mango-Man', a term one comes across on the microblogging platform, Twitter, and derives from the 'aam admi' who readily participates in Twitter debates (tweebates, if you will). In the post-RTI era in India, the mango-man can stop being a 'slacktivist' - who clicks on causes' pages on Facebook and merely joins online petitions - and take up RTI activism. He can now be a citizen journalist or even a 'hacktivist' (activism by hacking) like Julian Assange of WikiLeaks - all at his own peril, though. Anyway, the Mango-Man has arrived - and the term deserves to be nominated for the IWOTY.


But the rot has spread amongst the unprivileged, powerless masses; the mango-men. Scant regard for the rulebook is the norm and resorting to 'Jugaad' has become a way of life for the mango-man. Jugaad has made it to Indian literature - books, columns, blogs have featured this word - and this Indian word is ready to sweep across the world by dint of its sheer power in making the impossible possible. Jugaad is all about achieving one's goal by whatever means necessary. Ethics, laws, rules, procedures, dos and don'ts be damned - we must have it! Naturally, the mango-man is both the perpetrator and the victim of jugaad - another worthy contender for IWOTY.

Movie buffs wouldn't have any of this stench of corruption spoil their party. They would rather help themselves to dollops of the fare dished out by the Sheilas and Munnis of our times. Sheila or Munni would be the only debate they would endorse - since debates are an integral part of our social lives. So some want Munni as the IWOTY. But why not put aside this debate and, being assured of a steady supply of 'Item Girls' as they are called in Bollywood parlance, why not root for the term 'Item Girl' as the IWOTY?

Finally, another worthy nominee for the IWOTY: while several global firms are waiting to make a dent in the Indian marketplace, one international fast food company's success here can be attributed to the local adaptation of its offerings - a potato tikki burger - to win the hearts of Indian consumers. And it has led to the term 'McAlooTikki-fication'.

This adaptation to the Indian context can be used in a wider sense, such as recent addresses by visiting leaders such as
US President Barack Obama. One need not stop at tandoori momos or tawa sushi - this word has great promise. It conveys the mantra needed for success in India to prospective entrants, teaching them to adapt to Indian palates while planning their foray here.








Even before we could relegate the attacks on Indian students in Australia to the dustbin of history, Indians are once again facing humiliation - this time in the United States. According to reports, authorities in the US have confiscated the passports of students enrolled in the California-based Tri-Valley University and radio-tagged some of them to track their movement after they exposed the educational institution to be a fake one. Although New Delhi has condemned the appalling treatment of Indian citizens being radio-tagged and has asked for stern action against the erring officers, a serious damage in the way Indians are treated in the US has been committed. It's true that once the institution was found to be a dud, the status of the 'students' - for that is what they were for American immigration officials as well as the Indians themselves when they entered the US - was that of illegal visitors. But considering that the fault for this mess lies within the US and because the racket was conducted by Americans, it seems mighty suspicious that the duped Indians are being made to take the rap. On top of it is the treatment meted out to them as criminals with tags. Switch positions and have a bunch of Americans found to be duped by a non-existent yoga instruction centre here and you know what the consequences would have been if Indian authorities had cuffed radio-tags around their limbs.

Immigration and visa laws must be allowed to take their own course. We understand that. But radio-tagging? It would have been suffice to send the duped Indians back to our shores considering that their passports had been impounded by the immigration authorities. Union minister of overseas Indian affairs Vayalar Ravi, after making the usual noises, said the US officials "should not tie any radio tag on their body... [as it is] very heavy and it is impossible to carry". As usual, our authorities are barking up the wrong tree. These devices are used in cases of criminals on parole. So the tags, whether 'heavy' and 'impossible to carry' or not, are not for use on people from other countries who have been enticed into entering America  and then left to fend on their own. It becomes very, very difficult in such a scenario not to think of 'racial tagging' being imposed in 'the land of the free and the home of the brave'.

The Indian government, on its part, should stop waffling and tell its counterpart to stop its freakshow with Indian cast members. The US needs to acknowledge that it has got things wrong when it let these 'unauthorised' foreigners from India into its borders. It would help matters tremendously if authorities here in India could provide a one-stop window where prospective students can ascertain whether the institutions in which they plan to enroll are kosher or not before they leave the country. But before that, we await an apology to those unfortunate Indians from the authorities who think they're dealing with illegal migrants who've crossed over the Mexican border.






Now it turns out that not only must we bear with melting glaciers, shrinking ice caps and diminishing fossil fuels, but we have to also worry about a 'chocolate drought'. Political unrest in Ivory Coast, the West African nation that produces half the world's cocoa beans, is being blamed for the decline in the supply of sustainable cocoa. So as the Nestlés and Cadburys, the Ferreros and Callebauts roll up their sleeves to wrest control of the remaining stock of raw material, is it merely some high-calorie slabs of sinful indulgence we are about to lose out on?

The ancient Aztecs would have disagreed. So valued were the restorative properties of a cacao-based beverage among the Aztecs, that only warriors, the nobility and priests were allowed to drink it. Casanova's success between the sheets, it is rumoured, owed much to the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate.

For most of us, chocolate is the mirror that reflects our journey through life, from the innocent wonder of milk chocolates to the sensuous attractions of its intricate, darker variety. If those Epicurean delights indeed disappear from the supermarket shelves by 2014, parents will need new devices to win over petulant, sulky children while lovers will find the business of wooing severely impaired. Politics is a tough taskmaster, but the demise of chocolate seems too high a price to exact for removing dictatorships.







Notwithstanding ancient wisdom that tells us not to rush where angels fear to tread, it is impossible not to reflect upon the hurricane of change sweeping across West Asia. The massive popular protests in Egypt defying curfew with over 150 dead and thousands injured continue to swell demanding the ouster of the three-decade-long regime of Hosni Mubarak with the hope of a better livelihood for the people. On January 14, popular upsurge ousted the Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, after 23 years in power. Similar upsurges have erupted in Yemen and Jordan. Irrespective of how these developments will finally unfold, it is clear that a very major transformation process is underway.

These developments, spellbindingly broadcast by Al-Jazeera that has been battling many obstacles, reminds us of the immortal words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (incidentally, whose birth centenary India must commemorate more expressively this year):

'Ai khaak nasheeno uth baitho woh waqt qareeb aa punhcha hai

Jab takht girae-e jaaen ge, jab taj uchchaale jaaen ge

Ab toot girain gi zanjeerain ab zindano ki khair naheen

Jo darya jhoom ke uthay hain, tinko se nah taaley jaain ge'

(Arise the downtrodden, that time has arrived

When thrones will be toppled, crowns will be tossed,

All chains will now shatter, jails can no longer confine,

Rivers in spate cannot be controlled by blades of grass)

Apart from being subjected to authoritarian rule for decades, the people of these countries have suffered severely during the last two years of the global economic crisis. Egypt and Jordan have been touted as darlings of economic reforms by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and are deeply integrated with the global economy. The global financial crisis had a devastating impact as three million in Egypt and half a million in Jordan are directly employed in this sector. Egypt's revenues from the Suez canal, tourism and exports took a deep hit leading to a sharp decline in the GDP growth. Youth unemployment, which was already at 34 % in 2005, sharply increased.

Jordan's economic growth fell from 7.9 to 2.8% between 2008 and 2009. The impact of these hardships is the immediate backdrop that was triggered by WikiLeaks revelations that showed the enormous difference in the way the rulers lived and the people suffered leading to the self-immolation of a youth that triggered the Tunisian uprising.

Clearly, the 'New World Order' that the United States sought to create post-Cold War is crumbling. More importantly, the US's capacity to determine world events appears to have weakened considerably. The US, in the past, had intervened unscrupulously in many countries, particularly in West Asia, to safeguard its strategic global interests. The overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, by a CIA-led coup in 1953 after the country nationalised its oil, the Anglo-French invasion of Egypt after President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, and the installation of pro-US regimes permitted imperialism to safeguard its three basic concerns in the region: holding the reins of control over the oil resources, maintaining control over the Suez canal so crucial for the movement of western cargo and US military movements, and cementing Israel's pre-eminent military superiority in the region.

Egypt was to serve as the lynchpin for this strategy to succeed. In return, since the 1978 Camp David accord, Egypt received over $ 35 billion of military aid from Washington, the largest after Israel. It receives on an average $ 2 billion a year as 'other' aid.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the US, that self-declared protector of human rights, democracy and human values, is very cautious in its reactions to the turmoil in West Asia. Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan - they all have pro-US regimes. But they are a different kettle of fish from Egypt. On January 30, the New York Times reported that President Barack Obama, "at least for now" is talking short of calling for Mubarak's resignation. However, as is by now familiar to the world, he has spoken of the "universal rights" of the people of Egypt and West Asia etc etc.

While not openly articulating a regime change in Egypt, the US is preparing to retain its strategic control through various alternatives. Clearly, the Islamist scarecrow of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover has not worked. Mubarak's appointment of his long-serving intelligence head, Omar Suleiman as vice-president, ostensibly to neutralise the army has not cut much ice as any meaningful reform with the people. Now all eyes are turned on the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned to Egypt after a long stint abroad, heading what he calls the National Association for Change.

The Muslim Brotherhood reportedly has also supported him to lead the negotiations with the regime for economic and social reforms and the lifting of the three-decade emergency rule. Conscious of the fact that no Nobel Peace Prize is awarded without the explicit support of the US, addressing the 60th session of the UN General Assembly in October 2005 while felicitating the IAEA under ElBaradei's leadership on behalf of India, for receiving this recognition, I had said, "We are confident that, as a distinguished son of a developing country, Dr ElBaradei will continue to understand the South's problems as well as its aspirations." This needs to be underlined in the event he eventually becomes the interlocutor.

For generations, the peoples of the Arab countries, despite their longstanding sacrifices and struggles, have been repeatedly thwarted from achieving a radical shift in their countries. This cannot be allowed to happen once again. It is clear that this popular upsurge in West Asia has been sparked by the acute impoverishment that has sharply escalated during the current global recession. Such obscenely widening inequalities are also finding reflection in our country in the growing gap between 'IPL India' and 'BPL India'. Are we being forewarned?

Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal





When Egypt had parliamentary elections only two months ago, they were completely rigged. The party of President Hosni Mubarak left the opposition with only 3% of the seats. The American government said that it was "dismayed". Well, frankly, I was dismayed that all it could say is that it was dismayed. The word was hardly adequate to express the way the Egyptian people felt.

Then, as protests built in the streets of Egypt following the overthrow of Tunisia's dictator, I heard US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assessment that the government in Egypt is "stable" and "looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people". I was flabbergasted - and puzzled. What did she mean by stable, and at what price? Is it the stability of 29 years of 'emergency' laws, a president with imperial power for 30 years, a parliament that is almost a mockery, a judiciary that is not independent? What we see in Egypt is pseudo-stability. Real stability only comes with a democratically elected government.

If one would like to know why the US does not have credibility in the Middle East, that is precisely the answer. People were absolutely disappointed in the way the US reacted to Egypt's last election. Washington reaffirmed their belief that the US is applying a double standard for its friends, and siding with an authoritarian regime just because it thinks it represents American interests. We are staring at social disintegration, economic stagnation, political repression, and we do not hear anything from the Americans, or, for that matter, the Europeans.

So when America says the Egyptian government is looking for ways to respond to the needs of the Egyptian people, I feel like saying, "Well, it's too late!" This isn't even good realpolitik. We have seen what happened in Tunisia, and before that in Iran. That should teach people there is no stability except when you have government freely chosen by its own people.

Of course, the West has been sold the idea that the only options in the Arab world are between authoritarian regimes and Islamic jihadists. That's bogus. If we are talking about Egypt, there is a whole rainbow variety of people who are secular, liberal, market-oriented, and if you give them a chance they will organise themselves to elect a government that is modern and moderate. They want desperately to catch up with the rest of the world.

Instead of equating political Islam with al-Qaeda all the time, take a closer look. Only a few weeks ago, the leader of a group of ultra-conservative Muslims in Egypt issued a fatwa calling for me to "repent" for inciting public opposition to Mubarak, and declaring the ruler has a right to kill me, if I do not desist. This sort of thing moves us toward the Dark Ages. But did we hear a single denunciation from the Egyptian government? No.

Despite all this, I have hoped to find a way toward change through peaceful means. In a country like Egypt, it's not easy to get people to put down their names and government ID numbers on a document calling for fundamental democratic reforms. Yet a million people have done just that. The regime, like the monkey that sees nothing and hears nothing, simply ignored us. As a result, the young people of Egypt have lost patience, and what you've seen in the streets these last few days has all been organised by them.

Each day it gets harder to work with Mubarak's government, even for a transition, and for many of the people you talk to in Egypt, that is no longer an option. They think he has been there 30 years, he is 82 years old, and it is time for a change. For them, the only option is a new beginning. How long this can go on, I don't know. In Egypt, as in Tunisia, there are other forces than just the president and the people. The army's been quite neutral so far, and I would expect it to remain that way. The soldiers and officers are part of the Egyptian people. They know the frustrations. They want to protect the nation.

But this week the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear, and once that is broken, there is no stopping them.

Mohamed ElBaradei was the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). He was awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. © 2011, Newsweek Inc. The views expressed by the author are personal








Change, when it comes, often does so without warning — without a wisp in the air of what's in the offing. Yet, once the process of change is set in motion, it rarely remains a question of stealth. Barely a couple of weeks ago, when mass revolt in Tunisia ousted an ossified regime, commentators were discounting the possibility of the contagion spreading to a country like Egypt. Egypt had an efficient repressive machinery and a perfected system of muting opposition. The commonplace of the street demonstration in Cairo was the same faces turning up at tiny protest rallies to face a brute police force. Now, in the second week of mass demonstrations in many of Egypt's urban centres, governments across the world — including the US and UK, longtime supporters of the Hosni Mubarak regime — are watching and calculating so as to be on the right side of history.

It is, however, far more important that Egyptians find themselves on the right side of history. At last. A history not of great-power equations or the regional balance of arms. But one of a re-emergence of the Arab tradition of liberalism, which can secure for the people in Tahrir Square and elsewhere the dignity of fear-free democratic political life and the fundamentals of reasonably priced food, goods and jobs. That Cairo has become the eye of the storm thundering against the stagnation of the Middle East is history turning a cycle — Cairo was the epicentre of post-colonial, liberal Arab nationalism; it remained a fairly liberal city and centre of learning, despite the city's urban chaos and growing popular support for Egypt's Islamists. Now, Cairo wants its freedom back.

Politics in the Middle East has been frozen since the 1970s and, no matter what now happens in Egypt, an era may well be over. It is therefore hoped that through the fears of vacuum and violence that accompany unrest on the Egyptian street, the situation will be steered in a progressive direction. Because this is a movement still in its infancy and it is uncertain how it will end. Political transition in the Arab world is indeed a tough challenge. Nevertheless, it is the magnitude of this humanitarian moment and democratic opportunity that must be kept in mind. Not a geopolitical calculus that may be well past its use-by date.






The Posco steel plant in Orissa, which was supposed to produce 12 million tonnes a year, was a headline project by any standard. Thus, when the Union environment ministry put it on hold last year, it wasn't just a body blow to Orissa's efforts to create non-farm employment and to get moving on using its resources effectively. It had an effect far beyond Orissa's — and India's — borders, as investors began to worry about the quality and reliability of regulation. The manner in which the re-appraisal was announced only intensified those fears; highly visible grandstanding about what should have been a simple regulatory decision merely fed into fears that arbitrariness had crept into the process of environmental clearances in

India. Now, several months on, comes news that the environment ministry has issued a conditional clearance for the project. The plant will go ahead, as long as technical specifications are met. This is a welcome movement: industry should know that environmental regulations are meant to be followed, and the ministry, importantly, should remember that it is supposed to enable compliance, not de-industrialisation.

The implications of the report will be carefully studied. But, as the RBI pointed out in its latest quarterly review, when explaining why foreign direct investment in India had dipped precipitously, a hint of arbitrariness has immense power to harm the India growth story. It makes difficult the task of convincing industry and locals that the government is serious about development. In some sense, there's too much speculation that surrounds environmental regulation today. Regulation is a matter of bits and pieces, of enforcing the fine print — not of making grand gestures.

It is to be hoped that, post-Posco, the independent institutional structure that enforces green regulations will be strengthened, so that the confusion and doubt that has set in over the past year or so, hampering investment and growth, dissipates.

Indeed, the environment ministry must now visibly set out to ensure projects meet environmental requirements, instead of appearing to look for ways to re-open them simply for the sake of doing so, if not to in fact stop them from going ahead. And we need strong institutional structures, not arbitrariness. Fair, independent committees would be a good place to start.






It is part of the great Indian dream: obtaining a "foreign degree" and subsequently a job abroad. And given the aspiration, there's a clear risk of the ambition being exploited by fraudsters, and equally education being used as a cover for immigration rackets. In equal measure, we saw both aspects when the "racism in Australia" row hit the headlines. We may well be seeing another eruption, with the Tri-Valley University in California, which has been accused of enabling foreign nationals to obtain illegal student immigration status in return for huge sums of money. When US authorities called Tri-Valley a sham and radio-tagged its students, the majority of whom turned out to be Indians, it exposed the possible faultlines in the system.

Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna has protested against the radio-tagging of Indians, calling it "an inhuman act", and demanded action against US officials. This is unfortunate. The MEA, and its missions overseas, certainly have a duty by Indians caught in such unfortunate situations, deservedly or not. Deservedly, because Tri-Valley is a classic case that, at least in hindsight, should have set off warning signals for students as well as authorities — a college without even a campus, except for an administrative building, one which offers only online courses and provides visas to over 1,000 foreign students when it can give them to only 30. The case highlights the need for a process to guide the growing number of Indians applying to study abroad. There could be, for starters, an education checklist to help them stay away from scamsters, even an online directory that would list the credentials of educational institutions. Krishna's populist outrage doesn't help, and in fact obfuscates real issues.

Beyond the avoidable rhetoric, India would do well to see the Tri-Valley incident as a wake-up call.







That actor Amitabh Bachchan, immensely popular in Egypt, is the only Indian public figure to express concern about the current tumult in Cairo suggests Bollywood's sense of internationalism runs a little deeper than that of Delhi's political elite.

The reasons of realpolitik that define South Block's cautious silence on the unfolding Arab revolt are easily understandable. Governments have to be prudent in dealing with unpredictable revolutionary situations in other countries. But where is the Indian political class? No major Indian political party has raised its voice in support of the current Arab struggle to overthrow its authoritarian rulers who have long overstayed their welcome.

The apathy of our political parties to turbulence in a region that is part of our extended neighbourhood and of great strategic importance is paradoxical for two reasons. So many of India's current national interests are extra-territorial amidst the interdependence generated by our economic globalisation. Further, solidarity with the Arab world is supposed to be one of the high principles of modern India's worldview.

The ruling Congress party appears to have lost all institutional memory of its once intense connections with Arab modernism and Egyptian liberalism. As Indian and Arab nationalists found each other after World War I, the Congress and Egypt's Wafd Party became natural partners and laid the foundation for anti-colonial solidarity between the two emerging nations that would morph into a shared commitment to non-alignment in the early decades of the Cold War.

On the Left, the Indian communist parties claim a special commitment to internationalism. Critics have argued that communist internationalism had long been simplified to a few slogans. Under the present communist leadership, it has been further reduced to two words — America and Israel. As leading and influential allies of the UPA government during 2004-08, the CPM and the CPI opposed

India's relations with Washington and Tel Aviv. Yet, as Egyptians press for the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, a leading ally of the US and Israel in the Middle East, our communist parties have had few words to express solidarity with the courageous mass action in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria.

On the right, the BJP had few internationalist credentials. But the Arab question had roused the BJP in a very different way. It argued that India's Middle East policy had become hostage to the Congress's domestic political agenda — especially its attempt to cultivate the Muslim vote.

Whatever the merits of the BJP's earlier argument, the current people's revolt in Egypt and other Arab nations could lay a new basis for Indo-Arab cooperation defined less by religion or ideology and more by shared interests and common challenges that confront the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.

The men and women marching in Arab streets are not animated either by Islamist ideology or anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist rhetoric. Their focus is on basic bread-and-butter issues. They want responsive governments that treat citizens with a modicum of political dignity and offer a measure of accountability. Whether or not it ousts the dictator and engineers a successful regime change, the popular rebellion in Egypt has shattered many pervasive myths about Arab political culture. That Arabs are passive and immune to the democratic virus has much currency in India and the world. Equally entrenched has been the idea that the only political choice in the Arab world is between secular dictators and Islamic extremists.

While the Indian state has a natural interest in the stability of Egypt and the Arab world as anyone else, our political classes have no reason to accept the false choice in the region that is being drummed up again in Washington and European capitals.

The challenges of an Arab political transition are indeed daunting. But there should be no doubt that the normalisation of Arab politics — where all major forces compete within a pluralist framework — would produce more stability and progress in the long term than current dictatorships.

The Arab political elites were as inspired by the ideas of modernisation and reform as other national movements in the non-Western world at the dawn of the 20th century. Their quest, however, was derailed by great-power intervention, persistent regional conflict, and the emergence of national security states.

The protesters in Cairo, Tunis and Sana'a are in some sense reclaiming for the Arabs the lost liberal political tradition. The Egyptians, in particular, have shown extraordinary courage in defying one of the most brutal police states in the world.

The Egyptian protests, which are entering the second week, mark a definitive end to decades of Arab political stagnation. Not all the hopes of the current revolt might be realised in the short run. The uneven but inevitable return of the Middle East to normal politics, however, offers India a historic opportunity to redefine its solidarity with the Arab people.

In the recent decades, that solidarity had been reduced to an empty slogan; it was about mouthing platitudes with the unrepresentative leaders of the Arab world. As the Arab universe opens up, India has an opportunity to construct a new and comprehensive economic, social and political engagement with it. India will have much to offer and a lot to gain by reaching out to the new elites that are about to reorganise the Middle East.

If India must reinvent its solidarity with the Arab peoples, Cairo will surely re-emerge as Delhi's main regional partner. As the heir to an ancient civilisation, the most populous Arab nation and the political and cultural hub of the Middle East, Egypt will soon end its tragic marginalisation under Mubarak and reclaim a leadership role. Irrespective of what the government of India does, political India must warmly embrace the new Egypt.








Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal has finally moved towards cleaning up the mess in the 2G spectrum space. This was much needed, as it has been much muddied ever since his predecessor, A. Raja, allotted nine licences in January 2008 at 2001 prices.

What Sibal did over the weekend, de-linking spectrum from licences, is the only pragmatic way to move forward, since it is difficult to achieve the ideal level playing field when different players have entered at different points in time. Naturally, early movers would have certain advantages and even disadvantages vis-a-vis newer players, so it is futile to try to balance them out exactly. The best way forward is to take a cut-off date, and come with policy measures that are fair to all.

The only unfortunate part of Sibal's policy announcement is the timing. It would have been much better had it come prior to his making statements which were seen as backing Raja's moves — allocating licences/ spectrum without auctions, and concluding that there was no loss to the exchequer as a result. Whatever criticism has been levelled at his latest pronouncement is only because he is now seen to be doing an about-turn as compared to his earlier stand. But then, politics has its own compulsions, and Sibal will be forgiven if he is able to deliver on the long-term goals.

Sceptics feel Sibal may have bitten off more than he can chew and is sure to run into litigation. The premise for such a view is simple: incumbent players like Bharti, Vodafone and Idea have spectrum in excess of the contracted 6.2 Mhz, and will have to pay for it according to a market-determined price. The problem comes when Sibal says that even newer operators, having 4.4 Mhz spectrum, will have to pay for their next tranche of 1.8 Mhz — because this would be seen as reneging on their contracts. Will this set of operators not head the courts?

Further, Sibal has said that in the event of cancellation of the "Raja licences", the ones in queue will also come under the new dispensation. The problem here is that those lost out because of Raja's manipulating the rules. They can today argue that, had they been given licences way back in 2008, they would at least have got 4.4 Mhz spectrum free — not the case under the new dispensation. Will they too not head to the courts?

The answer is highly improbable in both cases. Sibal has done his homework well. There will be a bit of song-and-dance from the first set of operators, but they won't head to the courts — because it is clean spectrum which matters to the ones who are serious. For non-serious players, a liberal merger and acquisition rule is on the way to exit.

Sibal also knows that ground realities have changed since 2007-08, and telecom licences no longer fetch high valuations. So none of the players in queue are going to ask for a licence in the first place — so why worry about litigation? Second, if any serious operator wants a licence, his focus would once again be on clean spectrum, rather than the kind some players got in 2008.

So while the litigation aspect could be debated in theory, there seems to be no real threat of it in reality.

In fact, the government will end up earning more as a result of Sibal's measure. If the licences are cancelled and if there are then fresh takers, the government will charge them market rates. If they are not cancelled, then all the operators will pay the government market rates for getting additional spectrum!

The other apprehension is that tariffs may once again start rising. This apprehension is, once again, misplaced. Tariffs are driven by market competition and not by costs. This has been fairly established in the Indian market. There was, is and will remain more than sufficient competition in the Indian telecom market to ensure that tariffs do not abnormally move upwards, irrespective of whether spectrum is auctioned or not. Anybody doubting this can look at the tariffs being announced by the operators for 3G services

— they are lower than those for 2G services!

What will, in effect, happen as a result of Sibal's new telecom policy is that tariff alone will not drive any operator's business model. Right now, in a model where operators got additional spectrum on achieving a certain number of subscribers per circle, the temptation was to add users through rock-bottom tariffs. However, in the new scenario the race to acquire dud customers will end — because, to support them, operators would have to pay a good amount. Who would want to pay more for spectrum when he is not realising a fair value from customers? The result will be better business models from the operators, and only those will survive who are able to grow as a pure-play communications company.

This is what is required in the Indian telecom sector at this point of time.

The writer is special correspondent, 'The Financial Express'








SG: I am in a really frigid Davos and my guest today is Raghuram Rajan. People know you, frankly, less as such an eminent professor from Chicago University than somebody that the Indian Prime Minister has reached out to to seek counsel for various complex problems, in a totally honorary capacity.
Well, I provide some advice once in a while.


SG: I have been reading your comments and then I listened to you at Davos for the last two days. Do I see some degree of despondency, frustration and disappointment in your voice?
Not quite. I think it's important to understand that the world is changing. And it is important to understand that from India's perspective, the job is still half done. Excellent performance over the last 20 years cumulatively—the kind of growth that very few countries have seen.


SG: This is a wonderful time to be having this conversation. It is the twentieth anniversary of our reforms.
Absolutely, and we have had splendid growth. But lots of countries have stopped where we are and some countries have gone back. This is the time we need to think what should be our next step. And this is also the time when the world is changing. You see, you have had the world in recession and now, the industrial countries are recovering. The confidence that the emerging markets will sustain this growth will come into question because the emerging markets are overheating, some of the capital that's come in will start flowing out. This is the time to ensure that we have the right kind of resilience, it's going to be tested. So, I worry that we have this complacency that 8.5 per cent growth is the new Hindu rate of growth. But it's not. It is an extraordinary rate of growth, and we need to fight to even maintain this growth and go to the next level.


SG: If the government has to focus, what are the things we have to do?
I think there are some short-term things we have to do and some longer term things that we have to put in place. Short term, of course, the fiscal deficit is a big concern. When people look at India, they look at the rising current account deficit, they look at the rising inflation and they say—is there a problem with this country? So, when foreign investors start questioning, and when they have a lot of options, they have the option to withdraw also. So, that's a little bit of a worry. So, can we do what we have been talking about for many years? Get rid of inefficient subsidies, get rid of the kind of subsidies that have been causing problems recently? For example, the kerosene subsidy which causes adulteration, black-marketeering, etc. The whole point of liberalisation, which started 20 years ago, was to reduce this kind of distortion in the system. So what we need to do, going forward, is take all the steps to finish that process. That is one. The fertiliser subsidy is another. Can we do food subsidies in a more efficient way? And then, the second stage of reforms is on all the cathartic constrains we have. Education, we have to do far more, and not just in primary but also in tertiary. We need people who have the intellect to deal with the new economy, and for that we need universities that foster discussion, foster intellectual debates. We have some existing universities, but we need a lot more.


SG: Let me take you back to the issue of subsidies. You know, demands coming out, for example, the NAC, the new Right to Food Act, universal PDS, spending more money on the do you look at that?
It's important that as we grow richer, we take the poor along with us. The question is, what is the best way to do that? Clearly, in this time of stress, expanding the food subsidies right now, when we don't have the fiscal capacity to absorb it, is going to be costly. Also, when we don't have the right distribution structure for this. So, I would think that we should certainly do what is best for the poorest of the poor. But wait till you have a better distribution system in place, a system that leaks much less. And use things like a unique ID to deliver in a more efficient way, and then expand.


SG: But that's the whole intellectual debate. The biggest criticism against the unique ID by the NAC is precisely this, that you can have unique IDs, but don't use them for social schemes.
I think the whole lesson from other countries is that, eventually, you want to empower the poor. You don't want to use the food distribution system as a job creation mechanism for the distributors. If you want to empower the poor, give them cash. And if you want to give them cash, give it to them directly, in an identifiable way.


SG: This is being done in other countries?
It's being done in other countries, and they have excellent systems. For example, in Mexico. We don't have to ape them. We'll have to figure out what works for us. What's being done in Mexico and Brazil is, they tie the cash transfer to measurable things like—do you have your kids in school, are they staying there, have they taken vaccinations— we can think of what we need to do.


SG: Nitish Kumar had done something like that in Bihar to prevent students from dropping out of school. He gave bicycles to students going from class VIII to class IX. But the clever thing he did was, he did not buy the bicycles. And he told us, had I bought the bicycles, I would have lost the elections after another five years because there would have been scandals, the bicycles would have broken down, and I would have been confronted with bicycles wherever I went. He just gave money to these kids.
I think that's an example of trusting the poor. You trust the poor to make decisions. You can shape them a little bit in the social direction that you want, but the whole ethos of our social delivery is that we don't trust them, we confront them with a government monopoly. You got to go to a fair price shop that is run by the government. Why don't we trust them to make choices, and give them the choices? That is the best way to empower the poor. They will admire you for that.


SG: What has gone wrong in the UPA's second term? I am talking about economic governance and decision making. You have been talking about growth of capitalism for quite a long time and, in fact, you made a great speech in 2008, when you said India was heading in the direction of Russia. What's gone wrong, and what has been done wrong?
I think the next stage of reforms really requires some deep, fundamentally-rooted reforms. For example, education reform is not easy. Some big changes need to be made, and similarly, land reforms. The whole process of trying to ensure that we have registered land—these are deep, difficult reforms which immediately encounter vested interests who prefer non-transparency because that's the way they can manipulate the system.


SG: But do you get a sense of an opportunity being lost?
A lot of reforms in India happen subtly on the side, without big confrontations. There is no magic moment where it happens. Now, we won't know that's been going on for some time. Only when we look back will we realise that some things have been happening. Maybe that's what's been going on. But yes, as an outsider, I feel frustrated because magic, big reforms aren't being done.


SG: So, what are the magic things that can be done now?
Clearly, the infrastructure side, which will be crucial for generating the jobs that we need, especially in the rural areas. You need to connect the countryside to the coastal areas and to the world. That, to my mind, is an important task which needs to be done. We have to figure out a way to execute it in a much (better way). And infrastructure includes power, connectivity and all those things.



SG: One thing you have been trying to say is, please do not fall for the temptation to throw more money at the poor. No more yojanas now.
Yes, at present we can't afford any more yojanas, certainly not in the short term. In the long run, we need to think about not just income transfers but also capacity creation. How can we make it possible for the poor to earn a better livelihood? This is where we certainly need more investment than agriculture. Thinking that India will remain a country where more than 60 per cent of people will remain in agriculture is just a pipe dream. It shouldn't be that way. The people dependent on agriculture should be brought down to five per cent over the years. What we need to do is create jobs and services.


SG: That so many people are dependent on agriculture is a myth, because agriculture does not need so many people. They are underemployed and under-rewarded.
Exactly. You have to move those people from those jobs into industry, into services and that's where most countries get their productivity from. It's not from doing stuff more cleverly. It is by moving people from low productivity areas to services and industry. So, we have to create those jobs, which means we have to link the market to the areas where the production is.


SG: And do you think, going by the quality of Indian politics and governance, they have what it takes to do this?
Well, the competition between the states is creating some of the energy to produce these things. Of course, the example of Gujarat and its economic progress is very well known, but Bihar is coming out as a state which is doing a lot. Between states, if we can get competition...


SG: And Chhattisgarh. It has a brilliant PDS system.
I think experimentation, and learning from it, is a very Chinese way of progress. And that is something we need to adopt. But let's not agonise till kingdom come over what the perfect way of doing something is. Run a few experiments, see how they work, and then say, yes, this works better than that and so let's do more of this. I think we are still in a stage that China has already gotten over, we can cross the river by feeling the stones. Let's experiment, not be afraid of doing that, and then push forward.


SG: In your book (Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy) you described the mentality of the Indian state as that of a bicyclist: bowing on top, and kicking in the bottom. It means that it rewards the rich, but really punishes the poor.
Yes, our governance system is not responsive to people at the bottom and, to some extent, excessively responsive to people who have the moolah. It's either influence or money. How do we change this, because this increases the frustration among people who don't have access and, of course, the way they find power again is by bypassing the system—which is why we get movements like Naxalism and things like that. That requires a change in culture, where you treat every citizen with dignity and as an equal.


SG: Compared to two years ago, are you worried, disillusioned, despondent? Tell me what's the degree of your concern.
No, I think the attitude towards India is always hope tinged with impatience. And a little bit of apprehension and concern. But I think in the long run, we have all the right attributes to grow, to become a big nation, to become a nation that contributes to the world. And I think we underestimate the kind of message we can send as a democracy that has grown without stamping on its people, without resorting to repression like some of the other nations. That is a lesson that needs sending. That we can grow while being a democracy.


SG: The questions they asked you at Davos this year were not so nice. About corruption, capitalism, the Parliament not functioning.
Well, what's good about India is that it is honest about its problems. We put it all out, we debate it. And that's good. But I think we also need to get a hold of these and move ahead. That's what we have to do next. Get a hold of our problems, and move ahead.


SG: Do you see a course correction in six months? Or do you see it veering more off-course?
Truth is, I don't know. It depends on how the politics play out. I hope the sense of complacency—which is broadly out there, that we can carry on without a problem—goes away.


SG: If we carry out some reforms now, do you think this could slip up in the years to come?
I think there are short-term issues which could trip us up, I think there are longer term issues...Think about problems that we have, like malnutrition. By keeping children who are malnutritioned, we are creating people who are less intelligent. That problem is going to be with us for the next 80 years. If forty per cent of the children are malnutritioned, think what we are doing to future generations.


SG: The answer just can't be free food grain.
That can be the answer for the poorest of the poor, but in India, even as households grow richer, malnutrition persists. So it's not the lack of food which is the problem; it is the way people eat, the way children are fed, the lack of hygiene. We need to change that. There are lots of things we can change, which does not necessarily mean that we have to give more.


SG: I bet you find what's happening in India so fascinating. I know you love Chicago, but do you sometimes think of moving to India for a while?
I think about it all the time. I am an Indian, so I feel very strongly that I should be a part of the story.


SG: The report of the committee on Financial Sector Reforms—are you disappointed that more was not done after that?
It's happening, slowly. Mobile banking, for example. Today, we saw a presentation by Mittal which suggests that we may have 10 million mobile accounts in the next two years. I thought that was very encouraging. Of course, in India everything takes a little longer.


SG: I like to say that in India, a reform happens by homeopathy.
It happens by faith, it happens slowly, but eventually it happens.


SG: Raghu, I think that is good advice. Let's keep the faith. And meanwhile, I do hope that you someday come back to India, because I think India needs you.


Transcribed by Jimmy Jacob
For full text, visit







RBI may not have mentioned environment minister Jairam Ramesh's no-go policies as a reason for derailing India's growth story, as the RBI spokesperson says on these pages, but it does appear Jairam is trying to change his image as a spoiler. From revelling in rejecting environment clearances to projects (remember when he rejected Niyamgiri's clearance just in time for Rahul Gandhi to go and proclaim he'd saved the tribals' mountain?), Jairam is now going out of his way to appear reasonable, including telling CII he was open to projects being pre-cleared before industry taking them over. The Navi Mumbai airport was the first sign of thaw, and 'rivers' and 'hills' that were sacrosanct earlier were allowed to be diverted/levelled after the project authorities made some changes; hill station Lavasa was asked to pay a penalty and move on; Jairam met Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal and signalled a softening; on Monday he cleared Posco's 12 mn tonne steel plant in Orissa and its captive port.

There are 28 additional riders for the steel plant and 32 for the captive port—most look like face-savers. One of the 'most significant' ones (to quote Jairam's order) for the steel plant is that the ministry's ambient air quality standards will be met! Others include Posco surrendering its water intake if there is a shortage for irrigation purposes; risk and disaster management plans will be submitted to the ministry; 2% of its net profits will be used for CSR work; no construction shall take place in the 'high erosion' zone of the coast; no industrial activity that is not permitted under the CRZ Act will be permissible. More important than the face-savers is what Jairam has accepted. Much was made of the fact-finding mission finding 21 tribals in the voters' list—the ministry argued this showed both Posco and the Orissa government were lying when they said it was not a tribal area. Monday's clearance, however, admits "it is clear that the Posco project site is not part of a Fifth Schedule Area (essentially tribal area) and is, in fact, far away from the nearest Fifth Schedule Area". For non-tribals to be considered 'other traditional forest dwellers', certain conditions have to be met and the ministry has left this to the Orissa government.

None of this is to say the environment doesn't have to be protected, but the ministry didn't seem interested in finding a way to allow both development and green to co-exist. In the Lavasa case, for instance, apart from the issue of state vs central jurisdiction, it never even took into account the lakhs of trees planted when it ordered they be ripped out in its status quo ante order. With Jairam getting more realistic, like other Bric countries, perhaps India will also see its FDI levels improving instead of the sharp slowdown taking place right now.





The news that the ministry of finance wants to make voting rights in private sector banks proportionate to the shareholding, as reported in yesterday's FE, is welcome and was long overdue. The currency policy, which caps voting rights irrespective of share of the private owners, is mandated by Section 12 of the Banking Regulation Act, 1949, which prohibits the exercise of voting rights in excess of 10% by any single shareholder irrespective of the size of the shareholding, is a distortion of the market rules. Globally, the regulators only stipulate the initial minimum amount of capital to be invested and threshold limits but allow full voting rights within the allowed limits, which range widely from just 5% in Japan to 50% in the European Union. The 10% maximum voting rights rule owes its origin to the need to put a check on concentration of ownership and related party transactions that had proved to be the bane of the banking sector in the pre-Independence era when the economic powers of the banks were concentrated in the hands of a few families who steered the bulk of the bank credit to a favoured few.

But the RBI guidelines, which have evolved over the years, now allow promoters to bring in a minimum 40% stake in the paid-up capital of the bank with a lock-in period of 5 years to ensure a sound capital base and strong professional management. Though the ownership guidelines require the promoters and other shareholders to dilute their ownership below 10% within a specified time frame, a higher shareholding of up to 30% is allowed in exceptional circumstances when the ownership is that of a well-established and regulated publicly-listed financial entity. And in exceptional cases, the rules even permit an even higher shareholding of more than 30% if the entity meets the due diligence standards prescribed in the 2004 guidelines. So, it is only fair that these large investors should get proportional voting rights and representation on the management boards of the banks. And such a move will also ensure that investors find the sector more lucrative than in current scenario where their voting rights are capped at 10%, irrespective of the size of their holdings, and the promoters have no alternative but to seek the shareholders' resolution route to implement important business decisions. Proportional rights will make bank governance in the private sector much easier.





Delhi University meets only 4% of its revenue from student fees. The Right to Education Act needs an incremental Rs 40,000 crore commitment from state governments. Enabling the 84 million youth that suffer from some degree of unemployability needs Rs 4,90,000 crore. We can't even estimate how much it will take to re-skill the millions that need to move off the farms to non-farm livelihoods or subsistence self-employment to decent wage employment. And taking children to education substantially increases costs, so we have to take education to the children.

I'd like to make the case that the next wave of impact in human capital lies in financing innovations. We need to move beyond rhetoric—"companies should manufacture their own employees" or "money is not in shortage"—to creating sustainable, scalable and effective public-private vehicles for student financing. This solution must confront the market failure in skill development; high attrition makes employers unwilling to pay for training but they are willing to pay for trained candidates. Candidates are unwilling to pay for training but ready to pay for a job. MFIs or banks are unwilling to lend for vocational training unless a job is guaranteed. The government wants to pay for outcomes and has not figured out how to do that effectively, efficiently or honestly. And training companies are unable to fill up classrooms because the students who need skills can't afford their courses.

The broad contours of the solution are emerging; we need to create a market in collateral-free student loans or third-party financing at the entry gate of education, which can be repaid with the salary from the job the student gets at the exit gate of education. Employment at exit gate is critical to creating a viable, scalable and sustainable model. This is why innovation—and solution—lies at the intersection of employment and employability. Viable models will involve some form of PPPs and this is challenging because the government has developed experience in hard infrastructure like roads, power plants, etc, that are hard to build but easy to operate. But PPPs in education and skills—soft infrastructure—are easy to build but hard to operate. So, PPPs in soft infrastructure require high level of contracting skills and trust that are in short supply. But there are four possibilities:

State asset banks: A large part of training cost goes to infrastructure. State and central governments control large chunks of land that could be put into a common asset bank, which could then be made available to the private sector, for training, on leases at low rentals. The continuance of these leases must be structured as conditional on training outcomes.

State skill vouchers: Making government money available for private delivery is difficult to do but is the only way to create competition and gather information about outcomes. We need to shift state money from financing institutions to financing students. Giving skill vouchers to children who can't afford to pay for their training but can redeem these vouchers at skill centres would expand capacity.

State-financed private apprenticeships: Job creation programmes like NREGA are neither creating assets nor creating skills. Reimbursing private sector employers for stipends would create the sustainable and self-healing vehicle of 'learning while earning' and 'learning by doing'. Expanding non-farm job creation in rural areas is a key public policy priority that could be accelerated by modifying NREGA to include 60/90/100 day apprenticeships with private employers.

Employer reimbursements or apprenticeships: Private companies may be not able to pay for training upfront but are willing to create reimbursement programmes for students who pay for training themselves. Many are also willing to create apprenticeship programmes under which the stipend will cover the costs of the course paid by the student. Unfortunately, the Apprenticeship Act of 1961 ensures that India has a limited number of private apprenticeships (2,50,000). Legislative changes shifting our apprenticeship regime from push to pull would create an elegant solution at the intersection of financing and delivery.

Innovation scholars have the 10/10 rule; a decade to build a new platform, and a decade for it to find a mass audience. We have spent the last decade on building a fertile ecosystem for skills delivery, but scaling numbers and outcomes in the next decade requires a new financing thought world—not more cooks in the kitchen but a different recipe. As the Planning Commission writes the 12th Plan and many state governments consider expenditure reforms, it's time to unpack financing from delivery. We could also consider a modified version of the 'Race to the Top' programme of the US under which the central government funded innovative programmes of states. We need to use financing as the lever that forces the ecosystem—candidates, governments, employers and trainers—to work together in finding new models at the intersection of employment and employability.

The author is chairman, Teamlease Services







It was a rude shock to the cricket-crazy people of Bengal when they woke up last week to find that the Eden Gardens had been struck off the list for a key England-India match on February 27, because the stadium isn't game-ready for the forthcoming World Cup. Bengal's loss is Bangalore's—and the much smaller but beautifully-maintained Chinnaswamy Stadium's—gain, as the BCCI has recommended that the southern city host the match. Bengal lives for football—cricket during the World Cup, and now IPL—and fish and the adda around all three, in crowded buses and trains. But this is the World Cup, a home Cup at that, and fans are going to be denied this ultimate pleasure. And yet, who killed the Eden Gardens, once touted as the Lord's of India and surely the finest venue in the subcontinent, what with its carpet of grass, the wind blowing in from the Hooghly (always aids fast bowlers) and the awesome stands that can hold up to 1,00,000 screaming fans.

It's ironic that at the helm of the Cricket Association of Bengal is Jagmohan Dalmiya, former ICC president and someone who is known as a man of action. Yet, something went terribly amiss during the renovation of the Eden, which anyways started late, and no one can blame the ICC for withdrawing the match from the venue. The stadium is far from ready, chairs are not in place, the paint job is incomplete, corporate boxes are in shambles and work on the giant screen is yet to begin; the wicket and the outfield, however, are in excellent condition, as always. As soon as the news of the rejection came, political bosses, from finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to West Bengal chief minister Buddadeb Bhattacharjee, requested the ICC president Sharad Pawar to reconsider; but the point is, why did things come to such a head, that too at one of the finest venues we have. Pranab babu is in Bengal almost every other week, Buddhadeb babu passes by Eden twice a day on way to work—couldn't they have done something to prevent this fiasco? Now angry fans are asking should Dalmiya, who himself is in the construction business, have gone for a complete overhaul of the Eden so close to the World Cup.

The Eden Gardens tragedy, in a way, is symptomatic of the deep malaise that has set in in Bengal. The whole state has become too used to not getting things done on time, there is no work ethic, people are inefficient and unprofessional, and get away with it because there is no accountability. Bengal obviously seems to have learnt nothing from Singur, when the Tatas walked out of the state with its small car project in 2008. The chief minister shed his pro-industry image and withdrew into his shell—and is just beginning to emerge from it because the elections are expected as early as May.

Over the past two months, we have seen a much more active chief minister, touring the districts, tearing apart the Opposition, and talking about industry again. Both the CPM and the main Opposition Trinamool Congress are always trading charges with each other, vis-à-vis Maoists, land, industry, agriculture and so forth. And as they fight, the state's infrastructure is in a mess, there are trouble spots in the north (Gorkha agitation) and south (Maoists), agricultural productivity is diminishing and every industry from tourism to tea is suffering. Soon enough, the blame game will start over Eden too, but that will do precious little for the fan who has lost the chance to watch the Men in Blue. It's surprising that no one has brought up the "conspiracy factor" yet—Bengal's favourite theory for anything that gets aborted. Though, in a move that reminds one of the popular fairytales 'The Emperor's new clothes', Dalmiya has sought an explanation from the ICC on why Eden was rejected, when the reasons are there for everyone to see. Like we saw during the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, deadlines haven't been kept and the work has been handled shoddily, but Delhi did manage to pull it off, unlike Kolkata. Many projects in the city run into inordinate delays (think airport renovation or Rajarhat's infrastructure) for various reasons, from unruly contractors and political wranglings to harsh weather and difficult labour. It's obvious that the Cricket Association of Bengal should have taken the Eden Gardens project much more seriously and pulled out all stops to have it ready by the deadline. After all, the deadline was known months ahead.

Due to some terrible management and sheer negligence, Eden Gardens, which hosted the 1987 World Cup final between England and Australia, which the latter won by 7 runs, may not be able to host a single match this time—the three other non-India matches are also in jeopardy. What a shame.






Impelled into action by the Bombay High Court, which recently expressed its displeasure over the tardy probe into the Adarsh Housing Society scam case, the Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a criminal case against 13 persons and conducted searches in the premises of five of them. While the First Information Report (FIR) only sets the investigative ball in motion, the importance of fast-tracking this case — on which the CBI has been conducting a leisurely preliminary inquiry based on the Defence Ministry's complaint in November 2010 — cannot be underestimated. The scandal, which revolves around how apartments in a Mumbai cooperative housing society earmarked for families of Kargil heroes were diverted to relatives of influential Maharashtra politicians and senior armed forces officials, has jolted the nation's collective conscience. It has exposed a rapacious nexus between politicians, bureaucrats, and armed services personnel. It is a tale of sleazy collusion and a brazen disregard for laws, rules, and procedures. The FIR names bureaucrats, retired and serving armed forces officers, and politicians, one of them being former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who as the State Revenue Minister dealt with the Adarsh land files between 2001 and 2003.

The Adarsh Housing Society scandal is being tackled in other ways as well. The Army has ordered a court of inquiry to determine the involvement of serving and retired officers, some of whom were allotted flats that should have gone to the Kargil war widows. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has adopted a bold and uncompromising position in ordering the demolition of the entire building on the ground that no clearance was obtained under the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 1991. It is vitally important to ensure that all the guilty in this shocking criminal conspiracy to grab real estate by flouting rules and manipulating records are punished. While some of those named in the FIR played a key role in promoting the cooperative housing society, the CBI must investigate — efficiently, independently, and without giving in to pressure — the full dimension of the racket, which could not have been pulled off without the active cooperation or tacit approval of other powerful politicians belonging to the ruling alliance. Anything less will be letting down a nation that is deeply ashamed of the Adarsh scandal. It will also be an unpardonable betrayal of the soldiers who gave their lives in fighting the Kargil war as well as their families who were robbed of the benefits of the housing cooperative society that was set up to compensate, in some small measure, their personal loss.





The discussion paper on the presence of foreign banks in India circulated by the Reserve Bank of India draws heavily on the experiences of the global financial sector during the crisis period. A road map for foreign banks drawn up in 2005 had recommended a two-track approach aimed at, on the one hand, increasing the stability and pace of consolidation of both private and public banks in India and, on the other, enhancing foreign bank presence in a synchronised manner. An action plan to be executed in two phases was stalled in the wake of the global financial crisis. There have been valuable lessons from the crisis — among them, the desirability of "subsidiarisation" of significant cross-border presence, which brings with it the advantages of greater regulatory control and comfort to the host jurisdiction. The crisis was exacerbated by complex structures and the implicit belief that certain financial institutions are either too big or too connected to be allowed to fail. The risks can be minimised, although not entirely eliminated, by asking foreign banks to incorporate subsidiaries locally rather than operate as branches. Unlike branches, subsidiaries will have their own capital and boards of directors and be subject to domestic legislation such as the Companies Act.

While opting for the subsidiary model, the discussion paper does not downplay the advantages of foreign banks functioning as branches. These include greater operational flexibility and an enhanced lending capability based on the ability to leverage the capital of their head offices. However, the much-vaunted strengths of major international banks were of no avail during the crisis and, in India especially, their branches seemed to be in a far better shape than the bank as a whole. In the post-crisis period, a majority of regulators are stipulating local incorporation requirements to protect retail depositors and to limit the impact of operations of systemically important banks. A clear demarcation of assets and liabilities between branches of subsidiaries and the head offices is possible. It also becomes easier to define laws of jurisdiction and, in general, enhance the capabilities of the domestic regulators. One important lesson from the crisis is that a foreign bank's support to either its branches or subsidiaries need not be automatic. Given the perceived reluctance of foreign banks to incorporate subsidiaries, certain incentives can be offered without relaxing the entry level requirements suggested in the discussion paper. The issue of reciprocity will also come up, with Indian banks operating branches in many jurisdictions.








As a general rule, it is advisable in diplomacy to be cautious in responding to events in foreign countries, especially when they occur in faraway places about which we may not be fully in the picture or where we may not have too many interests. There are occasions, however, when too much caution would not be necessary and might not be helpful in safeguarding and furthering our current and future interests. Silence might indicate not just caution but lack of clarity in our thinking. The evolving situation in Egypt is one such occasion. We ought to have expressed sympathy and support for the people of Egypt in what is undoubtedly their great moment in history.

It has been obvious, certainly from the second day of the protests in Egypt, that this was a genuinely people's movement, not engineered by external elements such as the Al Qaeda, nor by the Muslim Brotherhood, let alone any foreign government. It has also been clear that as and when the revolution reaches its denouement, President Mubarak, if he manages to survive in office, will no longer be able to continue to exercise unfettered power, as he has done for 30 years, that the people will have to be empowered in some way and that it would simply not be possible to restore the status quo ante in the political governance of the country. While the 'jasmine' revolution in Tunisia might have provided the immediate spark, the spontaneity and scale of protests suggest that the Egyptian people have been nursing their grievances and rage for a long time. People from all strata of society, rich and poor, young and old, have been on the streets, demanding reforms and ouster of Mr. Mubarak. Modern means of communication such as facebook, internet and twitter have greatly facilitated the launching and sustaining of the revolution.

India is not, and must not be, in the business of promoting democracy abroad, either by itself or in association with anyone else. We have rightly taken the position that it is not up to us to tell others what type of government they should have; we will deal with whichever government is in power and is able to take decisions on behalf of their people, decisions that the government concerned is able to implement. This does not mean, when genuine democratic impulses propel a people to take to the streets in a peaceful manner that we should not respond to them positively. There would be absolutely no risk in doing so, especially if our assessment suggests, as it ought to have in this case, that there was no question of things going back to what they were earlier and that in the end, Egypt will end up having more democracy.

India is and must remain a strong votary of the principle of non-interference and non-intervention. Expression of support for the demonstrators will not amount to interference in Egypt's internal affairs. In any case, the principle of non-interference has to be superseded by the principle of national interest. It is obviously in our interest to be on the right side of the new forces that will emerge to prominence in Egypt when all this is over. They will remember who supported them in their hour of history and who sat on the fence. This is a good example of a situation when principle and national interest coincide.

Why should we be 'concerned' at what is happening in Egypt? How should it bother us if the people of Egypt want democracy? Are we worried that Muslim Brotherhood will come to power? Even if that were to happen, why should that frighten us in India? Firstly, there is no evidence to suggest that the Brotherhood is behind the protests in the sense of having instigated them. They have been, on available information, cautioning the demonstrators not to indulge in violence. Since the protesters do not appear to have organised leadership, the Brotherhood, with its cadres and well-established cells, will certainly try to fill the vacuum and assume leadership role. However, most analysts, who have a better grasp of the internal situation in Egypt that this writer, suggest that the Brotherhood's support base is not as large as it would like to claim. The Brotherhood has declared itself as being opposed to violence, though it is true that it is an Islamist movement. But is it any more Islamist than the regimes in some countries which have been the source of most of the funding of institutions abroad that have been the single most important breeding ground of extremists? It is not an extremist movement and has many intellectuals and professional among its ranks. In any case, we with our firmly entrenched tradition of democracy, have nothing to fear from such a development. At least we Indians must not make the mistake of shunning whatever government comes to power in Cairo through a peaceful, democratic process. Governments around the world will have to deal with it since it is not Gaza strip that can be ignored.

Hamas won in a free and fair election which was monitored by the international community but was denied legitimacy and was ostracised by the world under pressure from the Americans and Israel. The result was that Hamas, a 100 per cent Sunni movement, was pushed in the embrace of a motivated Shia Iran. It was also not wise to shun the Hizbulla in Lebanon which has now the prime ministership of that country. (When this writer had gone to Beirut after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, he had on his own initiative met Sheikh Hassan Nasrulla; the Israeli embassy in Delhi had protested, but happily the then secretary in MEA, Rajiv Sikri, had dismissed the protest.) Is there any doubt in the minds of our officials that the Americans have their lines of communication with both the Hamas and the Hizbulla (as well as with Iran)?

Egypt is one of the most important Arab countries. Its influence in the region is because of what it is and will not diminish if there is a change of government in Cairo. It is very likely that the emergence of a new dispensation will have at least short term consequences for the peace process between Israel and Palestine. It will be certainly be more representative of the true feelings of the Egyptian people and more supportive of the Palestinian aspirations. In any case, the peace process has long been dead and will not revive until Mr. Obama's second term.

It is natural for us to be concerned about the safety of our nationals in Egypt. But there is no reason to believe that the demonstrators will specifically target the Indians, unless the protesters come to the conclusion that India's government is silently supporting Mr. Mubarak. An expression of support for the people is likely to be remembered by them positively, just as we did when some governments came out on the side of the freedom movement in Bangladesh in 1971-72.

Muhammad Baradai, who seems to be positioning himself as a consensus candidate for presidency, does have some credibility, since he returned to his country to lead a reform movement long before the present unrest exploded. However, responsible Egyptian sources suggest that Mr. Baradai cannot be the answer to the present turmoil, which is likely to continue for some time. General Omar Soleiman, whom this writer has met several times during his visits to Cairo in his capacity as special envoy, was well regarded domestically and is well disposed towards India, but his nomination as Vice-President is too little, too late.

The government should issue another statement in which, at a minimum, we should express understanding for the demands of the protesters for reform and our expectation that there will be no use of harsh measures and that the government in Cairo will respond early and positively to these demands so that the country and the region can become stable once again.








U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called, on January 30 (Sunday), for "an orderly transition" to a more politically open Egypt, stopping short of telling its embattled President, Hosni Mubarak, to step down but clearly laying the groundwork for his departure.

Mrs. Clinton, making a round of Sunday talk shows, insisted that Mr. Mubarak's future was up to the Egyptian people. But she said on "State of the Union" on CNN that the United States stood "ready to help with the kind of transition that will lead to greater political and economic freedom." And she emphasised that elections scheduled for this fall must be free and fair.

Obama calls Saudi Arabia, Israel

U.S. President Obama reinforced that message in phone calls on January 29 and 30 to other leaders in the region, including King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, as the administration tried to contain the regional reverberations.

Mrs. Clinton confronted one such ripple effect when she said on the ABC News programme "This Week" that the United States did not intend to cut military aid to Egypt, despite the White House announcement on January 28 that the nearly $1.5 billion in annual assistance was under review.

The prospect of a cut-off of aid alarmed the Israeli government, an Israeli official said, because it is linked to the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and could alienate the Egyptian military, which Israel views as a stabilising force in an otherwise deteriorating situation.

Israel has conveyed its concerns to the United States about the risk of a sudden collapse of the Egyptian government, this official said. It worries about who would replace Mr. Mubarak, viewing the ascendant Opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei, with some wariness.

In Mr. Obama's phone calls, which also included the leaders of Turkey and Britain, he "reiterated his focus on opposing violence and calling for restraint," a White House statement said.

The administration has walked a fine line in recent days, balancing its alliance with Mr. Mubarak, a crucial partner in Middle East peace talks, with its desire not to be on the wrong side of history.

Still, Mrs. Clinton's comments suggested that the administration was running out of patience with the Egyptian leader.

Mr. Mubarak's appointment on January 29 of a vice-president, she said, was only the "bare beginning" of a process that must include a national dialogue with the protesters and "free, fair and credible" elections, scheduled for September. She described the elections for a "next president" as an "action-enforcing event that is already on the calendar."

"We have been very clear that we want to see a transition to democracy," Mrs. Clinton said on "Fox News Sunday." "And we want to see the kind of steps taken to bring that about. We want to see an orderly transition."

She noted that for nearly three decades the United States had been imploring Mr. Mubarak to appoint a vice-president. She offered no endorsement of the man he named, Omar Suleiman, the chief of Egyptian intelligence, whom she has met several times in Cairo and Washington.

"There are some new people taking responsibility," Mrs. Clinton said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We hope they can contribute to the kind of economic and democratic reforms that the people of Egypt deserve."

ElBaradei's reaction

The administration's caution is drawing criticism from some in Egypt, including Dr. ElBaradei. Speaking on "Face the Nation," he said, "The American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy."

The White House has refrained from calling publicly for Mr. Mubarak to step down, officials have said, because it worries about losing leverage and contributing to a political vacuum in Egypt, which could be filled by extremist, anti-American forces.

Indeed, Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed the ties between the United States and Egypt. She said the army appeared to be acting with restraint, differentiating between peaceful protesters and looters. But she warned Egypt not to make changes that resulted in a democracy for "six months or a year, evolving into a military dictatorship."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, spoke on January 30 with the chief of staff of the Egyptian Army, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan. Admiral Mullen expressed his appreciation for the "continued professionalism of the Egyptian military," said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby.

Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke over the weekend about the crisis to two of his counterparts — Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the Egyptian Defence Minister, and Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister — but no details were given.

Mrs. Clinton taped her interviews before leaving on a day trip to Haiti. There, she confronted another country in political upheaval, with recent presidential elections mired in charges of vote-rigging and fraud, as well as the surprise return of a former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier.

Yet for all its misery, Haiti poses much less of a problem to the administration than does Egypt, given Egypt's role as the fulcrum of one of the world's most volatile regions. With the revolt in Tunisia, and protests in Yemen and Jordan, the United States faces an arc of instability in the Arab world.

U.S. and Egypt

"This is the Obama administration's first foreign policy crisis in real time," said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East peace negotiator in the Clinton administration. "Their response is marked by bad options, precarious outcomes and limited influence to shape — let alone direct — events."

Its handling of the question of aid to Egypt illustrates the perils the administration faces in making any comments.

The announcement by the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, that the United States was rethinking aid "surely could have been interpreted as interrupting the continuity of the relationship," said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former American Ambassador to Egypt and Israel.

"Washington understood immediately that it had to recalibrate," Mr. Kurtzer said, adding that, under the circumstances, it had performed well. "One can't minimise how difficult this is," he said.

For all the dangers, Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, envisioned more promising events on "State of the Union" on CNN, provided certain conditions were met: Mr. Mubarak agrees not to seek re-election; turns over his government to a caretaker; and ensures "a free, open, transparent election in September."

"But this is a narrow window of opportunity," Mr. McCain said. "The longer unrest exists, the more likely it is to become extreme." ( Elisabeth Bumiller, Brian Knowlton and Thom Shanker contributed reporting.)

© New York Times News Service






The United Arab Emirates (UAE) said it was shocked and surprised to see a report by Oman's State media on the uncovering of a "UAE spy network" in the Sultanate of Oman, the Foreign Ministry said on January 30.

In a statement issued by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "the United Arab Emirates categorically denied any knowledge or link with the alleged network, and was surprised to see its name mentioned in such reports that contradict the values and norms of the UAE's dealings with friendly countries, especially with the Sultanate of Oman with which the UAE is so keen to bolster its fraternal and historic relations," the Emirates News Agency, WAM (Wakalat Anba'a al-Emarat), reported. "Meanwhile, the UAE expresses its willingness to cooperate with Oman in any investigation and uncover those who attempt to mar the relations between the two countries," the report said. The UAE indicated that the security and stability of the Sultanate meant the UAE's stability.

Earlier in the day, the Omani News Agency said the country's security authorities had discovered a spy network affiliated to the UAE's State security service targeting the regime in Oman, as well as its government and military bodies. The report did not give more details.

Both the UAE and Oman are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional trade bloc founded in 1981 that has about 45 per cent of the world's proven oil reserves.

— Xinhua





Egyptian novelist Dr. Alaa al Aswany, who enjoys a broad pan-Arabic readership, has been a keen political commentator for two decades. He has been extremely critical of the Egyptian regime saying that it has been stifling the rightful aspirations of the people. His novella 'Isam Abd el-Ati Papers ,' banned in Egypt for several years for its portrayal of the grim reality, is now being read widely. On the sixth day of protests in Egypt where a popular uprising wants President Hosni Mubarak, who has been a dictator for 30 years, to quit, Dr. Aswany spoke to A. Rangarajan — away from the noise of military jets roaring overhead — on the protests at Cairo's Tahrir Square, the way ahead and a host of related issues that could not only herald an era of hope for Egypt but also significantly change the colour of the Middle East and Maghreb decisively … one that would be greatly liberating for the people, he added.

What do you see are the main reasons behind the unprecedented street protests in Egypt? There is a rare determination that the people are showing this time around.

There has been deep dissatisfaction in Egyptian society for a very long time and life has been for ordinary people, a crushing ordeal. If you remember that in 2003 we had the first protests and calls asking for Mubarak to go but the regime was successful in putting down the voice of popular dissent. Ever since, the political consciousness of the people has been awakened and has been building up to a movement where people want to be more in charge of their destiny and not remain hapless victims in their land. The success of the uprising in Tunisia that threw out the dictator there greatly encouraged the people here and that came in as the trigger that set off this avalanche.

I do think we need to dwell on the role of the media here, particularly the role Al Jazeera played in connecting the people of the region and showing what is happening and what is possible. How do you see that?

Indeed Al Jazeera played a very positive role in a region where all other channels were telling half-truths or total lies doctored to suit one ruling interest or the other. What we needed was somebody who would put out to the world, events as they truly are. We just needed the truth that is all. Al Jazeera did that on events in Tunisia, etc. and people from then on started organising themselves. It must also be remembered that the people who organised the protests in Egypt are people mostly in their twenties. They are bloggers, from the internet generation that is familiar with social networking tools. So the new age media too has played a significant role alongside television. I am told that Mubarak's regime even sought to block or limit Facebook access in Egypt. Though I must mention that the people out there in the streets are neither net savvy or nimble with their mobiles but they have this enormous hope in their eyes.

The determination of the protesters increasingly leads much of the world to believe that this time they would succeed. But what in your opinion would follow? There is the danger that there could be a power vacuum. True multiparty politics have not been practiced for a long time now in Egypt.

We are now seeing the emergence of a new Egypt and I am very hopeful of the future. What we need now are Free Elections. That is what the people are asking for. The regime gave selected licences for political parties and in a way chose who should be their opposition. Ridiculous! And the real political parties were unlicensed and kept away. We have enough talent and commitment within the ranks of these parties to take the country through to the new situation. The protests are neither sectarian nor factional; it is by all Egyptian people seeking a better future as a whole. So free elections are the way ahead now. That is the rallying cry not just in Cairo but, in Alexandria, Suez — all across Egypt.

How do you see the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the protests and in the days ahead? You have noticed that Rachid Ghannouchi is returning to Tunisia.

Just as in 2003, these protests too were not organised or led by the Brotherhood. Religion is not a factor in these dynamics, though the Mubarak regime has repeatedly exaggerated the role of the Brotherhood and used it to further its ends, either to exercise repressive measures or to curry favour with the Western powers. Egypt is a nation of 84 million people and the Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation of about half a million people. There are an astonishing number of women, in large numbers, participating in the protests, almost half. Senior judges have joined in. Even some officers from the military are with the people on the streets. Being the largest country in the region, restoration of true democracy here will bring about positive changes and freedom to the peoples of the Arab world. Religion need not be mixed in here. Repressive regimes make use of everything, from the Arab-Israeli conflict to religious extremism, to cloud reality and serve their ends and not the people.

Have the people of Egypt been happy so far with support that they have been receiving from the international community for their ongoing struggle?

I think that the peoples of all countries have been supporting us whole-heartedly. After all what we are trying to have is Democracy and an open and fair society — values that are cherished not just in the Western part of the world but in all places. This sympathy and support is only natural. However when we look at the governments and politicians, particularly from the West, it is a different story. This dictator in Egypt has been getting continuous support from Western governments and they knew he was a ruthless dictator and the Egyptian people see a difference between the rhetoric and practice. Hence when it comes to these Western powers, they tend to trust their people more.







Corruption has become so deep-rooted a malaise in our system that any worthwhile proposal to circumscribe it needs to be supported, although it is apparent that no single measure can effectively root out the canker. In this context, the Union law minister M. Veerappa Moily's proposal to provide for the confiscation of benami property to deal with public servants who accumulate wealth by dishonestly appropriating public funds makes eminent sense. Using ill-gotten gains to buy property in the name of others in order to avoid detection has for decades been a common practice with crooked officials and politicians. Laws to deal with benami property already exist, but these are easily circumvented. To give teeth to the measure, the law minister proposes to bring in a bill which would allow for confiscation of property held in false names. In effect, property purchased with stolen funds will be taken over by the government, depriving a corrupt official from its fruits. While Mr Moily may appear keen to bring his proposal to fruition soon, it is to be seen how much support he can muster in Parliament. A watertight anti-corruption measure will hurt many people, including those in power at the Centre and in the states. Nevertheless, the government must not allow the proposed bill to be diluted.

The law minister has also publicly spoken of the government's decision to convert all subordinate courts in the country into fast-track courts with a view to settling all matters within three years and corruption-related matters within a year at the outside. This is laudable, but is it really doable? An important reason why the movement in courts is agonisingly slow is the desperate shortage of judges, and the backlog has been piling up for years. Another reason is that there aren't sufficient numbers of policemen to complete investigations rapidly and efficiently. In short, the country's justice system is a multi-tier mess. The law minister speaks of providing state governments with `20,000 crores to deal with crucial gaps that have hindered progress, and get the project on the road within three months. How realistic is this? Can a problem that has defied solution for as long as one can remember be made to vanish in the next three months? Mr Moily might have been more convincing if he were in a position to concretely illustrate that this amount was going to suffice. Can we order efficiency and the ending of gross shortages in our judicial system through the simple expedient of changing definitions and calling a subordinate court a fast-track court?

It is surprising that the government kept tight wraps on its intention to introduce a measure of such far-reaching impact on the system, especially since it has a positive ring about it. Ordinarily, it would be expected that some discussion within the government and the political system as a whole would precede such important steps being contemplated. If the government intends to make haste in waging a fight against corruption, it cannot be grudged. However, people will watch to see if key announcements are being made without thinking them through in order to gain propaganda mileage. The UPA-2 government has taken a battering on the corruption issue and would naturally be keen to change its image. However, it might find itself facing a bigger embarrassment if half-baked ideas are promoted in the process. It may help if the government drew up a blueprint to checkmate corruption at various levels — in the states and at the Centre — by paying attention to both policy and procedure affecting the executive, the judicial system and, not the least, the system of elections. A comprehensive package after an up-and-down discussion is likely to be more convincing than stray announcements.






Between February 19 and April 2, India will co-host cricket's Fifty50 World Cup. Immediately after that it will stage the planet's richest cricket tournament: the Indian Premier League (IPL), India's flagship Twenty20 (T20) event. At the beginning of 2011, India toured South Africa. Later in the year, it will play top-line Test series against England and Australia. In a country that needs few excuses not to immerse itself in cricket lore, 2011 is an extraordinary bonanza. It's a 12-month festival of quality cricket.

They say you can never understand a society without understanding its major sport. At one point, baseball defined the Middle American dream and the idyllic self-image of the towns and cities of the vast American heartland. Today, the English Premier League is not just emblematic of English football but also of British multiculturalism — it attracts talent from all continents — and, paradoxically, an essential insularity that has made the country non-competitive in everything. England has a fantastic football league but a terrible national football team!

That each of the three versions of cricket has a market in India is indicative perhaps of the multiple rhythms of this land and of the many Indias that exist under that one political identity. The languid, never-ending Test match could, at the end of five days, leave you with nothing but a thrilling draw. This is typical of the karmic fatalism that is still the lot of millions in India, even though as a sentiment it is clearly past its prime. The Fifty50 game speaks of a broader, smaller-city India which still has limited entertainment and economic options and so can pack a stadium for an entire day. The T20 revolution, with its attendant razzmatazz, is the ideal product for the metropolitan crowd, a direct rival to the three-hour film, and tailored to audiences that have more money than time and are in tune with the business and leisure principles of the developed world.
Which individual, which demographic and which geography follows which type of cricket? The answer is a snapshot introduction to the Indian — any Indian — you're interrogating. It's almost as fail-proof as a marketing survey.

Why is India so cricket-focused? Modern sport is not an amateur pastime but hard commerce. A large economy — the United States, Australia — can sustain and support many sports. As such, baseball, basketball, American football and golf may all be lucrative in the US. India offers the strange case of an economy that is now big enough to shore up more than one sport but a society that is still essentially a one-sport phenomenon. This causes it to over-invest in cricket. Consequently, the game and its practitioners attract disproportionate media and spectator interest, sponsorship money and advertisement revenue.

Why is India cricket-fanatic to the extent of ignoring other sports? The fact is cricket offers the rare example of sustained good performance by Indian players and teams in any sport. Tennis has the occasional Leander Paes or Sania Mirza, badminton the lone world-beater in Saina Nehwal. Indian athletics produces the odd track and field star. The hockey team wins a big tournament about once a decade. Individual golfers are slowly climbing the ladder on the tour. Yet, none of these comes close to the conveyor belt regularity of cricket stars and skills.
Capital breeds capital. The fact that money is poured into cricket makes it an attractive career path for young Indian sportsmen. This makes team selection tough and, to the degree possible, meritocratic. In turn, this leads to successful teams, mass interest and still more money pouring in.

With no other international cultural product does India so call the shots. Seventy per cent of global cricket revenues are generated in India. Australia sets its cricket calendar to match India's; England wants Indian players in its domestic tournaments to make its county games worth the while for Indian television channels and audiences; West Indies cricket authorities wait for an Indian tour to make money by selling television rights and in-stadia advertising contracts to Indian companies. Cricket is not just India's sport; it's India's power trip.
In a sense, India's success and sustained interest in the upcoming World Cup are crucial to the Fifty50 game's future. This format of cricket is more or less past its sell-by date. The World Cup of 2011 is possibly its last hurrah. If India gets knocked out early — as it did in 2007, in the previous edition in the Caribbean islands — television ratings will almost certainly collapse and the organisers and sponsors could face a financial setback. The future of such Fifty50 extravaganzas itself may be up for question. If India does well — and the schedule of the tournament has been tailored to keep it in the running for a considerable phase — then, on the other hand, conventional one-day cricket may find enough of a market to stave off the challenge of the IPL/T20 monster for a while longer.

The politics and the money of cricket are important no doubt, but not as compelling as the hunger and devotion of the ordinary cricket fan. India is united by cricket, curry and cinema, as the line goes. Listening to radio commentary, stealing a glance at the television in the middle of a busy day at office, asking the next man on the street if he knows the score, rushing home from school or work to catch a game being set up for a close finish: every Indian has many such experiences, many such confessions.

In 2008, when the first IPL was played to unbelievable enthusiasm, the state of Karnataka was in the midst of legislative elections. Political parties had to end public meetings early because people — voters — wanted to leave and catch the evening's IPL game on television. This is not an apocryphal story; it actually happened.
Cricket is the great leveller in India. It unites regions and religions, social variants and economic diversities. It is what binds the business tycoon and the shop-floor worker. Along with the film industry — perhaps politics as well, in a certain kind of way — it offers the most evocative and salient vehicle of social mobility. In a land of faith and spiritualism, cricket is a self-renewing religion. On the 19th day of February, it begins its quadrennial pilgrimage. If you want to hear the heartbeat of India, be there for the World Cup.

Ashok Malik can be contacted at






Even as the government has tied itself up into knots over the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas and the institution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the spectrum scam, in his zeal to show hoe quickly and efficiently he has been working, Union minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal has announced the contours of a proposed new telecommunications policy that directly contradicts his own position — as well as that of the deputy chairman, Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia — that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has erroneously calculated the extent of the under-valuation of second generation (2G) electromagnetic spectrum.

Here are a few of the contradictions that have been highlighted by, among others, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, member of the Rajya Sabha. Late-2007 onwards, former communications minister Andimuthu Raja had claimed that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) could not auction spectrum in 2008 because the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had opposed such auctions. This view was subsequently echoed almost verbatim by Mr Sibal and Mr Ahluwalia. Now, without any new recommendations from the Trai, Mr Sibal has performed a neat somersault by claiming that in the future, all 2G spectrum will be auctioned or allocated through a market mechanism.

Does this mean that the recommendations of the Trai are not binding on the DoT and had been used to defend illegal actions and huge loses to the exchequer by Mr Raja's decision to allocate spectrum on a first-come-first-served (FCFS) basis instead of through auctions? It may be worthwhile here to jog Mr Sibal's memory that auctions were recommended over FCFS to Mr Raja by the then DoT secretary D.S. Mathur in an internal note dated October 25, 2007, then by the Prime Minister in a letter dated November 2, 2007, and again by the then finance secretary D. Subba Rao (now Governor, Reserve Bank of India) on November 22 that year — all these documents are in the public domain. The question is simple: If auctions for allocation of spectrum are desirable now, why was it not in 2008?

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Raja had argued against auctions ostensibly to create a level-playing field between incumbent operators and new entrants. This argument was repeated by Messrs Sibal and Ahluwalia. The minister has to explain why the so-called level-playing field policy has now become subservient to the need to go in for market-determined pricing of spectrum. Mr Sibal has announced that incumbents (before 2008) will pay market price for spectrum beyond 6.2 megaHertz (MHz) but new entrants (after 2008) will pay market price for spectrum beyond 4.4 MHz.

In May 2010, the Trai had recommended that it "is clearly of the view that contracted spectrum for all the access licences issued in or after 2001, is 6.2 MHz". It is apparent that Mr Sibal's announcement does not ensure a level-playing field between incumbents and new entrants, since the latter is being discriminated against. Should all licence holders not be made to pay for beyond 4.4 MHz?

If Mr Sibal's policy is enforced, of the 575 applicants for licences with spectrum, 122 will receive 4.4 MHz of spectrum at 2001 prices while the remaining 343 applicants will either have access to no spectrum (because there's hardly any left to auction) or will need to acquire the same through a auction process — even though all 575 applicants were in the same queue and had placed their applications before the original cut-off date of October 1, 2007.
Mr Raja, Mr Sibal and Mr Ahluwalia have all supported the FCFS system on the ground that it intensified competition thereby lowering tariffs and enlarging the mobile phone subscriber base. There is no evidence to indicate that this was indeed the case. The latest data of the Trai indicate that the combined market share of the new entrants three years after receiving licences is barely five per cent. Most of these new entrants have been issued showcause notices by the DoT under Mr Sibal for their inability to meet their roll-out obligations. During Mr Raja's tenure there was "insufficient" competition. Now, presumably because there is "sufficient" competition, Mr Sibal is opting for a new "market-friendly" policy.

Mr Chandrasekhar alleges that this new policy "will now be aimed at providing safe passage to the beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum scam (over and above Unitech and Swan) through mergers and acquisitions (M&A)" using the "illegal" M&A guidelines of April 22, 2008. He is of the view that Mr Sibal should have refrained from making "ad hoc" announcements about a new telecom policy before following a consultation process specified in the Trai Act that calls for receiving the regulatory authority's recommendations before (and not after) announcing new policies that come into "immediate effect".

Auctioning spectrum is absolutely correct. After all, this is a scarce resource that belongs to the people of India. The question, for Mr Sibal, is simple. If what Mr Sibal is suggesting today is right, why was it wrong in January 2008? And is this the best way to undo the damage done? Mr Sibal may be a smart lawyer. But what he intends doing through the so-called new telecom policy of 2011 is to lay out a legal minefield that is certain to be challenged in tribunals and courts. In other words, he may just have created more problems than he has solved.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator







Charles Dickens noted famously in his seminal novel, 'A Tale of two Cities': "This is the winter of discontent". And, he added, "A spring of hope". The year gone by end with the harsh winter lashing the capital and northern India, where the poor die like insects, disempowered and dispossessed, without the wherewithal to negotiate with the cruel environs. Regardless of whether revolution is in the air or not, 2010 ended on a note that is symptomatic of those Dickensian observations.


The first year of the new decade - 2011 - has descended on the nation with a pall of gloom. In recent times, hardly has a new year arrived with such grim circumstances. 2010 was the year of scams, and the unending saga of embarrassments continues to hurt us with more revelations.


The government is headed by one of the most impeccably honest men. But then, why do we have to face the ignominy that stares at our face?The Supreme Court has raised questions about the patently lethargic attitude of the government to bring back black money stashed in far away Swiss and Lichtenstein banks. Money that people have amassed in all kinds of ill-gotten ways remains stashed in magnitude over which there are many views. It could be as big as Rs7 lakh crores; it could be more or a little less. But one thing is for sure. Globally, Indians are the biggest contributors to this cache of black wealth.


With a movement sweeping across the world against black money, the Indian government is sharing little information with its citizens, nor taking any concrete steps to bring back the money.


The apex court has not only castigated the government for its inaction but pointedly asked whether black money stashed abroad can be treated merely from the standpoint of tax evasion?


Is it not really amounting to the "stealing of national wealth?" Is there no question of national security involved? Is it unrelated to money - or drugs - laundering or illegal arms traffic and so on and so forth?


Till now, there are no answers, but the government will have to answer, sooner than later.


Meanwhile, the garrulous new communication minister, Kapil Sibal, continues his diatribe against the CAG, replicating the arguments that were advanced by his tainted predecessor. The CAG is a constitutional authority and its report is being examined by the PAC and Parliament. The report is also being investigated by the CBI, monitored by the Supreme Court. Along with the public outcry, the PAC chairman has chided the minister while the apex court has observed that Sibal should behave more responsibly.


The prime minister's silence even though Raja had informed him about his actions in complete contravention of what Singh had suggested haunts us. All these together, with the refusal of the government to agree for an appropriately mandated point parliamentary committee (JPC) to inquire into the matter holistically have reinforced the perception that the government is protecting the wrong-doers.


The appointment of the chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) makes the prime minister and the home minister's actions absolutely indefensible. For such a sensitive post as the CVC, Parliament has provided a bipartisan mechanism to insulate it from controversies. Thomas, it turns out, had a criminal case pending against him. Further, his non-action as secretary in the Department of Telecom on the failure of 2G spectrum allotment-holders to redeem their rollout obligations has attracted a sharp response from the telecom regulator, which has recommended scrapping the 69 licenses. The prime minister and the home minister's unilateralism in overruling the leader of the opposition's objection appear outrageous.


The UPA-II government is the first coalition government in the last 15 years without a common minimum programme. This is an anachronism with a potential for Congress unilateralism. And the distinction between unilateralism and arrogance is wafer thin.


The aggressive neo-liberal paradigm that the UPA-II practices is blatantly promoting cronyism to protect the corporates. The Radiia tapes were merely a symptom of the malady.


Let the pall of gloom be lifted collectively by the people. Let the six decades of our Republic and its experience fire our imagination.


The year 2011 may usher in a new course cleansing us off the stain and the filth that was bred by the regime of unsustainable inequality, greed of the power elite, and the despair for the toilers.


Like Charlie Chaplin in the Great Dictator saw the lifting clouds and the breaking out of the light at the end of the tunnel of darkness, let 2011 herald a new dawn.








The last week has passed with special focus on the National Girl Child Day. The theme chosen for the current year is adolescent girls. It is for the third successive year that the country has celebrated the girl child. It is a powerful statement of our honest intentions. There is no doubt that numerous steps have been taken to ensure that there is genuine gender parity in our society. A lot has been done in this direction. Successive governments, the judiciary and opinion leaders all have made handsome contributions. At the same time it can't be denied that a lot more is required to be done. As a country we still have the distinction of having had the longest serving woman Prime Minister. We have one woman as the President and the other as the Lok Sabha Speaker. There are a number of them occupying influential positions as ministers, diplomats, civil servants and professionals in every sphere. Sooner rather than later they should be joining combat duties in the Army. To that extent the scenario in this State too is encouraging. The Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly is a woman. At the ground level the girls are entitled to move around more freely and confidently. There are sufficient laws to provide them adequate protection. Yet, regrettably, there continue to be certain shameful features. Practically speaking they can't have all the fun like the men whatever the ad gurus may say. Their movements are constrained by not only orthodox society. Lustful villains in our midst foil them. They are exposed to the so-called honour killings. They are killed for other reasons as well especially in late evening or early morning hours. They can't comfortably have a cup of tea outside their hostels in between burning midnight oil. They can't safely work during nights leave alone walking home alone. They are kidnapped and subjected to physical assaults. This State is again no exception. It is as good or bad as the rest of the country. The disparity reflects in sex ratio, literacy, health, marriages and expenses on them as well as the working environment in general.

A recent study has quoted a woman doctor as having made a telling comment: "Every day families come to me for ultrasound scans and the first question they ask is not about whether their baby is healthy, but whether it is a boy or a girl." A sub-group of the Planning Committee on girl child has made a realistic appraisal. It has noted that there is plethora of well-intentioned legislations to look after children especially girls among them. But, it point out, "inadequate impact of programming investment and achievement in overall development of the child, and the adverse influence of negative social attitudes towards women and girls have left girl children in India disadvantaged. Their survival, development, security and well-being as citizens of India, and their participation as members of society is thus officially recognised as a matter of serious national concern." The Tenth Plan (2202-07) had set laudable objectives like arresting the decline in child sex ratio, reduction in gender gaps in literacy and wage rates and increasing the representation of women in premier services and in Parliament, among others. A mid-term appraisal leaves little about all that has been achieved. It has ended up expressing gloom over "the rising incidence of female foeticide and infanticide, persistently high infant child and maternal mortality rates, wide gender gaps in child health and education as well as low female literacy and escalating violence against women" and so on and so forth. Its specific conclusions with regard to girl child are: sex determination before birth is widely prevalent; growing insecurity of girls and increasing violence against them; adolescent pregnancy resulting from sexual ignorance and neglect; increasing drop-outs from post-primary schooling due to various reasons; deep neglect of the physical and cultural development of girls, with no provisions for games/sports, healthy entertainment and reading facilities; parents often push young girls into marriage because of lack of facilities for education; and, the necessity for institutional mechanisms to prevent violence against women and girl children in several fields, for example, as domestic wage labour. Plenty of statistics have been quoted. These make one feel sick.


How can any sane person bear with the fact that of about 12 million girls born in India every year; a third of them die in the first year of their life and three million, or 25 per cent, do not survive to see their fifteenth birthday? The child mortality rate between 0-4 years for girl child is 20.6%, two per cent more than that of boys (18.6%). It is categorically stated that the "root cause of malnutrition amongst girls is not just poverty and lack of nutritious food, but also like lack of value attached to girls which results in discriminatory feeding practices. In keeping with the current year's theme of the National Girl Child Day one should find a comment pertinent: ""Adolescent girls (11-18) deserve special care and attention…The changes that adolescents undergo (physical, psychological, physiological, hormonal, cognitive and sexual) are not only stressful but confusing since these changes occur simultaneously and rapidly in the absence of any kind of support and expert guidance to cope with the transition. The situation is aggravated with uncertainties of social expectations and constraints, career, marriage partner, sex life and the 'self' itself. The confusion is made worse with societal perceptions and definitions of this period as requiring controls and restrictions." Thus for a girl child, as we can notice from our daily experience too, "life is a constant fight for survival, growth and development from the time she is conceived." The aim, therefore, should be to holistically empower the girl child in all aspects. Why should she not feel absolutely secure while studying, travelling or working? She has the right to be born, informed and educated according to her choice. Having noted all this we must say that there have indeed been some positive developments strengthening the confidence of women. We need to further beef up this trend. Law has and is playing its part. It is we as citizens who are found wanting. We are unable to discipline a few who acquiesce in barbaric practices like sati and honour killings. We must continue the battle because we will win it despite them.









What is happening in Tunisia and Egypt? Though the focus of this column has always been narrowly limited to what is happening in and around J&K, it is essential to understand the reasons behind the unrest in these two countries, for they have a certain implications for J&K and its neighbourhood.

Any analysis of the Arab countries in the last six decades, will clearly reveal, that they have been undemocratic and autocratic, ruled strongly with the help of military forces. Worse, the international community (read the US and its allies), which preaches human values and democracy, preferred always to support the practice of non-democratic and un-representative governments in the Arab world, in the name of stability. The Arab leaders of these countries, also over played the Western fears over the Islamists, thereby projecting what Gen Musharraf later mastered into a successful policy - There Is No Alternative (TINA).

The problem in these Arab countries is five fold. First and foremost, they are non-democratic and autocratic. Ben Ali, the President of Tunisia who was overthrown earlier, has been ruling Tunisia, for more than the last two decades, and only recently elected for the fifth term. The case around Tunisia in the rest of the Arab world in Libya, Egypt and Algeria is not different. Gaddafi, has been in power in Algeria since the 1970s; President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt since the 1980s; and Ali Abdullah in Yemen since the 1970s. Manipulated referendums and rigged elections have been a norm, than an exception in these countries.

Second, more than the form of government, it is the distance between the rulers and the ruled, in terms of governance process, that has become the real problem. All these countries are extremely corrupt, whereby a select group of elites garnered the wealth of the country, where as the nation remains poor and impoverished. In Egypt, average per capita income is less than two US dollars a day, while the rich has all the luxury that one could dream of.

Third problem in the Arab world is the difference between the ruler and the ruled, in terms of generation gap. A cursory look at the leaders of the Arab World from Ben Ali to Hosni Mubarak will highlight the huge difference between the two - while the leaders are in the their 70s and 80s, most of their population is in their 20s and 30s. In fact, there is a youth bulge in all the Arab World, which is better aware of their rights, and more better connected with the rest of the world, and amongst them. Until the internet revolution and the multiple TV channels became a part of every one's lives, the news papers did create an awareness, but with less impact. The TVs, You Tubes and the Facebooks, today connect the people, especially the youth, with multiple pictures, documentaries and short films.

The understanding today is not based on mere "reading", but more based on actual "viewing"; this has its own implications in creating a psychological connect between the actual victim and those who share his pains. The Jasmine revolution of Tunisia, started with a self immolation of a youth, could not have turned into a revolution, had it not been for the viewing of it and sharing it over multiple channels through internet. Today, the You Tube alone has hundreds of stories on the Tunisian unrest - from unemployment protests to military responses.
Fourth, there is not only a youth bulge in these countries, but also an enlargement of a vibrant middle class, with certain expectations, dreams and street power. The Middle Class today, whether in the Arab world, or in the rest of the Third World, has the same expectations, awareness and aspirations. What is new, in the last few years, has been their willingness to express this in public and in streets; if there is a need to be violent in expressing the above, so be it.

Finally, in most of the Arab world, there is a parallel leadership, led by the religious leaders, with their own perception and expression of what constitutes Islam and how to achieve an Islamic Ummah. From Tunisia to Indonesia, cutting across Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia, there is an alarming growth of religious parties, with their own sectarian beliefs. These religious parties are not only fighting to overthrow the existing regimes, but also engaged in a violent interaction with other Islamic groups, with a different sectarian interpretation of what constitutes Islam.

These religious parties, hence are pursuing a three prong strategy - to over throw the existing regime, to undermine other denominations, and to gain the public support to achieve the first two. They are not only trying to manipulate the masses to wage against the rulers and regimes, but also trying to monopolize or claim credit for any popular upheavals on purely secular issues. The truth is, in most of the Arab World, the religious parties could never install a government of their one. While they could muster enough strength to paralyse life in streets, the reality has been, they could never convert their street power into forming a government.
The undemocratic regimes, had to fight three battles - the rising demands of the Middle Class, as expressed (at times even violently) by the youths; religious parties and organizations, which are trying to manipulate the Middle Class, especially its youth; and the international community, in terms of addressing their concerns regarding human rights. Fortunately for the undemocratic leadership, the international community closed its eyes, for they believed, this is the only way to prevent the religious parties from taking over. In turn, the dictators used their military and bureaucracy to curb violence; the latter two used it to their advantage in making money. As a result, there was corruption, failure of governance, declining human rights and unlivable conditions for the majority.

From J&K perspective, the primary question, which need to be asked is: does the above situation has any similarity to its own environment? Undoubtedly, Pakistan is facing a similar situation; in fact, many were afraid, that Salman Taseer's assassination could have been a tipping point. Will the Jasmine revolution come closer into our neighbourhood, and worse spillover into us?

While the situation in J&K is not comparable to Pakistan, one needs to be cautious, in terms of finding how the youth and the growing Middle Class in parts of J&K would react, if there is spill over. While the governments have been democratically elected and changed periodically, there is a governance deficit in J&K. And a section of parties and groups - whether religious or not, may be willing to manipulate the youth anger, for their own narrow political perspectives. Worse, most of the youths in Kashmir valley believe that the government does not represent them. In Kashmir's context, the perception is equally important.

While there is a governance deficit and youth anger, the biggest difference in our context, is the nature of government and the leadership. We are a democracy and our leaders are elected and relatively young. From Rahul Gandhi to Omar Abdullah, perhaps, India has the one of the youngest leadership, in our part of the world. The real challenge is how to reduce the governance gap, to address the youth anger and make people feel a part of the governance process. Panchayat elections and the Right to Information could be two big, but relatively easy strategies to stitch in time.

Perhaps, the panchayat elections along with the RTI could result in a peaceful revolution, preventing any untoward uprising. May be, the political (and bureaucratic) elite, which is against the panchayat elections and preventing the RTI from being implemented, should remember what John F Kennedy, remarked once: "those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable."

(The author is Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi )








The list of corrupt politicians keeps on increasing. Bofors of Rajiv Gandhi, Harshad Mehta episode of Narsimha Rao, fodder scam of Laloo, Spectrum allocation by Raja, repeated change of tax rates by Mayawati, kidnappings by Naxals and ULFA 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 percent of aid into their personal Swiss accounts. Prime Ministers of Japan and Italy have had to resign amidst allegations of corruption.

The democratic system thankfully allows every person to contest elections and become a politician. Our Constitution has dismantled the birth-based caste system that straight-jacketed persons into the traditional vocation of their family. Son of a Brahmin today is free to serve another and become a Sudra; and daughter of a Sudra is free to become a politician. A born-Brahmin may desire comforts of air-conditioners, cars and flat-screen TVs. To undertake fasts and penance is a veritable pain for him. He is, therefore, allowed to become a servant, serve his master and receive security in return.

There is difference, however, in adopting vocation of one's choice and adopting two mutually contradictory vocations. 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. Moneylenders mercilessly grab the pawned jewelry of a person who has landed in difficult circumstances. It matters little to him that people call him a butcher. He is happy holding the wealth in his safe. It will be difficult for such 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 dissention 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. Conclusion is that 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. Yedurappa listening?

This contradiction between roles in not limited to politicians and businessmen. Four varnas were made in our tradition on this basis. One who wanted to secure the final truth was classified as Brahmin. He should speak honestly as King Harish Chandra. But such behavior was contra the role of a politician. Harish Chandra may have attained heaven but he lost his kingdom, did he not? Thus roles of Brahmin and Kshatriya cannot be discharged simultaneously.

Non-possession is prescribed for the Brahmin. Wealth is an obstruction in seeking of truth. It takes the mind towards worldly things. On the other hand, accumulation of unlimited wealth is considered to be the most laudable objective for the Vaisya. The two roles cannot be handled simultaneously. The Brahmin, Kshatriya and Vaisya all three live with uncertainty and new challenges every day. The Brahmin does not know wherefrom his next meal is going to come. The Kshatriya is ever on toes from new threats to his empire. The Vaisya is continually threatened with new products and companies entering the market and undermining his business. In distinction to these three, the Sudra gets security from his master. The sadhu running a grand ashram may not attain salvation, the politician may lose the election and the businessman may suffer loss but the Sudra employee gets his wages uninterrupted. An IAS officer serving the politician knows that salary will be credited in his account at the beginning of every month irrespective of who is the Chief Minister. But it is difficult for a Sudra to be honest. An IAS officer, for example, has to take wrong decisions or bend the rules as per whims of his political bosses. He cannot even enjoy the money gathered from bribes and has to invest the same at low rates of interest in No 2. Therefore, it is difficult for the Sudra to attain truth, power or money.
Our forefathers provided for four varnas due to these contradictions in the roles of seeker, politician, businessman and servant. It was provided that every person should choose one of the four objectives of life-truth, power, money or comforts-and live by the dharma of that Varna. We have done well in providing the freedom to each individual in determining his objective and choosing a vocation suitable to the same. But we have erred in allowing individuals to follow more than one Varna simultaneously. Thus we find sadhus contesting elections and setting up factories to make soft drinks and soap. Politicians are setting power plants and making real estate ventures. Businessmen are giving lectures in Sanskrit and becoming Rajya Sabha MPs. Result is that all these noble men are getting trapped in scandals.

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 and require that every individual declare his Varna to his choice and then he be required to follow the corresponding dharma.








The typical short-sightedness of military men may have blinded the Pakistan army to the perils of its dalliance with terrorists. But it will be an act of great folly if it pursues the same policies even after the latest demonstration of their potential to take the country back to medievalism.

The Pakistan army's original purpose, therefore, of nurturing terrorism as a weapon of war against India has been distorted and even negated by the self-proclaimed soldiers of Islam like Salman Taseer's assassin who are following their own agenda.

In the process, Pakistan has turned from an "international migraine", as former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, once said, to a "cancer", as President Obama said more recently, to being a "top risk" in 2011, according to the New York-based Eurasia group, which has said that "the risk in the subcontinent this year isn't AfPak. It's Pak-Pak".

What this progressive degeneration means is that terrorism has become a boomerang in the army's hands which will hit Pakistan rather than its intended target of India. For a start, as a jehadi incubator, Pakistan has weakened its own case on Kashmir. For many years, it was able to sell its line of Indian "occupation" of Kashmir to the international community. There were not many takers for the Indian position that the state enjoyed democratic freedom because of the very visible presence of the army in the valley.

Even when the separatists stepped up their acts of militancy and the inflow of infiltrators from Pakistan steadily increased, Islamabad was able to convince the world that the unrest in Kashmir was the outcome of the people's opposition to an "oppressive" Indian rule.

But, now, as the perceived nursery of terrorism, Pakistan will not find it easy to persuade the world to let the domain of the jehadis become wider with the acquisition of Kashmir. Besides, the earlier belief that an Indian retreat on Kashmir will induce Islamabad to rein in the militants, as Pervez Musharraf once hinted, is no longer credible in view of the rising clout and daring of the fundamentalists and the steady weakening of the civilian administration. What is more, it is doubtful whether the army will be able to control the terrorist groups even if it wants to.

If the bigots have damaged Pakistan's case on Kashmir, their growing dominance over civil society, as the unabashed praise of Taseer's killer by large numbers of people has shown, will make even their patron, the army, wary of engaging them in carrying out another 26/11-style suicide mission in India. As it is, the ISI chief, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, is facing the ignominy of a law suit against him in the US in connection with 26/11.


Another attack will make it difficult even for Pakistan's all-weather friend, China, to stand by it in the face of worldwide condemnation and a possible Indian retaliation.

Instead of planning a covert attack, therefore, Pakistan's fear may well be that the militants will ignore any counsel of restraint and go ahead on their own, as the recently aborted Mumbai-style operations in European cities suggest. It is difficult to conceive, however, the extent of international wrath if they manage to succeed, which is not impossible given the way in which their confidence is being boosted by the support they are receiving, even on television, over Taseer's killing and the steady marginalization of the liberal sections, which was small to start with.

The latest assassination is different from Benazir's because it shows how rapidly Pakistan is regressing into the dark ages with the stifling of enlightened views. While Benazir's murder was political in nature since her killers wanted to prevent her from coming to power - and perhaps also following a progressive line although this was by no means certain - Taseer's was purely the act of a fanatic unable to digest a modern world- view.
Of the two countries which came into being on the basis of religion in the late 1940s - Pakistan and Israel - the latter has succeeded in maintaining a democratic society (even if its Arab citizens have a virtual second class status) and kept the army under civilian control because it does not live in awe and envy of a larger neighbour, as Pakistan does. It is Pakistan's longstanding inferiority complex which enabled the army to become the dominant power at the expense of the civilian leadership. But its worst mistake was the use of terror to destabilize India.

Now, it has landed in a quagmire where the terrorists have shamed the country in the eyes of the world and made it difficult not only for its own citizens, but for any Muslim to say at an immigration counter that "my name is Khan". (IPA)









Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal is a man in a hurry. There is no doubt that the mess created by the allocation of 2G spectrum on a first-come, first-served basis by his predecessor, Mr A. Raja, needs to be cleared. But it should be done in a planned manner with inputs from experts. Mr Sibal did not even wait for the report of Justice Shivraj Patil, who was asked on December 13 to probe lapses and give suggestions to streamline policy regarding the sale of spectrum in future. Even though the former judge of the Supreme Court submitted his report on Monday, the minister had announced some policy changes on Saturday, delinking the sale of spectrum from the issue of licences.


Mr Sibal's latest policy shift makes sense. The spectrum will no longer be tagged with a licence. The government will offer a "unified licence" and telecom operators will have to acquire spectrum through "a market-driven process". Besides, they will be free to offer any of the wireless services. The telecom firms holding valid licences will have to pay a market price for additional 2G spectrum. This will raise their costs, part of which they may pass on to customers. Of the 157 firms that got licences from Mr Raja 85 have been put on notice. If their licences are cancelled, they would have to acquire fresh licences and pay the market price for spectrum.


This market-driven approach marks a sharp departure from the practice followed by Mr Raja, which, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), had caused a loss of Rs 1.76 crore to the exchequer. Incidentally, Mr Sibal had defended Mr Raja a few days ago and challenged the CAG's findings. However, he got a dressing down for his stand from various quarters, including the Supreme Court and the Public Accounts Committee. The telecom regulator, TRAI, is also looking into the whole issue and the latest policy changes are subject to its approval









Over a thousand Indian students are facing a long winter ahead, as they deal with the consequences of the US Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) shutting down the Tri-Valley University, near San Francisco, accusing it of immigration fraud. A number of them have been singled out and forced to wear radio tags with which the US authorities will be able to track them. The bulky transmitters, worn on the ankle, are humiliating appendages normally issued to convicts. In fact, there is a case to be made for those who maintain the INS is covering up its own inefficiency in not detecting such a big immigration scam by now humiliating the affected students who face disruption of their academic careers, financial woes and much more.


There have been some reports that the frauds did involve gullibility as well as a degree of culpability on the part

of students. It seems that many students ignored signals that their university did not meet the required academic standards, and focused on the fact that it provided them with avenues to be employed from the time they joined it, and thus work off their debts. Immigration attorneys point out that individual cases will have to be studied to determine the most efficacious course of action for each person who has been affected. Even the INS is not tarring everyone with the same brush: some of the students have been questioned; others have been served with Notice to Appear (NTA), which is often considered a preliminary step towards revoking the immigration status of individuals; and still others have been tagged.


External Affairs Minister SM Krishna is right in maintaining that the students are "not criminals" and that the radio collars put around their ankles must be removed. They were legally admitted to a university that bent US laws. The INS should take a humane approach and help these students, who could, after they finish their studies in more reputable universities, contribute to the US society much as hundreds of thousands of US-educated Indians are doing.









Secession has so seldom been peaceful that the result of the referendum in Southern Sudan, overwhelmingly in favour of splitting with the North, is being hailed as an African triumph. Africa's longest and bloodiest civil war in Sudan, which raged from 1983 for 22 long years and is estimated to have taken a toll of 2.5 million lives, was finally brought to an end in 2005. The peace agreement between the African-dominated South and the Arab-dominated North Sudan provided for a six-year long ceasefire before a plebiscite under international supervision. Now that the promised plebiscite has been held and 99 per cent of Southerners have voted for independence, decks have been cleared for the emergence of the 54th African state. But South Sudan will be able to declare independence only on July 9, before which the two sides are expected to settle a host of contentious issues including sharing of debts, river water and oil reserves besides demarcating the border and an agreement on the coveted region of Abyei, where the referendum is yet to take place following the North's insistence that nomadic Arab tribes be also allowed to cast their vote.


There is, therefore, considerable foreboding and observers have been quick to sound a note of caution. It is too early to celebrate, feel some of them and their pessimism is somewhat vindicated by protests that broke out in Khartoum, where students clashed with the police, demanding the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. It is also pointed out that while the South has three quarters of Sudan's oil reserves, the refineries and the only pipeline are in the North. The South's understandable reluctance to share any of Sudan's enormous debt and a sobering realisation that a high degree of statesmanship would be required to steer the course of history in the next few months do cast a shadow over the euphoria. What, however, gives rise to hope is the already demonstrated ability of the people to rise above their personal losses and bitterness.


There are lessons for South Asia, where practically every country faces ethnic or religious undercurrents. Success in Sudan will be a turning point that is certain to encourage efforts for a peaceful resolution of more such conflicts.


















During the years of the Cold War, US-Soviet summits were dominated by discussions on issues like arms control and Cold War rivalries.  Bilateral economic ties were virtually non-existent. The two superpowers had little to discuss on the global economy. With the US and China closely tied together economically, the major focus of attention in Sino-US relations is on trade, investment, market access and exchange rate mechanisms.  This is even more necessary now with the ongoing economic crisis engulfing the Western world, the American trade deficit with China in 2010 being estimated at $280 billion and with OECD countries unable to fashion a unified strategy to confront the crisis they face.


The Obama-Hu Jintao summit on January 22 was aptly described as a meeting between a still dominant, but fading superpower and an ambitious rival "with suspicion on both sides". China's economy continues to boom, recording a growth of 10.3 per cent in 2010. China has spent over $100 billion in aid to developing countries during the past few years — exceeding the aid given by the World Bank. Chinese aid is ostensibly without strings, but is mercantilist and focussed on acquiring natural resources in recipient countries.


The United States, on the other hand, is mired in an economic crisis with unemployment reaching 10 per cent and a budget deficit estimated at 10.64 per cent of the GDP. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have drained the US Treasury, strained its ties with the NATO allies and resulted thus far in the loss of an estimated 5,900 American lives. These conflicts have also resulted in the killings of 6,55,000 civilians and displacement of 4.2 million people in Iraq. The Afghan civilian deaths in the conflict are estimated to be between 14,643 and 34,240. American credibility and prestige have suffered heavily due to these military misadventures.


If the Americans have miscalculated in military adventures abroad, the Chinese also seem to have been afflicted by hubris in recent years.  In 1991 Deng Xiaoping advocated a strategy of "hide your strength, bide your time".  Ignoring this advice, the Chinese have also been flexing their military muscle in recent years, resulting in their hitherto docile neighbours getting seriously concerned.  China has aggressively sought to intimidate its neighbours, ranging from Japan and Vietnam to Indonesia and India, with strident and unilateral claims on its maritime and land borders. Following the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai the Chinese media went ballistic, threatening to invade and takeover Arunachal Pradesh, if India retaliated against terrorist havens. Assertions of friendship and partnership from the incoming Obama Administration only increased Chinese "assertiveness".


 With President Obama accepting that Taiwan and Tibet were areas of "core interest" for China during his November 2009 summit, the Chinese went a step further and declared the entire South China Sea as an area of "core interest". Territorial claims in the South China Sea were enforced using maritime power.  The visiting Commander of the American Pacific Fleet was told that the Americans should recognise the western Pacific and the Indian Ocean as China's sphere of influence.


The Chinese vehemently opposed joint US-South Korean military exercises in the Yellow Sea after North Korea provocatively torpedoed and sank a South Korean naval vessel. China has behaved provocatively with Japan in disputes in the East China Sea over Senkaku Island and in differences over drilling rights in the contested areas. China even went to the extent of suspending the export of rare earth materials to Japan.


President Obama appeared more than ready to bow to Chinese demands during his November 20009 summit with President Hu in China. Apart from conceding that Taiwan and Tibet were areas of "core interest" to China, Mr. Obama pointedly avoided meeting the Dalai Lama before his visit and avoided a reference to "human rights" while in China. When China became increasingly belligerent, American silence led to US allies like Japan and South Korea feeling abandoned.


President Hu brushed aside American concerns on currency and other economic issues during the G20 Summit in Seoul. In the face of this Chinese assertiveness, ASEAN moved to expand membership of the East Asia Summit by inviting America and Russia. It was only during the AEAN Summit in Hanoi that Hillary Clinton voiced disagreement about Chinese policies in the South China Sea.


With growing domestic criticism of his China policies, President Obama adopted a more assertive stance during the Washington summit. He spoke of the "universality" of "human rights" and religious freedom, compelling an evidently flustered Hu Jintao to concede that "a lot has to be done in China in terms of human rights".  Mr. Obama is also said to have urged his Chinese guest to enter into a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. The Chinese were persuaded to voice concern about North Korea's uranium enrichment programme (developed thanks to the exertions of Dr. A.Q. Khan).


After facing severe criticism in India for conceding a special role to China in South Asia during President Obama's visit to China, which revived concerns of renewed Sino-US collusion directed against India, references to Afghanistan and South Asia were conspicuously avoided in the joint statement on President Hu's visit. The Americans had perhaps belatedly noted that the Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation to Pakistan was vigorously continuing and that China had no intention of being on the wrong side of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In substantive terms, however, the Chinese made no concessions on monetary or other economic issues, but succeeded in keeping American corporations on their toes, holding out prospects for lucrative deals in future.


It is evident that as Chinese economic and military power grows, the United States is going to be more circumspect and accommodating in dealing with China. The Chinese will, in turn, claim to be a "responsible power" by periodically responding positively to American concerns on issues like nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea. The Russians seem to be prepared to take advantage of this situation by extending selective support to the US on issues like their logistical needs in Afghanistan.


These developments have created a strategic space for emerging powers like India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa to work with others to retain their autonomy on global affairs. Japan has already adopted a more assertive, China-specific defence posture. Naval exercises involving India, Japan and the US are scheduled to be held near Okinawa later this year and India is expanding security cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries like Japan, South Korea and Vietnam. Ministerial-level exchanges on economic issues with Taiwan could perhaps be initiated. India has to show diplomatic dexterity in safeguarding its national interests in the emerging multi-polar world order.








AS I undertake to write this piece I am reminded of a scene in the closing part of chapter 11 of the novel "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" by Thomas Hardy. After pursuing Tess for months on end, Alec, one day, takes her out on a lonely horse ride, when the weather turns nasty. Tess is weary and Alec, desperate. With no escape in view, and unable to offer further resistance, Tess confusedly surrenders, and Alec has his chance. This is the last chapter of Phase the First, called 'The Maiden', and thereafter, starts Phase the Second, called 'Maiden No More'. In one fell moment, the threshold was crossed, and an innocent, peasant girl, untutored in the ways of the world and tricks of the men-folk, lost her virginity.


The word "threshold" is understood to be the boundary beyond which a different state of affairs exists. It heralds the commencement of new experience, behaviour or phase of life. Consider, for instance, puberty in boys and girls, which marks the onset of adolescence. In this period, the young people undergo many body, behavioural and psychological changes. They are on emotional rollercoaster, with swings of mood; likes and dislikes become sharp, and reaction to things, somewhat unpredictable. From a girl the other day, she is on the way to blossoming into womanhood, just as the lad is on his way to attaining manhood. As these traumatic changes are afoot, an environment of empathy and family support are vey crucial.


There are many such watershed moments in one's life. Like the first kiss, when you abandoned reserve to give expression to feelings of warmth and love, and of which the thrill and joy did not leave you those long years. Or, the first experience of theft or taking bribe; that is, deliberately doing, out of adventure or profit, something wrong, and hoping and praying that you will not be caught. A maladroit step like this is enough to rob you of the title of a gentleman, and push you towards the ranks of thieves and the corrupt.


To give up celibacy and embrace wedlock is another threshold which is the fate of most human beings to cross. It is the harbinger of a new relationship, of a new life, and with good luck, of an opportunity to be productive and useful. However, for the bride, leaving parental home and entering the threshold of her in-laws can be, indeed, cataclysmic. The marriage may turn out to be sweet, or remain only a bargain. It is natural that when two people marry, they carry with them the baggage of their past experience and personalities. Differences, disagreements or quarrels can well arise, and should be regarded as the dowry.


The inevitable threshold, that everyone must cross, is death, which is said to be the dividing line between life this side of the grave and what lies yonder. To the atheist, death is the end; to the believer, the beginning; to the agnostic, the sound of silence. We all know that leaves have their time to fall, flowers to wither, stars to set, and humanity to die. But the long habit of living, somehow, indisposes us for dying. It is widely believed that people are not afraid of death per se, but of the incompleteness of their lives; the more one's life is complete, the less one fears death.


Truly speaking, the essence of crossing the threshold is change, often irreversible change. This may be ushered in by age, custom, nature, or brought about by us. Wisdom lies in anticipating the change, to be prepared for it, and, when it comes, to accept it and the consequences.








Almost every year the central government announces a new scheme for widows, senior citizens and the distressed. Literally crores of rupees are earmarked for the welfare of senior citizens and widows but a very small percentage of widows and the distressed receive their benefits. The money given as pension to widows is literally a pittance — Rs 200 per month is the Centre's contribution under the Indira Gandhi National Widows Pension Scheme (IGNWPS) for BPL widows of 40 to 64 years. The states then add their share to the pension. But even this small amount does not reach them.

A new study on the Dimensions of Deprivation: Poverty Levels of Widows of Vrindavan done by the Guild for Service, shows that though 70 per cent of the widows had heard of the destitute widow's pension scheme, only a quarter of widows interviewed received pension. Some had applied for pension but hadn't received it yet. Those who had not applied for a pension said they didn't know about the scheme and didn't know how to apply for a pension.


In fact, it seemed easier to get ration cards and voters cards. Of the over 520 widows interviewed, 42 per cent had a ration card and 31 per cent a voter's card, but just 25 per cent were receiving pension. The study report, released by Secretary, Women and Child Development D K Sikri, recommends convergence of services so that welfare money is pooled and the implementation becomes easier.


The poor utilisation of central funds by the states is shocking. There is often a gap between availability of the sanctioned money and its actual utilisation.


According to the data with the Union Rural Development Ministry, utilisation under the Widow and Disability Pension Schemes of the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) is just 35 per cent. Utilisation under the Annapurna Scheme, which aims to ensure food security to needy senior citizens, is only 65 per cent.


The NSAP, under whose umbrella are operated the Indira Gandhi National Widows Pension Scheme, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, National Family Benefit Scheme and the Annapura Scheme that provides free 10 kg of foodgrains to those senior citizens who are not covered by old age pension, came into effect in 1995. There are three nodal ministries —Rural Development, Women and Child Development and Social Justice and Empowerment— looking after the welfare of widows, the old and those in distress and each runs it like a fiefdom. There is little or no coordination between these nodal ministries, nor has there been any attempt to converge the services for widows and the other distressed.


Under the IGNWPS widows are entitled to:


Financial assistance of Rs 200 per month given by the central government to widows between 40-64 years who are from families in the BPL category, with most states putting in Rs 100-200 more per widow from their own funds.


 While the Centre says there is no quota at any level for this scheme and all eligible widows are covered, in reality the state-wise BPL quota restricts the number of widows entitled to the pension.


 To support her claim the widow must produce the death certificate of her husband.


 She has also to submit her age certificate. In the absence of a birth certificate, there can be a certificate from the headmaster of the school in which she last studied or from a member of her gram panchayat. Even a horoscope would suffice.


 The pension is distributed through bank accounts or post office accounts in the name of the widow in any nationalised /cooperative/ gramin bank.


 Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot recently admitted that only a third of the 1.55 lakh widows of Rajasthan are eligible for the above scheme which is for widows of 40 to 64 years. Due to the prevalence of child marriages, he said many widows were in the 18 to 39 age group.


The guild's study of the widows of Brajdham-Barsana,Gokul, Goverdhan, Radhakund and Vrindavan shows that the widows are illiterate. 71 per cent had not been to school. 55 per cent were widowed before they were 35. For these illiterate, young widows who very often run away from their village homes to escape ill treatment and humiliation, it is virtually impossible to know about widow's pension or complete the requisite formalities for accessing it.


Implementation of the NSAP


While the Centre has advised the states to contribute a matching grant of at least Rs 200 per month for each NSAP beneficiary to supplement the central assistance of Rs 200, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Manipur and Daman and Diu do not pay anything on their own. Uttar Pradesh makes pension payments of Rs 300 to the widow/older person by pitching in Rs 100, while Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Lakshadweep pay between Rs 200 and Rs 400 per month to the beneficiaries. West Bengal matches the central grant, thus giving each widow/older person Rs 400.


Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Tripura and Tamil Nadu add exactly Rs 400 per person from the state coffers. The most generous states are Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Goa, Delhi, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Andaman and Nicobar Islands that give pensions between Rs 450 to Rs 1,000 , but the implementation of the schemes in several of these states is below 50 per cent.


With the Centre advising that pension payments be made through bank/post office accounts, efforts have also been made to ensure that the opening of accounts is made easier. The Department of Financial Services has written to all commercial banks to open no frill accounts of beneficiaries. However, most of the administrators as well as the beneficiaries themselves view the welfare programmes as an exercise in state-sponsored charity. Either temporary monetary benefits are conferred on widows or scheme after scheme is designed for them by different government bodies that work in isolation. Instead, the programmes must be converged into a comprehensive plan for all round development of the widows. The traditional protectionist, dole-based welfare approach needs to be replaced by a rights-based approach. Existing resources must be reshaped and linked into programmes that ensure a circle of empowerment so that the widow is cared for at every stage of her life.


The programmes providing essential and emergency services for the immediate needs of widows on shelter, food, medical aid and security (Swadhar Centres, Alpavasa Homes, pension payments, etc) must be combined to provide comprehensive, long-term benefits. Activities must be coordinated to facilitate employment, property and inheritance rights and social freedom for widows. The Vrindavan region could take the lead in implementing such a combination of services for its widows, the Guild recommends.


The convergence of services available for widows will also lead to greater clarity on how they can be accessed. Presently, even administrators and NGOs working on the issue need more information on the plethora of programmes run by different ministries and departments.


It is not clear what per cent of the country's estimated 40 million widows actually receive the pension due to them.


Unable to access the welfare schemes, desperately poor widows channel into Vrindavan and surrounding towns from all over the country. In Vrindavan, widows raise their own meagre finances, either through singing in the bhajan ashrams, seeking alms/ begging on the streets, outside the temples or doing domestic work, tailoring, candle making and singing kirtans. — The writer is a senior journalist


Convergence models

 The deprivation and poverty study of widows has suggested the various schemes for widows, the elderly and the disadvantaged should be converged as has been done by the Delhi government in its Mission Convergence.


 The other option is the gram DRISHTI ICT tool for resource convergence, developed by bureaucrat Aruna Sharma in association with the Mumbai IIT and the Foundation of Resource Convergence.


 Sharma had estimated that a whopping average of Rs 1,200 crore per district is available annually in the form of funds from various development schemes. Yet, without effective planning resources are either thinly spread, unutilised or misappropriated.


 Mission Convergence was launched in 2008 to address the fact that an estimated Rs 8 billion spent annually by the Delhi Government on welfare programmes of 45 different schemes was scarcely being seen on the ground by the poor for whom the funds were meant to be allotted.


 Under Mission Convergence, the benefits of widow pension, old-age pension, PDS and others welfare schemes are available in a hassle-free manner through a single point — the Suvidha Kendras. The programme is run by the Samajik Suvidha Sangam, a society set up for the purpose, overseen by the Chief Minister.







The 2010 study on the deprivation and poverty levels of widows of the Braj area of Mathura district shows that though the widows are extremely poor monetarily, ironically they eat well and there are no chances of their starving. While almost three fourth of the widows (72 per cent) eat thrice a day and a fourth twice a day, a very small percentage eat over three times a day. However, shelter, sanitation, health and access to the widow's pension, continues to be a problem.


Although widows get money from multiple sources — bhajan ashrams, charity, pension, domestic work, tailoring and candle making— the total does not add up to much. However, whatever money the widows get, they spend with their biggest expenditure being on food, followed by medicine, rent, clothes, travel and pooja. The majority of the widows earn Rs 200 to Rs 1,000 a month, seven per cent less than Rs 200 a month and 10 percent over Rs 1,000 a month. There was little or no financial support from their families.


Shelter was an area of concern with approximately a third of the widows living in the open- that is on streets, ghats, railway stations and bus stops and having to fend for themselves. Although more than half of the widows surveyed live in rented rooms/ spaces and 16 per cent live in ashrams, sanitation facilities are grossly inadequate. Two-fifth said they had no access to toilets.


In fact, 40 per cent squatted in open fields and a seventh of the widows squatted over street nalas occasionally. Though most widows had access to water after going to the toilet, just 68 per cent had access to soap to clean their hands. A third of the widows (32 per cent), who did not have soap, used soil and ash (rakh). However, they all managed to bathe every day, many of them twice a day.


Fortunately, potable water is easily available in the five areas surveyed. But it is difficult to tell how clean or safe it is to drink the water. More than half of those who had fallen ill suffered from diarrhoea. Other medical problems included frequent fever, arthritis, high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes.


Yet, the widows in the Braj area are happier than in their homes in the villages. They seem to be veering away from the traditional beliefs on how widows should live in terms of what they wear and eat. They do not believe in tonsuring their heads and some of the younger widows seem open to the idea of remarriage. They are rebuilding their lives and face less discrimination. Most of them are able to enter the temples and some even attend auspicious ceremonies. However, they have their fears and apprehensions. Seventy eight per cent of the widows, young as well as old, are afraid of sexual harassment; 63 per cent of not getting salvation (moksh), of falling sick, not being cremated with proper rites, of being homeless and hungry. 








Only they could have done it. The two factions of the Pradesh Congress Committee chose, of all the 365 days in a calendar year, January 30 the day of Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom, as the occasion for a loud public demonstration of their 'unity and integrity'. And they both did it so very well that it is hard to choose the winner between them. That this stage show should have taken place only a few days after the BJP's 'Ekta Yatra' spectacle added to its irony. Speakers at the two parallel functions held in Jammu vent their spleen to outdo each other. While the guest speakers imported from New Delhi or, as some suspect, 'exported' for the purpose by New Delhi, said it indirectly and in so many words, their local hosts suffered from no such inhibition. Mahatma's name, martyrdom and memory were freely expended to buttress rival claims. Significantly, the utterances betrayed a major shift of loyalty in a purely local context. Until recently it was the faction led by PCC president Saif-ud-Din Soz which claimed to be genuinely behind their coalition ally, National Conference. On the other hand, the rival side associated with union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was perceived to be angling for unsettling Omar Abdullah in order to pave the way for Azad's return as chief minister. Political fallout of last summer's upheaval in the Kashmir Valley has obviously upset that equation.
At Sunday's public meetings, while Azad made it a point to assert that there was 'no question' of 3-year rotational chief ministership, between the Congress and NC, the Soz loyalists did not mince words to press the point that this issue was far from being settled. Soz himself evaded taking categoric position as he used to do earlier. He routinely said that it was 'up to the Congress high command' to decided the matter. Azad stressed that he had no intention to come back to the state politics, obviously to dispel persistent rumours that he was engaged in wire pulling from behind the scene. What could have brought this shift in the attitude of the two Congress factions towards Omar Abdullah?

There are fairly credible reports, mainly emanating from the Congress circles in New Delhi, that in the thick of the political crisis in the state last summer Soz had suggested replacement of Omar Abdullah-led government with imposition of a short stint of Governor's rule. It is now confirmed that such a move was about to be made by the centre but was averted at the eleventh hour by Rahul Gandhi who intervened directly and got the process halted by the union home ministry. Obviously, until that crucial moment the move to dislodge the besieged chief minister must have been blessed by the high command as otherwise a cautious person like soz would not have felt emboldened to speak out of turn. However, Rahul Gandhi's last minute intervention saved Omar from being dumped but, in the process, exposed frayed loyalties within the coalition camp. Understandably, Omar was not amused by the information that the PCC chief had been sighted on the 'wrong' side. Relations between them have been visibly strained.

Association of some prominent National Conference functionaries with the show staged by Azad supporters and their public appearance at what was billed and publicised as out and out a Congress show, though under a different (NGO) label, confirmed the changed equation between chief minister vis-a-vis the two factions of the PCC. While Soze supporters boycotted the Azad show and vice versa the visible involvement of the NC

elements (on Azad's side) gave a new twist to the factionalism within the PCC. This development is bound to become more pronounced in the days to come though it is not possible to foretell its exact eventual course. Cry for rotational chief ministership has already become a dividing line between the Congress factions.
Sushil Kumar Shinde's assertion that 'party hai to sarkar hai', voiced at the Soz show, cuts both ways. It is inconceivable that Azad would have allowed his supporters to stage such a big show if he suspected that it would annoy the high command. Is it then that New Delhi is keeping its options open even while firmly backing up Omar Abdullah for the present?






Churnings in the Arab world herald a 'new era' with public enthusiasm for end to dictatorship growing into a virtual frenzy in Tunisia and Egypt, pushing governments to the brink. Though it is still premature to conclude whether the popular rebellions are headed towards the right direction or not, the positive note amidst all this crisis is the people's unity in craving for a democratic change and a growing intolerance to US interference in domestic politics and its virtual backing of tyrant regimes in the Middle East. What is happening in Egypt and Tunisia is obviously going to have far reaching ramifications in rest of the world, especially in countries suppressed by undemocratic regimes, particularly the Arab World. One of the probable outcomes of the present scenario, if handled correctly, is that governments inspired by the principles of despotism would be forced to bring in some democratic reforms. At the moment, the people in Egypt want nothing short of president Hosni Mubark's removal. The protestors on streets, almost leaderless, have not been able to spell out any kind of vision. But the spiraling anger against Mubark obviously stems from the absence of democratic space during his three decade long reign. And these are positive signs that can aid the process of democratization of the Arab world as also dilute the influence of the radical groups. While Mubark should offer to step aside in a more dignified manner, while immediately announcing some reforms to cool down the anger and show the way to a progressive road map, the United States should also read the message on the wall and use its influence to ensure genuine democracy percolates down in the region rather than looking for petty gains that will further push Egypt and its neighbours to a deeper crisis. The rebellious spirit is an indicator that majority of the people are fed up of despotism, authoritarian autocracy and deep rooted corruption that has created too many disparities. This spirit needs to be responded to in the adequate way lest the flavour of freedom, in the absence of promise of democracy, is usurped by religious fundamentalism and bigotry. It is for the international community to now intervene and guide the course of the present turbulence towards progressive democracy or allow turn of events to prove more disastrous than they are at present.






Like most non-specialist browsers, I have read not more than that "good bit" of Gandhi and not more than some twenty or so book-length studies of him. En passant, let me say, at great risk of injury from Gandhi scholars, that the book that seems to me to understand his enterprises with the most sensitivity and intelligence is Ronald Terchek's Gandhi: Struggling for Autonomy, 1998.

Had Gandhi been merely a figure of attempted piety and saintliness, the job of fixing him might have been tractable. That task may have been achieved by referring to just two statements he made in his write-up on "Hinduism" (Young India, October 6, 1921, rptd in C.F.Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi's Ideas, London: Allen and Unwin, 1929, pp.35-42): "I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Zend Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas"; and : "I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense." Thus his abhorrence of untouchability which he regarded as "the greatest blot on Hinduism" (YI, April 27, 1921), and equally his endorsement of the Varnashrama Dharma strictly in accordance with the interpretation he gave to it, namely, that "the divisions define duties; they confer no privileges." And, "it is, I hold, against the genius of Hinduism to arrogate to oneself a higher status, or assign to another a lower status."

And when his conviction took the place of reason, he would not be swayed. For example, he would not be persuaded that untouchability demonstrably issued from the logic of the Varnashrama, or that the total schema of that social organization was based inherently in disequalibriums of status. To the extent that Hinduism for him comprised chiefly Ramcharitmanas and the Bhagvatam, did it matter that there was also the Purusa Sukta in the Rig Veda or the Manu Smriti, the most formative Hindu texts on the subject, which made nonsense of Gandhi's construction of Varanashrama and untouchability.

Such wholly personalized endorsement or rigid resistance to selective historical/textual truths, as Ambedkar was to discover, could only be associated with someone for whom "reason" spanned many categories of perceptions-a dearly-held sentiment, common sense, observable truth. Thus, if on the one hand "Varnashrama is not affected by interdining or intermarriage," "prohibition against intermarriage and interdining is essential for a rapid evolution of the soul," even as "a Hindu who refuses to dine with another from a sense of superiority altogether misrepresents his Hindu religion." (Ibid.,) If all that leaves you scratching the wall, no blame accrues to you. Consistency, Gandhi would agree, is the hobgoblin of small minds. Ultimately, as has been often said, the truth of his pronouncements could only be found in his practice rather than in the strenuous demonstrations of theory.


And in his practice he was rarely found wanting.

Gandhi was always, of course, superbly honest; and most of all to his perceptions of himself. As in his acknowledgement that he was a practitioner and a politician first and a saint only after.

Precisely the fact that his experiments with scripture and ethics intertwined with his immersion with one of the most complex and conflictual collective moments of modern history makes any evaluation of him a matter of the utmost difficulty, even of frustration.

For example, in eventually coming to lead one of the most consequential anti-colonial movements of the twentieth century, he was clearly engaged in a "modernizing" project. Yet few practioners of mass politics have problematized the project of "modernity" as Gandhi did. Or, concomitantly, of tradition. To those of us to whom "modernity" unambiguously constitutes a monochromatic episteme, Gandhi offers many hurdles in the ways in which he either endorsed its stipulations or rejected them. No simple answers there as well, either for the modernizers or the traditionalists.

Traditionalists who seek to appropriate Gandhi for an "anti-western," and rootedly "indigenous" paradigm of historical construction must find it hard to square the following facts with that paradigm:

--that, despite taboo and parental and societal obstructions, he traveled not just to England for studies, but thereafter to South Africa and other lands;

--that he made full use of such modern facilities as the railways, the telegraph, the print media;

--that he "endeavoured humbly to follow Tolstoy, Ruskin, Thoreau, Emerson" and other "western" thinkers, and never explicitly rejected their teachings or practices at any time;

--that he passed on the baton to a modernizer like Nehru rather than choose Patel for the honour;

--that he wholeheartedly subscribed to the notion of "equality", faulting any aspect of tradition that contradicted the same;

--that like so many "secular Hindus" then and now, he saw the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS as the biggest damagers of the cause;

--that his closest backers eventually came not from the traditional class of landlords but from the scions of the nascent national bourgeoisie;

--that his concern for Muslims seemed to override his concern for his own community, or that his faith project included their scripture and that of other religious "minorities"; or that, being as devoted to Hinduism as he professed to be, he should have given his life for the secular idea;

--or that he should have so unashamedly made sexual experiments upon himself, lying in bed with young women to test whether his abstinence was achieved.
And the "modernists" must stand equally frustrated by another set of facts:

--that, his devotion to "equality" should not have been seen by him to be contradictied by his endorsement of the Varanashrama Dharma;

--that instead of encouraging the "untouchables" to organize and resist, he should have counseled that they live clean lives, bear with the barbarisms inflicted upon them by false prophets, and remember that God loved them especially (which is why he called them "Harijans"); or that he wished to be reborn an "Atishudra" (the casteless untouchable) inorder to suffer what they suffer and to atone for the sins of their oppressors;

--that he should always have preferred a pencil to a type writer, or argued forcefully against the "march of technology";

--that he should have fetishized the cow as he did, equating Swaraj with cow protection, or propagated vegetarianism as a high moral principle; or denied the injection of antibiotics to his wife on the principle that it would be a polluting exercise;

--that he should have so opposed the notion and practice of a justly violent and, to many Indians, "heroic" opposition to colonial oppression as was undertaken by such young idealists as Bhagat Singh and other "revolutionaries', or done rather little to persuade the colonial masters not to put them to death (barring a letter to the Viceroy, which, even as it requested mitigation, acknowledged that under the law they deserve to be punished);
--or, that having brought Indian women out of their home and hearth to participate in the freedom movement, the extent of his definition of freedom for them should essentially have remained embedded in different stipulations of "Sanatan Dharma," holding up Sita as an ideal.

It would seem that any understanding of Gandhi both as an individual and as a leader of men and women must take in a fascinating, even if frustrating, complex of often inseparable contraries. Out of the deepest commitment to some orthodoxies emerged some of his most creative unorthodoxies, be it in the religious, the cultural, or the political sphere of thought and activity.

A modernity that seemed frozen in a moment of western history (the French Revolution) was in part endorsed and in part rejected. The endorsement of equality was in turn sought to be ploughed back into aspects of "Indian" tradition as Gandhi chose to construct them. If technology freed the human agent from soulless labour it was endorsed (the sewing machine); if it threatened to railroad and straitjacket the human agent into automacity, turning freedom and autonomy into mechanistic comfort and slavery, it was rejected. If Nature was objectified and exploited for "prosperity" it was seen as an evil enterprise; understood as an organic and intelligent entity, it could be drawn on for wholesome benefit to humankind. Remarkably, it seemed of little purpose to Gandhi to examine western modernity as a marriage of reason with Capitalism. Or to examine how Capitalism as a particular form of social organization vitiated both reason and equality. He would much rather chide the capitalist for being a "materialist" and appeal to his moral conscience to perform as a "trustee," given that god had bestowed munificence upon him. All that while also contending that he wanted the same things as did the Bolsheviks, except that their methods did not appeal to him.

Likewise, any aspect of tradition that stultified the ordained equality of all men and women under god's benign dispensation was abhorrent; or that advocated the supremacy of one religion over another, even as Gandhi's personal devotion to Hinduism remained tearfully transcendant.

Above all stood the power of example-the courage and preparedness to live one's convictions regardless of social opinion or the fear of calumny. The one thing that ultimately must explain the influence Gandhi wielded in a matrix void of conviction. All that wedded to a non-acquisitive praxis, enriched by the demonstrated willingness to partake of the meanest chore and lift it thereby to dignity, and to undertake personal suffering on a sustained basis. Only by thus infecting many millions Gandhi believed could a new nation emerge not as a territorial but as a moral entity worthy of emergence.

-(Z Mag)


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Thirty years is too long a period for any political leader to rule a nation — dictator or democrat. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has clearly over stayed his invitation. Time for him to go. India and Indians cannot remain mute spectators to developments in the Arab world. To be sure, this is very much India's neighbourhood. Far too many Indians live there, the livelihood of millions of Indians is based on peace, stability and prosperity in the Arab world. Equally, political events in the Muslim world leave their mark on politics in India and the sub-continent. Finally, as the world's largest democracy, India owes it to the peoples of the post-colonial world to stand with them when they rise in revolt against dictatorial regimes. Many in the West and in Asia too may worry that Mr Mubarak's decrepit and bankrupt regime may be replaced by an Islamic regime. If that is what the people of Egypt want, so be it. However, as has been seen in Tunisia and is likely to be seen in many other Arab nations, the anger on the streets is less about Islam and more about poverty, deprivation and the lack of freedom. Events in Egypt draw attention once again to the urgent need for moderation and modernisation in the Muslim world. The experience of countries like Indonesia and Turkey, and more recently even Malaysia and Bangladesh, ought to encourage greater commitment to both democracy and secularism in the Muslim world. Equally important, a commitment to more inclusive growth in the more prosperous Muslim nations.

Events in Egypt are also an indictment of the West's approach to the region. The United States may now be demanding more vocally a regime change in Cairo, desperately seeking to retrieve fast disappearing ground in the region. How wiser it would have been for Egypt's friends to force democratisation before the revolution arrived on the streets. The Indian government's bland and wishy-washy statement that it is "following with concern, the developments in Egypt" and that "India has traditionally enjoyed close and friendly relations. We hope for an early and peaceful resolution of the situation without further violence and loss of lives" is neither honest nor relevant. India has not enjoyed "close and friendly relations" with the Mubarak regime. In his three decades in office, President Mubarak visited India twice – In 1982 and 2008 – not counting the visit in 1983 for the non-aligned summit. The high point of India-Egypt relations predates President Mubarak and hopefully will return to a more mature phase in years to come. While India need not become a champion of democracy in other nations, it must speak more strongly in favour of a more plural, secular and democratic world order. For a country that seeks membership of the United Nations Security Council, India cannot afford to miss the big picture at times like this, retrieving into the comfort and safety of irrelevant diplomatese!





For all its visible activism, it is not clear why the Union environment ministry has remained slow in activating the National Green Tribunal (NGT) which came into being in October 2010. No appointments have been made to the NGT after Parliament passed the NGT Act last October. The ministry has also not yet framed the rules under the Act. The NGT is mandated to have between 10 and 20 judicial members and 10 to 20 experts on environment and allied sciences. Besides, it is supposed to have its circuit branches all over the country. These have also not yet been established. Worse, the deadline of mid-January, set by the Supreme Court in response to a public interest litigation, to make the NGT operational, has been allowed to be missed. In fact, the environment ministry is also supposed to create a national environment protection authority (NEPT) as part of the proposed reformed system of environmental governance. This is also yet to be constituted.

The laxity on this count seems baffling because the environment ministry had itself mooted the proposal to create the green court system, distinct from the civic judiciary, to handle environment related lawsuits. It has, significantly, been empowered to order compensation and restitution of damage caused to environment. Equally significantly, it is expected to relieve the already over-burdened judiciary of extra load of adjudicating on the growing number of environment related cases taking technical and policy aspects into account. Over 5,000 cases pertaining to this field are already pending before different courts. Given the technical nature of these cases, the apex court and many high courts have set up committees of environment experts to assist them in taking the decisions. The NGT, being technically a tribunal and possessing in-house expertise on the subject, may not be bound to strictly adhere to the procedures laid down in the outdated Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, but can, instead, be guided by the principles of natural and scientifically sound justice.


 The move to create a dedicated judiciary for environment litigation has generally been hailed as a good initiative. Australia and New Zealand are the only other countries to have a similar system in place. Such a judicial mechanism is deemed necessary in view of the twin imperatives of environment protection and fast economic development. This, as can well be expected, is giving rise to disputes and grievances that require arbitration and redressal. Of late, several big-ticket, albeit highly controversial, episodes concerning environment ministry's orders and objections to realty, mining and other projects have come to the fore. But, unfortunately, no grievance redressal system is in place since October last because the NGT is in hibernation and the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) has been wound up due to the repealing of the NEAA Act under which it was created. In fact, all the work pending before it has been transferred to the non-functional NGT. In any case, even the NEAA was, for some inexplicable reasons, not allowed to function to its full potential since long. It had no chairperson for several years. Against this background, it is even more puzzling why the NGT remains non-operational even now.









This is Budget time again and expectations are rife on how the government plans to deal with a variety of challenges that have emerged in recent times. The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) analysis of macroeconomic developments and the third-quarter monetary policy review bring out the various policy challenges in both monetary and real sectors of the economy and it is expected that the Budget will provide a strategy to deal with them. A number of new threats to sustaining high growth rates have emerged and the Budget will have the difficulty of restoring people's confidence.


 The finance minister has to formulate this year's Budget against the background of a difficult macroeconomic environment. The inflation rate, unlike in the past, has not moderated during the winter months and is stubbornly inflexible downwards. The rising food and fuel prices have not only been a major cause of rising prices, but have also severely impacted the living conditions of the poor. The twin problems of large fiscal and current account deficits remind us of the difficult times in the early 1990s. An uneven global recovery, continued buoyancy and high demand for imports have raised the current account deficit to an unsustainable level of about 3.7 per cent of GDP. Industrial growth has shown a moderation in the last four months to an average of 6.5 per cent and the tight liquidity conditions have not helped matters. The exposé of several scams and the Parliament logjam have done little to infuse confidence among people.

In addition to the challenge of infusing confidence, the finance minister has to give clear signals to the economy for ensuring stable and sustained growth in the Budget. Fiscal consolidation tops the agenda and he has to follow the path charted by the 13th Finance Commission. Besides setting fiscal targets, the Commission has stipulated several conditions to make the fiscal responsibility and budget management (FRBM) process comprehensive and transparent, sensitive to shocks and to ensure improved monitoring and performance of the process and targets.

The largesse from the spectrum auction has ensured that the fiscal deficit actually improves upon the 2010-2011 Budget estimates in spite of higher-than-budgeted subsidy payments. In part, this could be due to higher nominal GDP estimates arising from higher-than-expected inflation. However, it will be not be easy to conform to the Finance Commission's target of containing fiscal deficit at 4.8 per cent of GDP in 2011-12. Similarly, in the case of revenue deficit, although the Budget estimates for 2010-11 at 4 per cent of GDP are higher than the Finance Commission's target (3.2 per cent), higher non-tax revenues from the spectrum auction are likely to make it conform. But in 2011-12, it is going to be a Herculean task unless the tax revenues show significantly higher buoyancy or revenue expenditures are significantly compressed.

On the revenue expenditure side, it will be difficult to maintain even at the same level as a ratio of GDP. There is no low-hanging fruit anymore. Raising wages of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act workers by 20 per cent is likely to increase the outlay substantially. There are demands for higher allocation for food security, and increase in oil subsidies will be unavoidable even as partial adjustment of prices of motor spirit and high-speed diesel have been introduced from time to time. Fertiliser subsidy reforms have remained a difficult area and a nutrient-based subsidy without decontrolling urea prices is meaningless.

On the revenue side, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) reform has yet to take off. Ideally, it would be wise to expand the base of service tax by taxing all services with a short negative list. As a rationalisation measure, it is important to review the list of exemption in central excise, convert the specific levies on items like tea, molasses and cement into ad valorem and unify the tax rates. Taxing items such as breakfast cereals or biscuits, cakes and pastries at a lower rate of 4 per cent does not help the cause of equity but complicates the tax system. These measures would help in the eventual transition to GST. In fact, it may even be desirable to evolve a GST at the manufacturing stage as I had suggested in my earlier columns — this could be done through uniform threshold and rate for goods and services at, say, Rs 50 lakh.

The most important reform on the revenue side will have to be an administrative reform and it should strengthen the information system. In all our tax reform exercises, administrative reforms have never been a priority and taking this up now will also help the GST. We have seen the benefits of introducing the tax information network (TIN), which is estimated to have increased the buoyancy of income tax from 1.2 to 1.5. Last year, the initiative to improve the information system on excise duty was taken and, surely, this is one of the factors contributing to the high growth of indirect taxes until October 2010. Focusing on tax administration reforms, besides enhancing revenue productivity, will improve equity and reduce the burden on the formal sector.

The sharp upsurge in food prices can be attributed to both unseasonal rains and poor supply management. Though the official position continues to place unflinching faith in the dilapidated public distribution system to protect the vulnerable, the experience has repeatedly shown its incapacity. The problem is when the prices of some food items stabilise, others go out of control and the only way to deal with the problem is to have a structured reform of the sector to enable higher investments that would increase productivity. Of course, both the Centre and states have to do this but the forthcoming Budget should initiate reforms in this area.

The 13th Finance Commission has imposed several conditionalities to make the FRBM process transparent and comprehensive, sensitive to shocks and improve monitoring and compliance. The list of requirements is large. The Commission wanted to transform the medium-term fiscal plan from a statement of intent to a statement of commitment. Most importantly, the Commission has made an important recommendation of setting up an independent Fiscal Council with legislative backing to review and monitor the fiscal consolidation process. It remains to be seen to what extent the central government has acted to conform in letter and spirit to the conditions laid down by the Commission.

The author is Director, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy. The views expressed are personal









News Corporation's launch of a tablet paper is interesting and frustrating. It is interesting because it is another attempt by a company in a mature market to find a way of making money from new media. It is frustrating because there has not been a single scintillating new media story coming out of the publishing industry in India.


 Four years ago when I did some work in the area, newspapers in the US and Europe were going down like ninepins. Every major publisher was losing audiences to the internet. Indian publishers, however, were in an enviable position. Newspaper circulation, readership and revenue figures were showing record growth.

On the other hand, internet and broadband penetration in India was still low. So Indian publishers had the luxury of both time and money to experiment and build businesses around the net, mobile phones and other new media.

They have, however, done little. Most newspaper websites are supplements or add-ons to the main brand. Going by comScore data, Yahoo! News is the number one news site out of India, based on unique visitors. There are some very big Indian newspaper brands in the list, but for most the net is not a focus area. Many of them, except perhaps The Times Group, get just a sliver of their revenues from new media.

Now it looks like both the luxuries, time and money, will soon disappear. Indian publishers, too, could be looking at distress sales, a la the US, unless they really hurry up. There are three reasons for this doomsday prophecy.

One, going by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) data, more than 56 per cent of the 83 million internet users in India are now on broadband. This number is growing year-on-year at between 30 and 40 per cent since private operators offer broadband connections at great prices. That is not all. Assuming the legal imbroglio over 3G licences gets sorted, mobile broadband will unleash a sea of new users into the market. So new media penetration growth is no longer about the future — it is happening.

Two, readership numbers in the metros suggest that not enough young people are reading newspapers. The ones who are reading are spending less time going through them. A bulk of real growth in the number of new readers and time spent is coming from non-metro India. Expect them to mimic the metro trend, as the net and other devices penetrate faster.

Three, the whole new media game is one long, tedious affair. The New York Times, The Guardian or The Wall Street Journal started it more than a decade back; they are still not making money online even if they have got an audience there. In fact, most online operations of major newspaper groups across the world are subsidised by their shrinking print ones.

You could argue that India remains among the world's largest and fastest growing newspaper markets. So it would be silly to lose focus. However, some investment and time have to shift to new media and soon, if future revenue streams are to be protected. But why is it not happening?

One part of the reason is that the fantastic growth in print has left very little time to focus on anything else.

The other reason, I suspect, is the fear of the unknown. This whole notion of chasing a few hundred rupees per thousand readers (CPMs) instead of a full-page colour advertisement worth lakhs of rupees is beyond the realm of the thinking of most newspaper publishers. They are just used to 25 to 30 per cent operating margins and anything else seems like too much effort.

Also, the feudal structures under which the Indian publishing companies operate hardly allow independent CEOs to experiment and build dotcoms that could deliver. Some of this is also true for European and American publishing houses. Many are owned by strong-willed media barons who like to run their empires their way.

But when the net hit them, it hit them so hard that many newspaper titles were sold at bargain prices or to investors who knew nothing about the business. That should have been inspiration enough for Indian newspapermen to hurry up. It clearly hasn't been.







The posts of finance secretary and secretary, economic affairs department generate ambiguities over ownership of the finance ministry's most important annual exercise.


 Should the finance secretary always be the senior-most among all the secretaries in the finance ministry or the one who heads the economic affairs department? This seems to be the liveliest of all current debates among senior officers in North Block, where the finance ministry is headquartered. It is not difficult to guess why the debate is taking place now, at perhaps the most inappropriate time of the year with less than four weeks to go before the finance minister presents his Budget for 2011-12.

For, rarely does the government allow a finance secretary to demit office with so little time left before the Budget is finalised. Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla retired yesterday. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee chose not to grant him an extension until at least the Budget exercise was over. Giving Chawla an extension for a couple of months would have been an easy decision, endorsed by a convention that most of Mukherjee's predecessors followed. However, Mukherjee is not a stickler for convention. Last year, too, he chose to deviate from convention by not granting his revenue secretary, P V Bhide, an extension for a couple of months to let him see the Budget passed in Parliament in May 2010.

North Block veterans, of course, point out that changing secretaries just before or after the Budget is not a practice on which anyone should frown. If Rajiv Gandhi could change his finance minister a little more than a month before the Budget, what is so sacrosanct about changing a finance secretary four weeks before the Budget, they argue. Using the same principle, perhaps, Mukherjee let Chawla retire yesterday, paving the way for the installation of the Union government's first woman finance secretary in Sushama Nath.

The debate, however, is not on whether Nath should be the finance secretary. Few bureaucrats will disagree on the impeccable performance record of the IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh cadre and the high integrity in the manner in which she dealt with difficult proposals all these years. There is also the inevitable, but not always desirable, political correctness in having a woman at the helm of the finance ministry, something that other ministries like the external affairs ministry have already achieved. The question that is being posed is that even if Nath is a competent, bright officer capable of being the country's first woman finance secretary, can she perform the role of the finance secretary as effectively as she would like to if she continues to head the department of expenditure?

The Union Budget is undoubtedly the finance ministry's most important annual exercise. A finance secretary usually shows and establishes her leadership of the finance ministry when the Budget is being formulated. The Budget Division, which does the bulk of the Budget-related work, works under the department of economic affairs. Yes, the expenditure department head, in her capacity as finance secretary, will oversee all that, but the key ownership of that exercise rests with the department of economic affairs and its secretary.

Thus, there have been finance secretaries in charge of departments other than the economic affairs department, but in matters pertaining to the Budget, the person heading the economic affairs department has often overshadowed the finance secretary who may be heading some other department.

A few examples here would be useful to illustrate the point. A few months after Manmohan Singh entered North Block in 1991 as finance minister, he replaced his finance secretary, S P Shukla, who then was heading the economic affairs department. He brought in Montek Singh Ahluwalia, commerce secretary at that time, as the secretary in charge of the economic affairs department. However, he conferred the finance secretary's designation on K P Geethakrishnan, who was then in charge of the expenditure department, using the principle of seniority.

Now, among the secretaries at that time, who would you associate the path-breaking Budget of 1992 with? Geethakrishnan or Ahluwalia? Even though Geethakrishnan was the finance secretary, Ahluwalia built greater ownership of that Budget simply because he was in charge of the economic affairs department.

That is precisely what happened to Piyush Mankad, who was in charge of the revenue department, but became the finance secretary because of his seniority when Yashwant Sinha was the finance minister. However, in the area of Budget-making, Sinha's economic affairs secretary, E A S Sarma, and later C M Vasudev, had more influential roles. Indeed, Jaswant Singh managed to present a Budget without even having a formally designated finance secretary, because he felt his economic affairs secretary was competent to handle the Budget and he saw no need to upset him by making the senior-most secretary in charge of another department hold that prestigious designation.

Earlier, Manmohan Singh and R N Malhotra, both of whom went on to become Reserve Bank of India governors, made their impact on the Budget as economic affairs secretaries, since other secretaries senior to them became finance secretary. Nobody recalls who these finance secretaries were.

The challenge for Nath, therefore, is to make herself more effective as finance secretary even though she will have to contend with a new economic affairs secretary. If precedent is anything to go by, she has a tough task ahead.







In three new books, an oncologist, a physician and a neuroscientist offer astonishing insights into our bodies and minds. Siddhartha Mukherjee's biography of cancer is a kind of medical war journalism; Oliver Sacks explores the ways in which we might author our own experience; and Vilayanur Ramachandran conducts an investigation into the nature of consciousness.


 The body: The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee:

There are many accounts of pandemics, many more of medical heroes, and almost none that approach diseases from a biographer's standpoint. "This book," writes the author and oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, "is an attempt to enter the mind of this immortal illness, to understand its personality, to demystify its behaviour."

Mukherjee's subject, cancer, chose him. In his years as a medical resident, he writes of his growing understanding of "the dense, insistent gravitational tug that pulls everything and everyone into the orbit of cancer". And over the 570 pages of this book, he chronicles a medical history littered with defeats and tiny victories, as some of the most persistent and sharp minds grapple with what is perhaps the 21st century's most feared and misunderstood diseases. Reading The Emperor of All Maladies will be, for all of us, an intensely personal journey: no other disease in our times has cancer's dark aura, and there are very few of us whose lives are unmarked by its shadow.

The book is also, thanks to Mukherjee's scholarship and his intense engagement with his subject, one of the great non-fiction works of recent times. Peppered with quotes from Dickens, the poet Audre Lorde, Solzhenitsyn, this is, in the end, an oddly comforting odyssey to follow, and Mukherjee offers an excellent guide through the maze of new treatments and old approaches. "Cancer is not a concentration camp, but it shares the quality of annihilation," Mukherkee remarks, "…it subsumes all living." But he ends this monumental, complex biography on a note of familiar hope: the patient he chooses to remember is not one whose cancer goes into remission, but one who summons "all her strength and dignity" in her small contribution to fighting this four-thousand-year-old war.

The mind: The Mind's Eye, Oliver Sacks.

In his decades as a practising neurologist, Oliver Sacks has often focused on the rare and the unusual medical syndrome as a way of exploring the human condition in greater detail. The patients in The Mind's Eye include a pianist who loses her ability to read music, a novelist who can no longer read words, and Oliver Sacks himself, who has to grapple with the effects of an eye cancer that leaves him unable to see on one side.

It isn't the specifics of each condition that holds our interest as much as the central question: how do you learn to renegotiate the world when speech, or vision, or a way of processing thought, has been so severely damaged? As Sacks puts it: "To what extent are we the authors, the creators, of our own experiences? How much are these predetermined by the brains or senses we are born with, and to what extent do we shape our brains through experience?" This is exciting new terrain; it is only very recently that neuroscientists have moved away from the idea that the brain cannot be substantially changed in adulthood to the idea of "neuroplasticity".

At one extreme, neuroplasticity drives the wave of self-help literature defined by books such as The Secret, which argues that changing thought patterns can bring fortune into one's life; at the other, studies of happiness, for instance, have benefitted from the idea that we do shape our own reality, even under extreme and deeply destabilising circumstances.

Consciousness: The Tell-Tale Brain, Vilayanur Ramachandran

One of the joys of reading Ramachandran's explorations of neuroscience is his willingness to enter into bold speculation, as he searches for the roots of consciousness in the deep, unexplored recesses of the human brain. This book summarises some of his earlier experiments (recounted in Phantoms of the Brain) and more recent work into mirror neurons, which in Ramachandran's view are responsible for the human phenomenon of empathy. He has argued that empathy is a necessary component for being human — that our biology, and our neurological systems, are wired for empathy rather than isolation.

In this book, Ramachandran is almost certain to attract criticism from fellow scientists who want more hard data, as he explores the critical question of what makes us human. But The Tell-Tale Brain remains fascinating because of its willingness to think aloud and to take risks. He explores creativity, and our responses to beauty and art, from an unusual standpoint —why do we need to be creative, what use is it to us to have an understanding of beauty? And at the heart of this wise, expansively curious book is one of his own obsessions — what are the roots of self-awareness, and how do we create our own, very individual, models of self?

The Tell-Tale Brain, along with the other two books mentioned, reinforces my growing belief that our best philosophers, in the 21st century, and some of our best writers, come from the medical profession. It is hard not to be moved, and challenged, by the ideas on offer here.







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


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


The purpose of the Noise Pollution Rules of 2000, framed by the Environment Ministry, and directed to all forms of noise pollution, is faultless. The health effects of noise are well established: hypertension, stress, sleep deprivation, tinnitus and, over prolonged exposure at high levels, hearing loss. Alex Ross, the New Yorker's music critic, and musicologist Suzanne Cusick point to the use of high-decibel music in post-9/11 interrogation.


The interrogators were partial to rap and     rock. Featured artists included Eminem, Christina Aguilera, Metallica     and, quite improbably, Barney the     Purple Dinosaur singing     "I love you".     Noise-induced deafness results     from a prolonged exposure to high sound     pressure levels.


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


The noise rules have four zones (industrial, commercial, residential and silence) and specify day (6 am to 10 pm) and night (10 pm to 6 am) levels for each. The first problem with these levels is that they are arguably too low to be meaningful.


Residential zone daytimes levels are 55 dB – less than the 60-70 dB of normal office conversation – and 45 dB at night, about the level of a very soft conversation just over a whisper. For commercial areas, the levels are marginally higher at 65 dB (normal conversation level) and 55 dB at night.


There's something fundamentally off-kilter about this form of lowestcommon-denominator, one-size-fitsall legislation. Surely the ambient noise levels for Mahabaleshwar cannot be the same as the Bandra train terminus?


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


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

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


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


If they are to be effective, noise rules must be realistic and recognise each city's needs, its land use, zoning, architecture and culture.


In the attempt to preserve public health and safety, a city's cultural soul is not acceptable collateral damage. If it is not the intention of our noise law to kill a city's culture, then that should not be its effect.








TELECOM minister Kapil Sibal says that he wants to change the telecom policy and institute a marketdriven process (read: auctions) for pricing spectrum for providing second-generation (2G) mobile services. This would be a retrograde step and out of line with the evolution of technology and commercial practice in the emerging world of data-centric communications. The US, a country that held very lucrative spectrum auctions in the 1990s, has now made available 250 MHz of unlicensed spectrum and committed to make 250 MHz more of unlicensed spectrum available by 2015. The US government is even more cash-strapped — with a budget deficit running to 10% of GDP — than India's, and yet plans to make spectrum available without upfront payment for service providers to do what they will with it. The reason is quite simple. This is vital infrastructure on which the future competitiveness of the economy depends. Cheaper and higher bandwidth communications would accelerate gains in efficiency and productivity, translate creativity into faster growth, and will yield more jobs and greater tax revenues. Expensive spectrum would abort this vicious cycle. There is a widespread notion that competition would hold down tariffs, regardless of the cost of the spectrum, and so it is okay to raise the cost spectrum. True, tariffs might hold for the time being, but huge spectrum fees would curtail investment by telecom companies and slow down the pace of their expansion and upgradation. 3G auctions in Europe nearly crippled several telcos, BT had to shed its mobile arm altogether and 3G penetration there is rudimentary. In South Korea and Japan, spectrum was priced cheap and 3G adoption is 90%. Pure voice will be a functionality of ubiquitous 3G services sooner, not later.


 Nor is the distortion limited to telecom. When telcos paid up . 1,06,000 crore worth of 3G spectrum fees to the government, they sucked out liquidity from the market. When the RBI says credit growth has been 24%, it takes into account the telcos' borrowings, but not the fact that these were transferred to the government. Transferring huge quantities of investible liquidity from the private sector to the government is a cause for concern, not celebration.






THE world cannot afford to stay silent on a conflict bubbling in a corner of Africa that has already pushed up prices of — what some people consider to be — an essential commodity to a 30-year high in recent months. If the crisis spirals out of control — as may be the case, with one man hanging on to power despite the rising popularity of his electoral opponent and de jure winner of last year's elections — there is every chance of shortages due to falling production in the battle zone. That must not be allowed to happen, else many people will be left ganache-ing their teeth by 2014, when chocolate production may grind to a halt for want of raw material from sustainable sources. So far, there has been a cautious reaction from major players to the call by activists to clamp down on exports from Ivory Coast, but as the world demand for chocolate has not fallen significantly, there is little chance of the world making that bean-ana republic a nougat-zone. It is not surprising the sale of conflict cocoa — some may call it blood beans — continues, for the bitter truth is that Ivory Coast produces 32% of the world's total supply and cutting it out of sourcing calculations is no trifling matter. So, a contraband cocoa channel has been in operation and beans are making their way under couverture of darkness to international markets via soft-centred neighbours.


To avert a 2014 cocoa crisis and spur an early settlement of the Ivorian stalemate, an awareness campaign run by socially-conscious chocolatiers — on the lines of those on fur and diamonds — could be the answer, with ethical cocoa as the ultimate aim. If there is also a nameand-shame initiative to stop the furtive purchases or gifting of conflict chocolates, the world may yet have its cocoa and eat it too.





ROBERT Frost's Road Not Taken was more alluring because it needed wear. The recent open letter by a group of eminent and respected individuals chose, instead, to take the beaten path. Yet, it is worthy of attention: not so much for what it says — its homilies and motherhood statements are hardly new — but because of who says it.

That it, thereby, reinforces the personality-cult syndrome, or that it focuses on generally-known maladies, is not the point; the issue is what the letter might have said. As one astute commentator has observed, one has to read it with a magnifying glass and between the lines to get at what it is really saying. Then, too, it trod the beaten path.


The letter-not-written would clearly state how dismal governance and lack of firm leadership have given rise to scam after scam, corruption, black money and high inflation. Our indices of human development are shameful; now, the much-touted economic growth too may be at serious risk. The mood in industry is becoming pessimistic, even as the common man — squeezed by high inflation and extortionist corruption — is getting increasingly restive. These danger signals need strong and positive responses.


The missive could point to the benefits of the Right to Information Act, its immense potential to bring both transparency and accountability to governance and, therefore, object to the proposals to dilute this law. It might demand protection for whistle-blowers, and stringent action, immediately, against those who threaten or assault them.


Arecent horrific case of burning an official who sought to expose the oil (pilferage and adulteration) mafia has spurred the usual knee-jerk reaction: pious statements, compensation for the family, talk of steps to quell such pilferage and promises of prompt action against the perpetrators. The letter would remind the government that a similar issue in UP some time ago also resulted in the murder of the whistleblower. It might ask — even demand to know — what action was taken to bring to book the gangs involved, not excluding politicians and officials, who seem to be an integral part of the illegal operations. In addition to seeking the guilty, what policy and systemic changes have been made to strike at the root of the problem?


Scams, cheating and corruption have become a blot on the otherwise laudable NREGA initiative. Why, the writers might enquire, is technology not being used to ensure an efficient and transparent transfer of funds to the beneficiaries, as also to streamline the public distribution system for food grain? Why is our world-beating IT industry's expertise not being more extensively used to first reengineer and then make cost-effective the systems and processes connected with governance, healthcare, law enforcement, traffic management, etc?

Political meddling, unprofessional subservience and corruption have decimated police effectiveness. Little wonder then that they have not been able to find any evidence to convict those responsible for the Commonwealth Games scam or for amassing disproportionate assets or for mediating weapons deals, but are able to 'produce' evidence to convict a person on the serious charge of sedition. While they are capable of terrorising the poor, they are neither respected nor feared by the rich and powerful. Police reform should be at the top of the government's agenda, both at the central and state levels. Excellent blueprints exist, through commissions set up in the past. Despite this, and clear directions from the Supreme Court, both the Centre and states continue to drag their feet. The letter could insist on immediate action. Similarly, electoral reform is essential — particularly with regard to electoral funding that, many say, is at the root of corruption.
THE Supreme Court has sought explanations and used harsh words about 'encounter killings' by the police. The unstated justification — sadly, supported by many in the upper class — is the difficult and abysmally slow process of getting a conviction. No civilised society will support this rationale; yet, the judicial system cannot escape blame. The letter may remind the government about the dire urgency to overhaul the judicial system so that judgements do not take decades and corruption within the judiciary — seemingly on the increase — is curbed.


The letter might reiterate the collective aspiration of a happy, healthy, caring and compassionate society, with equality of opportunity and social justice. It would ask whether present policies are attuned to this goal, and urge that the right to good health and right to food be enacted as laws, along with a universal right to livelihood (as a progression from right to work). It would condemn the illegal campaign of intimidation against human rights activists, demand the release of Binayak Sen and an end to state-sponsored, private, armed gangsters who are only spurring an escalating cycle of violence.


Institution-building was one of the high points of the first two decades of the Republic. Institutions like Parliament, defence services, Election Commission and others were strengthened and respected. World-class institutions were created for R&D and professional education.


The letter could point to the fact that these institutions — and others — are in bad health, thanks to wrong policies, political interference, erosion of autonomy and increasing bureaucratisation. Public sector icons — such as Air India, Doordarshan, All India Radio, BSNL, HMT and ITI — that contributed so much and have great potential are dying, or — more factually — being killed. Explanations and action are essential.


Finally, the letter would ask for tough laws to end corruption engendered by the corporate sector. It would voice concern about the growing trend towards crony capitalism, and the need to weed out the power brokers who facilitate this. The government must be the rule-maker and, at most, the referee, but certainly not a player in inter-corporate warfare.


 One admires the eminent and respected authors of the open letter for their bravery (it is, sadly, uncommon for business leaders to be even subtly critical of the government). Yet, one wishes that they had put their weighty signatures to a more forceful and forthright letter, echoing the above thoughts. Many pine for that road not taken, the letter not penned.


(The author is an independent strategy     and policy analyst)







AS STEPHEN Cohen, with whom I wrote The End of Influence: What Happens When Other Countries Have the Money, likes to say, economies do not evolve; they are, rather, intelligently designed. He also likes to say that, though there is an intelligence behind their design, this does not mean that the design is in any sense wise.
    The first claim is, I think, incontrovertible. Since long before Croesus, King of Lydia, came up with the game-changing idea of standardised "coinage", what governments have done and not done to structure, nudge, and put their thumbs on the scales has been decisively important for economic development. The second claim is also, I think, true. To say that economies are the products of intelligent design means only that some human intelligence or intelligences lies behind the design. It does not mean that the design is smart or optimal.


Most of the time in America, the process of intelligent design of the economy has gone well: that is why Americans are so relatively and absolutely rich today. After all, the Founding Fathers were keen on redesigning the infant American economy.


When the Democratic-Republicans, led by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, replaced the Federalists, they quickly decided that their small-government principles were an out-of-power luxury. Wars of conquest, territorial acquisition, continental surveying, and canal and then railroad subsidies were good for voters, immigrants, and pretty much everyone else except the outnumbered and outgunned Native Americans who got in the way. Indeed, any government that builds infrastructure and allocates land titles on the scale of the 19thcentury US government is "Big Government" incarnate. Add steep tariffs on imported manufactured goods — rammed through over the angry protests of farmers and southern planters — and you have the policies that intelligently designed much of 19th- and early 20th-century America.


After World War II, it was again government that led the redesign of the US economy. The decisions to build an interstate highway system (and to spend most of that money on suburban commuter roads) and to jump-start the long-term mortgage market — reflecting the widespread belief that General Motors' interests were identical with America's — literally reconfigured the landscape. Combine that with the largescale development of the world's leading research universities, which then educated tens of millions of people, and with the tradition of using defence money to finance hightech research and development, and, voilà, you have the post-war US economy.


Whenever push has come to economic shove, America's government has even deliberately devalued the dollar in the interest of economic prosperity. Franklin Roosevelt did it during the Great Depression, and Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan did it, too.


This history is worth reviewing because America is poised for another debate over whether its economy evolves or is designed, with President Barack Obama's opponents claiming that whatever is good in America's economy has always evolved with no guidance, and that whatever is bad has been designed by government.
    This claim is ludicrous. American governments will continue to plan and design the development of the economy, as they always have in the past. The question is how, and whether the design will be in any sense wise. But there are two dangers in America's forthcoming debate. The first concerns the term likely to be used to frame the debate: competitiveness. "Productivity" would be much better. "Competitiveness" carries the implication of a zero-sum game, in which America can win only if its trading partners lose. That is a misleading, and dangerous, implication. Instead, all else being equal, richer trading partners benefit America: they make more good stuff for Americans to buy and sell more cheaply, and their stronger demand means that they are willing to pay more for the stuff that America has to sell. Win-win. The second danger is that "competitiveness" implies that what is good for companies located in America — good, that is, for their investors, executives, and financiers — is good for America as a whole. Back when President Dwight D Eisenhower's cabinet nominee Charlie Wilson claimed that what was "good for America was good for General Motors — and vice versa", GM included not just shareholders, executives, and financiers, but also suppliers and members of the United Auto Workers union. By contrast, General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, recently appointed by Obama to lead the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, runs a company that has long since narrowed to executives, investors, and financiers. Let us hope that the looming debate goes well. A more prosperous and rapidly growing America — a scenario in which the rest of the world has a vital interest — hangs in the balance.

(The author is Professor of Economics at the     University of California at Berkeley)   ©Project Syndicate, 2011








An apocryphal story concerns the Master who was in meditation when he was approached by the disciple carrying a flower. When he was about 20 feet away, the Master opened his eyes and said, "Drop it." Abashed at having done something so crass in a spiritual zone, the disciple quickly dropped the offering as he had been told to and continued to advance. When he was 10 feet away the Master opened his eyes again and said, "Drop it." The puzzled disciple replied, "But I have nothing left to drop." The Master closed his eyes and said, "Then take it away." Apparently at that moment the disciple was enlightened.


Well, why not? Perhaps, he was. But most of us who remain unenlightened and hear the story generally get the drift that, of course, the man was not being told to drop the flower — everyone knows that. So, instead maybe he was being told to drop the idea of carrying an offering, any offering — the attitude, the thought, the whole baggage behind the flower thing. But beyond that, we're stumped and come away thinking, oh these stories always turn out like this in some kind of crazy endgame we can't wrap our heads around and that if we could, why, we'd be enlightened ourselves.


Commentators, on the other hand, who are also more or less unenlightened naturally analyse further. Their interpretation is that after the disciple was told to drop it for the second time, he still floundered because he had not yet been suitably divested of his own historical baggage. He had just dropped the attitude; not his personal flower nor his personal offering. Yet, even when he realises he has nothing left to drop, he doesn't realise he still has something left to do. He must now needs take away with him the sum of everything that doesn't remain. When, suddenly, the penny drops.


Finally, we come to the disciple himself who, as far as we know, has been silent on the subject. What if there had been a fleeting instant when he was on the brink of enlightenment, when realisation had dawned but not deepened into certainty, when he could have, say, had his one last say? He might then have reasoned thus: while the Master tells me to take it away, it's already gone and nothing remains. Now I am told to be with that. But isn't clinging to something the same as clinging to nothing as he is doing? Isn't clinging the baggage? He could then have said to him, "Drop it." Who knows, maybe the Master may have been enlightened.







The challenge for the regulator will be not as much to set licensing norms for new players as to sustain competition, so crucial to consumer interest.

After trying to defend the indefensible, the Telecom Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, has finally allowed sense to return to policy-making on the issue of frequency spectrum. "We believe that the stage has been reached where there is enough of competition to warrant a market-driven process for allocation of 2G spectrum," he said last week, lurching back from the unacceptable ways of his predecessor, Mr A. Raja, on dispensing spectrum on a first-come, first-served basis and at an absurdly low price to telecom service providers. For the record, Mr Sibal justified the earlier policy as one that was responsible for bringing consumer tariffs to the lowest in the world. But he was wrong again on two counts. One, he must know that it was the increased intensity of the competition among the enlarged number of telecom companies that caused call charges to come down sharply. The amount of licence fee they paid was perhaps only marginally relevant to their pricing. In any case, the foreign telecom majors who bought into companies such as Swan Telecom and Uninor paid a hefty premium for the spectrum won by their erstwhile local promoters, and that did not deter their companies from offering the same low rates in the market. Two, Mr Sibal only has to go back to the records to see that, by his own yardstick, there had been enough competition three years ago for spectrum to have merited the market-driven process that he has now advocated: 46 companies were in the queue, and licences were given out only to a few.

Yet Mr Sibal must be commended for the turnabout and declaring his intention to let the market determine the allocation and pricing of spectrum. This is another crucial phase in the telecom growth story. Companies in the industry have all been reporting breathtaking increases in the number of subscribers each month, but that has come with a huge dent on their bottomlines. Five years ago, seven out of 12 telecom companies were profitable; last year just four out of 18 were. It stands to reason that the companies will begin to consolidate and attempt to regain the levels of profitability needed to keep them in business. As a consequence we may not immediately see that frenzied rush of new players evident three years ago. There may be a greater clamour, instead, for mergers and acquisitions. The challenge therefore for the regulator will for some time be not as much to set the licensing norms for new players as much as how to preserve and sustain the current level of competition that has worked wonders for, and is so crucial to, consumer interest.

No doubt in the coming years there will be continued growth in subscribers, whose number the regulator believes will touch one billion within four years, and newer data-rich services will gain customer fancy. No doubt there will then be need for substantially more spectrum. One hopes Mr Sibal's new transparent policy will be ready to service that.






The Indonesian President's visit to India has prepared the ground for improved bilateral economic and strategic ties.

The Indonesian President, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's three-day trip , his second to India, as chief guest on Republic Day, marks a significant boost to bilateral relations between the two countries. It may be recalled that 1950, President Soekarno was the chief guest at India's first Republic Day celebrations.

Indonesia , a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and pluralistic democracy like India, has been playing an increasingly important role in global affairs, such as the G20. This month, Indonesia took over the Chair of Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) from Vietnam.

India regards Indonesia as a key member of ASEAN. Both nations had agreed to establish a strategic partnership during Yudhoyono's first state visit to India in 2005. India's President visited Indonesia in December 2008. The Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, and the Indonesian President, Mr Yudhoyono, have been regularly meeting on the margins of international forums.


Indonesia's relatively shielded economy weathered the 2008 global economic crisis quite well, buoyed by strong domestic demand and a government stimulus package of 1.4 per cent of GDP. After India and China, Indonesia is the third fastest growing economy (growth rate of 6 per cent) in the G20 group.

Indonesia has proven oil reserves of 4.3 billion barrels and accounts for 1.2 per cent of world oil reserves, the world's 20th largest. Domestic consumption has grown, and Indonesia ceased to be a net oil exporter and member of OPEC since 2004. Indonesia has proven gas reserves (2008) of 112 trillion cubic feet (TCF), making it the world's 11th largest. It is the world's third largest exporter of LNG, supplying mainly to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.

However, the LNG sector is undergoing more development, while India has emerged as a large potential buyer. Indonesia has many geological basins that await exploration efforts.

In addition, it has some 453 TCF of coal bed methane resources, one of the world's largest, but only a few contracts have been signed so far. Energy and hydrocarbons, therefore, is an important sector for cooperation with India.


Indonesia plans to spend $140 billion until 2014 on improving its infrastructure and reaching a growth target of 7 per cent. It aims to attract $90 billion of this from private investors. Indian business has invested in Indonesia in sectors such as textiles, steel, automotive, banking, power, railways, hospitality and natural resources.

At least 20 leading Indian industrial groups have already set up manufacturing joint ventures in Indonesia.

Indonesia is a key player in the finalisation of the India-ASEAN Free Trade Accord. Indonesia has approved the agreement and it has been operationalised with effect from October 1, 2010. Both sides have also completed the joint study for initiating negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CECA), similar to those under discussions with Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Malaysia.

Deals signed

During the Presidential visit, the two sides signed 18 deals worth over $15 billion, at a business summit. The deals include two greenfield international airports in North Bali and Yogyakarta, Java, to be set up by GVK Power and Infrastructure Ltd; and a $3.3 billion, three million tonnes per annum steel plant to be set up by the ICV Consortium (including Steel Authority of India Ltd).

Trade between the two countries has tripled from $4 billion in 2005 to $12 billion in 2010. Indonesia has some very high grade coal reserves of interest to Indian steel industry. Both sides agreed to boost trade to $25 billion by 2015.

The two governments concluded three agreements and seven MoUs. A joint statement was issued on the India-Indonesia New Strategic Partnership over the coming decade.

An Indian consulate is to be opened in Bali. Visa on arrival facility is to be granted to Indonesian tourists. In space cooperation, India has already launched one micro satellite for Indonesia, and two more are due to be sent into orbit. India provides training for 125 Indonesians annually and has set up a vocational training centre in Jakarta and another is coming up in Aceh.


Indonesia has suffered, like India, from terrorist attacks in recent years. Since 2000, the Jakarta Stock Exchange bombing was followed by four more large attacks. The deadliest killed 202 people (including 164 foreign tourists) in the Bali resort town of Kuta in 2002. The attacks severely damaged Indonesia's tourism industry and foreign investment prospects.

However, after the capture and killing of most of its key members and leaders, terrorist cells in Indonesia, including the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), are less of a threat. Indonesia's counter-terrorism and intelligence set-up have been quite effective and India could learn some lessons in this field.

Indonesia's armed forces comprising some 430,000 personnel in the three services, is one of the largest in the region. The defence budget accounts for 1 per cent of GDP. The defence industry is growing and modernisation is under way.






You have to measure GDP growth in terms of resources lost to make that gain.

GS – that is all I knew of Dr George B. Schaller. GS is the finest field biologist in the world, one of the founding fathers of wildlife conservation and author of several books. He is additionally Vice-President, Panthera, Senior Conservationist at Wildlife Conservation Society and Adjunct-Professor, Centre for Nature and Society, Peking University. He has also received many awards.

Early October, as I awaited my chance to interview him on the sidelines of the Mussoorie International Writers' Festival, all I had for reference was Peter Matthiessen's book Snow Leopard, about a journey to Crystal Mountain in the Himalayas with GS. I explained my position. The man didn't disappoint one bit. He kept the conversation simple. Excerpts:

Conservation and the problem of over-consumption

Conservation from our selfish standpoint means human survival on this planet. The last century in many ways was easy. People thought in terms of reserves, as for instance with the tiger. But remember population growth. There are three times as many people in India today when compared with the early sixties when I was first in India. All of them want to make a good living. So it is not just population growth; the consumption has grown at a much more rapid level. Where do the resources come from? If you are talking about sustainability — don't use more than what can be replenished, it has been calculated that the world is already at minus thirty per cent. In other words, the environment is going down steeply because of over-consumption of everything.

What can you do? You need to be more inventive; you need to be more efficient, you need to be more productive, so that you don't waste resources. Which State in India has a decent land use plan? People develop, develop, develop and nobody thinks of what it is going to be like at the end of this century. Thinking ahead and planning is the responsibility of governments, corporations and communities.

I get frustrated when I see the lack of planning, the lack of care – for example in the United States. How much money has been raised for wars and armaments that could go for the benefit of people and environment; for the long-term good of the country? I consider it highly patriotic to think of the future of one's country and not fritter away money and resources because you are greedy now. The question is – how can you change the perception of wanting to consume more and more of things that you don't need?

The finite system we know little of

People think that technology will solve their problems. Well, it can solve various problems. But you have a finite system of which we know very little. We don't know much about the ecology of rainforests, woodlands and so forth. How many species can a system lose before it collapses? We don't know how all the species in a forest – from the microbes in the soil, little worms to big trees – interact to function as a system. If it collapses because we killed too many species, directly and indirectly....then what happens?

This concerns me because yet again, looking at it from a selfish human perspective – we need medicinal plants. At present we know only a few. What plants are out there, which in the future can produce food for a starving planet?

The way things are going now we have famines somewhere in the world all the time. The countries that grow a lot of grain such as Canada and others – they don't have enough to feed the world; they have to feed their own people. Countries have to seriously think now what to do. China has a good logging act. No more big, commercial logging of forests because the watersheds are being depleted causing huge floods that kill thousands of people. Alright, the country needs wood. Where is it going to get it from? You go to Congo in Africa; you go to Indonesia – get timber elsewhere. So to keep a good lifestyle, countries are pillaging each other. The United States is the principal culprit. It has five per cent of the world's people and it uses roughly 25 per cent of the world's resources. Is this morally acceptable? It isn't for me. I don't know what to do about it. Now China is expanding, India is growing rapidly and expanding – but unless countries co-operate more, become self sufficient, waste less – what to do?

Big worries; small solutions

Conservation in the final analysis is politics. I can go to China, I can come to India, I can co-operate with local scientists in studying the issue. From the information that we collect, we write reports, we make suggestions — these go to governments. Then it is in the hands of governments to do something . You can prod a little bit, but I cannot do conservation myself. I can go to a community, hold a meeting, listen to its problems and make suggestions, may be even find funds so that it can start – but again it is up to the community and the local politics to implement something on their behalf. The government and the corporations have to get together and handle that.

Personally, I set my own limited goal where I feel I can do something positive for the environment. Everybody should work together on this. If you have a serious land use plan, retain it – then you have a goal. But the only economic measure you see right now is our Gross Domestic Product grew by eight per cent, four per cent etc! What kind of measure is that? It doesn't measure your environmental loss. You have to measure — to gain that (GDP growth) how much have you lost as resources? You can put economic values on resources lost and I guarantee you that every single country would be in the minus column. They are worse off than they were. If you look at it in economic terms, the world is living off its capital rather than the interest.

Message to future conservationists

In one word, persistence. If you see that something is essential for the good of society, humankind and you have set yourself a goal – keep at it. You won't necessarily get results immediately, but keep emotionally involved, scientifically involved. Learn the politics to some extent because unless you have the backing of the local forest department or whatever that you are dealing with, you won't get anywhere. And that — being an environmental politician, is something one has to learn whether one likes it or not.






With the youth leading the revolt against corrupt tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, will a new era dawn in the Islamic world, where power will be transferred from monarchs and despots to people?

On a visit to Tunisia in 2008, I was struck by the obviously liberal Islamic nation. Even though women wearing head scarves were common, those in fashionable western clothes could be seen all over the place. There wasn't too much hullabaloo about serving wine at some of our dinners — we were a group of international journalists on an olive oil tour of Tunisia. When I expressed surprise at this, one of the officials accompanying us said: "Long ago, our government decided that religion is a very private affair and should be kept at home. Also, we have a booming tourism industry, and we not only make wine for tourists, we also export quite a bit of it." It is another matter that Tunisian wine is nothing to write home about.

But any visitor to Tunisia, till recently, couldn't possibly come away without having the face of its former President Mr Ben Ali — who, last month, had to flee for his life to Saudi Arabia, which seems to have become a shelter for Muslim despots in trouble — etched on the consciousness for quite a while. For you had Mr Ali staring out at you from every conceivable place… government offices to banks to any building that could accommodate his portrait.

All is well!

Very soon I discovered, when to every question I posed from women's hijab to the grievances of people, I got an answer that seemed to say Tunisians were the happiest people in the world. Of course, prior to the visit, one had read about the heavily censored Tunisian media, but didn't expect the censorship to extend to people's private conversations.

Anyway, the Europeans loved the tiny North African country with its balmy Mediterranean climate, beaches, great food and resorts; the holiday came packaged at a rate so attractive that the retired from Germany, the UK and other European countries with harsh winters took an annual break here for six to eight weeks. They felt safe enough as Islamists were held at bay, no bombs went off and western rulers feted the region for its "stability".

But at the end of the day, the Tunisian President, whom the West admired — oh yes, western powers pick and choose the Muslim dictators to nurture or knock off — proved too much of a despot for his own people. His regime was found to be too autocratic; power and pelf were concentrated in the hands of only his cronies and, in an unprecedented move, young Tunisians came out on the streets in revolt, and Mr Ali had to flee his country in the middle of the night as a common criminal.

It was only a matter of time before other Arab nations, ruled by similar despots, took a leaf out of Tunisia's book. In the last one week, thousands of Egyptian protestors, most of them below 30 years, were out on the streets against the President, Mr Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old rule. The regime of the 82-year-old Mr Mubarak has been kept going through sham elections by the Army; he himself is a former General.

Poverty, oppression

As in Tunisia, in Egypt too, what brought youngsters onto the streets were the two monsters of poverty and oppression; world over, food prices have been rising in the last two years. In the recent past, Algeria has witnessed food riots. Ironically enough, Mr Mubarak has managed to keep democratic forces at bay with the help of the US, the most powerful democracy in the world, and other western powers. Sensing the public mood in Egypt — thousands of protestors have been pouring out on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria — the US President, Mr Barack Obama, has called for "change" in Egypt, of course falling short of asking Mr Mubarak to go.

The West is gingerly watching the developments in Egypt, as the former International Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mr Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been opposing the Mubarak regime for some time, has emerged as the leader authorised to negotiate a regime change in the troubled country, where more than 100 people have died. Egypt's youth spearheading the revolt, as well as the Islamic Brotherhood, banned and dreaded by the West, have put their weight behind Mr ElBaradei, who has sufficient international standing.

Consternation in the West

Western powers are petrified at the prospect of the Islamic Brotherhood seizing power; if that happens, the nation will only slip from one despotic rule to another. The example of Iran is there for all to see, and one only hopes the youngsters, who are leading the revolt — it gathered momentum through social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter — will not allow this to happen. In Tunisia too, the religious leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, exiled for 22 years from the country, has returned home. But in the West, there is much more trepidation about the Egyptian revolt compared to Tunisia's because, with its 77.5 million population, Egypt is the most populous Arab nation, and what happens there in the next few weeks can change geo-political equations across the world.

A new era of people power?

With youngsters leading the revolt against corrupt tyrants in both Tunisia and Egypt, there is hope that a new era will begin in the Islamic world and power will be transferred from monarchs and despots to people. And, more important, with more equitable distribution of wealth.

So what will be the fallout of Tunisia and Egypt for the entire Arab Street? As Robert Fisk, the British journalist whose understanding of West Asian affairs is unbeatable, put it in the British daily, The Independent, soon after Mr Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia: "Certainly they are shaking in their boots across the Middle East, the well-heeled sheiks and emirs, and the kings, including one very old one in Saudi Arabia and a young one in Jordan, and presidents — another very old one in Egypt and a young one in Syria — because Tunisia wasn't meant to happen."

Well, looks like the "very old president" in Egypt will have to go. Perhaps, only time will decide what happens in countries such as Algeria, Libya and Jordan. But even in a democracy such as India, there is a message from this uprising. Yes, we don't have kings, despots or tyrants ruling us, well, at least not at the helm of government. But corruption, we have in plenty, and an exploding number of poor, frustrated people who just cannot put two decent meals together. An increasing army of educated youngsters with no jobs, watching the growing "black" wealth of their corrupt countrymen, is an explosive mix, and will have to be handled with not only care, but basic honesty and integrity.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




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 US 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 per cent at an annual rate, far below the informal target of two per cent.

But food and energy prices — and commodity prices in general — have, of course, been rising lately. Corn and wheat prices rose around 50 per cent 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 US 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 2007-2008, when commodity prices soared — briefly pushing headline inflation above five per cent — 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 civilisation. 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.





Corruption has become so deep-rooted a malaise in our system that any worthwhile proposal to circumscribe it needs to be supported, although it is apparent that no single measure can effectively root out the canker. In this context, the Union law minister, Mr M. Veerappa Moily's proposal to provide for the confiscation of benami property to deal with public servants who accumulate wealth by dishonestly appropriating public funds makes eminent sense. Using ill-gotten gains to buy property in the name of others in order to avoid detection has for decades been a common practice with crooked officials and politicians. Laws to deal with benami property already exist, but these are easily circumvented. To give teeth to the measure, the law minister proposes to bring in a bill which would allow for confiscation of property held in false names. In effect, property purchased with stolen funds will be taken over by the government, depriving a corrupt official from its fruits. While Mr Moily may appear keen to bring his proposal to fruition soon, it is to be seen how much support he can muster in Parliament. A watertight anti-corruption measure will hurt many people, including those in power at the Centre and in the states. Nevertheless, the government must not allow the proposed bill to be diluted. The law minister has also publicly spoken of the government's decision to convert all subordinate courts in the country into fast-track courts with a view to settling all matters within three years and corruption-related matters within a year at the outside. This is laudable, but is it really doable? An important reason why the movement in courts is agonisingly slow is the desperate shortage of judges, and the backlog has been piling up for years. Another reason is that there aren't sufficient numbers of policemen to complete investigations rapidly and efficiently. In short, the country's justice system is a multi-tier mess. The law minister speaks of providing state governments with `20,000 crores to deal with crucial gaps that have hindered progress, and get the project on the road within three months. How realistic is this? Can a problem that has defied solution for as long as one can remember be made to vanish in the next three months? Mr Moily might have been more convincing if he were in a position to concretely illustrate that this amount was going to suffice. Can we order efficiency and the ending of gross shortages in our judicial system through the simple expedient of changing definitions and calling a subordinate court a fast-track court? It is surprising that the government kept tight wraps on its intention to introduce a measure of such far-reaching impact on the system. Ordinarily, it would be expected that some discussion within the government and the political system as a whole would precede such important steps being contemplated. A comprehensive package after an up-and-down discussion is likely to be more convincing than stray announcements.






Between February 19 and April 2, India will co-host cricket's Fifty50 World Cup. Immediately after that it will stage the planet's richest cricket tournament: the Indian Premier League (IPL), India's flagship Twenty20 (T20) event. At the beginning of 2011, India toured South Africa. Later in the year, it will play top-line Test series against England and Australia. In a country that needs few excuses not to immerse itself in cricket lore, 2011 is an extraordinary bonanza. It's a 12-month festival of quality cricket.

They say you can never understand a society without understanding its major sport. At one point, baseball defined the Middle American dream and the idyllic self-image of the towns and cities of the vast American heartland. Today, the English Premier League is not just emblematic of English football but also of British multiculturalism — it attracts talent from all continents — and, paradoxically, an essential insularity that has made the country non-competitive in everything. England has a fantastic football league but a terrible national football team!

That each of the three versions of cricket has a market in India is indicative perhaps of the multiple rhythms of this land and of the many Indias that exist under that one political identity. The languid, never-ending Test match could, at the end of five days, leave you with nothing but a thrilling draw. This is typical of the karmic fatalism that is still the lot of millions in India, even though as a sentiment it is clearly past its prime. The Fifty50 game speaks of a broader, smaller-city India which still has limited entertainment and economic options and so can pack a stadium for an entire day. The T20 revolution, with its attendant razzmatazz, is the ideal product for the metropolitan crowd, a direct rival to the three-hour film, and tailored to audiences that have more money than time and are in tune with the business and leisure principles of the developed world.

Which individual, which demographic and which geography follows which type of cricket? The answer is a snapshot introduction to the Indian — any Indian — you're interrogating. It's almost as fail-proof as a marketing survey.

Why is India so cricket-focused? Modern sport is not an amateur pastime but hard commerce. A large economy — the United States, Australia — can sustain and support many sports. As such, baseball, basketball, American football and golf may all be lucrative in the US. India offers the strange case of an economy that is now big enough to shore up more than one sport but a society that is still essentially a one-sport phenomenon. This causes it to over-invest in cricket. Consequently, the game and its practitioners attract disproportionate media and spectator interest, sponsorship money and advertisement revenue.

Why is India cricket-fanatic to the extent of ignoring other sports? The fact is cricket offers the rare example of sustained good performance by Indian players and teams in any sport. Tennis has the occasional Leander Paes or Sania Mirza, badminton the lone world-beater in Saina Nehwal. Indian athletics produces the odd track and field star. The hockey team wins a big tournament about once a decade. Individual golfers are slowly climbing the ladder on the tour. Yet, none of these comes close to the conveyor belt regularity of cricket stars and skills.

Capital breeds capital. The fact that money is poured into cricket makes it an attractive career path for young Indian sportsmen. This makes team selection tough and, to the degree possible, meritocratic. In turn, this leads to successful teams, mass interest and still more money pouring in.

With no other international cultural product does India so call the shots. Seventy per cent of global cricket revenues are generated in India. Australia sets its cricket calendar to match India's; England wants Indian players in its domestic tournaments to make its county games worth the while for Indian television channels and audiences; West Indies cricket authorities wait for an Indian tour to make money by selling television rights and in-stadia advertising contracts to Indian companies. Cricket is not just India's sport; it's India's power trip.

In a sense, India's success and sustained interest in the upcoming World Cup are crucial to the Fifty50 game's future. This format of cricket is more or less past its sell-by date. The World Cup of 2011 is possibly its last hurrah. If India gets knocked out early — as it did in 2007, in the previous edition in the Caribbean islands — television ratings will almost certainly collapse and the organisers and sponsors could face a financial setback. The future of such Fifty50 extravaganzas itself may be up for question. If India does well — and the schedule of the tournament has been tailored to keep it in the running for a considerable phase — then, on the other hand, conventional one-day cricket may find enough of a market to stave off the challenge of the IPL/T20 monster for a while longer.

The politics and the money of cricket are important no doubt, but not as compelling as the hunger and devotion of the ordinary cricket fan. India is united by cricket, curry and cinema, as the line goes. Listening to radio commentary, stealing a glance at the television in the middle of a busy day at office, asking the next man on the street if he knows the score, rushing home from school or work to catch a game being set up for a close finish: every Indian has many such experiences, many such confessions.

In 2008, when the first IPL was played to unbelievable enthusiasm, the state of Karnataka was in the midst of legislative elections. Political parties had to end public meetings early because people — voters — wanted to leave and catch the evening's IPL game on television. This is not an apocryphal story; it actually happened.

Cricket is the great leveller in India. It unites regions and religions, social variants and economic diversities. It is what binds the business tycoon and the shop-floor worker. Along with the film industry — perhaps politics as well, in a certain kind of way — it offers the most evocative and salient vehicle of social mobility. In a land of faith and spiritualism, cricket is a self-renewing religion. On the 19th day of February, it begins its quadrennial pilgrimage. If you want to hear the heartbeat of India, be there for the World Cup.

- Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]







Even as the government has tied itself up into knots over the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas and the institution of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the spectrum scam, in his zeal to show hoe quickly and efficiently he has been working, Union minister for communications and information technology Kapil Sibal has announced the contours of a proposed new telecommunications policy that directly contradicts his own position — as well as that of the deputy chairman, Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia — that the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has erroneously calculated the extent of the under-valuation of second generation (2G) electromagnetic spectrum.

Here are a few of the contradictions that have been highlighted by, among others, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, member of the Rajya Sabha. Late-2007 onwards, former communications minister Andimuthu Raja had claimed that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) could not auction spectrum in 2008 because the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had opposed such auctions. This view was subsequently echoed almost verbatim by Mr Sibal and Mr Ahluwalia. Now, without any new recommendations from the Trai, Mr Sibal has performed a neat somersault by claiming that in the future, all 2G spectrum will be auctioned or allocated through a market mechanism.

Does this mean that the recommendations of the Trai are not binding on the DoT and had been used to defend illegal actions and huge loses to the exchequer by Mr Raja's decision to allocate spectrum on a first-come-first-served (FCFS) basis instead of through auctions? It may be worthwhile here to jog Mr Sibal's memory that auctions were recommended over FCFS to Mr Raja by the then DoT secretary D.S. Mathur in an internal note dated October 25, 2007, then by the Prime Minister in a letter dated November 2, 2007, and again by the then finance secretary D. Subba Rao (now Governor, Reserve Bank of India) on November 22 that year — all these documents are in the public domain. The question is simple: If auctions for allocation of spectrum are desirable now, why was it not in 2008?

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Raja had argued against auctions ostensibly to create a level-playing field between incumbent operators and new entrants. This argument was repeated by Messrs Sibal and Ahluwalia. The minister has to explain why the so-called level-playing field policy has now become subservient to the need to go in for market-determined pricing of spectrum. Mr Sibal has announced that incumbents (before 2008) will pay market price for spectrum beyond 6.2 megaHertz (MHz) but new entrants (after 2008) will pay market price for spectrum beyond 4.4 MHz.

In May 2010, the Trai had recommended that it "is clearly of the view that contracted spectrum for all the access licences issued in or after 2001, is 6.2 MHz". It is apparent that Mr Sibal's announcement does not ensure a level-playing field between incumbents and new entrants, since the latter is being discriminated against. Should all licence holders not be made to pay for beyond 4.4 MHz?

If Mr Sibal's policy is enforced, of the 575 applicants for licences with spectrum, 122 will receive 4.4 MHz of spectrum at 2001 prices while the remaining 343 applicants will either have access to no spectrum (because there's hardly any left to auction) or will need to acquire the same through a auction process — even though all 575 applicants were in the same queue and had placed their applications before the original cut-off date of October 1, 2007.

Mr Raja, Mr Sibal and Mr Ahluwalia have all supported the FCFS system on the ground that it intensified competition thereby lowering tariffs and enlarging the mobile phone subscriber base. There is no evidence to indicate that this was indeed the case. The latest data of the Trai indicate that the combined market share of the new entrants three years after receiving licences is barely five per cent. Most of these new entrants have been issued showcause notices by the DoT under Mr Sibal for their inability to meet their roll-out obligations. During Mr Raja's tenure there was "insufficient" competition. Now, presumably because there is "sufficient" competition, Mr Sibal is opting for a new "market-friendly" policy.

Mr Chandrasekhar alleges that this new policy "will now be aimed at providing safe passage to the beneficiaries of the 2G spectrum scam (over and above Unitech and Swan) through mergers and acquisitions (M&A)" using the "illegal" M&A guidelines of April 22, 2008. He is of the view that Mr Sibal should have refrained from making "ad hoc" announcements about a new telecom policy before following a consultation process specified in the Trai Act that calls for receiving the regulatory authority's recommendations before (and not after) announcing new policies that come into "immediate effect".

Auctioning spectrum is absolutely correct. After all, this is a scarce resource that belongs to the people of India. The question, for Mr Sibal, is simple. If what Mr Sibal is suggesting today is right, why was it wrong in January 2008? And is this the best way to undo the damage done? Mr Sibal may be a smart lawyer. But what he intends doing through the so-called new telecom policy of 2011 is to lay out a legal minefield that is certain to be challenged in tribunals and courts. In other words, he may just have created more problems than he has solved.

- Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator






Listening is the most sacred of all human acts. It comes from deep silence... from limitless purity which engulfs the soul. Every sound, every word is as much a miracle as it can be cursed and self-devouring.

A Sufi's khanaqah or ashram is as close as it can be to nature, and here the sounds are celebrated with silence. You erase all knowledge to enter the realm of the heart and then let your wisdom gently and gracefully move stealthily to show what not to do. You wash off every trace of noise and feel the word with your soul. Then out of the oblivion emerges a note, a series of notes which elucidate the sacred word. This is the adab and aadaab of a sacred space, so true in the sacred art of listening. The essence of sound is the act of breathing which connects one to the primordial source of creation. In the Sufi way it is "Hosh har dam", awareness of each breath.

Nature is the greatest guide in this sacred domain. The essence of the breath is to remove the impure and take in the pure. Zikr takes this process to a divine level. "La iIlaha ill Allahu" in which La iIlaha is the rejection and ill Allahu is the acceptance. There is no god but God... This pattern of sound is enveloped in rhythmic movement of breathing and swaying of the head in negation and then affirmation. It is the remembrance of the Creator of the breath, and the universe in which we breathe. You begin to associate your breath with a sound, sound with a movement, movement with the miracle of His presence.

Cultures and societies have to be civilised and spiritualised to understand the larger dimension of sound and hearing, images and their invocations, legends and their relevance. "Valmiki — when he set himself to write the great Ramayana that bestows on all who hear it, righteousness and wealth and fulfilment of desire, as well as severing of ties — sought deeper insight into the story he heard from Narada, thereto took his seat according to the yoga ritual and addressed himself to ponder on that subject and no other. By these yoga powers he beheld Ram and Sita, Lakshman and Dashrath with his wives in his kingdom laughing and talking, bearing and forebearing, doing and undoing, as in real life, as clearly as one might see a fruit held in one's hand. He perceived what had been, but what was to come. Then only, after concentrated meditation, when the whole story lay like a picture in his mind, he began to shape it into shlokas.

A. K. Coomaraswamy and Sister Nivideta said: "Such was the power and depth of silence and such was the word and image that emerged out of it".

I think of poetic rhyme while my Beloved (God)

Tells me to think of and nothing else

What are words that thou should'st think about them.

What are words but thorns of the wall of the vineyard?

I shall put aside expressions, words and sounds.

So that without all three I carry an intimate discourse with Thee.

Jalaluddin Rumi

The Beloved (God) is the greatest listener. No resonance addressed to Him goes unheard. And for this He is also known as "as sami", The Hearer. The act of listening is the most sacred of all acts. We are constantly in communication with the Divine. The Divine as we feel is the act of listening. And our faith stems from the fact that He listens. Thus, to feel divine we must listen.

There is so much within us going unheard with the cacophony outside that we are becoming poor and depleted. To be a human listener we have to be in a world of our own. In His world. We have to create listeners who emerge from an ocean of silence within to receive what is important for human evolution and emancipation. When the world listens from the depth of silence the thought has to be ecstatic and evolutionary. It has to come from talking to the Creator. The link is therefore triangular. Everything heard or said has to go through the Master. The rab. Allah. Or His chosen one. Sama is listening to pure sound, the pure word in pure music, a pure voice of the soul with a pure heart. It has to be received and returned through the chosen one, the one in a state of love and surrender. But how does one perceive the signs? Through the depth of silence. Through the sense of beauty He has given His creations which emerge only through submission and surrender, through hearing your own heart sounds.

Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the Executive Director and Secretary of the Rumi Foundation. He can be contacted at [1]







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 neighbourhood.

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 January 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 organised 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 vandalised 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, fuelled 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 terrorise 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 neighbourhood, 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 paralysed 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.









Mamata Banerjee's performance in North Bengal on Saturday was geared primarily to upstage the dominant Congress rather than the CPI-M. But she scarcely enhanced her acceptability with the unparliamentary swipe at the Left ~ "Trust a dog or a cat, not the CPI-M". On either side of the political divide, the pre-election banter is becoming more and more uncivilised; the average Indian politician is much too graceless to engage in an informed, let alone intelligent, debate. Miss Banerjee's chief grouse against the CPI-M in North Bengal is that "in the past ten years North Bengal didn't get a single train". Trains are within the province of the Central ministry she heads, not the State government, although there is merit in the criticism that Kolkata has traditionally neglected north Bengal. There is no mistaking that she was keen on utilising her position as Railway minister rather than the leader of an ascendant party anxious to make inroads into a traditionally Congress bastion. Hence the emotional outpouring that "my heart weeps for North Bengal" couched in the realistic assessment that Trinamul didn't win a single seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. There was no call actually to revive the amra-ora (us/they) development slogan while reminding the people of the region that new trains and projects have been announced despite the North Bengal electorate's distrust of  Trinamul. The foundation of a rail electronics signal factory in Cooch Behar, connectivity plans between Bihar's Jogbani and Nepal's Biratnagar via North Bengal and another rail rink with Bangladesh are all out-of-the budget proposals. It is an open question whether they will fructify. She could well have waited for the presentation of the rail budget in less than a month before promising lollies to the regional electorate.
The Congress with seven Assembly seats in North Bengal ~ against Trinamul's two ~ remains a thorn in the region. The patchwork quilt in the Siliguri Municipal Corporation hasn't lessened the mutual distrust; the Congress mayor of Siliguri wasn't even invited to the railway programmes. An electoral alliance in north Bengal is uncertain on the evidence. Referring to Rahul Gandhi's performance in Siliguri as akin to that of a "seasonal cuckoo" and drawing the "cat/dog" analogy while alluding to the CPI-M are part of the crass rhetoric of local politics. The CPI-M's occasional backing of the Congress ~ as in Siliguri ~ makes the swing of the pendulum ever so uncertain. And Miss Banerjee sounds acutely aware that North Bengal is a different kettle of fish.




Another member is set to be added to the comity of nations with the southerners of Sudan voting astoundingly for a separate country. A 99 per cent verdict in favour of secession is a watershed in African or indeed world history; equally is it an index of the disaffection towards the overbearing north. The eventual carving out, slated for July, will signify a revolution through the ballot if ever there was one. It has been a people's victory once again though not in the least as violent as in the 21st century Arab world or East Europe in 1989. The disenchantment with the north's hegemony could lead to a change of guard in Khartoum if Sunday's demonstrations for a Tunisia-style regime change are any indication. Still more crucially, the southerners have voted against unity and the impact will be decidedly more momentous ~ the division of Sudan. The referendum has been profoundly drastic and geo-political, one that transcends the short-term option of a new dispensation. The gloating celebrations in Juba, the capital-to-be of the southern country, and the police offensive in Khartoum suggest that Omar al-Bashir ~ indicted for war crimes ~ may also have to abdicate his rusted throne.  In a remarkable spirit of graciousness, Salva Kiir, the Southern Sudanese president, has thanked his northern counterpart for "making peace possible". By the yardstick of a peaceful transition, Sudan will be conspicuous in comparison to Tunisia and probably also Egypt, Yemen and Algeria.

For all that, a raft of thorny issues will have to be resolved over the next six months, at any rate before the formal declaration of independence on 9 July. Chiefly, these relate to a shared border, the division of oil revenues after secession and the suzerainty over the disputed Abyei region. Which explains the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon's cautious welcome of the peaceful vote. He has tempered his response with concern over the "unresolved issues". Sudan is on the brink of a historic divorce, thus far fairly non-violent. So very unlike the mortal and the messy Partition of 1947 and yet another division in 1971. Part of a tiny and impoverished nation has shown the way towards freedom.




IMPRESSIVE as ever were the offerings of the National Cadet Corps as its activities attained their annual pinnacle during the Republic Day celebrations. And though it was not an overnight decision, there was added significance to its Prime Minister's Rally (traditionally held on 27 January) when Dr Manmohan Singh announced that the strength of the Corps would be raised from 13 to 15 lakh cadets: hopefully the states are fully on board, they have to pick up part of the bill. Also welcome was the announcement that the Girls Wing would progressively comprise 33 per cent of the numbers, presently it is 24 per cent. It is true that the NCC merits the accolades Dr Manmohan Singh showered upon it ~ proud symbol of national integration, a great resource etc ~ as have other leaders too, yet is a calculation of its contribution to the nation not overdue? Admittedly it is not easy to quantify such attainments, yet it would be in everybody's interest if assessments were done of whether the discipline, camaraderie, teamwork and competitive spirit persist after the cadet moves down the wider avenue of life. Would it not be rewarding if evidence could be presented that indicated the performance of those who have worn the NCC insignia was better than others when serving in industry, commercial organisations, education, medicine etc. As well as in the defence services, paramilitary and police.
For "political" reasons, a few decades ago the NCC ceased to deem itself as a "feeder" for the defence forces. Yet it retains, and must retain a military orientation without being seen as "militant" in character. That orientation is carried further in that there are relaxations in recruitment rules and some reservations in the defence academies for those holding the NCC's higher level certificates. There lies the "rub": on the one hand there are 13 lakh cadets, on the other some 13-15,000 vacancies persist in the officer cadres of the forces ~ so does the NCC need to re-focus? This is not to advocate any increase in reservations, or further "incentives" by way of relaxation in intake-requirements. What that mismatch suggests is that the Corps, and its professional military leadership have done a poor job of inspiring "introduced" young folk into making a career of the uniform. Confirming that little of the glitter displayed during the R-Day events actually gets converted into "gold".








ANY effort to discern a ray of light amidst the current gloom may seem like a fruitless exercise. But as the Shakespearean phrase, "sweet are the uses of adversity" indicates, it is possible to expect a positive fallout from the corruption cases in which the Congress  finds itself. For this to happen, however, the right lessons have to be drawn from the present critical situation. One of them is to revise the coalitional arrangement. Ever since the country entered this particular phase of politics where alliances have replaced one-party rule at the Centre, an unwritten rule of such tie-ups has been to leave the choice of personnel and portfolios to the various constituents. While the first party selects its own men and ministries, so do the allies.

However, a convention has developed that the first party will keep key departments like home, finance, defence and external affairs with itself. The only exception was when the CPI's Indrajit Gupta became the Home minister and the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav held the Defence portfolio in the mid-1990s. But that was during the uncertain period when there were two short-lived Prime Ministers, HD Deve Gowda and IK Gujral. Otherwise, the primacy of the first party has been recognized in this matter, and it is noteworthy that the minor parties have not objected to this practice.

Perhaps the fact that they are usually regional outfits made them realize that they are not quite up to the task of handing these sensitive ministries. Imagine the problems that might arise if the DMK with its sympathy for the Sri Lankan Tamils held the external affairs portfolio or the Communists with their preference for high taxes and distrust of big business were in charge of finance.

Although the allocations of this nature seem to have evolved without any formal discussion, the arrangement has worked fairly satisfactorily. The only disadvantage for the first party is that it has no say about the ministers chosen by the regional parties. When Bal Thackeray withdrew the then Power minister, Suresh Prabhu, from Atal Behari Vajpayee's cabinet, the latter had no alternative but to quietly accept Prabhu's replacement, who was also chosen by the Shiv Sena chief.

That episode was one of the first to indicate that coalitions did not follow the basic rule of parliamentary democracy, which invested the Prime Minister with the sole authority to choose his cabinet.

However, this negation of a fundamental principle has been taken for granted as seemingly the cornerstone of the so-called coalition dharma, the new coinage of a new era. But the A Raja affair is likely to induce second thoughts on continuing with this practice. In fact, by compelling Raja to resign although the DMK insisted on his innocence, the Manmohan Singh government took the first step to restore the Prime Minister's authority.
If there have been no rumbles of disquiet among the allies, the reason is that the allegations of malfeasance against Raja have eroded his and the DMK's moral authority. The DMK was aware that while it could stall the disinvestment of the Neyvilli Lignite Corporation during the tenure of UPA-I, it could not be equally obstinate in Raja's case because of the corruption charges. The episode is bound, therefore, to strengthen the hand of the Prime Minister when dealing with recalcitrant allies. However, except in matters of sleaze, his options will remain limited because of the first party's minority status. Even then, if the Prime Minister recovers some of his lost clout because of the present rumpus, that will be a step forward. It will also show that some good can come out of a crisis.

Similarly, the fact that the Congress had to devote an entire plenary session of the party to the unsavoury subject of corruption also showed how it had been shaken by the charges of sleaze. The promise to set up fast-track courts to pursue such cases is another commendable step. Needless to say, it is unlikely to have been taken but for the murkiness of the present atmosphere. But the fast-track courts will not be fast enough if the CBI lacks functional autonomy. It is no secret that this premier investigating agency no longer enjoys its earlier high reputation because it is widely seen as being beholden to the ruling parties of whatever hue.

A more advisable course, therefore, will be for the government to implement the 2006 Supreme Court directive to free the police ~ and, by implication, the CBI ~ from political control. As may be expected, however, the Centre and the state governments have evinced little interest in these orders. The ruling parties have become so accustomed to using the police for partisan purposes that they cannot dream of allowing the force to act professionally. Yet, the present situation offers a chance. The government and the Congress must be aware that the plethora of scandals has dented their image so badly that unless stern steps are taken against the accused, it will be extremely difficult to recover their mood of confidence of 2009.

Nor can they expect that since the others, too, especially the BJP, have their share of scandals, as in Karnataka, the Congress can expect the storm to pass. One reason is that the state governments run by the BJP in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar have managed to avoid involvement in a major scam. So has the Biju Janata Dal in Orissa. In contrast, the Congress appears particularly vulnerable because several of its men are seen as tainted ~ Suresh Kalmadi, Ashok Chavan, Shashi Tharoor ~ while its government is accused of succumbing to the DMK's pressure to shield Raja.

Besides, in addition to the present scandals, the Congress's past record is not lily-white. From the Haridas Mundhra swindle of 1957, exposed by Feroze Gandhi, which led to the resignation of the then finance minister TT Krishnamachari, to the Bofors scam of 1987 to the Harshad Mehta affair of 1992 and then to the JMM bribery scandal of 1995, the Congress has been haunted by the spectre of sleaze. The latest allegations, therefore, can hardly be called unprecedented.

However, there is a difference this time. Unlike earlier occasions when the Congress's stock response was a flat denial, party president Sonia Gandhi has admitted this time that the country's "moral universe' is shrinking because of "graft and greed". What is even more significant is that the Prime Minister has managed to escape the taint of corruption, as the clean chits given to him by Amartya Sen and Nitish Kumar show. If the Congress keeps it promises on the fast-track courts and acts on the 2006 Supreme Court diktat, it can still escape relatively unhurt.


The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman






Dar-UL-ULOOM, the world famous orthodox teaching institute set up by the Islamic Deoband seminary is at the heart of a fierce controversy. To briefly recapitulate the facts. It recently elected a new Vice-Chancellor, Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi. He is unusual. He belongs not to northern India but to Gujarat. He is highly educated and has done his MBA. He has successfully modernised and vastly expanded an Islamic teaching institute in Gujarat that provides modern education in addition to Islamic theological teaching. He recently exhorted Muslims of Gujarat to take full advantage of the inclusive development provided by the Narendra Modi government to improve their prospects. He neither mentioned nor endorsed the Modi government's role in the Gujarat riots.

However, the mere praise of Mr Modi's performance in furthering Gujarat's development, which is widely acknowledged, infuriated Maulana Vastanvi's critics within Deoband who demanded his instant resignation. Maulana Vastanvi obliged and announced his decision to quit. However, this in turn provoked his supporters to become vocal. They urged him to continue and take on his opponents head on in order to modernise Islamic education. As a result, Deoband is fiercely divided between Maulana Vastanvi's supporters and his detractors.
However, there is a feature of the division within Deoband that reinforces a profound truth often stressed by this scribe. In Deoband the division has taken on a regional colour. Students of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are ranged against those from Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat. So where did the unifying element of religion disappear? The most powerful political impulse is provided by identity. And political identity is determined by the combination of geographical location, language, ethnicity, culture, economic interests and religion. By itself, religion does not denote political identity. Nor do economic interests. The Communists learnt this to their cost when China split from the Soviet Union. The Muslims learnt this to their cost when Bangladesh split from Pakistan. No doubt the Indian government encouraged the break-up of Pakistan. But it would never have succeeded unless a fierce conflict between political identities had not already existed. And among all the elements comprising political identity, that of ethnicity, tribe or family is the strongest.

The assertion of this truth within the heart of renowned and conservative Deoband can prove to be a game-changer. Even the leaders of the Afghan Taliban are adherents of Deoband. The developments in this world-famous seminary located in western Uttar Pradesh should be viewed in the overall context. Globally, Islamic society is in ferment. The dictatorship in Tunisia has fallen. The one in Egypt is tottering. Pro-American dictators are being removed. This does not automatically suggest victory of fundamentalist Islamists. On the contrary it may signify the further defeat of fundamental Islam. A new generation of Arab protesters seems to want genuine democracy instead of pro-US puppet regimes. This would be a significant advance.

This development cannot in the long run fail to affect the Muslims of South Asia and elsewhere. Already, as was repeatedly pointed out by this scribe, the Afghan Taliban is prepared to dump Al Qaida's global agenda in return for foreign powers ceasing interference in Afghanistan's domestic affairs. Political identity will always triumph over mere religiosity. That is why it is desirable to talk with Afghanistan's Taliban. The destruction of the pan-Islamic dream will demolish the basis of Islamist fundamentalism. Modernising Islamic society, as Maulana Vastanvi is also attempting, will strengthen religion and weaken fundamentalism.

Why and how has this ferment in Islamic society started? Some analysts suggest the CIA's hand. But the CIA by itself could never have achieved such change. There is a simpler explanation. It is the theory of the 100th monkey. In the early 1950s, scientists conducted experiments on monkeys living on a number of small offshore islands around Japan. It seems that one day a female monkey picked up a beetroot fallen in the water. It tasted sweeter. Thereafter the monkey always washed the beetroot before eating it. Soon other monkeys emulated her. Then one day, the scientists found that, miraculously, all the monkeys in all the islands separated from each other took to the practice of washing the beetroot before eating it. The mystified scientists came to the conclusion that when awareness spreads to a certain point the entire community accepts its truth. The point when awareness is overall accepted they termed as the moment when the notional 100th monkey became aware.
I believe that the spread of television in the Soviet empire awakened the 100th monkey to destroy Soviet dictatorship. Information from the Internet, Facebook and Twitter may have reached the 100th monkey of the Islamic world.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Lord Jagannath of Puri never ceases to amaze us. There is folklore galore about his mischievous ways of testing his devotees.When scorned, no amount of appeasement would work with him and when benevolent, a devotee only has to wish for a darshan and the Lord would oblige. But it is difficult to fathom exactly what endears one to the the Lord. He can be choosy and in that respect, he is a lot like the visa officer at the nearest US Consulate.
Take the case of my friend Kalidas, a staunch devotee since childhood, never the one to give up an opportunity for a darshan. And, an unfailing presence at the annual Rath Yatra.

Yet, after retiring as a professor, when he became a frequent visitor to the Puri temple, he could no longer stomach the overbearing priests, the ubiquitous Pandas crawling all over the temple, intent on fleecing pilgrims. "Why doesn't the temple administration do something about it?" Kalidas thought aloud more than once, wishing everything at the Puri temple were as orderly and disciplined at it was in Tirupati or at Vaishno Devi. "Easier said than done, Kali," a friend tried to reason when the disgusted professor brought it up at one of our usual gatherings. "The Pandas can stop the puja and hold the entire temple to ransom. See how they disruptive they turn whenever a non-Hindu enters the temple? Are they not human beings? When there's no puja, there's no prasad. It becomes a law and order problem with the starving devotees starting to protest."
"How can the Lord tolerate so much nonsense that goes on in his name?" Kalidas erupted. We started laughing. Did he really expect a wooden idol to act? Soon after, Kalidas stopped going to the temple, vowing never to set foot again till the priests reformed themselves.

But how could my friend forsake his deep veneration for Lord Jagannath cultivated over a lifetime? When the next Rath Yatra rolled around, he found himself standing at a distance from the Lord's chariot Nandighosa, a closer proximity precluded by a police cordon. Kalidas regarded the idol longingly at length before finally turning away. "Sir, sir!" a cry greeted him. It was a police officer. Kalidas' heart missed a beat. "Now, what have I done?" he couldn't help wondering. "You won't remember me, sir," the man in uniform addressed him deferentially. "I was your student at college." A flabbergasted Kalidas patted his old student and smiled indulgently. "Sir," the officer suggested, "Why don't you step into the chariot and touch the Lord?" Policemen relaxed the cordon to make way for their superior's guest. "No, that's not necessary," Kalidas protested. "A darshan from a distance is good enough."

The officer's face fell. "How I wish I could climb up to the chariot and embrace the Lord !" he said. "You see, I am a Christian and can't enter the temple. But the Lord means so much to me that I insist on this assignment every Rath Yatra just to have a glimpse of him. Our meeting is pre-ordained. The Lord wants you to climb up to him and convey him my devotion. Please don't let me down."  

Kalidas was bereft of words. Truly, what ingenuity Lord Jagannath had employed to educate him on the futility of keeping his distance from the temple! Tears in his eyes, Kalidas allowed himself to be led up the chariot steps as Pandas stepped back under the watchful gaze of his former students. He then flung himself at the feet of the idol, tears streaming down his face, overlshelmed by repentance and gratitude. The officer's eyes, too, were moist. Kalidas smiled, murmuring softly: "Bhagwan ka ghar der hai; andher nahin."







Top United Nations officials have urged the government of Egypt to protect the rights of its citizens in view of political protests raging in the country and asked it to respect freedoms of expression, information and assembly

"One of the ground principles of democracy is to protect and ensure the freedom of speech of the people," Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Davos, when asked about the situation in Egypt. According to media reports, anti-government protests are intensifying across Egypt, as police clash with demonstrators in several cities demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Protests continued despite reports of widespread disruptions to Internet, text messaging and mobile phone services. Mr Ban stressed that the situation in Egypt, and the wider region, must not lead to further violence.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mrs Navi Pillay urged the Egyptian government to exercise restraint, and to initiate investigations into reports of the use of excessive force, the killing of at least five and possibly more civilians. "It has been brought to my attention that since the street protests erupted, police have confronted protesters with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons, and arrested more than 1,000 people, including political opponents," she said. "While maintaining rule and order are important, the responsibility of the government to protect the rights to life, liberty and security is paramount."
She called on the Egyptian government to guarantee the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, including by restoring free use of mobile phones and social networks.

"People must be entitled to express their grievances against violations of their civil and political rights as well as their frustrations at lack of realisation of their economic rights, the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living," Mrs Pillay said.

"And governments in the region and around the world must take heed. Suppressing citizens' voices, silencing dissent and stifling criticism will not make the problems go away. Recent events in the region highlight the fact that tackling serious problems by resorting primarily to high-handed security measures only causes them to fester and eventually erupt on a large scale."

Child malnutrition crisis in Sindh worries Unicef

The Unicef has described high levels of malnutrition in children in communities affected by massive flooding in Pakistan's Sindh province as a most challenging humanitarian problem in a Press release issued by the agency in New York. Quoting new data released by the Sindh department of health, Unicef said acute malnutrition rates stood at 23.1 per cent among children in the age group of 6 to 59 months in flood-affected parts of northern Sindh and 21.2 per cent in southern Sindh. The rates are well above the WHO-specified 15 per cent emergency threshold level, which calls for a humanitarian response, the Unicef said in an update.

The provincial government of Sindh estimated that 90,000 children aged between 6 and 59 months were malnourished. The global acute malnutrition rate indicate the number of children in a given population who are moderately and severely malnourished and have not gained the required weight commensurate with their height. The severe acute malnutrition rate is an indicator of an advanced state of acute malnourishment.
Records from northern Sindh revealed a severe acute malnutrition rate of 6.1 per cent. According to Unicef, children with severe acute malnutrition need immediate treatment and are 10 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than healthy children. If they do survive, their development and learning is poor and their income earning potential as adults is reduced. "Unicef is extremely concerned about this finding and is working with the federal and provincial government authorities concerned to reach and treat these children," said Mr Pascal Villeneuve, the acting representative for the agency in Pakistan. "The floods may have uncovered the hidden face of child malnutrition in Pakistan, but we see this as an opportunity to scale up a sustained response that will benefit children in the short and long term. Unicef is committed to working with its partners to ensure that their needs are met," he added.

Nutritional surveys in flood-affected areas were carried out in the provinces of Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Results from the other provinces are pending. Unicef and partners in the nutrition cluster are working with the government of Sindh to respond to the crisis. The response will focus on acute malnutrition management and prevention over a period of 18 months.

Unicef has been providing clean water to 3.5 million people daily, and sanitation facilities to more than 1.9 million people, it added. The agency worked with partners to immunise more than 9 million children against measles and polio and provided about 8.5 million children with Vitamin A supplements. Around 120,000 malnourished women and children have also been enrolled in a number of food programmes.

Temporary learning centres are helping around 180,000 children, and 700 child-friendly spaces have been established and are benefiting 200,000 children, protecting them from the risks of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

"As the Pakistan flood crisis continues to evolve and attention for the emergency fades, there is a danger that people of the world will forget that Pakistani children still need a great deal of help," Mr Villeneuve said. "Children now face the task of rebuilding their lives and homes with their families, which means that many of them will work instead of going to school. The long months with little food have compromised their ability to stay healthy and fight off diseases." Unicef has received $198 million in donations and pledges out of the $251 million required.

Ban praises Russia parliament's nod for nukes reduction pact

Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Russian parliament's ratification of the nuclear arms reduction treaty that Moscow signed with the USA last year. With Russian lawmakers endorsing it, the pact enters into force, UN spokesman Mr Martin Nesirky said in a statement issued in New York. The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty was signed by US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April 2010. As per the deal, the two countries pledged to slash their nuclear arsenals by a third.
The action by Russian lawmakers follows a similar move by the US Senate last month to support the Treaty's ratification, the UN noted in the statement. "The Secretary-General hopes that the Russian Federation and the United States build upon this momentum and engage in follow-on efforts in order to achieve deeper reductions in all types of nuclear weapons," the statement reads.

anjali sharma










Words and images can change perceptions, but they also expose the contrast between illusion and reality. Governments that do not work often try to clutch at words in order to fool not only the people but also themselves. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's government seems to have done just that by creating a new brand for West Bengal. On the face of it, the slogan of the new brand — "Shobar Bangla (Everyone's Bengal)" — is meant to showcase the inclusiveness of the state's culture and society. As such, it is supposed to attract all, especially investors, to Bengal. Mr Bhattacharjee would like to project it as a promise, but impartial observers and the people themselves know this to be an illusion. The reality is a far cry from the brand's promise. Bengal today is a deeply divided society which draws the line in every field between 'us' and 'them'. This division is the result of a pernicious political culture bred and nurtured by the Left during its three decades in power. Anyone who was not with the Left was branded an enemy of the people. The schism took root during Jyoti Basu's long reign and Mr Bhattacharjee did nothing to change things. So deep-rooted has the division become that Mamata Banerjee now uses it with a vengeance in her race for Writers' Buildings.


This reality makes all attempts by the government to create an illusion a futile exercise. Ironically, the government's attempt at brand-building comes at a time when it is daily losing control of things. Political parties, including those ruling the state, compete with one another in derailing the administration. Not infrequently, they do so in violent ways. Its timing makes the brand's promise utterly unrealistic. The government simply does not have the time to even initiate the reforms that are desperately needed. The elections are around the corner and even the most brazenly optimistic among the ruling Marxists do not really expect another term in office. It is even doubtful if the government has the will that can make a meaningful change possible. Worst of all, both the government and the Opposition seem to have lost their belief in Bengal. Having brought the state to this sorry pass, they probably believe that nothing much will change for Bengal. It is this collective collapse of faith that makes the reality so grim. A new brand now is worse than a cruel joke. It was the last thing that Bengal needed from an inept regime.







South Sudan has got what it wanted. A peaceful referendum in the face of tremendous odds was the first victory for the people of the south. Their second victory was the declaration by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission that almost 99 per cent of the voters have opted for secession from the north. This victory — that of speaking in one voice — is likely to prove more precious than the first. The result of the referendum, to be officially declared on February 14, confirms a political reality that has been evident since 2005, when the comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the warring north and south. But for South Sudan, riven by political, religious and tribal divides, the ability to speak out as a people should become the starting point for nation-building. This is important because so far the south has been unable to throw up a picture of unity. Conflicts among armed militias, controlled by tribal chiefs who lorded over specific regions, have not only divided the people but also validated the north's argument that the south did not deserve to become an independent nation or that it would remain a risk to the region's security if allowed to become one. There have also been serious inter-ethnic disputes that have continued to displace thousands of people within the south.

The task before the new dispensation in Juba, as and when it comes about, is therefore not merely to decide on a flag and a name for the country or to sort out the problems of demarcating the border and natural resources with its powerful northern neighbour. It has to convince an ethnically and religiously diverse population and the warring militias of the need to commit to the idea of a single nation, governed by a single authority with the aid of the police force and a national army. The task will not be easy. A severely handicapped communication infrastructure, together with an un-evolved healthcare, education system and public utility service, is creaking under the strain of the sudden influx of refugees. Any of these might provide the flashpoint for the outbreak of violence, which, given the ethnic and religious divides, can spread into a conflagration. These micro-issues have to be kept in mind together with other unresolved issues such as the status of the oil-rich Abyei or the distribution of Sudan's international debt and other obligations between the north and the south.






The Swedish writer, Henning Mankell, was in Delhi this January, doing what he does very well, telling stories. One of the stories he told was of a morning years ago, during the civil war in Mozambique, when he was walking on a dirt path in the hinterland. Everything there had been burnt and destroyed in the fighting and, as he walked through that scorched wasteland, he saw a man approach from the other side. The man was starvation-thin. Most poverty-stricken people Mankell had seen were unshod and in rags, yet this man was wearing shoes.

It was only when the man came much closer that the writer realized those were not shoes at all. The man was barefoot. To conceal his wretchedness he had painted the shape of shoes onto his feet.

Writers write the stories they want to read, said Mankell, and he is one with all writers in this. At the same time, whatever he is writing — theatre or fiction — the singular image inspiring him on is those painted shoes, the human need for dignity in the worst deprivation.

Writers who situate their work in war zones like 9/11 or the Holocaust are revered as "political". Mankell writes crime fiction and his novels are not concerned with apocalyptic, epochal violence. Because people think in genres, he is not generally seen as a political writer. But his books are deeply concerned with the role of society in crime, about the violence people do to each other, the violence in the home, the violence caused by bigotry or poverty. Others who write of the violence of the everyday — the small, individual acts that corrode our daily lives — are also seen as unpolitical; quiet, domestic, feminine, and Jane Austenish are the usual labels with which to pat down writings on the subdued savagery of mundane experience.

Best known as the writer of the Kurt Wallander series of Swedish detective novels that are translated into 32 languages and sell millions, Mankell could live on an island of his own. Instead, he gives away half his income to charitable causes and spends half of each year in Maputo, Mozambique, where he is artistic director of the Teatro Avenida. His theatre, like his life, is immersed in social and political issues; he was recently part of the Gaza flotilla attacked by the Israeli army.

In my small Uttarakhand town there are also, surprisingly, several Scandinavians — not of Mankell's eloquence or fame, but equally at home in an alien culture. It began with one couple, who came many years ago to set up a trekking company. (I will call them Eva and Tor.) Now there are several from Norway and Denmark too.

I first encountered these Scandinavians when I was invited by Eva to 'open house' for Christmas. It was a brightly lit, cosy home, and was quite literally open: for the first time I met — socially — the neighbouring dhobi, the town's main electrician, and our plumber. There was also a school principal, a retired civil servant, and a doctor. We ate home-baked cookies and rice pudding and chatted. It felt novel. It is almost inconceivable, given the extreme hierarchies in our society, for middle-class Indians to spend an evening with their plumber, however nice the plumber.

The unselfconscious egalitarianism of that evening seems evident in everything the Scandinavians do. They are religious, and I went once to a sort of bhajan-sandhya they organized in a hall where hymns to Jesus were sung in Hindi to the twanging of a sitar. Again, they invited the whole town, disregarding disparities in social status. They live in humble houses in working-class neighbourhoods when they can afford bungalows. Eva's children run wild with the local children, always in and out of the home of the electrician who is their next-door neighbour. Eva is a Viking-blonde woman who could be singing German in Wagner's Rheingold but speaks a Hindi that is fluent, even slangy. Her friends wear desi clothes, their daily food is daal-bhaat. At Diwali time, they are enthusiastic and noisy with the fireworks.

Apart from the trekking, which provides their livelihood, the Scandinavians run two small NGOs. One of these teaches rural youth spoken English — the course is structured so they learn to cope with social situations and handle job interviews. It is such a success they hardly have enough room.

Their other NGO makes greeting cards. I visited their workshop one afternoon, at the start of winter: three rented rooms in a ramshackle building. The walls were painted a sparkling lemon and covered end to end with durries and big heaters. The workers — all destitute or widowed village women — sat cross-legged on mattresses, surrounded by paper, beads, other tools of trade. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie and hard work. They were being supervised both by the Scandinavians and by Indian volunteers responsible for buying the material to make the cards with, and for quality control. The cards are eventually sold in Norway for a profit that is put back into the NGO.

The NGO started small, just two women in Eva's living room. Now, in an odd paradox, much as Gujjars agitate for low-caste status to be able to get the benefit of reservations, women in our town clamour to be seen as more deservingly wretched than the neighbour who has been given a job by the NGO. The competition to outwail the employed is serious, because it is not only the job. The NGO also pays for the education of the women's children. Once a year, they take their workers out of town for a day of pleasure — lunch at a fancy restaurant, boat rides on the lake.

One of the old workers said to me, "This is the difference between foreigners and Indians. If I was working for an Indian sanstha, they would not heat the room, they would not cover the floors to make it comfortable for us. They would never take us on an outing. Indian NGOs would eat up all the extra money to buy themselves cars and new buildings."

Of course this is not true, but it is the perception all the same. There are many Indian NGOs equally committed, perhaps as egalitarian. But Indian society is not. I have no way of knowing what society is like in Scandinavia, but in our town Eva and Tor's lack of hierarchy does not go down well with some of the middle class. There are whisperings that it is not innocuous, their way of life; it is a devious way of converting illiterate people to Christianity, by giving them "ideas", by showing them a different way of life. The disaffected women who are not given jobs at the NGOs add to the whisperings with innuendoes about why some women get jobs and some don't.

It has never gone beyond speculation, though, in our town. Another foreigner in a different part of the country was not so lucky. Graham Staines in Orissa had done social work among its poor for 30 years. Everyone knows what happened one day in 1999, while he slept in his van with his two sons, aged six and ten. In one of Mankell's novels, there is a vivid description of a woman set alight in a rapeseed field. If Mankell's hands were not already full with Mozambique, he would have felt at home in India.

Unlike our Scandinavians, Staines did missionary work too. Missionary work is not illegal, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad makes determined efforts to convert adivasis to Hinduism. But Staines's killer Dara Singh, says our Supreme Court, was only trying to "teach Staines a lesson about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity".

Inequality is woven into our social fabric. Khap panchayats encourage the killing of people who marry out of caste. Missionaries are killed for showing marginalized people a different life. The man in whose honour Mankell was delivering his Delhi lecture was Safdar Hashmi, killed exactly 10 years before Staines, on January 1, 1989, for acting in a play that demanded rights for workers.

Everything said, Henning Mankell is safer and better off doing his political theatre in Mozambique.

The author's second novel, The Folded Earth, will be published in February







"Key reason for FDI dip is Jairam's policies", says the Reserve Bank of India, quoted as a headline in a national daily. It made one want to throw up with disgust at the fact that even our more serious and critical institutions such as the RBI do not think sensibly about what India desperately needs at this juncture. The present incumbent in the ministry of environment, Jairam Ramesh, has not fallen victim to the endless corporate and political pressure as well as to the lobbying that had overwhelmed the ministry. He is trying to bring some sanity, caution and reform into the ministry, which has hitherto sanctioned the wholesale rape of the natural resources of India. It has been a free-for-all area in the past many years, enjoying the endorsement of politicians and babus, who have no comprehension of or concern for the future of this country, its water resources, the air we breathe, our forest cover, and more. At a time when the rich countries of this world are rethinking their environment policies, why are we allowing ourselves to be destroyed?

It is easy for the foreign direct investment-wallahs to identify pliable and buyable countries, descend upon us, exploit us and preserve the same for their own future. It is sickening that we let ourselves be attacked for short-term gains, because we are desperate to fill the 'quotas' and add to an unthinking demand for a spiralling rate of growth. Why do we not aspire for a higher rate of growth with the help of new ideas and solutions that require deep thought and learning? Are the men and women who sit in high office incapable of hard work and profound thinking which generate true and meaningful processes and solutions? Or are they taking a leaf out of the books of the colonial rulers, who rode roughshod over the demands and needs of disempowered citizens, till they rose in revolt when M.K. Gandhi called? Limited minds are dangerous.

Salute him

Because we are a potentially rich country — in terms of both natural mineral resources, other deposits and human entrepreneurship — we need not lay ourselves completely bare for yet another overseas assault that is not carefully calibrated on our terms. Our tendency to grab FDI inputs at any cost makes no sense at all. A rethink and reinvention are imperative. If the minister concerned is re-evaluating the past misdemeanours that were drowned in corruption, we should salute and support him even if, temporarily, the FDI inflows are declining.

Multinationals know well where to go first to get the best possible deal. But they will eventually partner, on equal terms, countries who have some degree of self respect and are not merely desperate for big money. Alternatives exist but require more investment and commitment — which is why multinationals want the easy option that their paid lobbyists fight for and, more often than not, win. Today, they are being questioned and asked to adhere to laws and regulations. They abhor this kind of sudden intervention by the government, having been comfortable till now with their schemes where many complicated 'processes' had been conquered by them. For this reason, government departments too are seen to be pulling in different directions — which does not augur well.

Corporate honchos have come together to emphasize that governance has fallen into deficit. We have been saying so for months. Does corporate India feel that the Congress's concern — the party's schemes for the protection of the other 'half' of India that resides in the high-reserve areas, waiting to be exploited by the rich half — is weak governance? Or does it want a drastic rewriting of the colonial laws that still dominate our workplace in this millennium to ensure inclusive growth and dignity for all?






Why do we travel? Is it to find a home in another place or is it to reconfirm our love for the place we leave behind? With a nod to Elizabeth Bishop, these questions of travel kept pricking me as I left Calcutta for Jaipur to attend the literature festival, which was being held there from January 21 to 25. I was thrilled at the prospect of meeting the author whose novels are my lifeline — J.M. Coetzee. But I was also feeling uncomfortable at the idea of leaving Calcutta, the city of books, to rediscover literature in a city that is not quite associated with it. The unease continued when at Diggi Palace, the venue of the festival, I was confronted with parti-coloured festoons, painted peacocks (the festival's logo) and their living, human counterparts preening themselves at every corner, and loud, numbing music. The scene seemed to be more suited to a Bollywood-style wedding than to a celebration of literature. But then the authors took the stage, and much, if not everything, changed.

It was evident that something unusual was in the offing here even as Karan Singh lit the inaugural lamp and delivered his speech. Smiling sweetly, this Rajya Sabha MP assured the audience that literature is a no-visa zone. He stretched the limits of his time on stage, chiefly by reading copious amounts of poetry — his own, and others' — and the audience tittered, but after all, he was trying to say how, instead of spending money on guns, horses, and property, as men of his ilk usually do, he has used money to build a huge library at home. Everyone cheered, and the mood for the festival was set.

The first session I attended was by Orhan Pamuk. In the 'Vodafone Front Lawns', he talked about the inevitability of change — temporal, linguistic, cultural — and the writer's need to preserve what remains in the museum of his writings. The author gathers exquisite bits and pieces of a lost time in his works in the hope that in future they will constitute a collection which will survive. Faced with the gradual erosion of his language and heritage in a globalized world, a non-Western writer must engage himself with this problem and present it not in the sentimental language of belonging but in a measured and objective manner. So, I mused, the museum of innocence is also a home one carries within oneself. It's like a secret that connects you with certain people while keeping others out. Surrounded by men and women speaking either Hindi or English, I thought of Bengali in Bengali, and was thankful that I too possessed a museum of my own.

It was strange that no matter what session I attended, all the writers seemed to be talking about home and leaving. Or perhaps it was my own preoccupations that drew me to the writers who are preoccupied with these notions. Mamang Dai — the writer from Arunachal Pradesh who writes about her birthplace, Pasighat, and the Siang that flows by it in a language of touching beauty and sadness — spoke of the pull not of a real place called home, but of its idea. A hometown is indescribable, she said. Pasighat cannot be imagined without the Siang and the surrounding forests, yet these physical presences do not make it up entirely. There is something else, something ineffable, hidden in the words spoken by the thunder, the water, the fish, the growing crops, the village people, for which she searches as a writer in order to be able to communicate the enigma of home. I thought that the setting of this talk, Diggi Palace's Durbar Hall, was not very fitting, but by then I had become used to the ways of Jaipur.

The session, "Imaginary homelands", argued the effects of displacement on literature. Not surprisingly, the question of language featured prominently in the discussion since all the writers on the panel, irrespective of their countries of origin, use English as their medium. Junot Diaz, the Pulitzer-winning Dominican writer working in America, who has become famous for insisting on the use of unitalicized Spanish phrases in his writings for The New Yorker magazine, said that displacement is not so much a question of changing geographical locations as of the ability to maintain simultaneous identities. These identities can be tied up with language, time (our childhood and adult selves, which are one and yet different) or nation. Although society is obsessed with singularity, the writer must be adept at maintaining simultaneity. As his childhood self still lives in him, so his mother tongue also survives, no matter in which language he writes now. For an author, the juggling of these personas is useful, Diaz concluded to loud applause from the audience.

Manjushree Thapa, the writer from Nepal now settled in Canada, described how she carries around her country in her — which comes alive every now and then when she finds correspondences in other people's experiences, sometimes in unlikely situations, in unlikely places. It is this tug of the familiar that helps us connect and reach out to people from other classes, cultures and countries.

Thapa's words suddenly made me realize why, notwithstanding the curious settings and the curiouser happenings all around me, the literary fest yet felt familiar. I have never known these authors in person, but I had their words in me. They have spoken to me through their works, and as I listened to them live, I knew what they meant. Pamuk declared with disarming candour that he operates in the readers' mind through pictures perhaps because he is a failed painter. Kiran Desai said that the thought of growing old in a place as far from home as America terrifies her. Diaz stated that you know you are a good writer when everything else in your life — love, relationships — starts going wrong. Listening to these authors, I felt as if I was in the company of old friends with whom thoughts are shared. So, home was also language, and those silent spaces in books where authors speak most eloquently.

When asked about her favourite books, Mamang Dai had said that one of them is Wuthering Heights. She loves the scene in which Catherine stands on the heath and cries that if she were to die that moment and the angels came to take her away, they would have a hard time because she would resist them violently. She would rather be in that wilderness forever than in heaven. As my plane touched Calcutta, I was grateful to Dai, and to Emily, for voicing what I had thought but could never express. And I wished that Calcutta would host a literary fest, since it is this city, more than any other, that deserves one.





It was Sunday, January 23. J.M. Coetzee was to deliver a talk at the front lawns of Diggi Palace at 2.30 pm. As I waited during the never-ending one-and-a-half-hour long lunch before the talk, I almost saw the sky changing colours, taking on the drab hues of my impatience. And then suddenly he was standing before me, signing books with ill-concealed reluctance, posing for pictures with gritted teeth, and, in general, looking like a prophet from medieval times who has woken up to find himself in the modern world. But there was also the tiniest hint of a smile playing on his lips. Had he been any other human being and not J.M. Coetzee, one could have said he was grinning widely.

The session was called "Readings from Coetzee". Who had suggested the title? Was it Coetzee himself? Patrick French, who chaired the session, talked of the confusion the name had generated. Apparently, some had assumed that French would read from Coetzee's works for 45 minutes with the author sitting silently beside him. While this was not exactly the case, Coetzee was not speaking either. He was reading — from Coetzee. So we were back to the central question — who is the one who speaks, whose is the voice we hear?

Coetzee's story, which was self-confessedly a substitute for his own "opinions", was titled "The Old Woman and the Cats". Before writing it, the author had wondered whether it was suitable for a festival like this, since it argued in favour of the Roman Catholic stance against contraception. But then Coetzee had told himself that he would be reading the story in India, where most Hindus believe in reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. So began the story — featuring an aged woman and her middle-aged professor son. We have perhaps met them before as Elizabeth Costello and her son, John, who teaches physics and astronomy in a college in America.

Visiting his mother in a remote village in Spain, where she has chosen to live alone in spite of ill health, the son grumbles about everything he encounters in her home. There are cats all over the place, and there is a stranger who sits below the stairs, sometimes in the kitchen. "Why must everything his mother touches be complicated?"

The son bickers with his mother over the cats, who, she says with her usual tendency to provoke, have neither faces nor characters but souls, which are invisible and inaccessible. More irritation after this "mystical nonsense about cat souls", followed by the niggling questing — who is the man in the kitchen? He is Pablo, the "lowest of the low", who used to "expose himself" in front of women and children, and so was going to be locked up before the mother took him in her charge. The son is irked even more, but she says, "I'm preparing myself for my next move, my last move. I'm accustoming myself to living with creatures whose mode of being is different from mine."

She provided sanctuary to the cats, who were feral-turned-domestic creatures, because she had once encountered a cat giving birth on the culvert. Because of her condition, the cat could not run away, but she had snarled fiercely at the mother, who had recognized the look of futile protectiveness as being characteristic of motherhood. From that day on, she decided to turn her back on her own tribe, "the tribe of the hunter", and join the tribe of the hunted. She would not neuter the cats because "there can never be too many children". In her old age, she wants to let in as many souls as possible — cat souls, human souls, bird souls — so that each has a chance to encounter the beauty of the world.

The son is unused to seeing his mother in such a "rhapsodic mood". And "already there is the far-off look in her eyes which does not seem to include him". More bickering follows. When the time for the son's departure arrives, she reminds him to say goodbye to Pablo, so that he too "feels wanted".

Thus ended the story, which was "not much of a story" (as the son and his sister think in another piece where they make their appearance along with the mother). I was taken aback. Is the child Coetzee of Boyhood, who had declared himself Roman Catholic to his teachers in spite of having non-practising parents, really turning to the Church — like Eliot — in his old age? Is Coetzee, a vegetarian, opting for the Hindu way of life? Or is his story a fiction tailor-made to suit the sensibilities of the audience to which it is addressed? One will never know because J.M. Coetzee, the author, is not offering his own opinions — which he does not find "particularly interesting".




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



Hundreds of Indian students who are victims of an educational, employment and immigration fraud perpetrated by the Tri-Valley University (TVU) in California are facing deportation and other harsh legal measures in the US. The plight of the students is a matter of serious concern and the external affairs ministry has rightly taken up the issue with the US authorities. While the legal issues need to be attended to, the inhuman treatment of the students is unacceptable and should be deplored. External affairs minister S M Krishna has made this clear.

It was a shocking sight to see many of the affected students being made to wear radio collars around their ankles by US officials who wanted to electronically track them. That amounted to treating the students as less than human and was a gross violation of their rights.

Most of the students have to none to blame but themselves for their plight. It was clear from the functioning of the university and the facilities offered there that its aim was to dupe students of money. It provided a short cut to many who aspired for higher education and immigration through patently and obviously illegal methods. Indian students gain admission in US universities after meeting many stringent qualifying  standards. Permission to work and live in the US  also is given only when many conditions are met.

The university admitted students in violation of all these. Many students were aware of this but ignored all the precautions and warnings in their eagerness to study, work and live in the US. They knew that the credentials of the university, which has now been shut down, were dubious and its claims were wrong. But they allowed a naïve faith that the irregularities would be condoned to get the better of good sense and caution. The university's activities were no different from the many illegal emigration rackets which used to thrive in India and may still be operating to take gullible people to European countries and elsewhere with offers of jobs and a better life.

It has been reported that some students may be given opportunities to continue their studies in other US universities, subject to conditions. The Indian community in the US and the Indian government are bound to extend all help and assistance to them. But the lesson is that students should avoid illegal and dubious channels in their pursuit of educational and employment opportunities abroad.





Hosni Mubarak's days as Egypt's President seem to be numbered. Powerful street protests demanding his exit have swept across Cairo and other Egyptian cities over the past week. The mass demonstrations in Tunisia that brought down the authoritarian government there have clearly inspired the Egyptians. Since 1981, Egypt has been under Mubarak's iron grip. Rampant political corruption, imprisonment of dissidents and political rivals without trial and torture have been the hallmarks of his ruthless regime. Mass anger, which has simmered for decades, has now erupted in the open and millions are demanding not just Mubarak's exit but the dismantling of the entire political edifice he has built.

Mubarak has sacked his cabinet and offered to initiate political and constitutional reforms. These have failed to appease the masses as his concessions are clearly too little, too late. The police, who killed over a hundred of protestors last week have now been replaced by the army. He has appointed his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as vice president. Mubarak is digging in his heels and will use extreme force to remain in power. Whether Mubarak or people's power will win this face-off will be determined by the position the army takes in the coming days.

A worried Washington and an alarmed Israel are watching the events closely, as Egypt is their closest Arab ally. US military and economic support to the Egyptian government has played an important role in the regime's survival so far. Both the US and Israel will be reluctant to allow more radical alternatives to take charge in Egypt, though there is a real possibility of Islamist parties coming to power. Use of the Suez Canal, so vital to the flow of oil, could come under threat with huge ramifications for global trade.

Many countries, including India, will be tempted to support stability over democracy. After all, if authoritarian rule gives way to democracy, there is a possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood emerging an important player. It is the suppression of people's voices and their democratic aspirations that resulted in the growth of Muslim extremism in the Arab world and in the current explosion of popular unrest. Democracy will bring security and stability over the long-term. Failure to heed the voices on the street now would prove catastrophic for the region, indeed the world.






The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission speaking the language of an industry lobbyist is reason to be alarmed.
Not long ago, a little over 40 years back, farmers would invariably get cheated at the time of the harvest. The traders — wholesalers and retailers — would rip them off. Farmers were paid low prices at the time of harvest, and distress sale was a normal phenomenon, rather than an exception.

It was only after the Green Revolution began in 1966-67 that the government provided farmers with procurement prices and an assured market. Minimum support prices for wheat, rice, cotton and other crops helped farmers earn a remunerative price based on the cost of cultivation. At the same time, a network of mandis created across the country provided an assured market for the farm produce.

It is primarily because of the procurement systems that were built up over the years that food production has been on an upswing, and food inflation has remained within manageable limits.

India hasn't faced the kind of inflation in food prices as many developing countries have in the past, and therefore there is a sense of complacency that prevails. We therefore fail to appreciate the role the two planks of food strategy — procurement price and registered mandis — have played in keeping the famines away.


In the early 1980s I remember visiting Brazil which was then faced with a horrendous 440 per cent inflation. I stood in a line to buy bread in the morning, and there were some 20 people ahead of me. By the time my turn came, bread price had risen three times. In India, it is primarily because of a robust procurement system that food has not only remained within reach of a large section of the population but has also been carried to distant places to be delivered to the poor through the public distribution system.

I am afraid the comfort the nation has enjoyed on the food front will not last long. The Planning Commission, the ministry of agriculture as well as the agribusiness industry is keen to dismantle the procurement structures, and are lobbying for an early opportunity to hand over the mandis to private companies.

I can understand the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry demanding it. But when the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia starts speaking the language of an industry lobbyist there is reason to be alarmed.

Montek had recently called for removing horticultural products — vegetables and fruits — from the ambit of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. He wants all horticulture products such as onions, apples and vegetables to be exempted from APMC laws, and adds: Farmer should be allowed to sell to whosoever he wants to.


This may sound as if the intention is to help the farmers, but in reality this will come at a heavy price for the farmers. To take away horticultural produce from the purview of the mandis, and that too after the 2005 amendment in the APMC Act had allowed the private buyers to bypass the mandis and purchase wheat and rice directly from the farmers, is primarily aimed at killing the procurement system. Although rarely tried, APMC Act has provisions that can keep a check on trade cartels.

It is completely wrong to blame the APMC laws for food inflation. If this is true, than why did the domestic food prices in India remain low in 2008 when the world food prices had hit the roof, resulting in food riots in 37 countries? Even now, global food prices are on an upswing especially that of sugar and oilseed crops. Why are the global prices rising when internationally APMC Act does not exist in any of the major food exporting country?

Let us not forget, in 2006-07, after the APMC Act was amended, companies like Rallis, Hindustan Lever, ITC, Australian Wheat Board and Cargill had purchased wheat directly from farmers. This happened at a time when there was no shortfall in domestic production. But because the companies purchased directly from farmers, the government godowns remained empty. To meet the requirement for PDS, India had imported roughly 8 million tonnes of wheat.

Imported wheat came at a price that was almost double that of the domestic prices. Subsequently, ministry of agriculture warned the private companies to stay away from making direct purchases from farmers. After 2007, private trade refrained buying wheat and rice directly from farmers. If the direct purchase was so good, why did the ministry of agriculture issue a dictat forbidding it?

Buyers in the mandis have to pay on an average of 10 per cent as the mandi transaction tax. This may be a little higher for some vegetables and fruits. The tax collection helps in the maintenance of the mandis. For instance, 70 per cent of the total expenditure of the Punjab government on its mandis comes from the tax collections.

Taking out wheat, rice, vegetables and fruits from the APMC Act means that the mandis will collapse. If the past experience is any indication, private companies will then hold the nation to ransom. And don't forget, this is exactly what happened at the time of the Bengal Famine.








The practice of bacha bazi is known throughout Afghanistan but is particularly notorious in Kandahar.
Afghanistan is signing a formal agreement with the United Nations to stop the recruitment of children into its police forces and ban the common practice of boys being used as sex slaves by military commanders.

The effort by Afghanistan's international backers to rapidly expand the country's police and military forces has had the unintended consequence of drawing many under-age boys into service, the officials conceded.

Stung by Afghanistan's inclusion on the UN's blacklist of countries where child soldiers are commonly used, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, government leaders are expected to sign an undertaking with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the secretary-general's special representative for children and armed conflict, during her visit to Kabul on Sunday, the officials said.

With the agreement on an action plan to combat the problem, the government will for the first time officially acknowledge the problem of child sex slaves. As part of the Afghan tradition of bacha bazi, literally 'boy play,' boys as young as 9 are dressed as girls and trained to dance for male audiences, then prostituted in an auction to the highest bidder.

Many powerful men, particularly commanders in the military and the police, keep such boys, often dressed in uniforms, as constant companions for sexual purposes.
Falsification of papers

UN officials say they believe that there are hundreds of cases of under-age boys in the police, "mostly because of falsification of papers, also bribes, and there's been a big push to get the numbers up," one official said.

Afghanistan hopes that its participation in the action plan will lead to the removal of the Afghan National Police from the list of organisations condemned by the UN for using children in armed conflict. The others in Afghanistan also include the Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Islamic Party, insurgent groups that often use children to hide bombs, and in some cases to act as suicide bombers.

Nato officials have been aware of the recruitment problem for some time, and the former military commander, Gen Stanley A McChrystal, issued an order in 2010 warning troops to be on the lookout for under-age recruits. Nato trainers hope to add an additional 23,000 police officers by next October, part of a planned 42-percent increase in the country's security forces by 2012.

The custom, at least 300 years old in Central Asia, remains notoriously widespread in parts of Afghanistan. The former governor of Kandahar province, Gul Agha Shirzai, an ex-warlord and close ally of the Americans who is now the governor of Nangarhar province, has been seen at many public events with teenaged boys or young men with heavy makeup, although a spokesman for his office has denied that they were bacha bazi.

"The practice of bacha bazi and sexual abuse against boys is also a matter of concern," Radhika said in a report to the Security Council last April. "The general climate of impunity, and the vacuum in rule of law, has adversely affected the reporting of sexual violence and abuse against children."

Radhika found a strong ally in Afghanistan at the influential Ulema Council, the highest religious body in the country, which condemns both the recruitment of children and their sexual abuse as un-Islamic. The head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, also lobbied officials about it, after receiving 4,000 petitions condemning the lack of efforts to end child sexual abuse in the security forces, officials said.

The practice of bacha bazi is known throughout Afghanistan but is particularly notorious in Kandahar. The Taliban originally came to prominence in Kandahar when they intervened in a fight between two pedophile warlords over the possession of a coveted dancing boy. The Taliban also oppose the practice, and banned it when they were in power.

"While in many areas of southern Afghanistan such treatment of boys appears to be shrouded in some sense of secrecy, in Kandahar it constitutes an openly celebrated cultural tradition," a Pentagon consultant wrote in a report on Pashtun sexuality prepared for British and American troops in 2009.


Asila Wardak, the head of human rights issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and one of the authors of the plan agreed to with the UN, said President Hamid Karzai had ordered his government to tackle the issue because he was disturbed to see "Afghanistan put on the black list of the UN".

"There are a lot of measures to combat the sexual abuse of children," she said, including specific provision for the prosecution of commanders found complicit. The problem of bacha bazi, she said, "has existed since time I can remember, but this is the first time the government is taking practical steps against it."







A great deal of pleasure lies in just watching or imagining the proceedings.

'Mind chef' is what I call this particular pastime, because it is all about cooking with the mind and eating with the eyes. This may sound rather strange, but simply put, it is just a matter of following recipes with only your eyes and your ears. With TV shows like 'master chef' and a plethora of richly-illustrated cook-books available everywhere, it is a pursuit that is easily followed and greatly rewarding as well. All you have to do is to watch and follow, or read and imagine.

Food, no doubt, is best appreciated when it reaches the stomach; but a thoroughly enjoyable experience can be had even when it misses its gastronomic goal and stops short at the level of the mind, eyes and ears. Apart from gathering a few new recipes, what, you may be wondering, are the benefits? Let me try and explain.

A great deal of pleasure lies in just watching or imagining the proceedings. Foremost is the fact that you are not required to enter that chamber of endless chores — the kitchen.

Cleaning, cutting, stirring, washing-up — you name it and it all gets done swiftly as the recipe proceeds. There is absolutely no spillage or wastage of ingredients. With a clairvoyant's assurance, the chef promises a spectacular outcome that will prove to be the delight of the family. And voila, that is indeed what happens, right up to the last, colourful topping! A delectable sight to be sure, but a magical moment too, for a vicarious thrill seizes you and you now see the beautiful creation as your very own. You experience a burst of confidence that renders you the master of secret techniques.

Replete with satisfaction, yours now is the 'contented mind that is a continual feast'.
Several other advantages can be counted as well. The procedure leaves no dent on your bank-balance. You have spent nothing on exotic or costly ingredients. Nor have you stood, dragging your feet in slow-moving queues, in order to buy them. Curtailed too are visits to the doctor, as there can be no after-effects in this kind of bingeing. Weight-watchers too can breathe easy — no calories, no fats and no flab.

Quite likely all this sounds like a ticket to a fools' paradise. All the same, it is worth a try. You may well discover that there are great satisfactions to be had on what I would term, imagination's highway to a plate of toothsome treats!







On Sunday, ordinary Indian citizens staged a civil uprising against corruption all over the country. It was Mahatma Gandhi's death anniversary. No political party was involved. Neither the ruling Congress – which is reeling from a series of recent scams – nor the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – which has skeletons tumbling out of its closets in Bangalore – were represented.

Instead, each of the venues of protest saw several hundred to several thousand ordinary citizens turn up on a Sunday to protest against corruption. The organisers were various NGOs, who have come together under the common platform of 'India Against Corruption'. Goa too joined the crusade. Around 1,000 people gathered at Panjim's Azad Maidan in the afternoon heat and marched on the capital's streets in a three-hour show of determination to root out the cancer that is killing India.

The movement has many demands. These are bound to be different in each city that stood up to be counted. But the main demand is strengthening of anti-corruption laws. For too long, politicians and bureaucrats have got away with corruption. While departmental inquiries yield no results, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) at the centre and the Vigilance Departments and Anti-Corruption Bureaus in states are mere puppets in the hands of whichever party is in power.

What 'India Against Corruption' is demanding is the creation of an anti-corruption authority called the Lokpal at the centre, with a Lokayukta in each state, for speedy and effective prosecution of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. At the centre of this demand is a new Lokpal Bill (the existing Lokpal Bill gives the Lokayukta only advisory powers in states). The proposed Bill has been drafted by former IPS officer Kiran Bedi, Former Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh, Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde and crusader for a clean judiciary Adv Prashant Bhushan. Their recommendations will give the Lokpal and Lokayuktas the power to dismiss corrupt officials. The prosecution period will not extend beyond two years.

The Panjim meeting also demanded that all illegal mining be stopped immediately, and for action to be taken against officials involved in the illegal Special Economic Zone (SEZ) land allotments. Altogether, 12 resolutions were passed, including that the Goa Lokayukta Bill, which has been pending for more than seven years, be placed before the people, changed as per their will, and an ordinance promulgated within two months.
As we all know, these demands are likely to be completely ignored. Unless people are willing to fight for them, they are unlikely to see the light of day. So if you are fed up, angry and resentful about our public servants and government servants looting their masters (we the people) at will, don't turn into a cynic. Instead, become a crusader against corruption. Next time there's a protest, spare some time to attend it.



For all those politicians who thought that only the numbers on the floor of the Legislative Assembly could seat or unseat the man in power, here's a new thought. Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa on Monday claimed there was a "conspiracy" to eliminate him through… of all things… "black magic"!

Yedyurappa, who faces a potential criminal case for alleged corruption after Governor H R Bhardwaj sanctioned his prosecution recently, seems to be more afraid of the power of the occult than of the judiciary. Are dissidents in chronically unstable Goa now going to have one more weapon in their formidable political armoury?








In the quarter century I have spent in Goa, I have seen some rapid changes, slight changes, big ones, slow ones and no changes at all. I am reminded about them often, more so when I travel by bus. I could have seen bigger changes walking on our beaches, but – between the incoming tides, watersports, 300 legal shacks, 300 illegal ones, the River Princess, 2,000 beach beds and 6,000 umbrellas – there is hardly any beach left to walk on. What little is left has to be shared with pariah dogs, stray cattle, Lamanis, Telugu ear cleaners, beggars, ice-cream vendors and hordes of tourists.

To get to the beach I need to take at least two Goa buses. A bus journey, 25 years ago, meant crowded cattle class. One heard Konkani voices, abuses, political commentary, spiritual discourses, gossip, slander, philosophy, news and, without fail, Konkani songs over the music system. Today, on the same buses, Goans are gone. Instead of Konkani one hears Marathi, Kannada, Tulu, Malayalee, Tamil, Telugu, Oriya, Bengali, Urdu, Manipuri, Assamese, Nepali, Maithili, Gujarati, Punjabi, Marwari, as well as Hindi and its myriad dialects… To make matters worse these Charlies all have mobile phones, which makes the music system redundant.
Many of them are itinerant labour, taking advantage of the seasonal nature of employment in our mining and tourism industry. During the monsoons they go back home to work as agricultural labourers. They speak survival Konkani with their own accents, and have adapted quickly. One notices this in their attitude. They wait for the buses wherever it suits them, irrespective of where the bus stop is. Knowing the greed of our bus operators, they stop whenever and wherever they want by a wave of their hands.

In 1986, I paid 60 paise to travel from Mapusa to Panjim by cattle class. Today, it costs Rs10 for the same journey in the same cattle class; with the same pushing and shoving, the same stop-wait-start driving, the same reckless speeding between stops. No tickets are issued and no uniforms worn even today. And who can the migrant worker complain to? The bus operator gives two hoots for locals. He takes his cue from the CM, who told Goan protestors: "I don't need your votes."

Between the 'khas admi' and the 'bhaile', the Goan 'aam admi' has become the proverbial meat in the sandwich. From CM to bus conductor, (s)he is treated with contempt and disdain.

The politicians invented vote bank politics instinctively, long before our political scientists discovered it. Go to Moti Dongor and you'll think you've landed in Pakistan. Curchorem/Sanvordem feels like a ghetto transferred, box and dice and all, from Bhatkal. Some parts of Taleigao resemble a locality in Kathmandu.
These guys have monopolised both ends of the economic spectrum. You have the menial labour, and you have the casinos and the fancy hairstyling and 'Ayurvedic massage' joints. Both the latter provide fine cover for traffickers, pimps, prostitutes and politicians. Fortunately, we have a home minister who can assure us that Goa is drug-free…

We Goans have become victims of our own envy and pusillanimity. For example, a big bhatkar's widow who's rolling in wealth has illegally converted her garages into rooms and rented them out to a Nepali family. The apartment she lives in is part of a society in which the rest of the members are absentee landlords minting money in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, the UK, the US and Canada.

The Nepali has turned the garage into a 'dharamshala' for new Nepali migrants till they can find jobs and accommodation. He uses society water for running a laundry in cahoots with the landlady, who gets her pound of flesh. There's nobody to question her or her son, who is a notorious High Court lawyer-cum-scamster. Her other son and his in-laws specialise in violating CRZ rules, running illegal beach resorts and shacks.
This kind of behaviour is replicated thousands of times all over Goa. And then we wonder how the 'bhailes' prosper. They have studied Goans well. They simply leverage our willingness-to-stoop-to-any-level, and make a fast, dishonest buck.

Coming back to our buses, in 25 years fares have gone up by a factor of 17, while diesel prices have gone up by a factor of 8. Fuel costs account for just 50 per cent of bus operating costs. So why are bus fares rising twice as fast as fuel prices? Does anyone care? Our bus operators keep complaining about rising diesel prices. Yet they burn up Rs2 lakh worth of fuel every day, idling their engines at unauthorised stops and bus stands, waiting for customers, in full view of the authorities.

Besides wasting fuel, they cause air pollution and damage their bus engines. But they are not worried because, ultimately, they pass on these costs to the commuter. The same goes for bribes paid in various departments. That is why bus fares increase at twice the rate of fuel price increases. And the 'khaas admi' does not travel by bus. QED.

But why target our bus operators? They take their cue from the administration: 'Jaise Raja, vaise praja' is the name of the game.

A dozen years ago, the Chief Engineer of Goa's Electricity Department filed an affidavit in the High Court saying that 40 per cent of the electricity available to the state earns no revenue, because of what he called transmission and distribution (T&D) losses. He explained that the existing conductors are old, and therefore inefficient. But he failed to mention that half these 'losses' were because of power theft by bulk industrial users in cahoots with his field staff, bureaucrats, technocrats and the power minister. And who do you think makes up for the deficit? The 'aam admi', obviously!

The PWD Chief Engineer, at about the same time, quite shamelessly filed a similar affidavit. He said that only half the water supplied by the PWD was recorded in water meters. The rest, he said, was either given free to poor people through public taps or was lost due to 'leakages'. Like the Chief Electrical Engineer, for some strange reason, he failed to mention large scale water theft with the blessings of his department personnel and the political patronage of the PWD minister.

Thanks to Goans' proclivity for their own little scams, they are quite comfortable with this kind of individual and collective amnesia for all kinds of frauds and scams in the state.

Just imagine, for years 'some people' collected exorbitant parking fees at a non-existent car park in our capital city! I won't be surprised if someone like Veenu Bansal starts renting office space to the Russian mafia inside the Police HQ in Panjim…!







It was so good see Azad Maidan full. At every protest, getting a large enough crowd to make a point is always a problem. But on Sunday the point was more than made – over 1,000 people marched against corruption.
The march was part of a nationwide effort, led by the likes of Kiran Bedi, Swami Agnivesh and Anna Hazare. It was no mere show of strength, the demands were practical: Pass the Lokpal Bill in the next session of parliament. It creates a powerful anti-corruption body called the Lokpal, which is efficient, transparent, and completely independent. To depend on the government to move against corruption is to ask the thieves to close the door after they have finished looting.

The sheer mind-numbing figures of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam have proved to be the tipping point. People across India are disgusted with the sheer scale of corruption. On Sunday, people stood up to say enough is enough – in Goa, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata and elsewhere. For the first time in years, a non-political rally in Goa drew a huge crowd.

Politicians should take note. We are a sending out a clear message that we are sick of the mess you have created; of the way you have looted us; of the way you are raping the state. Especially note; the gathering unanimously resolved that illegal mining be immediately stopped, and those behind it be sent to jail.
I have a personal list of people I would like to see in jail. Heading it are those responsible for reducing the process of creating a Regional Plan into a farce; for shoving in last-minute changes and additions, and for reducing the plan to a tool for various lobbies. This is corruption of the worst order, because those responsible have corrupted the clear will of the people of the state.

Coming a close second are those responsible for illegal mining – the officials who turn a blind eye, the greedy mine owners who would happily swallow the state if they could, and the politicians who support them.
A special cell is reserved for those mine owners who rape the state and then pose as saviours by funding art-and-culture initiatives. I don't know whom they imagine they are fooling.

An entire block is reserved for corrupt government servants. It's thanks to them that children fall sick after midday meals, that over 40 per cent of assistance for the poor vanishes, that only 5 paise in every rupee of government schemes actually reaches the people it is meant for.

That's the problem. If you put all of them in jail, you would run out of space. Corruption is so deep rooted, so part of the system, that to remove it means hacking out huge chunks of that system itself. But if that's what it takes, so be it. India cannot continue the way it is going right now.  The march clearly showed that the imperative for change is upon us. The numbers can no longer be ignored.

Someone once said: "The problem is not just that the politicians and rulers are corrupt; the problem is that the people are corrupt." You see that truth every day. Somebody has an illegal extension in their house, so they say nothing when the Panchayat overrules the Gram Sabha. Someone needs an illegal water connection, so they keep quiet when their neighbour puts up an illegal fence. Trading favours and silent connivance among ordinary folk is the foundation on which the grand scaffolding of corruption stands.

There is one place to start the fight against corruption – at home. Get that permission, even if it takes three months longer than if you just went and buttered the Sarpanch. Refuse to give that bribe, even if it means that your papers will be delayed. Yes, it means inconvenience, extra effort and wasted man hours. But it also means that you are that rare person who personally stands by the truth. Go for that rally for sure, but to really fight corruption, begin right here at home.









Last week, a day after Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh commented on the issue of ''Sangh terrorism'' — a reference to the RSS — another eminent 'secularist', CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, cited ideologies propounded by freedom fighters V Savarkar and BS Moonje to insist that there was nothing new in the ''violent strain'' of Hindutva. He said that there was an urgent need to change the mindset that terrorism is associated with people of only one community, and promised to raise the issue of innocent persons targeted in terror-related investigations in Parliament. The CPM leader was speaking at a day-long conference organized by a civil rights group for highlighting the plight of people who were targeted by security agencies in the wake of terror attacks in which the role of the RSS seems to have cropped up. ''The partition of India happened because the twin radical strains of both Hindutva and Islam were adamant... But despite the fact that India became a secular republic, attempts are being made to convert it into a Hindutva state,'' Yechury said. According to him, there is a history of militant ideology within the RSS and it is wrong to assume that violent tendencies have developed only recently as a reaction to certain provocations. ''The violent strain in Hindutva is very old. The two-nation theory as reminded to us by Digvijay Singh was propounded by Savarkar, who also spoke about militarizing Hindu dharma and Hinduizing all politics,'' he said at the conference in which the Congress leader was also present. ''There is nothing new about these violent tendencies and it is not that such tendencies have developed out of provocation of recent situations... It is wrong to assume that Hindus cannot be terrorists,'' Yechury said. In the light of history, it is important to be careful and to make sure that a particular community (read Muslim community) is not stigmatized and that terrorism is not encouraged by targeting innocent youth after every terror attack, he added. On his part, Digvijay Singh accused BJP State governments of sheltering people affiliated to the RSS and allegedly involved in bomb blasts. Referring to a reported statement of LK Advani, he said, ''Now I want to tell Advaniji that every Hindu is not a terrorist. But why is every terrorist from the RSS?''


Records must be set straight at this point, and the debate is important because it deals with the tendency of many people to besmirch an entire community if some of them are found to be involved in terror activities — a tendency that militates against the kernel of our secular democracy. However, there is need for caution, given the swelling crowd of pseudo-secularists in this country, such as the likes of Sitaram Yechury and Digvijay Singh. This is not to even remotely suggest that the condemnation of people who practise Hinduism and are found involved in terror attacks needs to be suitably moderated. This newspaper believes that terrorism is terrorism and ought to be condemned and fought by one and all, regardless of faith. But what is disturbing is why the Sitaram-Digvijay discourse should be stoic on the terrorism of the SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) or Indian Mujahideen breed. These are jihadi terror groups, backed by the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), that seek to establish an Islamic state in India. Do people like Yechury and Singh want to impress upon the 'secular' constituency that such terror groups are a consequence of Hindu provocation? If the so-called Hindutva is based on any ''violent strain'', it cannot be any doctrine related to the non-absolutist way of life called Hinduism; but if attempts are being made by pseudo-secularists to blow things out of proportion with an eye on election — that is, with an eye on Muslim votes without having to do anything meaningful for Muslims — such mischief must be defeated for the sake of our secular democracy. And yes, despite the sustained atrocities on Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh, why are there no Hindu terror outfits in the two countries, while India is witness to jihadi terror despite the utter freedom that the perpetrators of jihadi terrorism enjoy here? Let there be a debate on this too.






T he autocratic Arab world is seething. It all started with Tunisia showing the door to its despotic ruler, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, ending his 23-old reign. The Yemenis hit the streets a few days back, chanting, ''Yemen is not another Somalia, but another Tunisia.'' Then came the uprising in Ezypt, against the 30-year-old rule of Hosni Mubarak; an alternative in Mohammed El Baradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has emerged there. Across that part of the world, under repressive regimes so far, the wave of protests against the existing order is in fact a spontaneous outburst of the people for the cause of democracy. It is democracy that happens to be their chief aspiration. They themselves want to decide their destiny. In that push for democracy — a people's order — also lies an economic aspiration within the matrix of democracy. These people deserve kudos.







How will the global economy fare this year? Global growth in 2011 might be marginally weaker than that in 2010, but the recovery continues and chances of a double dip in 2011 stand remote. For the emerging economies, this is not going to be that bad, but if the global economy remains subdued and the global trade registers a marginal rise, it is better not to tinker around too many tall claims. It is obviously good news for the fast emerging economies that the IMF has drawn a satisfactory picture. Accordingly, India will be the second fastest growing economy (after China). So far what all such economies are concerned about is the inflation phantom. Fulfilling two simultaneous objectives — growth and taming inflation — is not going to be easy. Though the potentialities of forging ahead is very much there, yet a lot depends on the strategy followed, keeping in view the fact that one cannot control a number of most important fronts at the same time, such as food security, energy security, inflationary spiral, tardy exports growth, oil prices etc.

The world began to emerge from recession at the end of 2009. While the US, Europe and Japan all crawled out of recession, China, India and Brazil all rebounded sharply. The last decade witnessed a shift in the share of global growth between the world's economies. But the major economies have not been able to register a big show. Rather, if a time series analysis is done, one may infer that they have been growing more slowly, whereas geographically large, fast developing, exports-led economies have exhibited a better show.

The BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China) plus other emerging market economies (read Vietnam, South Africa and some other African and South American economies) have been leading from the front as far as economic growth is concerned.  

Despite the shift in the share of global growth away from the US, some commentators now expect a return to robust GDP expansion in the medium term, as developed-world consumption cannot be expected to return to pre-crisis levels, at least until consumers have sufficiently delivered. No doubt, the global economy has emerged from the most severe recession and financial crisis of the post-war period, but banking upon a high dose of additional fiscal and monetary stimulus. As such, plans to manage monetary exit strategies and fiscal sustainability remain uncertain.

What is the writing on the wall? Whither global economy at the beginning of this decade then? Let us scan the situation considering the trends in the recent past. The US' GDP growth in 2011 in particular is all set to support a pace of job creation that will be barely capable of absorbing increases in the labour force and will fail to bring down the unemployment rate significantly. The probability is high that inflation will remain well below the implicit two per cent for quite some time. For the euro-zone (EZ), we might see major fiscal, structural and institutional adjustments that could, in turn, set the stage for future integration and cohesion. As rightly opined, 'The growth divergence will continue, with the EZ periphery still contracting or growing extremely weakly. Coupled with countercyclical liquidity provision, a larger envelope of official resources, a move toward a partial fiscal union, a weaker currency and an increase in domestic demand in surplus.''

Germany has not been faring badly. Rather the German economy has placed so many positive things before us in 2010 itself. A record GDP growth in 2010 is something to take note of. Germany's export-led economic upswing might remain robust in 2011 due to strengthening support from domestic factors, as the traditionally weak private consumption is good in light of highly favourable labour market conditions, rising real wages, still moderate inflationary pressures and buoyant consumer confidence, among others. It is high time that given their substantial exposure to the troubled EZ, banks should take advantage of comparatively favourable economic situation and the positive earnings outlook by bolstering their capital cushions.

The UK has been striving hard to register a better show. After a lacklustre exit from recession in Q4 2009, UK GDP grew strongly in Q2 and Q3 2010. Growth was driven by construction. So why not to expect a modest growth for the UK in 2011, in spite of the existence of a weak consumer and capital spending, additional risks including banking sector vulnerabilities, elevated headline inflation and falling home prices? The ongoing fiscal austerity measures will no doubt affect growth, unemployment and inflation. The Bank of England (BoE) is expected to keep the doors open for further quantitative easing (QE) in 2011.

It would be a grave mistake if pundits do not count on France — Sarkozy's drive for economic recovery will yield fruits in 2011. Still, while domestic demand continues to strengthen, the impetus from net exports will fade significantly. On this score it would be virtually private consumption that would remain the main driver behind economic recovery. Of course, its contribution to economic growth will be below the pre-crisis level in view of fiscal austerity measures, high unemployment, restricted access to finance and declining purchasing power. The French government should display more effort regarding the consolidation of public finances.

So far as the African economies are concerned, it is crystal clear that the aftershocks of the global meltdown have affected them — decline in exports of primary commodities and the relative price of exports, capital inflows, and investment in the infrastructure, on which future growth depends. It is also a fact that government revenues are dwindling ominously, coupled with rapidly rising unemployment. Fears have been expressed rightly from different quarters that the ongoing global rebalancing may negatively affect economic growth prospects in Africa. Short-term policies should, therefore, focus on the challenge for Africa and should not consist simply of ensuring that national economies return to the pre-crisis commodity export-led type of growth.

For the ever dazzling economy Japan, a lot of hope is pinned as it has the accepted skill to deal with cyclical fluctuations over a century. Fiscal stimulus and inventory rebuilding ignited Japan's recovery in 2010. This time, however, Japan is poised for another slowdown as consumer subsidies eat into future demands. No doubt, with inventory rebuilding having run its course and developed markets undergoing balance sheet adjustments, Asia's underlying structural demand for raw materials and capital goods will determine the pace of Japanese exports and GDP growth.

All is not well for the much-talked-about Chinese economy. China achieved a soft landing in 2010. Though there are a number of positives that China's economy has exhibited before the entire world, yet based on the ongoing trends it can be opined that the hangover from China's fiscal and monetary stimulus is beginning to set in, with inflation rising and growth slowing. And naturally, fighting inflation will be the primary goal of monetary policy for at least the first half of 2011, though it is not expected that an excessively restrictive lending quota for the banking sector may be followed as forthcoming policy measures.

We shall deal with the Indian story next week.

Dr BK Mukhopadhyay (The writer, a management economist, is an Associate Professor, NERIM, Guwahati )








US Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut recently announced that he would not be running for a fifth term in 2012.

Some Jews on the Left will be happy to see him go.

"My problem with Lieberman," Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founding editor of Ms. Magazine, wrote recently in the Forward, "is embodied by the nickname his critics have given him: 'Holy Joe.' I think 'holier-than-thou-Joe' would be more precise." Undoubtedly, American Jews of Pogrebin's ideological slant resent the fact that perhaps the most visibly Jewish American politician (Lieberman's 2000 Democratic vice presidency bid made him the first Jewish candidate on a major American political party presidential ticket) has the annoying tendency to land squarely on the side of the conservatives on certain issues.

Particularly discomfiting for Jewish liberals who see a high wall of separation between church and state as the best guarantor of Jews' place in American society, has been Lieberman's consistent call to give religious groups more of a role in the public square. "The Constitution promises freedom of religion, not freedom from religion," Lieberman has said.

Then there is Lieberman's hawkish foreign policy.

Unlike the vast majority of US Jews, he supported toppling Saddam Hussein by launching a war.

In July 2008, the senator from Connecticut ignored a petition organized by the dovish J Street group, signed by 40,000 people, that called on him not to show support for Pastor
John Hagee by attending a conference of Christians United for Israel. Lieberman told the crowd, estimated by organizers at 4,500, "There has been a campaign to stop me, but the bond I feel to Pastor Hagee and to you is much stronger." However, Lieberman's conservatism is only one facet of his complex and courageously non-partisan politics. On many domestic issues Lieberman, a graduate of Yale Law School, seemed to fit Milton Himmelfarb's stereotype of the American Jews who have "the economic status of the white Anglo- Saxon Episcopalians but vote more like low-income Hispanics".

Lieberman provided the crucial 60th vote for
President Barack Obama's health care reform. Other left-wing legislation that received Lieberman's support were the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps workers fight against pay discrimination; the controversial $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which was bitterly opposed by Republicans; and the $34b. unemployment extension bill.

Nor were Lieberman's left-wing positions restricted to economics. Though his hawkish stance on Israel might have dovetailed with that of evangelical Christians, his opposition to barring people openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual from military service did not. Nor did his abortion policy, which, he promised during his short-lived 2004 presidential bid, would make them "safe, rare and legal."

SINCE 1988, when he was first voted into the Senate, Lieberman has managed to strike a unique balance between two very Jewish sensibilities: a compassionate regard for protecting the weak at home, with a hawkish realism abroad.

When he first entered politics, the Republican party was perceived as a party dominated by WASPs who were either anti-Semitic or, at the very least, inclined to discriminate socially and economically against Jews and other ethnic minorities. As one of many Jewish activists who went south to Mississippi in the 1960s to fight for equality, Lieberman identified with the liberal wing of the Democratic party that spearheaded the civil rights movement. This compassion for the weak, for those who suffer discrimination, is rooted in the Jewish tradition to which Lieberman adheres as an observant Jew. Perhaps this is the reason he would like to see a greater role for religion in America's public square as a value-giving cultural asset.

At the same time, Lieberman also reflects a decidedly hawkish Jewish strain.

The historical lessons of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia have taught Jews to advocate an aggressive US foreign policy that actively promotes freedom and democracy abroad. An integral part of this pro-freedom policy is the maintenance of a strong Israel.

To bring together these two Jewish ideals, Senator Lieberman succeeded in rising above a partisan politics that encourages conformity and towing the party line, and discourages independent thinking. In the process he paid a heavy political price, but retained his integrity and provided a role model for future politicians. He will be sorely missed.








The Egyptian multitudes on the streets of Cairo are a stunning sight. With their banners calling for freedom and an end to the reign of President Hosni Mubarak the story these images tell is a simple one as old as time.

On the one hand we have the young, dispossessed and weak protesters. And on the other we have the old, corrupt and tyrannical Mubarak. Hans Christian Andersen taught us who to support when we were wee tots.

But does his wisdom apply in this case?

Certainly it is true that the regime is populated by old men. Mubarak is 82 years old. It is also true that his regime is corrupt and tyrannical. Since the Muslim Brotherhood spinoff Islamic Jihad terror group murdered Mubarak's predecessor president Anwar Sadat in 1981, Egypt has been governed by emergency laws that ban democratic freedoms. Mubarak has consistently rejected US pressure to ease regime repression and enact liberal reforms in governance.

This reality has led many American commentators across the political spectrum to side enthusiastically with the rioters. A prestigious working group on Egypt formed in recent months by Middle East experts from Left and Right issued a statement over the weekend calling for the Obama administration to dump Mubarak and withdraw its support for the Egyptian regime. It recommended further that the administration force Mubarak to abdicate and his regime to fall by suspending all economic and military assistance to Egypt for the duration.

The blue ribbon panel's recommendations were applauded by its members' many friends across the political spectrum. For instance, the conservative Weekly Standard's editor
William Kristol praised the panel on Sunday and wrote, "It's time for the US government to take an active role… to bring about a South Korea/Philippines/Chile-like transition in Egypt, from an American-supported dictatorship to an American-supported and popularly legitimate liberal democracy."

The problem with this recommendation is that it is based entirely on the nature of Mubarak's regime. If the regime was the biggest problem, then certainly removing US support for it would make sense. However, the character of the protesters is not liberal.

Indeed, their character is a bigger problem than the character of the regime they seek to overthrow.

According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion.

When given the opportunity, the crowds on the street are not shy about showing what motivates them. They attack Mubarak and his new Vice President Omar Suleiman as American puppets and Zionist agents. The US, protesters told CNN's Nick Robertson, is controlled by Israel. They hate and want to destroy Israel. That is why they hate Mubarak and Suleiman.

WHAT ALL of this makes clear is that if the regime falls, the successor regime will not be a liberal democracy. Mubarak's military authoritarianism will be replaced by Islamic totalitarianism. The US's greatest Arab ally will become its greatest enemy. Israel's peace partner will again become its gravest foe.

Understanding this, Israeli officials and commentators have been nearly unanimous in their negative responses to what is happening in Egypt. The IDF, the national security council, all intelligence agencies and the government as well as the media have all agreed that Israel's entire regional approach will have to change dramatically in the event that Egypt's regime is overthrown.

None of the scenarios under discussion are positive.

What has most confounded Israeli officials and commentators alike has not been the strength of the anti-regime protests, but the American response to them. Outside the far Left, commentators from all major newspapers, radio and television stations have variously characterized the US response to events in Egypt as irrational, irresponsible, catastrophic, stupid, blind, treacherous, and terrifying.

They have pointed out that the Obama administration's behavior – as well as that of many of its prominent conservative critics – is liable to have disastrous consequences for the US's other authoritarian Arab allies, for Israel and for the US itself.

The question most Israelis are asking is why are the Americans behaving so destructively? Why are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charting a course that will necessarily lead to the transformation of Egypt into the first Salafist Islamic theocracy? And why are conservative commentators and Republican politicians urging them to be even more outspoken in their support for the rioters in the streets?

Does the US not understand what will happen in the region as a result of its actions? Does the US really fail to understand what will happen to its strategic interests in the Middle East if the Muslim Brotherhood either forms the next regime or is the power behind the throne of the next regime in Cairo?

Distressingly, the answer is that indeed, the US has no idea what it is doing. The reason the world's only (quickly declining) superpower is riding blind is because its leaders are trapped between two irrational, narcissistic policy paradigms and they can't see their way past them.

The first paradigm is former president George W. Bush's democracy agenda and its concomitant support for open elections.

Bush supporters and former administration officials have spent the last month since the riots began in Tunisia crowing that events prove Bush's push for democratization in the Arab world is the correct approach.

The problem is that while Bush's diagnosis of the dangers of the democracy deficit in the Arab world was correct, his antidote for solving this problem was completely wrong.

Bush was right that tyranny breeds radicalism and instability and is therefore dangerous for the US.

But his belief that free elections would solve the problem of Arab radicalism and instability was completely wrong. At base, Bush's belief was based on a narcissistic view of Western values as universal.

When, due to US pressure, the Palestinians were given the opportunity to vote in open and free elections in 2006, they voted for Hamas and its totalitarian agenda. When due to US pressure, the Egyptians were given limited freedom to choose their legislators in 2005, where they could they elected the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood to lead them.

The failure of his elections policy convinced Bush to end his support for elections in his last two years in office.

Frustratingly, Bush's push for elections was rarely criticized on its merits. Under the spell of the other policy paradigm captivating American foreign policy elites – anti-colonialism – Bush's leftist opponents never argued that the problem with his policy is that it falsely assumes that Western values are universal values. Blinded by their anti-Western dogma, they claimed that his bid for freedom was nothing more than a modern-day version of Christian missionary imperialism.

It is this anti-colonialist paradigm, with its foundational assumption that that the US has no right to criticize non-Westerners that has informed the Obama administration's foreign policy. It was the anti-colonialist paradigm that caused Obama not to support the pro-Western protesters seeking the overthrow of the Iranian regime in the wake of the stolen 2009 presidential elections.

As Obama put it at the time, "It's not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the US president meddling in the Iranian elections."

And it is this anti-colonialist paradigm that has guided Obama's courtship of the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian regimes and his unwillingness to lift a hand to help the March 14 movement in Lebanon.

MOREOVER, SINCE the paradigm claims that the non-Western world's grievances towards the West are legitimate, Obama's Middle East policy is based on the view that the best way to impact the Arab world is by joining its campaign against Israel. This was the central theme of Obama's speech before an audience dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members in Cairo in June 2009.

Like the pro-democracy paradigm, the anti-colonialist paradigm is narcissistic. Whereas Western democracy champions believe that all people are born with the same Western liberal democratic values, post-colonialists believe that non-Westerners are nothing more than victims of the West. They are not responsible for any of their own pathologies because they are not actors. Only Westerners (and Israelis) are actors. Non-Westerners are objects. And like all objects, they cannot be held responsible for anything they do because they are wholly controlled by forces beyond their control.

Anti-colonialists by definition must always support the most anti-Western forces as "authentic." In light of Mubarak's 30-year alliance with the US, it makes sense that Obama's instincts would place the US president on the side of the protesters.

SO THERE we have it. The US policy towards Egypt is dictated by the irrational narcissism of two opposing sides to a policy debate that has nothing to do with reality.

Add to that Obama's electoral concern about looking like he is on the right side of justice and we have a US policy that is wholly antithetical to US interests.

This presents a daunting, perhaps insurmountable challenge for the US's remaining authoritarian Arab allies. In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, until now restive publics have been fearful of opposing their leaders because the US supports them. Now that the US is abandoning its most important ally and siding with its worst enemies, the Hashemites and the Sauds don't look so powerful to their Arab streets. The same can be said for the Kuwaiti leadership and the pro-American political forces in Iraq.

As for Israel, America's behavior towards Egypt should put to rest the notion that Israel can make further territorial sacrifices in places like the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley in exchange for US security guarantees. US behavior today – and the across-the-board nature of American rejection of Mubarak – is as clear a sign as one can find that US guarantees are not credible.

As Prof. Barry Rubin wrote this week, "There is no good policy for the United States regarding the uprising in Egypt but the Obama administration may be adopting something close to the worst option."


Unfortunately, given the cluelessness of the US foreign policy debate, this situation is only likely to grow worse.








Friday morning, in an east Jerusalem hotel, at a strategic thinking session of Israelis and Palestinians, my attention is divided between a fascinating discussion of local developments and the 20+ "tweets" I am receiving every minute from Egyptians and Egyptian news services about the emerging reality of a new Middle East. I am captured by a strong sense that history is being made as the Egyptian masses leave the mosques after noontime prayers to overturn the regime of Hosni Mubarak and change the face of Egypt and the region.

My heart is with the Egyptian people facing an autocratic regime, whose leaders have denied them basic freedoms and pillaged the wealth of Egypt, transferring much of it to bank accounts abroad and living in palaces overlooking the Nile while millions of citizens live on less than $2 a day.

At the same time, like all Israelis, I feel fear and concern – what will be the future of the peace between our countries? Even though the peace has been cold, it has been stable and has removed existential threats.

I have been in Egypt dozens of times. I have walked the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, where the main demonstrations are taking place. I have never felt threatened or afraid to travel in that country. I have many Egyptian friends from academia, government and the security forces. These people have always demonstrated loyalty to and admiration for the Mubarak regime. In past visits to Cairo, I did witness a few demonstrations against Israel, but they were small – less than 100 people.


But it is quite clear that peace between the Egyptian and Israeli people never emerged. The masses in Egypt hate Israel, and identify strongly with its enemies. But this too is a relatively new phenomenon, deeply influenced by Al-Jazeera and other Arab media, with their pro-Islamic, pro- Hamas positions.

In the minds of the common Egyptian, Israel is a great enemy which continues to deny their Palestinian brothers and sisters their dignity and freedom, threatens the Aksa Mosque, passes racist legislation and, together with the United States, controls the wealth of the world.

Inspired by the people of Tunisia, the Egyptian masses took to the streets. The Mubarak regime has greatly improved the macroeconomic situation, but while the GDP grows steadily, the poor masses become even poorer, while the rich gain more wealth.


The great challenge to any regime in Egypt is simply to feed its people. Every year, 1.2 million are born, and this is by far Egypt's biggest problem. In the West (Israel included) feeding family members requires about 15 percent of a family's income. In Egypt it is above 50%, wages are much lower, and the food markets are much sparser than anything we know.

The people are hungry, angry and fed up with corruption and nepotism, and they've said "enough."

THE MUBARAK regime is finished. Maybe it won't fall today or in the weeks to come, but the Egypt of today is already no longer the Egypt of yesterday. The appointment of Omar Suleiman as vice president, and even a new prime minister and a new government will not meet the demands of the people. The masses have not been led by a single figure or movement; the Mubarak regime "successfully" decimated all legitimate democratic opposition over the years. The only real organized opposition working on the sidelines of the law is the
Muslim Brotherhood.

But in the mid 2000s the Kifayeh (enough) movement emerged – a coalition of democracy advocates, unionists, students and others demanding democratic reform. Kifayeh captured the attention of the world because it was a non- Islamic democratic reform movement willing to take on the regime and demand a place at the table.

But the Mubarak regime acted swiftly, and managed to crush Kifayeh's popular support. Likewise, the Ghad (tomorrow) movement led by democratic reformer Ayman Nour. This liberal democracy party was attacked by the Mubarak regime, which arrested Nour on false changes and managed through the falsification of election results to render the party powerless.

There are additional civil society groups which have worked in the shadows of Egyptian society and which will now struggle to take the main stage, such as the April 6 coalition from 2009.

There is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who has taken center stage in his calls for Mubarak to step down, and has volunteered to head an interim government.

CAN A non-Islamic fundamentalist Egypt emerge from the current revolution? Will the new Egypt honor the peace treaty with Israel? Will the revolution spread to other Middle East countries? What impact will the Egyptian developments have on the Palestinian arena? These are the main questions. No one knows the answers. But the "insights" provided by mainstream Israeli analysts and experts are all bleak and full of fear.

The Israeli mind-set can only see the passing of the Mubarak regime as a tragedy and a victory for the dark forces of radical Islam. They tell us that the Arab masses can't understand democracy. They inform us that Arab countries must have strong leaders because Arabs understand only power and force. They tell us US President Barack Obama is weak because instead of standing behind "his" dictator, he voices support for the masses' calls for reform and democracy, and by doing so is undermining the stability of the region.

Perhaps there is another valid perspective – one that doesn't view the Middle East only in terms of a clash of civilizations but rather in human terms. One that realizes hungry people, denied their basic human rights, will always, under the right circumstances, rise up against corrupt leaders.

There is a legitimate view which understands that those dictators, and people who support them, will always be the enemy of the people living under their harsh regimes.

Yes, Israel is a democracy, but we too have 1.2 million Palestinian citizens living with discrimination, and we control another almost 2.5 million living under our military occupation, who are also denied basic freedoms. These people pose a great risk to our stability and existence.

The lessons we learn from Tunisia and Egypt should not be the need to apply more military might to crush the weak, but the need to understand that the human security they are craving will not be buried or defeated by "loyalty laws," or by investigating and even prosecuting human rights and peace organizations.

The future of Israel is not linked to the corrupt, nondemocratic regimes which we prefer to call "moderate" Arab states, but to the masses of people who are willing to take to the streets to demand their rights. When we understand that correctly, we will make peace with Palestine, we will have real democracy and we will be a lot more secure.

The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information ( and is founding the Center for Israeli Progress (








Thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a pioneering spirit, a love of adventure, a rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, a belief in spreading freedom and democracy – where did that all go?

Science and math. Science and math. President Barack Obama's new mantra is science and math. If only America's students focused on science and math, he told us in his State of the Union address, then we'll be as innovative as China and will no longer have to farm out the building of wondrous handheld gadgets. The gods of science and math will make our economy blossom.

But missing from the president's new, post-midterm vision for America is any mention of the rot in values that is causing our decline. The reason we don't excel in education is not because our schools focus on philosophy and the humanities to the exclusion of science and math, but rather because we are becoming a pack of ignoramuses watching inane TV shows, following the lives of mostly decadent celebrities, and engaging in an endless orgy of consumption. Our problem is not that we read too much Nietzsche and too little astrophysics, but rather that our character is becoming corrupt.

The solution for America is not to raise an army of sterile drones, engineered into productive obedience by a government that emphasizes equations. I have no interest in living in China; communist totalitarianism dare not be our model. Rather, our solution is to reembrace the values that made America great: thrift, hard work, close-knit families, a pioneering spirit, entrepreneurship, a love of adventure, fearlessness, a rejection of indolence, faith-based ethics, a God-centric society, and a belief in spreading freedom and democracy.


Thomas Jefferson knew tons of science and math. So did Benjamin Franklin. But George Washington did not. No historian claims that Abraham Lincoln knew calculus like Einstein. The point is that science and math made some Americans great, but were passed over by others who were equally great.

But what all these men possessed in abundance was a sense of mission. Whether it was a hatred of oppression and tyranny, or a desire to see the dynamic American spirit supplant the ossified European aristocracy, or contempt for brutal institutions like slavery, they all embraced America as a great idea, a living dream, one that could lift men and women and inspire children.

IS ANY of that greatness captured in Jersey Shore or in MTV's new ode to childhood corruption, Skins? Is American exceptionalism evident in the millions trampling each other at the crack of dawn to get 20% off a new HDTV on Black Friday? Was American greatness in evidence at the recent Golden Globe Awards, where the most 'beautiful' among us got up to thank hairdressers and fashion consultants, but not a single star thanked God, with the sole exception of Ricky Gervais, who thanked God for being an atheist? The obsession with celebrity is especially startling. Our founding fathers did not idolize humans. That's what the British, French and Russians did, lifting ordinary mortals to positions of 'divine' grandeur. Rather, the founders idolized God alone – faith in Him was stamped even on our money – and brooked no shallow imitation.

Yes, Mr. President. We need better schools and more accountable teachers. But more than anything, we need new values undergirding the schools, the parents and the teachers. So long as we have books out like Amy Chua's Tiger Mom, which says the only thing that matters is getting your kid into Yale and to play violin at Julliard, we are going to have a nation which, even if it remains wealthy and prosperous, will still be selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic.

OBAMA SURPRISES me. How much science or math does he know? He was elected because he inspired people with oratory rather than engineering. He gave them a renewed vision of American greatness – something that most mathematicians and nuclear physicists would be hard pressed to do. How appalling that the limits of his vision have now come down to simple, shallow materialism.

Without proper values, we will squander whatever wealth we generate. Without proper values, we will produce world-renowned scientists who don't know how to stay married, and who have no relationship with their children. Without proper values, one generation will make all the money and the next will waste it.

Many looked to Obama as the embodiment of a new American dream, one of hope and change. But is this the hope we waited for? The hope that our kids will work on the next iPhone? Was the change we waited for so utterly literal that it refers to coins? I thought the Pilgrims risked drowning because they wished to have the freedom to develop their full godly potential, unencumbered by European prejudice. If it was money they wanted, they should never have left the fleshpots of Europe.

Yes, America is still the wealthiest nation on Earth, thank God, and yes, I like money as much as the next person. But if life is simply about accumulation, and if this great nation embraces the soulless Chinese society as a model, where wealth is not accompanied by a reverence for human dignity and where a family is allowed to make millions but to have more than one child is a forbidden nuisance, then I say their wealth is a curse, a curse which I reject, and proudly proclaim "in God we trust" and "God bless America!"

The writer is founder of This World: The Values Network and has just published Honoring the Child Spirit: Inspiration and Learning from Our Children (Vanguard). Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.








The recent upheaval in the region is a bad omen for Arab dictators. Their nepotistic and heavily corrupt ways not only fall short of the expectations of Arab people. They inflame the good, honorable and truly concerned among the Arabs. Parallel to this is the fact that the so-called peace process continues to flounder, sinking with it the genuine aspirations of Arabs and Israelis.

Recent stormy events that dethroned the Tunisian dictator took the region by surprise. It's the first time in recent memory that an Arab despot has lost power because of regular citizens – not as a result of foreign tanks or a coup d'état. The fact that the Tunisian military behaved honorably, refusing to shoot Arab demonstrators, sealed the fate of the president and his corrupt entourage.

Regrettable as it may be for a young Arab man to set himself on fire in protest against the brutality of Tunisian authorities, Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old fruit seller, set in motion events that Arab dictators will find difficult to contain – giving President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, for example, the most serious challenge in his 31-year rule.

IN JORDAN, we too had marches in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid, Mufraq, Ajlune, Karak and so on in protest against the tightening of governmental fiscal policy.

But there were also larger issues at stake, particularly the general direction of the country and the high-level cronyism that has infested every aspect of society. The wrath of the people was directed against decades of institutionalized nepotism that have reduced Jordan into private fiefdoms.

Yet what is happening in the region will eventually enable Jordan to emerge stronger – bringing the king and country together like never before. For the disinformation propagated by those with vested interests – that the country is not loyal to its king – has now been proven false. Not a single demonstrator chanted against King Abdullah II per se; he is seen as a reformist at heart. Demonstrators in all localities were carrying his portrait, with some security officers, instead of carrying truncheons, distributing free bottled water.

These demonstrations, and the manner in which they were conducted, will have wide-reaching consequences.

The crucial question of Jordanian national identity will now receive due attention. Much of the negative regional spin regarding this issue has recently come from right-wing Israeli elements and their neofascist EU sympathizers – projecting Jordan as a Palestinian state-in-waiting by Dutch MP
Geert Wilders and MK Aryeh Eldad, who even discussed the future of the Hashemite royal family in a recent ad hoc Israeli conference.

GIVEN THE scale of support during recent marches, the king is now fully equipped to become more assertive in forging an all-inclusive national identity that will cement social cohesion – an identity reminiscent of the society his father once built, which thrived on multiculturalism, and with a nuanced political structure that reflected this delicate balance.

Jordan is also likely to become more assertive regionally, and be better able to defend the rights of its citizens of Palestinian origin. This is especially true as its strong alliance with the corrupt Palestinian Authority has discredited the country in the eyes of many Jordanians.

Incidentally, the question of excessive PA corruption and lack of democracy has been fudged internationally – and when I personally raised this with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, I did not feel a sense of urgency in his response.

Jordan's strategic and sovereign rights vis-à-vis the West Bank run particularly deep. What remains obscure is that under the Jericho Conference of December 1948, West Bank delegates unanimously declared the West Bank an integral part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan – even attended and championed by two fiercely nationalistic delegates from my own clan: one was a highly influential arch-ideologue of the Arab Ba'ath Party (Abdullah Al-Rimawi, later Jordan's very radical Foreign Secretary in 1956) and the other was secretary to the military arm of the Palestinian national movement (Dr.Kassim Al-Rimawi, later head of Jordanian parliament in 1967 and Jordan's prime minister in 1980).

Subsequent formal unity was forged in 1950, cemented constitutionally in 1952 – the hallmark of a unified Jordan until 1967 when Jordan lost the West Bank to Israel.

REVOLUTIONS DO not necessarily have to be bloody.

They should be defined by the fundamental changes they bring.

Although it is nearly 10 years overdue, Jordan shall very shortly embark on one; with both its monarch and populace united to forge a meaningfully reformed Jordan – one that is exemplary in the Middle East in its respect for human rights, rejection of nepotism in all its manifestations and assertive in its all-inclusive national identity. Jordan will always be Hashemite – it is the essence of our existential and constitutional makeup.

The writer is a former part-time lecturer in public international law at the London School of Economics, guest lecturer at Cambridge University, course director in the Master's Law Program in Islamic Financial Law at BPP University College, London and author of Raising Capital on Arab Equity Markets: Selected Legal and Juridical Aspects (Kluwer Law International, 2011).







Egypt has been always considered the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. Currently the country is in a crisis that threatens to create a vacuum of power, and which may allow Islamic radicals to gain a stronger foothold. Egypt will very soon find itself with food shortages as a result of the ongoing chaos.

This will only aggravate the current situation, making it even more uncontrollable.

The US has been trying for years to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. The attempts included President Barack Obama addressing the Muslim world after his election in 2009, the use of US media channels such as Al-Hura Radio and Hi magazine, political statements supporting the building of the Ground Zero mosque and the wearing of the Islamic hijab by Muslim women.

None of these measures were effective in ending the negative image of the US.

On the contrary, after a long period of US hatred during Gamal Abdel Nasser's time, the US won the hearts and minds of the Muslim world during Anwar Sadat's presidency by using simple yet effective tactics. One of these was helping to solve the shortage of certain food items during the late 1970s. At that time, Egyptians used to stand in very long queues for hours to get one or two chickens for their families. The relations between US and Egypt improved dramatically as the US was seen providing the people with frozen chickens packaged in the colors of the American flag.

This aid successfully contributed to the creation of a very positive image of the US in the minds of many Egyptians, as their brains linked it to an act of kindness. In memory studies, such links are created via a mental process called the spreading activation model. It was a gift given simply because there was a need, and it was received as an act of friendship.

What the US needs to do in the current crisis is to repeat the same mechanism by sending food packages wrapped in the American flag to the Egyptians. When the chaos and fighting leave the front pages, the next chapter will be anger born of hunger. The US can foresee this and act quickly to provide the needed foodstuffs. If this is done during the current crisis, the US can forestall the next food shortage and food riots, be seen as a good friend who cares for Egyptians despite the riots, and significantly improve its image in many other parts of the Muslim world.

EGYPTIANS TYPICALLY get their monthly salaries at the end of the month (many may not be able to this month due to the chaotic situation), and many people barely survive on a daily income. Any disruption of normal business adds to the difficulty. This makes an American gift of ready-to-eatmeals during this disaster an invaluable tool to win the hearts and minds of many people.

Timing is crucial, as Egyptians might be fighting for food just a few days from now. The signs are already here. This precious and needed American aid can also impede the attempts of Islamists, who may otherwise exploit the food shortage for their benefit. A late reaction or no reaction will be perceived by many Muslims as evidence that the US does not care enough and lets people down in crucial times of need. The benefit to be gained by doing the right thing, not for political gain but simply because America sees the need of the Egyptian people, will create the same positive image that prevailed during the Sadat years.

This is a unique opportunity for the US to raise its stock among Muslim nations by doing what it has always done – coming to the aid of those in need. Saving the people of Egypt from deprivation will do more to restore civility between Islam and America than all the political showmanship offered so far.

The writer is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one-time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a terrorist Islamic organization JI with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawaherri, who later became the second in command of al-Qaida. He is currently a senior fellow and chairman of the study of Islamic radicalism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.







While the Holocaust was "uniquely unique," as Yehuda Bauer puts it, it teaches important universal lessons to be acted upon.

Whenever I write about the Holocaust – the Shoah – I do so with a certain degree of humility, and not without a deep sense of pain.

For I am reminded of what my parents taught me while still a young boy – the profundity and pain of which I realized only years later: that there are things in Jewish history that are too terrible to be believed, but not too terrible to have happened; that Oswiencim, Majdanek, Dachau, Treblinka are beyond vocabulary. Words may ease the pain, but they may also dwarf the tragedy. For the Holocaust was uniquely evil in its genocidal singularity, where biology was inescapably destiny – a war against the Jews in which, as Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel put it, "not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims."

But while the Holocaust was "uniquely unique," as Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer puts it, it teaches important universal lessons. Indeed, I write at an important moment of remembrance and reminder, of witness and warning:

• on the 66th anniversary of the liberation of "Planet Auschwitz" – the most horrific laboratory of mass murder in history;

• on the 66th anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg – Canada's first honorary Israeli – whom the UN called the greatest humanitarian of the 20th century, and who showed that one person can confront evil, resist and prevail, and thereby transform history;

• in the aftermath of the 65th anniversary of the UN which, as former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan said: "emerged from the ashes of the Holocaust" and, as he reminded us, if it "a UN that "fails to be at the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism and other forms of racism denies its history and undermines its future";

• on the 65th anniversary of the Nuremberg Principles, which became the forerunner of international humanitarian and criminal law, reminding us also of the double entendre of Nuremberg – the Nuremberg of jackboots as well as the Nuremberg of judgment;

• on the fifth annual International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

And so, on this International Day of Holocaust Remembrance – on the eve also of the 60th anniversary of the coming into effect of the Genocide Convention – the "Never Again" convention – we have to ask ourselves what have we learned and what must we do?

LESSON 1: The importance of Holocaust remembrance – the responsibility of memory.

The first lesson is the importance of Zachor, the duty of remembrance itself. For as we remember the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah – defamed, demonized and dehumanized, as prologue or justification for genocide – we have to understand that the mass murder of six million Jews and millions of non-Jews is not a matter of abstract statistics.

For unto each person there is a name – unto each person there is an identity. Each person is a world. As our sages tell us: "Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe." Just as whoever has killed a single person, it is as if he has killed an entire universe.

And so the abiding imperative – that we are each the guarantors of each other's destiny.

Lesson 2: The danger of state-sanctioned incitement to hatred and genocide – the responsibility to prevent.

Another enduring lesson of the Holocaust is that the genocide of European Jewry succeeded not only because of the death industry and the technology of terror, but because of state-sanctioned ideology of hatred. This teaching of contempt, this demonizing of the other, this is where it all began. As the Canadian courts affirmed in upholding the constitutionality of anti-hate legislation, "the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words."

These are the chilling facts of history. These are the catastrophic effects of racism.

As the UN marks the commemoration of the Holocaust, we are witnessing yet again a state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide, whose epicenter is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran. Let there be no mistake about it. Iran has already committed the incitement to genocide prohibited under the Genocide Convention.

Yet not one state party to the Genocide Convention has undertaken its mandated legal obligation to hold Ahmadinejad's Iran to account.

Lesson 3: The danger of silence, the consequences of indifference – the responsibility to protect.

The genocide of European Jewry succeeded not only because of the state-sanctioned culture of hate and industry of death, but because of crimes of indifference, because of conspiracies of silence.


We have already witnessed an appalling indifference in our own day which took us down the road to the unspeakable genocide in Rwanda – unspeakable because this genocide was preventable. No one can say we did not know. We knew, but we did not act, just as we knew and did not act in Darfur.

Indifference and inaction always mean coming down on the side of the victimizer, never on the side of the victim. Indifference in the face of evil is acquiescence with evil itself.

Lesson 4: Combating mass atrocity and the culture of impunity – the responsibility to bring war criminals to justice.

If the 20th century – symbolized by the Holocaust – was the age of atrocity, it was also the age of impunity.

Few of the perpetrators were brought to justice. Just as there must be no sanctuary for hate and no refuge for bigotry, there must be no sanctuary for these enemies of humankind. Yet those indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity – such as President Omar al- Bashir of Sudan – continue to be welcomed in international fora.

LESSON 5: The trahison des clercs – the responsibility to talk truth to power.

The Holocaust was made possible, not only because of the "bureaucratization of genocide," as Robert Lifton put it, but because of the trahison des clercs – the complicity of the elites – physicians, church leaders, judges, lawyers, engineers, architects, educators and the like.

Indeed, one only has to read Gerhard Muller's book Hitler's Justice to appreciate the complicity and criminality of judges and lawyers; or to read Robert-Jan van Pelt's book on the architecture of Auschwitz to be appalled by the minute involvement of engineers and architects in the design of death camps.


Holocaust crimes, then, were also the crimes of the Nuremberg elites.


As Elie Wiesel put it: "Cold-blooded murder and culture did not exclude each other. If the Holocaust proved anything, it is that a person can both love poetry and kill children."

Lesson 6: Holocaust remembrance – the responsibility to educate.

In acting on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, states should commit themselves to implementing the declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, which concluded: "We share a commitment to encourage the study of the Holocaust in all its dimensions... a commitment to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to honor those who stood against it... a commitment to throw light on the stillobscured shadows of the Holocaust... a commitment to plant the seeds of a better future amidst the soil of a bitter past... a commitment... to remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity's common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice."

Lesson 7: The vulnerability of the powerless – the protection of the vulnerable as the test of a just society.

The genocide of European Jewry occurred not only because of the vulnerability of the powerless, but also because of the powerlessness of the vulnerable. It is not surprising that the triage of Nazi racial hygiene – the sterilization laws, the Nuremberg race laws, the euthanasia program – targeted those "whose lives were not worth living"; and it is not unrevealing, as Prof.

Henry Friedlander points out in The Origins of Genocide, that the first group targeted for killing were disabled Jews; the whole anchored in the medicalization of ethnic cleansing, the sanitizing even of the vocabulary of destruction.

And so it is our responsibility as citoyens du monde to give voice to the voiceless as we seek to empower the powerless – be they the disabled, the poor, the refugee, the elderly, the women victims of violence, the vulnerable child – the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.

We remember – and trust – that never again will we be silent or indifferent in the face of evil.

May this past International Day of Holocaust Remembrance marked last week be not only an act of remembrance, but a remembrance to act.

The writer is a member of Parliament and the former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is emeritus professor of law at McGill University, and has written extensively on the Holocaust, genocide and international humanitarian law.










One of the symptoms of the severe moral crisis in Israel's media and political system is the use of the courts to determine the outcome of important appointments. This crisis has been turning Israel in recent years into a state at war with itself.

The accusations raised in these struggles are never connected to the post in question, but are reserved as ammunition for a time of need.

The really corrupt figures, who hold senior economic and political positions, are sufficiently sophisticated and hold sufficient rank to evade any accusations. But those who are truly devoted to their work and invest all their talent and energy in serving the nation get caught in the tangle of skulduggery. This causes a terrible injustice not only to them but to the nation and the state, which is struggling for existence.

The Israel Defense Forces has been dealt a critical blow recently from three such injustices, which resonated widely in the public sphere. The first two, the Imad Fares and Moshe (Chico ) Tamir affairs, are similar. Their main characteristic is the self-righteous, grotesque pretense of preserving complete integrity, as though all the other IDF officers were angels who never had a human failing.

The disproportionality and ingratitude toward people who fulfill their duty with excellence, dedication and exemplary self-sacrifice, according to those who testify on their behalf, screams to high heaven. Even the chief of staff who judged them admitted that by forcing their discharge the IDF lost commanders who could make a unique contribution for many years to come.

The offenses in question were not related to the officers' military position at all, and stemmed from an understandable, forgivable human weakness. The proper punishment for them was a fine for the damage incurred to IDF property and a reprimand for trying to evade punishment by submitting a false report about an act of no public interest.

The Yoav Galant affair is more complicated, but the injustice to him, to the IDF and to Israel is immeasurably more serious. Galant, slated to head the IDF, would have done better not to be tempted to use public land for his needs, although he did not exceed the accepted custom in privatized moshavim.

But these things were known and had been done openly. They were even debated in court and rectified a few years later. Nobody saw a need to use them to block Galant's appointment to other senior IDF positions.

Galant proved himself in these positions as a talented, daring commander who takes the lead and as an honest man, whose soldiers and commanders have complete confidence in him. His professional and personal competence to serve as chief of staff is manifest and obvious.

The subversive moves against Galant began only when the time came to appoint him chief of staff, and due to the personal dispute between the outgoing chief of staff and defense minister. The reasons for these moves did not depend on Galant. And when the attempt to slander him in a criminal affair failed, they searched and found a civil offense, which had been rectified already, to destroy his reputation.

The lack of good faith in filing the complaint against Galant at this time, in this context and due to this motivation should have led to its dismissal out of hand. All the more so because the offense had been rectified and the Turkel Committee for vetting senior appointments had accepted Galant's contention that he was innocent and everything had been an honest mistake.

But beyond that, revoking the appointment that was given the right man because of such accusations would constitute a severe injustice. This injustice would cause irrevocable damage to the man himself and even more so to the IDF, Israel and her people, for officers like Galant are among the best of the nations' sons.

The writer is a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University and Israel Prize laureate for Jewish thought.





Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the ongoing events in Egypt by urging that "regional stability and security" be preserved. Israel even asked Western governments to work to save the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

Netanyahu's concern for his Egyptian friend and ally is touching. It also reflects his fear of what will happen if regime change occurs in Egypt and Mubarak is replaced by opponents of the peace with Israel.

But above all, Netanyahu's stance reflects his clinging to the status quo and his instinctive aversion to any change in the Middle East. Israeli foreign policy views the reigning regional order, one of tyrants who remain in power for years, as the lesser evil. Israeli leaders have always preferred to do business with Mubarak and his ilk, on the assumption that they would "preserve stability" and forcibly repress the radical forces seeking change in the region.

This view led Israel to disregard the citizens of neighboring countries, viewing them as devoid of political influence in the best case and as hostile Israel-haters in the worst case. Israel viewed itself as a Western outpost and displayed no interest in the language, culture and public opinion of its immediate surroundings. Integration into the Middle East seemed like a trivial, if not a downright harmful, fantasy. As a result, Israel never prepared for the changes that were occurring behind the sclerotic facade of these countries' rulers.

The revolution in Tunisia and the mass anti-government protests in Egypt demand a shift in the way Israel's leaders see the regional order and Israel's place in it. Instead of seeking refuge in the known and the familiar - the tired claims that "there's no one to talk to and no one to rely on" - Israel's foreign policy must adapt itself to a reality in which the citizens of Arab states, and not just tyrants and their cronies, influence the trajectory of their countries' development.

The time has come to start preparing for a new regional order. Instead of clinging to the old, collapsing order, Netanyahu must seek peace agreements with both the Palestinians and with Syria in order to make Israel a more welcome and desirable neighbor.






"Peace you make with your enemies." This nonsensical, overused slogan, repeated over and over again by the more vocal of the Israeli "peace camp," should, truth be told, be replaced with "peace you make with dictators."

This sad truth comes to mind as we watch events unfolding in Egypt and wonder if our peace treaty with Cairo will hold even if President Hosni Mubarak is toppled.

The ugly facts are that the two peace treaties that Israel concluded so far - the one with Egypt and the other with Jordan - were both signed with dictators: Anwar Sadat and King Hussein.

What's more, the negotiations that for a while held some promise of reaching a peace agreement - with Syria and with the Palestine Liberation Organization - were also conducted with unsavory dictators. Anyone that turned up his nose at these negotiation was reminded that "peace you make with your enemies."

Had the option been open to Israel, Israel would, of course, have preferred to make peace with a democratic neighbor, but that option was never even on the horizon, considering the state of affairs in the Arab world in the years since Israel was established.

The question that Israelis ask themselves at this moment is, if Hosni Mubarak's regime were to be replaced by a democratically elected government in Egypt, would this government continue to maintain the nearly 32-year-old peace treaty with Israel.

Even though territorial concessions by Israel have been touted as the major element of any agreement with an Arab neighbor, actually, two fundamental requirements have always been a necessary condition for Israel.

The first condition was that the agreement should put an end to any further claims on Israel. In other words, that the peace agreement with Israel would constitute the end of the conflict. The second condition was that the Arab signatory have the capability to effectively combat any terrorist activities that might be directed against Israel from its territory.

These are conditions that a dictator, if he so wishes, could conceivably satisfy. His insistence that the conflict has been terminated could be made to dominate the public discourse on the subject in his country, while his police force and intelligence services could be trusted to suppress any terrorist activity that might be directed against Israel.

Sadat's and Mubarak's Egypt met that requirement, as did Jordan under King Hussein and his successor, King Abdullah.

It was rightly assumed during the negotiations with Hafez Assad of Syria and the PLO's Yasser Arafat that they also could meet these conditions. After all, they were both dictators and had shown on occasion that they knew how to wield absolute power when they wished.

It turned out, though, that Assad's territorial demands could not be satisfied by an Israeli government, and Arafat had no intentions of reaching an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli governments have never insisted that they would negotiate only with a democratically elected Arab government. The implicit assumption probably was that it would be easier for a dictatorship to meet Israel's fundamental conditions, but this would be a near-impossible task for a democratically elected Arab government.

So where does this leave us with Mahmoud Abbas? Does he have the authority and capability to bring about an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Any realistic appraisal of his position among the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria and Gaza leads to the conclusion that he cannot meet this condition.

The most obvious indication of this is that he does not speak for the population in Gaza, which is ruled by a "democratically" elected government - Hamas. His position in Judea and Samaria is also tenuous.

As for suppressing terrorist activity directed against Israel, he obviously does not have that capability. Although Abbas hardly passes the test of democratic governance, would we prefer a Palestinian dictatorial regime? Would we wish that on the Palestinians?

It looks like the first test of the influence of democratic rule in the Arab world on the peace process may come in Egypt. We will be waiting in suspense to see the results if democracy actually breaks out.






It's been a long time since one of my op-eds received as many responses as "Behold, the latest Queen of England" (Haaretz, January 25 ). I evidently struck several nerves by stating some things that many people are well aware of but reluctant to say.

Knesset members called to add details. So did ordinary citizens who have been burned. All had unpretty stories about her behavior. MKs related that she doesn't even say hello to them, nor will she eat with them. "She scorns us all, thinks she's above us, that next to her we are nothing," was the gist of their comments.

It is important to address the character of MK Shelly Yachimovich, because she thinks she is fit to lead the Labor Party. But good interpersonal relations, teamwork and telling the truth are basic requirements for political leadership, and she simply doesn't meet any of them.

One caller referred me to a piece posted about a year ago by Moshe Krief, a veteran left-wing social activist ("The princess and the pea," on the Haokets website, in Hebrew ). Krief wrote that he had invited Yachimovich to participate in the Yokne'am Conference, which was slated to address important social issues. Yachimovich agreed, but canceled a day before the conference opened after discovering that she would have to share the stage with MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ), Yokne'am Mayor Simon Alfasi and a well-known educator from the north.

"Yachimovich conditioned her appearance on speaking before everyone else and being above everyone else," Krief wrote. "The princess wouldn't speak alongside everyone else or sit on the stage with everyone else ... It suddenly became clear that honors and control of the stage were the focus of her interest."

I called Krief. He remembered the incident well. "I was deeply shocked," he said. "What is this lust for honor? I asked her to reconsider, but Shelly wanted the stage solo."

This incident is stunningly similar to the embarrassing incident I described in these pages last week: Yachimovich refused to take the stage at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya until all the other speakers had left it. Where did she acquire this snobbishness?

Responding to my piece in her blog, Yachimovich crowned herself Israel's foremost warrior against economic concentration. But the truth is that long before she had even heard of this issue, Haaretz's business section (today TheMarker ) was waging a long, stubborn battle against economic concentration, the big monopolies and the tycoons who control large swathes of the economy, and for competition and the decentralization of economic power.

I was the paper's business editor at the time and I frequently denounced the phenomenon of economic concentration in my articles. Yachimovich doesn't understand that a market economy and free competition (in which I believe ) require the decentralization of economic power, a war against economic concentration and the dissolution monopolies. She does understand taking populist positions so that absolutely everyone will love her, from Peace Now to the settlers to the ultra-Orthodox.

In her blog, Yachimovich misquotes my article and writes things that have no connection to reality. For instance: "Most Israelis earn NIS 20.70 an hour." What country is Yachimovich talking about? Sudan? Egypt? Cuba? North Korea?

Israel has 2.9 million salaried employees, and their average wage is NIS 8,189 per month. Of these, about 30 percent work in the public sector, where the minimum wage is virtually nonexistent because employees enjoy so many perks. The low wage Yachimovich cited does exist in parts of the private sector, in small workplaces and for people who work through employment agencies. But according to studies by the Bank of Israel, only around 400,000 workers - about 14 percent of all salaried employees - earn this little.

Something certainly must be done about them: The minimum wage must be raised, and it must also be enforced. But where did she get "most of Israel's citizens"? Whence this evil demagoguery? Whence this ignorance and superficiality?" Is all fair in the fight for another headline?

In his article, Krief termed Yachimovich "the new princess." But since then, a year has gone by, and the princess has grown up and become a queen - "the Queen of England."






It's been a long time since one of my op-eds received as many responses as "Behold, the latest Queen of England" (Haaretz, January 25 ). I evidently struck several nerves by stating some things that many people are well aware of but reluctant to say.

Knesset members called to add details. So did ordinary citizens who have been burned. All had unpretty stories about her behavior. MKs related that she doesn't even say hello to them, nor will she eat with them. "She scorns us all, thinks she's above us, that next to her we are nothing," was the gist of their comments.

It is important to address the character of MK Shelly Yachimovich, because she thinks she is fit to lead the Labor Party. But good interpersonal relations, teamwork and telling the truth are basic requirements for political leadership, and she simply doesn't meet any of them.

One caller referred me to a piece posted about a year ago by Moshe Krief, a veteran left-wing social activist ("The princess and the pea," on the Haokets website, in Hebrew ). Krief wrote that he had invited Yachimovich to participate in the Yokne'am Conference, which was slated to address important social issues. Yachimovich agreed, but canceled a day before the conference opened after discovering that she would have to share the stage with MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima ), Yokne'am Mayor Simon Alfasi and a well-known educator from the north.

"Yachimovich conditioned her appearance on speaking before everyone else and being above everyone else," Krief wrote. "The princess wouldn't speak alongside everyone else or sit on the stage with everyone else ... It suddenly became clear that honors and control of the stage were the focus of her interest."

I called Krief. He remembered the incident well. "I was deeply shocked," he said. "What is this lust for honor? I asked her to reconsider, but Shelly wanted the stage solo."

This incident is stunningly similar to the embarrassing incident I described in these pages last week: Yachimovich refused to take the stage at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya until all the other speakers had left it. Where did she acquire this snobbishness?

Responding to my piece in her blog, Yachimovich crowned herself Israel's foremost warrior against economic concentration. But the truth is that long before she had even heard of this issue, Haaretz's business section (today TheMarker ) was waging a long, stubborn battle against economic concentration, the big monopolies and the tycoons who control large swathes of the economy, and for competition and the decentralization of economic power.

I was the paper's business editor at the time and I frequently denounced the phenomenon of economic concentration in my articles. Yachimovich doesn't understand that a market economy and free competition (in which I believe ) require the decentralization of economic power, a war against economic concentration and the dissolution monopolies. She does understand taking populist positions so that absolutely everyone will love her, from Peace Now to the settlers to the ultra-Orthodox.

In her blog, Yachimovich misquotes my article and writes things that have no connection to reality. For instance: "Most Israelis earn NIS 20.70 an hour." What country is Yachimovich talking about? Sudan? Egypt? Cuba? North Korea?

Israel has 2.9 million salaried employees, and their average wage is NIS 8,189 per month. Of these, about 30 percent work in the public sector, where the minimum wage is virtually nonexistent because employees enjoy so many perks. The low wage Yachimovich cited does exist in parts of the private sector, in small workplaces and for people who work through employment agencies. But according to studies by the Bank of Israel, only around 400,000 workers - about 14 percent of all salaried employees - earn this little.

Something certainly must be done about them: The minimum wage must be raised, and it must also be enforced. But where did she get "most of Israel's citizens"? Whence this evil demagoguery? Whence this ignorance and superficiality?" Is all fair in the fight for another headline?

In his article, Krief termed Yachimovich "the new princess." But since then, a year has gone by, and the princess has grown up and become a queen - "the Queen of England."



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



At a recent gathering of House Republicans, lawmakers made it clear that they intend to hold an increase in the nation's debt limit hostage to major spending cuts.

Clearly, the Republican aim is to demonstrate their fiscal prudence, as well as their new political power in the Republican-controlled House. Don't be fooled. When it comes to debating the debt limit the facts matter little. It's all about posturing.

The debt limit is a cap set by Congress on the amount the nation can legally borrow. The current limit, $14.3 trillion, will be hit sometime this spring. Unless Congress raises it before then, the government will have to resort to temporary tactics, like freeing up money to pay current bills by delaying payments to federal retirement funds. The longer a standoff endures, the worse the choices are. For instance, the government might defer other payments, like tax refunds, as it husbands resources to avoid a default on the public debt.

All that would surely be disruptive and could be disastrous if the nation's creditors began to doubt America's reliability.

The debt limit is a political tool, not a fiscal one. First enacted in 1917, it was intended to make lawmakers think twice before voting for tax cuts and spending increases that run up the debt. Unfortunately, it has never worked that way. Federal debt is high despite the limit because lawmakers repeatedly enter into expensive and recurring obligations without a plan to pay for them — in recent years that includes two wars, the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and the Medicare drug benefit.

As the costs pile up, the debt limit must be increased — not to make room for new spending, but to raise money to pay for past commitments.

It is, of course, utterly disingenuous to vote for policies that drive up the debt and then rail against raising the debt limit when the bills come due. It is akin to piling up purchases on credit and then threatening to bounce the payment check. But that is what Republicans are saying they will do unless they win deep cuts in future spending in exchange for a debt-limit increase today. So much for fiscal prudence.

A better approach would be to pay for legislation when it is enacted, generally by raising taxes or cutting other spending. The new House leadership has rejected that approach when it comes to their No. 1 priority: cutting taxes.

They have passed new budget rules that allow taxes to be cut without offsets to replace the lost revenue. The new rules also forbid raising taxes to pay for major new spending, like Medicare expansions, requiring instead that any such spending be offset by cutting other programs. That is a recipe for fiscal irresponsibility.

House Republican leaders have not said which spending cuts they will demand for a debt-limit increase. They know that voters don't want to hear about losing college aid, environmental safeguards or investor protections. They may try to call for overall spending caps that would let them take credit for spending reductions without explaining or defending particular cuts.

What is known is that deep immediate spending cuts would be unwise at a time when the economy and so many Americans are still struggling. President Obama and Congressional Democrats need to push back by challenging House Republicans on the hypocrisy of their new budget rules and by making it clear that playing games with the debt limit is irresponsible.





Every White House since the days of President Jimmy Carter has had a political affairs office to assess the effects of policy on voters and make sure that presidents are aware of the nation's political temperature. The office has grown in power alarmingly with each presidency, but the most recent Bush administration became so consumed with Republican politics that it crossed a legal red line, according to a new federal investigative report.

The report, by the federal Office of Special Counsel, found that the Bush White House routinely violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits most federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity. It depicts the Bush Office of Political Affairs, run by Karl Rove, as virtually indistinguishable from the Republican Party. And it makes a strong case that the office — shut down by the Obama administration last week just before the report came out — can no longer co-exist with the law.

Under Mr. Rove, scores of executive branch employees, including cabinet secretaries, were put to work helping Republican Congressional candidates. The report cites several memos to high-ranking cabinet department officials ordering them to attend meetings about the 2006 midterm elections. At the meetings, government officials were told to think of ways to shape federal policies to help Republican candidates and were strongly urged to volunteer on individual races. Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services were ordered to show up at a political meeting with "your pompoms on."

There were scores of these briefings, most during the workday and attended by employees on taxpayer-financed salaries. "In light of the content of the PowerPoint slides and the testimony of many witnesses, these briefings created an environment aimed at assisting Republican candidates, constituting political activity within the meaning of the Hatch Act," the report says.

The White House even tracked the personal time of high-ranking appointees to see who was volunteering for campaign work and how much. Overt political travel was often classified by the White House as government business and paid for by the Treasury.

The Office of Special Counsel does not have the power to discipline former government employees, and it is not clear that any law enforcement agency will look into prosecution. But the message of the report is clear to this administration and those in the future.

The Office of Political Affairs should be abolished, as a House committee recommended in 2008. There is nothing wrong with having White House officials assess the political atmosphere and enact policies with an eye on re-election, but the Hatch Act should be revised to explicitly prohibit officials from working on their party's political campaigns while drawing government salaries.

The report did not examine policy under President Obama, though it noted that only one federal agency has rules to prevent spending taxpayer money on political travel.





Late Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York sent a radical bill to cap property taxes to the State Senate. It would devastate school districts in the state. The bill, which exempts New York City, was passed by the Senate on Monday.

But Democrats in the Assembly are rightly startled by a provision that would require a 60 percent majority vote for local property tax increases that exceed 2 percent. That would give people who oppose school spending more voting power than people who support it. It would also leave struggling school districts with no increase if voters rejected an increase twice within a given year.

The bill would also do away with the traditional school budget vote and require districts to simply ask voters to support a tax increase. That would make new school financing virtually impossible in many of the poorest communities. Unlike New Jersey's tax cap, this one does not have exemptions for health care, pensions, debt service or increased enrollment. Mr. Cuomo has said he wants to change state law to lift these onerous and costly requirements for local districts. That should come first.

The governor's motives for bringing out this bill now are unclear. Does he want political points for introducing a tough bill that can never go anywhere? If so, that is one of the oldest ploys in Albany and certainly at odds with Mr. Cuomo's promise of a new New York.

Does he want to force Democrats in the Assembly to approve the bill after he and the Senate have given their approval. The Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, who can stall or block anything if he wants, should not be talking about compromise, as he has been. But, rather, he should block any Senate bill along these lines.

The entire charade fails to focus on the real hazards tucked in the 74-page bill. A property tax cap, by any standard, is a blunt instrument. It mainly squeezes poorer districts where schools lose teachers or advanced programs because voters reject a tax increase. Wealthier districts more often vote for property-tax increases to pay for better schools or other services, thus widening the gap between schools in poorer or richer areas.

Mr. Cuomo's tax cap effort is a bad bill that promotes a bad idea. People do need property-tax relief but not another state law that makes matters worse.






The austerity cuts in Britain — part of the government's overly harsh deficit-reduction plan — have provoked many outcries, but few quite as eloquent as a speech given recently in Oxfordshire by Philip Pullman, author of the highly regarded trilogy "His Dark Materials." The subject was the Oxford county council's plan to stop financing 20 of its 43 libraries — because of cuts in national financing — and hope that they would be run instead by volunteers.

This is a speech worth pondering for its defense not just of the value of reading but of "the open democratic space" enshrined in public libraries. Libraries, he said, remind us that "there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about ... things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight."

Mr. Pullman is most brilliant in his attack on what he calls "the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism." What he registers so forcibly is the fact that a hidebound, conservative approach to deficit reduction creates a social austerity far more harmful than the deficit itself.

The problem is not peculiar to Britain. In the past few years, nearly every city and town in America has seen library closures and sharp reductions in staffing, hours and financial support. With so many state governments rejecting tax increases and vowing to balance their budgets solely with spending cuts, things are likely to get worse.

These days, anyone who rises in defense of libraries — or any other essential government service — is asked to say what should be sacrificed instead. As Mr. Pullman said in his remarks, referring to the leader of the Oxford county council, "It's not our job to cut services. It's his job to protect them."







As I stand in Tahrir Square on Monday trying to interview protesters, dozens of people surging around me and pleading for the United States to back their call for democracy, the yearning and hopefulness of these Egyptians taking huge risks is intoxicating.

When I lived in Cairo many years ago studying Arabic, Tahrir Square, also called Liberation Square, always frankly carried a hint of menace. It was cacophonous and dirty, full of crazed motorists in dilapidated cars. That was way back at a time when the then-new Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, talked a good game about introducing democracy.

Now the manic drivers are gone, replaced by cheering throngs waving banners clamoring for the democracy they never got — and by volunteers who scrupulously pick up litter, establish order and hand out drinks and food.

"I'm going home right now to get food and drinks for the demonstrators," one middle-age man, Waheed Hussein, told me as he hopped into his car near Tahrir Square shortly after curfew fell. While talking to me, he allowed a hitchhiker to jump in, and then the hitchhiker decided to bring back supplies as well. With great pride, the two new friends explained to me that this would be their contribution to the birth of an authentic Egyptian democracy.

In short, Tahrir Square has lost its menace and suddenly become the most exhilarating place in the world.

Yet one thing nags at me. These pro-democracy protesters say overwhelmingly that America is on the side of President Mubarak and not with them. They feel that way partly because American policy statements seem so nervous, so carefully calculated — and partly because these protesters were attacked with tear gas shells marked "made in U.S.A."

The upshot is that this pro-democracy movement, full of courage and idealism and speaking the language of 1776, wasn't inspired by us. No, the Egyptians said they feel inspired by Tunisia — and a bit stymied by America.

Everywhere I go, Egyptians insist to me that Americans shouldn't perceive their movement as a threat. And I find it sad that Egyptians are lecturing Americans on the virtues of democracy.

"We need your support," pleaded Dr. Mahmood Hussein, a physiology professor. "We need freedom."

Ahmed Muhammad, a medical student, told me: "Egyptian people will not forget what Obama does today. If he supports the Egyptian dictator, the Egyptian people will never forget that. Not for 30 years."

The movement is snowballing. Protesters scorn what they see as baby steps toward reform by Mr. Mubarak, when they insist that he must make a giant leap — away from Egypt.

As I see it, Mr. Mubarak's only chance to stay in power is if he orders a violent crackdown, and if the Army obeys him. Neither is inevitable, but both, sadly, may still be possible. The mood was just as thrilling at Tiananmen before the soldiers opened fire in 1989.

It's troubling that Mr. Mubarak still seems to be digging in. State television doesn't even show images of Tahrir Square, and it emphasizes the chaos of recent days — perhaps trying to create a pretext for a crackdown.

And, yes, there is a measure of chaos. In my old neighborhood of Bab el-Luq, as in much of Cairo, young men stand at every intersection all night to man checkpoints aimed at stopping looters and criminals. The young men are armed with clubs, machetes and, occasionally, guns, and they carefully checked my ID. I passed through dozens of these checkpoints.

None of these armed men asked for money or were hostile; indeed, when they found out that I was an American journalist, they were as friendly as a gang of young men holding machetes and clubs can be. But it's still true that armed roadblocks every 100 yards is not a sign of normal city life.

All of this presents the White House with a conundrum. It's difficult to abandon a longtime ally like Mr. Mubarak, even if he has been corrupt and oppressive. But our messaging isn't working, and many Egyptian pro-democracy advocates said they feel betrayed that Americans are obsessing on what might go wrong for the price of oil, for Israel, for the Suez Canal — instead of focusing on the prospect of freedom and democracy for the Egyptian people.

Maybe I'm too caught up in the giddiness of Tahrir Square, but I think the protesters have a point. Our equivocation isn't working. It's increasingly clear that stability will come to Egypt only after Mr. Mubarak steps down. It's in our interest, as well as Egypt's, that he resign and leave the country. And we also owe it to the brave men and women of Tahrir Square — and to our own history and values — to make one thing very clear: We stand with the peaceful throngs pleading for democracy, not with those who menace them.







I wonder if sometime around 50 years ago a great mental tide began to sweep across the world. Before the tide, people saw themselves in certain fixed places in the social order. They accepted opinions from trusted authorities.

As the tide swept through, they began to see themselves differently. They felt they should express their own views, and these views deserved respect. They mentally bumped themselves up to first class and had a different set of expectations of how they should be treated. Treatment that had once seemed normal now felt like an insult. They began to march for responsive government and democracy.

I've covered some of these marches over the years in places like Russia, Ukraine and South Africa. While there are vast differences between nations, the marchers tend to echo certain themes — themes we are hearing once again in the interviews that reporters are doing in Cairo.

Protesters invariably say that their government has insulted their dignity by ignoring their views. They have a certain template of what a "normal" country looks like — with democracy and openness — and they feel humiliated that their nation doesn't measure up.

Moreover, the protesters tend to feel enormous pride that they are finally speaking up, even in the face of danger. They feel a surge of patriotism as the people of their country make themselves heard.

This quest for dignity has produced a remarkable democratic wave. More than 100 nations have seen democratic uprisings over the past few decades. More than 85 authoritarian governments have fallen. Somewhere around 62 countries have become democracies, loosely defined.

The experiences of these years teach us a few lessons. First, the foreign policy realists who say they tolerate authoritarian government for the sake of stability are ill informed. Autocracies are more fragile than any other form of government, by far.

Second, those who say that speeches by outsiders have no influence on places like Egypt have it backward. The climate of opinion is the very basis of the revolt.

Third, for all the pessimism and nervousness that accompanies change, most countries that have experienced uprisings end up better off. We can all think of exceptions, like Iran, but we should greet these events with eagerness and hope.

Fourth, while the public hunger for dignity is unabated, the road from authoritarianism to democracy is rocky and perilous. Over the past few years, the world has experienced a "freedom recession" with more governments retreating from democracy than advancing toward it. For outside powers, the real work comes after the revolution — in helping democrats build governments that work.

The other thing we've learned is that the United States usually gets everything wrong. There have been dozens of democratic uprisings over the years, but the government always reacts like it's the first one. There seem to be no protocols for these situations, no preset questions to be asked.

Policy makers always underestimate the power of the bottom-up quest for dignity, so they are slow to understand what is happening. Last week, for example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the Egyptian regime was stable, just as it was falling apart.

Then their instinct is to comfort the fellow members of the club of those in power. The Obama administration was very solicitous of President Hosni Mubarak during the first days of the protests and of other dictators who fear their regime may be next.

Then, desperately recalibrating in an effort to keep up with events, they inevitably make a series of subtle distinctions no one else heeds. The Obama administration ended up absurdly calling on Mubarak to initiate a reform agenda. Surely there's not a single person in the government who thinks he is actually capable of doing this. Meanwhile, the marchers heard this fudge as Obama supporting Mubarak and were outraged.

The Obama administration's reaction was tardy, but no worse than, say, the first Bush administration's reaction to the uprisings in the Baltics and Ukraine. The point is, there's no need to be continually wrong-footed. If you start with a healthy respect for the quest for dignity, if you see autocracies as fragile and democratic revolts as opportunities, then you'll find it much easier to anticipate events.

The Working Group on Egypt, co-led by Michele Dunne and Robert Kagan, has outperformed the U.S. government by miles. For months, they've been warning of Mubarak's fragility. As the protests started, they issued a smart and concrete set of policy recommendations.

Over the past decades, there has been a tide in the affairs of men and women. People in many places have risked their lives for recognition and respect. Governments may lag, and complications will arise, but still they will march. And, in the long run, we should be glad they do.







EVEN if the protests shaking Egypt subside in the coming days, the chaos of the last week has forever changed the relationship between the Egyptian people and their government. The anger and aspirations propelling a diverse range of citizens into the streets will not disappear without sweeping changes in the social compact between the people and the government — and these events also call for changes in the relationship between the United States and a stalwart Arab ally.

President Hosni Mubarak must accept that the stability of his country hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully to make way for a new political structure. One of the toughest jobs that a leader under siege can perform is to engineer a peaceful transition. But Egyptians have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.

Ushering in such a transformation offers President Mubarak — a great nationalist ever since his generation of young officers helped their country escape the last vestiges of British colonialism — the chance to end the violence and lawlessness, to begin improving the dire economic and social conditions in his country and to change his place in history.

It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge "fair" elections, as he did on Saturday. The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.

Further, he must guarantee that the election will be honest and open to all legitimate candidates and conducted without interference from the military or security apparatus and under the oversight of international monitors. The Egyptian people are demanding wholesale transformation, not window dressing. As part of the transition, President Mubarak needs to work with the army and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government as soon as possible to oversee an orderly transition in the coming months.

President Mubarak has contributed significantly to Middle East peace. Now it is imperative that he contribute to peace in his own country by convincing Egyptians that their concerns and aspirations are being addressed. If he demonstrates leadership and accomplishes those goals, he can turn the Arab world's most populous country into a model for how to meet the demands for reform engulfing the region.

Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America's past tolerance of the Egyptian regime. It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. And make no mistake, a productive relationship with Egypt remains crucial for both us and the Middle East.

To that end, the United States must accompany our rhetoric with real assistance to the Egyptian people. For too long, financing Egypt's military has dominated our alliance. The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked "Made in America" fired at protesters, United States-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo. Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt, as well as guarantee that American military assistance is accomplishing its goals — just as we are trying to do with Pakistan through a five-year nonmilitary assistance package.

The awakening across the Arab world must bring new light to Washington, too. Our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism. Instead, the best way for our stable allies to survive is to respond to the genuine political, legal and economic needs of their people. And the Obama administration is already working to address these needs.

At other historic turning points, we have not always chosen wisely. We built an important alliance with a free Philippines by supporting the people when they showed Ferdinand Marcos the door in 1986. But we continue to pay a horrible price for clinging too long to Iran's shah. How we behave in this moment of challenge in Cairo is critical. It is vital that we stand with the people who share our values and hopes and who seek the universal goals of freedom, prosperity and peace.

For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy. Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy.

John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.






IN his State of the Union speech last week, President Obama talked about why things like high-speed rail and faster Internet connections were critical to American prosperity. But he left out the fastest, safest mode of transportation available: aviation.

It may be hard to imagine flying as anything other than a nightmare of packed planes, crumbling airports, canceled flights and increasingly invasive security. But these are all signs of how far our system has fallen. In fact, of all the transportation options available, aviation is the one with the greatest potential to improve the economy and Americans' well-being — though it will take major new investments to get there.

From 1975 to 2005, while global gross domestic product rose 154 percent and world trade grew 355 percent, the value of air cargo climbed 1,395 percent. Today, more than one-third of all goods by value, some $3 trillion, is carried in the bellies of planes. These goods are the high-tech, high-value products that Americans want to make — clean-energy technology, electronics and biomedical devices — and they are key to the president's goals of doubling exports and revitalizing our economy.

What's more, air travel remains ever more vital to American workers. The transportation analysts Kenneth Button and Roger Stough found that the presence of an airline hub in a city increased the local high-tech work force by an average of 12,000. Another study concluded that each flight from Los Angeles to Europe or Asia created 3,126 jobs, totaling $156 million in wages.

True, there's always telecommuting. But high-speed Internet hasn't diminished the need for highly skilled workers to fly, because meeting face-to-face matters more than ever when the products are ideas and the employees are spread across international borders.

Of course, some analysts predict that a return to $140-a-barrel oil would put a crimp on the airline industry, if not ground it altogether. But aviation growth doesn't correlate to rising oil prices. Rather, it's about expanding economies: oil prices have tripled in nominal terms since the start of the Iraq war, yet the annual number of passengers worldwide has risen 43 percent since 2003. In the global economy, speed trumps costs.

The problem is that aviation in America is slowing down. For decades, even as demand grew, we failed to expand runways, upgrade technology and build larger terminals. New York's three airports, which suffer some of the worst delays in the country, cost travelers $1.7 billion annually in lost time alone. Similar stories abound across the country.

America may not see the advantage to such investments, but China and India do. Both are experiencing annual aviation growth rates as high as 20 percent as their growing middle classes take to the skies. And they are building hundreds of new airports to connect their once-obscure, now-booming cities to each other and their neighbors, not to us.

Indeed, the rest of the world is interacting via air like never before. The number of visitors to China from the Middle East, Africa and Latin America quintupled from 2000 to 2007; not coincidentally, China's exports to the Arab world soared to $60 billion from $6 billion. America is, in other words, getting cut out.

We need to do three things to improve air travel and forge new links overseas.

The first step is to upgrade our air-traffic-control system, which dates back to the 1930s. The government must finally switch from radar to the G.P.S.-based system known as NextGen, which lets planes fly via satellite signal instead of following radar beacons, saving time and fuel, which in turn increases airport capacity.

According to Alaska Airlines, which demonstrated the technology last year at its Seattle hub, a G.P.S.-enabled system could save 2.1 million gallons of fuel at an airport annually and cut carbon emissions by 35 percent.

We also need to treat our airports as strategic federal investments, rather than local spending efforts. O'Hare International Airport, for decades the largest in the world, is a primary reason that today Chicago has a higher G.D.P. than South Africa. But O'Hare, like many American airports, desperately needs more and longer runways. Unfortunately, there is not enough federal commitment to ensure they are built, leading to time-consuming political and legal battles. Earlier this month United and American Airlines sued Chicago to stop a $3.4 billion expansion at O'Hare, fearful they would be stuck with some of the bill.

So far, though, we've made only tentative steps in the right direction. Last fall President Obama pledged to repair 150 miles of runways around the country. He must follow through on that, but he must also ensure that aviation receives its fair share from the proposed national investment bank.

Finally, to help protect airlines from oil price spikes (and potentially crushing carbon taxes later on), we need to make investments in high-grade biofuels. The technology exists — a California company called Solazyme has already sold jet fuel refined from algae to the Navy — but low-cost, high-volume production does not. As in other areas of green technology, federal involvement is critical to get the market moving.

President Obama is absolutely correct when he says that exports are vital to American prosperity. But without significant new investments, the exports of the future — from innovative ideas to high-end electronics — will be left sitting at the departure gate.

Greg Lindsay is a co-author of the forthcoming "Aerotropolis: The Way We'll Live Next."








When it comes to energy, the United States is too often the nation of "can't." Can't drill for oil in new areas offshore. Can't build a new generation of nuclear power plants. Can't raise gasoline taxes to discourage the use of imported oil. Can't move quickly to site new offshore wind plants.


What the nation can do is limp along with a status quo energy policy that takes many energy decisions out of Americans' hands and weakens national security and the environment. More than half the oil Americans use is imported — a vulnerability underscored by the ongoing tumult in Egypt. Electricity production relies heavily on coal, which exacts a heavy toll on the global climate.


Congress and the president spend far more time talking about these problems than solving them, but occasionally they get it right. One of those times was in 2007, when then- President Bush signed an energy bill that, among other things, raised car mileage standards and took aim at an extravangantly inefficient household item: the light bulb.


The best way for government to boost energy efficiency isn't to micromanage by picking winners and losers, a job better suited to free-market innovation. It is to set a reasonable standard — miles per gallon or light per watt, for example — and let the market sort it out. That's what Congress did in 2007.


Americans are already reaping the benefits of higher-mileage vehicles, but a rebellion is brewing against the new standard for more efficient light bulbs, which takes effect next New Year's Day. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., complained in a response to President Obama's State of the Union address that the government "now tells us which light bulbs to buy." A group of House Republicans has introduced a bill to repeal the standard.


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.


That would be a mistake. The familiar incandescent bulb is a 125-year-old design that's handy and cheap but a huge waster of electricity. Roughly 90% of the juice that goes to a typical bulb generates heat, not light. The new rules require bulbs to be at least 25% more efficient, starting with 100-watt bulbs. Incandescents can't do that, so they'll begin to disappear.


There's a huge payoff for this. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that fully implementing the new lighting standards would make it possible to avoid building 30 new power plants and cut CO2 emissions by 100 million tons a year. But what will Americans switch to?


The most common alternative now is the compact fluorescent light (CFL), the spiral bulb that uses far less electricity than incandescents. It costs two to four times as much as an old-fashioned bulb but lasts five to 10 times as long —a big saving for consumers and country.


CFLs aren't perfect. Some people don't like the light they give off, the delay before they reach full brightness or the extra care required because CFLs contain tiny amounts of mercury.


Even so, millions of early adopters are perfectly happy with them because they reduce electricity bills. But light bulb makers know that some people hate CFLs, so manufacturers have produced an alternative: a halogen bulb that looks just like an incandescent and produces similar light but meets the new standard. You can buy them today.


The evolution won't stop there, which is the virtue of unleashing market forces. Manufacturers are working on next-generation LED bulbs that last roughly four times as long as long-lived CFLs. They're wildly expensive now — as much as $30 to $40 or more for a single bulb — but the price inevitably will drop.


Some of this innovation would have happened without the new law, but not as much, or as quickly. Faced with deadlines and a market for their new products, manufacturers intensified efforts to develop better bulbs.


It would be a shame to undo that progress — and produce yet another energy "can't."







Voters sent a message in November that it is time for politicians and activists in Washington to stop interfering in Americans' lives and manipulating the free market. The light bulb ban is a glaring example of that frustration.


When I introduced the BULB Act (Better Use of Light Bulbs Act — HR 91) with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Rep. Michael Burgess, and 12 of our Republican colleagues, it wasn't designed as an attack on energy conservation. It was to defend personal freedom.


People don't want Congress dictating the lighting they can use. Traditional incandescent bulbs have been brightening the night since Thomas Edison created the first one in 1879. They are safe, cheap and reliable.


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.


This de facto ban has nothing to with public safety because unlike lead paint, leaded gasoline and asbestos, the old-fashioned light bulbs in your home pose no danger.


It is a different story for the most prominent alternative, compact fluorescent lights, or CFLs. They are more expensive, contain hazardous mercury, and recently The Wall Street Journal reported that their promised longevity is exaggerated by almost 33%. Tests by an electric company in California show the CFLs have higher burnout rates in areas where lights are turned on and off frequently, such as bathrooms. Then there are consumer complaints that they emit a light that is annoying and in severe cases even gives them headaches.


So why force them on the American people?


Industry experts say new and improved energy efficient bulbs are in development — lights that cost less, produce more tolerable light and contain less mercury. That's great! Consumers should be able to buy them if they choose to, but the government shouldn't manipulate the market by eliminating the competition.


Even the