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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EDITORIAL 02.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month february 02, edition 000745 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



































































































































1.      BIG LEAP

































































2.      LHC ON 'DAVIS'





















3.      DOING IT FOR OURSELVES          














































Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution that saw the ouster of President Zine El Abiden Ben Ali appears to have triggered a chain reaction in both the Maghreb and the Mashreq that could bring about a tectonic shift in the balance of power within Arab countries. As massive protests in Egypt and to a lesser extent in Jordan and Yemen show, the Arab street is in ferment and the Arab palace is rudely shaken. Rulers who for decades have been complacent in their firmly held belief that the ruled would never dare raise their voice in protest or express dissent are now scrambling to salvage a fast unravelling situation that could change the profile of Arabia on either side of Suez forever. King Abdullah of Jordan, a moderniser and a steadfast ally of the US, faced with mounting Islamist ire, has promptly sacked his Government and appointed a new Prime Minister whom he has authorised to negotiate 'political reforms' with opposition groups. Unlike many Arab states, Jordan has regular elections, though they are far from free and fair, but the King has the right to appoint a person of his choice as the Prime Minister. This absurdity, though legitimised by the Constitution of Jordan, has long riled opposition groups, especially the Islamists who are the best organised and use faith to mobilise support, which is no different from Islamist tactics in other Arab states. It remains to be seen whether King Abdullah can yet pacify his critics. In Yemen, the rulers remain unmoved, although how long they can hold out is anybody's guess. We can be sure that Islamists in Algeria are closely watching the developments in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen and biding their time to strike. Lesser Emirs have ordered their treasuries to open their purses and hand out dole to the masses, hoping this will act as a placebo. In Saudi Arabia, 'reformists' are waiting on the margins: They have long held the House of Saud guilty of pursuing 'reforms' and want greater absolutism in faith and public affairs that would hark back to the centuries gone by.

The point which should not get swamped by televised images of popular unrest is that the change that is being clamoured for in the Maghreb and the Mashreq will necessarily propel these societies towards modernity as we in the free world understand it. Despite their public avowal of democracy, freedom and dignity, the Islamists are not known to believe in either tolerance of liberalism, leave alone secularism. Unlike Islamic Iran, an Islamist state need not be overtly harsh and unrelenting, as Turkey under its Islamist dispensation has shown, but it can use the instruments of a democratic state to its advantage to fashion a society, polity and economy that are sharia'h compliant. The worst case scenario for Egypt — as also Jordan if King Abdullah's gambit fails — is the country's descent into chaos and anarchy that would suit the Islamists fine. In which case, we could be looking at the birth of a clone of Sudan. The best case scenario is the Islamists coming to power through an interim arrangement and then legitimising their rule through elections followed by a regime no different from that in Istanbul. The consequences of the former would be horrendous for an ancient land and its proud people. Those of the latter would be marginally better. It's not a question of degrees but one of time.







With 'authorities' at the phoney Tri-Valley University in California now pointing fingers at two Indian students, one of whom also ran a consultancy firm that supposedly handled its international admissions, a mammoth scam involving at least 1,500 Indians, a network of conniving education agents and a fake university that was essentially a front to provide illegal work visas to foreign nationals, now stands exposed. The university has been shut down since January 19 when US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided its premises and termed it a 'sham' university while several Indian students registered there are now being interrogated and a few of them, who have been found guilty of major violations of US visa regulations, have been shackled with ankle monitors. But instead of getting distracted by demonstrations at the US consulate in Begumpet to protest against the 'injustice' and 'humiliation' meted out to 'naïve' students whose 'bright futures' now supposedly hang in the balance, we should look at the facts. For one, radio collars are by no measure 'inhuman', as Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna claimed on Sunday. Instead, the monitoring device is a good alternative to incarceration that allows the suspect freedom of movement as officials further investigate the crime they are accused of. It is also standard procedure and does not imply guilt — a fact that Mr Krishna seems to have realised on Tuesday when he sought to make amends by pointing out that only 12 to 18 students among more than a lakh Indians studying legally in the US have been affected.

More important, let us not be fooled into believing that the 'naïve' students were all duped by education agents when they well knew what they were getting into. There were several red flags, such as outrageous promises of immediate approvals for Curricular Practical Training and Optional Practical Training (initial steps towards the coveted work visa) and bad reviews on online forums, but these were ignored by those looking for a shortcut to the immigration process which is typical of Indians who believe laws are meant to be violated. Additionally, we must recognise the fact that illegal immigration is a major crime in most countries, though it may be the norm in India. Indeed, the US is right in dealing with the matter with a firm hand: Just because we have failed to secure our borders does not mean we should expect the same lax standards to be followed by other countries. However, we should have a system in place to prevent such scams. The new Bill that is to be introduced is a laudable effort, as education agents and agencies need to be regulated and be held responsible. Also, the Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs should play a more proactive role.









Notwithstanding Beijing's clever talk on relations with New Delhi, the fact remains that China will leave no stone unturned to contain India in order to dominate Asia.

Along with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the China factor (perhaps for the first time) crept into the Kashmir discourse last week at a London conference attended mainly by the India-bashing, India-baiting Kashmiri diaspora. It was the Mirwaiz, who during Friday prayers, first mentioned that as China holds portions of Jammu & Kashmir, it is a stakeholder in the Kashmir dispute. The Mirwaiz has met Chinese officials abroad — the last time it was Director of Foreign Affairs Ying Gang at the Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva in 2009. He has welcomed China's stapled visa policy for Jammu & Kashmir which, ironically, was the reason he could not visit China.

On a cold and frosty day in London, Kashmiris kept going round and round the Mulberry bush till it came to China when they asked: Why is India envious of China-Pakistan friendship?

The China-Pakistan all-weather strategic alliance against their common adversary India is at least 50 years old and results in mutual benefits. China has nurtured Pakistan with nuclear and conventional weapons, including missiles, and international and diplomatic support to try and wean it away from the US. China supported Pakistan in its 1965 and 1971 wars against India and aided insurgencies in our North-East. China is the only country that does not wag a finger at Pakistan over terrorism. In the UN Security Council, Beijing blocked the naming of Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h as a terrorist organisation. Of all the P5 leaders who visited India in 2010, China's Prime Minister Wen Jia Bao was the only one to bracket his visit with Pakistan.

Whenever Pakistan is in trouble its leaders rush to Beijing. "China is like going home," Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari said during a visit to China in December 2010, adding "there is an internal romance with China. We are in love."

China needs Pakistan to keep India tied down in the region for access to the Indian Ocean and to mineral-rich Afghanistan once American and Nato troops leave. It wants to integrate Pakistan economically with its western Xinjiang region and with Islamabad's help contain the separatist Uighurs movement. China does not acknowledge nuclear and missile proliferation to Pakistan. Chinese scholars tell Indians: "Yes, we are responsible for Pakistan's nuclear capability. But that was before we signed the NPT. It has not happened since then… but if it has, we are sorry for it."

China's involvement in Jammu & Kashmir is part of the larger China-India rivalry but integral to China's grand design to access the warm waters of the Indian Ocean through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Pakistan. The Khunjerab-Gwadar strategic corridor has immense potential if it can be realised. China occupies 43,180 sq km of Jammu & Kashmir — 5,180 sq km of Shaqsgam Valley ceded by Pakistan in 1963 in violation of the Karachi Agreement (1949) and UNCIP (1950), and 37,350 sq km annexed in late-1950s in Ladakh through which it built the strategic West-East link to Tibet through Aksai Chin. Territorially India holds 45 per cent, Pakistan 35 per cent and China 25 per cent of Jammu & Kashmir.


China's seizure of Aksai Chin and Pakistan gifting Shaqsgam Valley gave China a voice on Jammu & Kashmir. Its position has oscillated between calling for plebiscite to neutrality depending on the play of China-India relations and China's domestic comfort levels. On Jammu & Kashmir, it says (or used to say) that it will deal with it after New Delhi and Islamabad have resolved the issue.

Chinese words and deeds changed visibly in 2008 after abandoning the policy of 'lying low and biding time' due to its economic miracle and impressive military modernisation. India's own strategic partnership with the US and its Look East policy which Beijing sees as encirclement of China are new drivers of the rivalry when China's aim is to dominate Asia.

Beijing wants to alter ground rules for the India-China border talks. By excising 1,500 km of border in Jammu & Kashmir and reducing it from 3,488 km to 2,000 km, it is challenging India's claim that the State is an integral part of India. It has already reneged on the agreed political parameter of 'not disturbing populated areas' in the eastern sector. By introducing stapled visas for Jammu & Kashmir and not Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, refusing visa to the Northern Army Commander, aggressive behaviour along the Line of Actual Control and deploying Chinese engineers and PLA in Gilgit-Baltistan, China is upping the ante by ending its neutrality and challenging India's sovereignty over Jammu & Kashmir, mostly likely trying to 'trilateralise' a bilateral dispute. The idea is to further delay the resolution of the border dispute till China becomes so strong that it can dictate the terms of settlement. This has been the trend over the last three decades despite India's repeated pleas for introducing 'a sense of urgency' while China counsels patience and invokes history.

Indian officials label the intrusive policy shift as a covert position since China's overt stance, they say, has not changed. By lopping off 1,550 km of the border they cannot remove the presence of our troops, they add. China refrained from commenting on last year's violence in Srinagar unlike Iran which noted that Kashmiris were 'fighting for their independence'. Mr Wen Jiabao's remarks while in New Delhi last year on India and Pakistan resolving differences through dialogue and in Islamabad to leave traditional conflicts aside and focus on economic cooperation are used to support the 'no-shift factor' in China's overt policy.

The Chinese wizardry in quotations is legend. Mr Wen Jiabao in 2004 said, "China and India have enjoyed friendly relations over 2,000 years or 99.9 per cent of total time of our interaction. In terms of conflicts, the conflicts between our two countries only lasted two years or less than 0.1 per cent of total time. Even in case of conflicts we could always turn swords into ploughshares."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on the eve of Mr Wen Jiabao's visit, said that in the last five years he had met China's President Hu Jintao and the Premier close to 20 times. But there is little to show for it. Earlier he had noted that China was entering South Asia in a concerted manner. The recent arrest of Chinese spies and revelations about Beijing reopening its links with insurgents in the North-East as well as Maoists expose the Chinese.

Mr Wen Jiabao may say conflict between the two countries lasted only 0.1 per cent of the time. But 99.9 per cent of it has been war by other means by Beijing.








A lawsuit has been filed in the US against the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage by Pakistani jihadis in which American citizens also died. It remains to be seen what happens next in the case. Meanwhile, Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, has demanded that the Government of Pakistan should represent him in the US courts. Which way will Islamabad decide?

While the death sentence awarded to Amir Ajmal Kasab in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case does the rounds in the Bombay High Court, the wheels of justice on 26/11 seem to have pretty much stalled in Pakistan. Interestingly, a curious controversy has arisen in Pakistan in relation to a lawsuit filed in the US on behalf of the victims of 26/11 who were American citizens. In the dock over that lawsuit in the US are Shuja Pasha who is the head of the ISI and also Hafiz Saeed who is the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h, the front organisation for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. In what must be seen as a mockery of the international ban on JuD and the global designation of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba as a terrorist outfit, you had Hafiz Saeed petitioning the Lahore High Court for the Pakistani state to defend him in the lawsuit that has been filed in the US.

It is anybody's guess at this time if the lawsuit in the US would actually see either Shuja Pasha or Hafiz Saeed standing in the dock. However, the judicial activity in the US has had a side effect in the US media. ProPublica, a US based new age media outlet, has over the last few months published some of the most extensive accounts on the background events leading up to the November 26, 2008, Mumbai attacks. The details published by ProPublica are noteworthy for two reasons. They highlight the role played by ISI officers at various stages during the planning and execution of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks. Second, they also describe for the first time the key personality in Pakistan — Sajid Mir, who was handling David Headley, the American Pakistani quadruple agent who has been charged by a Federal Court in the US with coordinating the logistics for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

ProPublica's profile of Sajid Mir is significant for a variety of reasons. Before the Headley arrests in 2009, little was known of Sajid Mir beyond the scanty revelations by a French court in a case involving a Lashkar-e-Tayyeba recruit, Willie Brigette. Before the Headley arrests much of the Indian narrative on key Lashkar-e-Tayyeba personnel was limited to two kinds of profiles. The first was of individuals who were above the ground and identified publicly like Hafiz Saeed and Abdul Rehman Lakhvi. The second kind was of individuals who were known mostly by what appear to be aliases with no details of their real identity. These aliases included amongst others most notably Azam Cheema, Abu Al Qama and Yusuf Muzammil. The name Sajid Mir was mostly absent in the Indian narrative on key Lashkar-e-Tayyeba personnel.

ProPublica describes Sajid Mir to have born sometime in the mid to late-1970s. He is also described as having been born of an Indian Muslim who migrated to Pakistan. Sajid Mir is believed to have spent his formative years in West Asia and to have taken to militancy during his late teens. The profile in ProPublica is quite indepth on Sajid Mir's role in the planning of 26/11 and on the events after 26/11 leading up to David Headley's arrest. It describes his various aliases as Abu Bara (Father of Bara), Uncle Bill, Sajid Bill, Wassi and Ibrahim. A recurring question through ProPublica's account on Sajid Mir is the ambiguity on whether he was an ISI officer and consequently a Major in the Pakistan Army.

There is, however, an intriguing gap in ProPublica's narrative on Sajid Mir from the time of his initiation in to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba at the age of 16 to the events after 9/11 when he began recruiting foreigners for the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The ProPublica report talks of an undated arrest of Sajid Mir by the Dubai police and a subsequent thanks to an intervention by the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. ProPublica also quotes a report compiled by India's National Investigation Agency of the Headley interrogation that Sajid Mir was born in Lahore and had two brothers and two sisters.

The reference by ProPublica to the arrest in Dubai is intriguing for the parallels with another narrative of a similar arrest in Dubai and a subsequent release after Lashkar-e-Tayyeba intervention.

On May 20, 2003, the Indian Express in New Delhi carried a story by Tushar Srivastava titled 'Ansari wanted to eliminate Delhi ACPs'. The story was about Aftab Ansari who is currently on death row in India for the 2002 terrorist attack on the American Center in Kolkota. In that story Aftab Ansari who was then in prison in Kolkota was accused of having sent SMSs to his associates in Dubai directing them to carry out targeted assassinations of specific Delhi Police officers. In the same story is an account of an arrest in Dubai of Aftab Ansari's brother-in-law Tahir by the Dubai Police. Aftab Ansari is quoted in that story as having told interrogators that his brother-in-law Tahir was subsequently released by Dubai Police after an intervention by Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's Azam Cheema upon the payment of a certain sum of money.

Little is known of Aftab Ansari's brother-in-law Tahir beyond two scanty reports and several stray references to him. The most definitive account of Tahir comes from a story in The Hindu dated September 21, 2008 by Praveen Swami titled 'Indian Mujahideen linked to organised crime'. In this story are details of how Aftab Ansari travelled to Pakistan on a fake passport after his release bail from Tihar Jail in the late 1990s. Aftab Ansari is described as having married a Pakistani Citizen whose brother Tahir it is said was with Ansari in Tihar Jail on terrorism related charges in Jammu & Kashmir. Other stray media references to Ansari's matrimony and Tahir refer to Ansari's wife being based in Karachi, her family's base in Rawalpindi, her brother Tahir as Aftab Ansari's cell mate during the 1990s. Praveen Swami also writing in The Hindu on Aftab Ansari's arrest in 2002 had referred to his brother-in-law Tahir as serving time in Tihar, in the present tense.

It cannot be definitively said if Sajid Mir of 26/11 was Aftab Ansari's brother-in-law Tahir who participated in jihad in Jammu & Kashmir during the 1990s. However the Karachi Project has always been described as the ISI's project to leverage underworld elements of Indian origin based in Karachi. No individual signifies the nexus between the underworld, ISI sponsored Islamist terror and Indian origin terrorist outfits better than Aftab Ansari. Amir Raza Khan, who has been described as Indian Mujahideen's point man in Pakistan, was closely associated with Aftab Ansari. If indeed the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's Sajid Mir is Ansari's brother-in-law, it could complete the picture on the Karachi Project.


As ProPublica concludes, it is likely none of those who really sponsored 26/11 will ever be brought to justice. But it is important to know the whole truth. It is unfortunate that to date the most extensive accounts of the background events to 26/11 come from the American media. A full accounting of all the facts related to Pakistan sponsored Islamist terror events in India must come from the Indian state. It is never too late for a commission along the lines of the 9/11 Commission to go into 26/11 and all the events leading up to it. The partisan political atmosphere in New Delhi, however, does not offer much hope of that happening anytime soon.







The Election Commission must ensure that all voters in West Bengal, including those in trouble-torn Darjeeling, are able to participate in the Assembly election without fear of reprisals. Not to do so would be a pity and a shame

Manipulation of public opinion is a straight political game; it is intrinsic to the functioning of electoral democracies. When it produces bizarre expectations that undermine the very structures of governance then the only conclusion to be drawn is that the purpose was deliberately mischievous.

Like other institutions that have been manipulated and so damaged, the Election Commission is sadly becoming a party to the mischief of twisted political competitiveness. Having expressed its concerns about the situation in West Bengal that implied that the conditions were not conducive to holding free and fair elections, the EC went a step further and sent off a team of deputies to survey and assess the ground conditions.

The mischief has been done. The fat is in the fire and titillating stories of ruling party brutality and intimidation have been recorded. It hardly matters that the visiting team of officers was on a busy tour that was only sound and fury and signified nothing. Nobody in West Bengal, not even the party in the dock, namely the CPI(M), dares to describe it as a silly extravagant gimmick. Everyone seems to believe that the EC will, through its overriding powers, rectify the ground conditions to deliver a free and fair election.

While enthusiastic believers in the Trinamool Congress creed are being led to conclude that the EC is the panacea for all that ails the election process in West Bengal, the CPI(M) is ranting about the 'unprecedented' nature of the initiative. Neither is acknowledging that the EC is powerless to rectify anything till such time as the elections are officially called.

Ensuring free and fair elections is the job of the EC. To convert that authority into something larger is playing a smoke and mirror game that encourages the idea of a superior power that can discipline a delinquent Government. This is a dangerous idea. To plant the thought that there is a big brother that can wield the stick against those who offend is to suggest to the gullible that greater power resides outside the regular system of governance.

By nurturing the idea of the EC as a supra power, greater than the authority of Government, the political class is disturbing the equilibrium that exists between the legislative and the executive powers. Strange ideas are doing the rounds in Kolkata; intellectuals, strong of rhetoric and weak on facts, believe that what the EC effectively enjoys the same power as the election mechanism in Bangladesh, where a caretaker Government is installed before an election is held. There seems to be little respect for the fact that the overriding powers of the EC do not come into play until the elections are called.

Nobody any longer admits, because the political class does not want to admit it, that the overriding powers of the EC are not equal to overriding the existence of the regime in power. This gets worse as swaggering teams of officials zip across the West Bengal countryside to take stock of the 'situation'. Meetings with 'locals' in zones of political conflict are held, meetings with State police and State administration are organised. In other words a spectacle is arranged to beguile the voter into believing whatever their particular political persuasion decrees.

Like any travelling band of over-privileged tourists in India, those sent off for inspection of a political war zone by the EC are being extended every service because the political class is complicit in building up the event in different ways. The Trinamool Congress wants to present the inspection tour as a scathing indictment of the Government structures in West Bengal, whereas the CPI(M) wants to present the inspection tour as a political attack.

The fact of the matter is that since the EC has no business with the West Bengal administration till the elections are called, the high profile tour is an extravagant way of conveying a message. The message is that the EC lacks confidence in the operating systems that conduct the elections in West Bengal. Given that the principal Opposition party, the Trinamool Congress also lacks confidence in the operating system, the conduct of the elections becomes a cause for contention. Given that the EC's current exercise is viewed with suspicion by CPI(M)'s leadership, the contention has simply intensified. In other words, the unprecedented and the abnormal has added to the volatile political situation in West Bengal.

Governor MK Narayanan's visit to Netai in West Midnapore where seven persons were slaughtered in an allegedly CPI(M) mounted assault and Jhalda, where seven Forward Bloc persons died in a Maoist mounted assault, has merely added more fat to the raging political fire. Political contention has helped the Maoists remain strongly active.

By focussing attention on the war zones where parliamentary political parties are engaged in a turf war, attention is being diverted from the see-saw success of the joint security operations against the Maoist. As proof of its presence and strength despite the joint security forces, the Maoists killed one agricultural labourer on the eve of Mr Narayanan's visit to West Midnapore. The Belatikri killing was a clear signal that the Maoists have not been licked.

The EC in order to do its job well needs to figure out how it will deal with two sorts of law and order problems that will interfere with the holding of free and fair elections. Instead of staging road shows, it needs to be able to ensure that all voters everywhere in West Bengal, including Darjeeling, can participate in the election without fear of reprisals.







President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is facing the toughest challenge to his 30-year rule but he is not the only dictator in the world not to read the signals on his radar. His own unarmed people have risen in revolt against him but that is not the way he sees it.

What is happening in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez strongly resonates the "people power" revolt in the Philippines 25 years ago, which forced President Ferdinand Marcos, his family, friends and close relatives to hastily flee the country. Ferdinand Marcos, otherwise a shrewd politician, also failed to read the signals. When people rose in revolt against him, he saw it as a conspiracy much the same way as Mr Mubarak sees it today.

President Mubarak's son and some close relatives have reportedly fled the country and it seems unlikely he will survive the largely peaceful demonstrations on the streets of Cairo and other cities.

The events that are unfolding in Egypt bear uncanny resemblance to what happened on the streets of Manila in February 1986 to which I was a witness as Reuters' correspondent there.

Twenty-five years later, it is easy to tell what mistakes Ferdinand Marcos was making. He refused to talk to his opponent, Corazon Aquino, whose husband Benigno was shot dead at Manila airport in 1983. She fought the presidential election against Ferdinand Marcos and claimed victory when it became clear the vote-count was fraudulent.

There was no election in Egypt but Mr Mubarak has so far showed no inclination to talk to Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is emerging as the leader of the masses in the country.

Ferdinand Marcos refused to talk to Aquino even when hundreds of thousands of people came out on the streets of Manila, declaring victory for her and asking for his resignation. His reaction was to order troops and tanks to the streets of Manila to face hundreds of thousands of unarmed protestors.

How do you shoot and kill almost a quarter of a city's population doing nothing more than chanting slogans? You don't. And the armed forces of the Philippines did not either. Instead, they shook hands with protestors, allowed them to climb on to tanks and broke bread with them. It became a picnic.

Almost exactly the same thing is happening in Cairo. Unarmed protestors are out on the streets, sharing food with soldiers. Right now it is a picnic. Protestors are riding Army tanks and television images showed at least one Army officer shouting slogans against the Government.

We will know which side the troops are on once they are ordered to shoot and kill.

President Mubarak is showing restraint and so did Ferdinand Marcos. Mr Mubarak knows (and Ferdinand Marcos knew) that mass killing of innocent citizens would leave him so friendless in the world that he might not even find a safe sanctuary anywhere.

When Ferdinand Marcos tried some hard tactics, they backfired on him pretty badly. On February 22, 1986, his Defence Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Head of Constabulary, General Fidel Ramos, defected and took shelter at Camp Aguinaldo in Manila, the headquarter of the armed forces where they had some loyalists.

From there they issued calls to their friends to come to their aid. Filipinos poured out on streets as if it were a national festival. Two days later, Ferdinand Marcos came on the Government television channels and asked soldiers to attack Camp Aguinaldo. He ordered them to use only "small arms fire". Not a bullet was fired.

He ordered helicopters to attack the Camp. The air force pilots circled overhead and landed at Aguinaldo to embrace their colleagues who had already defected. On February 26, Marcos left the country lock, stock and barrel to eventually live and die in Hawaii.

The Egyptian story has so far played out like a remake of the 1986 Manila fable. One or two gaps remain. Mr Mubarak has yet to order killing of unarmed people and senior Army officers have yet to signal their support for the people.

If and when that happens, President Mubarak will have little time to leave the country. If there is a massacre of the people, he will win only a brief respite. After all, Egypt is burning on a short fuse.

-- The writer, a former Reuters and Bloomberg correspondent, covered the Philippines revolt. Courtesy IANS.








ENVIRONMENT Minister Jairam Ramesh had initially given the impression of being one of the few ministers in the United Progressive Alliance government not afraid to stick their necks out. This impression was particularly strengthened with the minister denying clearance to the Vedanta Bauxite mining project in Niyamgiri, and, moreover, his willingness to engage with environmental groups.


However, the minister's recent approach of initially flagging environmental threats, but eventually granting clearance to mega- projects with a set of riders — many of which are cosmetic — is hugely disappointing and indicates that he is probably acting under pressure.


This has been made evident in the way the Posco steel plant in Orissa, the Lavasa city near Pune and the Navi Mumbai International Airport in Maharashtra were cleared.


The Posco project is particularly revealing here. It is likely to involve the clearing of vast tracts of forests and the displacement of the tribals living there, as well as cause shoreline erosion and threaten marine life. Moreover, the project has been cleared despite the fact that an enquiry committee constituted by the environment ministry could not come to a unanimous conclusion on it.


An aspect of the way clearance is being granted is the degree of subjectivity that the minister has added to the process with his socalled ' yes, but' category. There seems no consistent yardstick that is being used. It is this grey area that can be used for granting clearance out of political expediency and on account of vested interests.


The rationale behind the approval to the Posco project — that it is of immense economic and strategic importance — is vague to say the least. The ministry's decisions should be determined mainly by the environmental impact of the project concerned.


Spare the children please


WHILE the Delhi government deserves praise for finally putting its foot down against Bluelines operating on the capital's roads, we wonder what made Transport Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely come up with the bright proposal of the withdrawn buses serving as school buses from here on. As needs no iteration, the callous way in which the Bluelines were run have cost innumerable people their lives in recent years.


For these buses to now ferry children, to and from school, will be a positive hazard to their safety and well being. It's a pity it has to be pointed out that vehicles carrying children must be operated by personnel with a special sensitivity for the job.


Unfortunately, this has not been the case in the capital, with all manner of vehicles — from rickshaws to unstable RTV minibuses — being used to carry school kids, resulting in accidents every now and then.


We would be only worsening matters if the ill- maintained and badly driven Bluelines were allowed to join this act. There is no denying that the well- connected bus owners have a problem on their hands with the idle buses. But you can hardly resolve it by dumping them on hapless children.


Sunk without a fight


THE sinking of the INS Vindhyagiri , after an accident involving a merchant vessel MV Nordlake is a matter of concern. This is the worst- ever peacetime loss of a vessel by the Navy. A collision, that, too, in the harbour, in broad daylight and fine weather, is an ignominious development, to say the least.


Though the Indian Navy has filed an FIR against the merchantman, we should not second guess a proper inquiry into the development.


An FIR, that too filed by one of the parties in an accident, can hardly be constituted as an acknowledgment of guilt.


The Mumbai harbour is a busy and cluttered one. The country has spent a great deal of money in developing the Karwar naval base, which is meant to replace Mumbai as the main harbour of the Navy on the western seaboard.


Had the western naval fleet shifted entirely to Karwar such an accident could have been avoided. Meanwhile, some attention needs to be paid towards making the congested Mumbai harbour safer, perhaps by providing better navigational and control aids.








THE RECENT schisms in Deoband make for good reading but hardly impact popular Muslim opinion, least of all in Gujarat. How the Narendra Modi- leaning Maulana Ghulam Ahmad Vastanvi plans to out- maneouvre Congress inclined Arshad Madani for the top position in Dar ul Uloom is of little interest to ordinary Muslims.


This is because Muslims are like ordinary people of other faiths. What matters most is their everyday experience and not factional squabbles in seminaries. In fact, most Muslims in Ahmedabad might tell you that while Islamic clerics are well versed on what happens " above the ground, or under the ground, they are clueless about things on the ground". On the ground, the Muslim victims of the 2002 carnage have a thing or two to say to the Muslim clerics in their vicinity.


While it is true that the Jamaat- i- Islami and Jamiat- ul- Ulema- i- Hind did most of the relief work and made shelters for those who were too scared and scarred to return to their homes, yet their efforts have not met with total endorsement. Why? Because what the Maulanas do " on the ground" often affects ordinary Muslims negatively. In such circumstances it is not a matter of doctrine at all. That is how ordinary normal Muslims are.




Take the rehabilitation colony in Ramola, Ahmedabad, built by the Jamiat Ulema. The Muslim residents here should have been eternally grateful to this Muslim Faith Based Organisation ( FBO) for doing them such a good turn; finding them a roof over their heads when their skies had turned black, but no! Instead, they accuse the Maulana in charge of this establishment with corruption, high handedness and even shades of moral turpitude. On occasions, rather excitedly, they liken him to " a Hitler". Hardly the kind of response you would expect from someone who has done you a good turn.


According to the habitants of this settlement, the Maulana has locked up a number of units as he is waiting for the highest bidder to come along. This has kept many of their relations and friends, who were in dire need of shelter, from finding a place in Ramola. On top of that he also over- charges them for water and electricity. That the mosque adjacent to their simple, very basic, homes, is so lavishly constructed: replete with arched gates and a solid stone façade, does not help.


That is not all. From the point of view of those in Ramola, the Maulana scavenges on their open sores by exposing them to visitors from abroad in order to collect


donations for his organisation— the Jamiat Ulema. No trace of doctrinal differences here, just everyday experience.


Further, they argue, as the establishment that built this colony wants to please Narendra Modi, they receive no encouragement in their demand for justice.


Clearly, the resentment against the Maulana is so strong that the Jamiat Ulema, by association, gets bad press too.


It is not for abstract reasons either that justice is important for these aggrieved Muslims. Many of them fear to send their children to good schools which are in Hindu neighbourhoods. This complaint bounds stereophonically from Muslim ghetto to ghetto in Ahmedabad. Further, whenever there is ethnic tension in the country, let alone the state or the city, they cower in fear wondering whether they would be targeted again. Some of them even said that when a tyre bursts nearby, they begin to panic: was that a gunshot? Though more than eight years have passed, Muslims in Gujarat liken the killings of 2002 to a " toofan". If they want justice it is not to humiliate Narendra Modi, but rather to relieve themselves of their constant fear. No doubt, they want education, they want jobs, but linked to these demands is their yearning for justice.




This, however, is not the way the Jamiat Ulema and its linked FBOs ( such as the Gujarat Sarvajanik Relief Committee) see the situation. Perhaps, for tactical reasons, they want to be on BJP's side, as Maulana Ghulam Ahmad Vastanvi's statements seem to indicate. At any rate, for a long time now, this organisation would rather privilege forgetfulness and forgiveness over the need for justice.


They have been encouraged in this by several academics outside Gujarat and by some international NGOs, like CARE. The ordinary Muslims are unaware of these connections and unconcerned by them. What bothers them are not cardinal principles of forgiveness, they have enough room for that for other occasions.


But they cannot give up their quest for justice, post- toofan , for their long term survival depends on it.


Whether in Ahmedabad, or elsewhere in Gujarat, even the poorest Muslims want their children to go to recognised schools where they can get a modern education.


This ambition was fired by a widespread felt need in this community and not by commandments from Maulana Vastanvi or any other theologian. These poor Muslims are not even in favour of Urdu as a medium of instruction. Experience has taught them that to succeed in Gujarat, it is Gujarati that works. They are very selfconscious of this and are careful that in ordinary conversations their children should not let an Urdu phrase or word slip through. Consequently, many Anjuman run schools have readily adopted the Gujarati medium policy. But as some of the best government schools are far from home in Hindu areas, sending their children there is a daunting proposition.


Hence, the call for justice!




It is not just the Jamiat Ulema that has run foul of many Muslims in Gujarat for down- to- earth practical reasons. Even the Jamaat- i- Islami comes in for a fair bit of stick for not providing water and other civic amenities in re- settlement colonies constructed by them. Yet, the level of their grievance against the Jamaat Islami is nowhere as strident as it is against some functionaries of the Jamiat Ulema. To get a grasp of this one needs to visit for starters just two sites, both in Ahmedabad. One is Ramola, already mentioned, and run by the Jamiat Ulema, and the other is Citizen Nagar, established by the Jamaat Islami.


The appreciation of clerics, even in religious matters, depends on how they respond to the real experiences of ordinary Muslims. The Tablighi Jamaat ( an offshoot of the Deoband School) opposes the worship of Sufi saints, and this has not gone down well with many Muslims in Ahmedabad. Their opposition again is based on experience. In the worst days of the " toofan" their most secure place of refuge was in Ahmedabad's Shah Alam dargah— a Sufi mosque. How can they now turn against the Sufis? This disagreement often slides towards outright denunciation. In the non- descript and nothing- ever- happens- here town of Modasa, many Muslims did something quite dramatic. For a long time, post 2002, they refused to pray in the Tablighi mosque for they found the Maulana there too orthodox and exacting in his scorn against Sufis. He was constantly reprimanding them for not being good Muslims, and after a while they could take it no longer. Eventually, their hostility against this religious preacher and his organisation flared out in the open. They strung up a yellow tarpaulin tent against the walls of the well- built Tablighi mosque, and prayed there instead. Since then a rapprochement has taken place— even though it is a bit unsteady.


In a replay of the situation in Ramola, Ahmedabad, the grandeur of the Tablighi mosque in Modasa once again failed to impress the everyday Muslims of that town. When it is a toss- up between doctrines and everyday experience, it is the last that comes first.


The writer is the author of the recently published Justice Before Reconciliation: Negotiating a " New Normal" in Post- riot Mumbai and Ahmedabad










For some time now, green tape has appeared to replace red tape as the dreaded hurdle to industrial projects. The environment ministry's conditional nod to the $12 billion Posco steel project in Orissa comes as a much-needed signal that industrialisation and green conservation aren't mutually exclusive.

India Inc has welcomed the move, and with reason. The South Korean steel major's foray is billed the biggest single-project FDI in India. The steel sector in particular will gain with boosted output, better product quality and introduction of the latest technology. But the decision has a broader impact as well. Had Posco's plans been nixed after waiting six years to take off, India's image as a high-returns investment destination would have taken a beating.

The RBI recently said a dip in inbound FDI seemed linked to "environment-sensitive policies" and cited gridlocks faced by various projects involving mining, integrated townships and building of infrastructure as having dented investor enthusiasm. When net FDI inflows to India were sliding last year, China, Brazil, Thailand, Mexico and Indonesia saw investments rise appreciably. If fast-growing India, with a domestic demand-driven economy and abundance of skilled affordable labour, has caught the world's eye, any seeming growth-versus-green clash can only stymie the leveraging of its advantages.

Inarguably, we can't blink at violation of laws, be they related to land sales or compulsory afforestation. As Posco's case shows, it's possible for rules to be laid out when waving the green flag. Rules must however be transparent, and stringent within reasonable limits. Rather than be guided by woolly-headed activism, they need clearly enunciated environmental and social aims to effectively protect ecology and livelihoods. While disparate, often contradictory regulations need streamlining within an accessible and universally applicable institutional framework, it's pragmatic to write in the need for case-specific flexibility depending on the economic, social and strategic importance of projects pushing growth and creating jobs.


For example, bringing in big-ticket FDI, Posco's been viewed by overseas watchers as a test case of India's business-friendly credentials. A project like Navi Mumbai is key to the future of India's financial capital whose existing airport capacity has reached saturation point. Nuclear power projects are also high priority, given our need to diversify energy sources.

Projects need faster clearances, mandating better Centre-state coordination on issues like forest rights and displacement. Despite environment assessment rules making project appraisal strictly time-bound, tardy decision-making has crippled many plans, be it mining, road-building or port construction.

Finally, India can't delay introducing reformed, market-driven land acquisition norms or unravelling land rights tangles, including by computerising records. Properly compensated and/or rehabilitated, people making way for projects will feel they're stakeholders in development, not its victims.







The Supreme Court's ruling that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), its affiliate state boards and officials are all public servants for the purposes of prosecution under the Prevention of Corruption Act has set an intriguing precedent.

Given the BCCI's less than stellar performance in recent times, it's a deserved warning shot across its bows. The IPL scandal, the BCCI's failure to adequately clean up the league, allegations of corruption against officials from various state boards such as Kerala's which prompted the ruling - for a body rolling in cash and the custodian of the country's most popular sport by far, it hasn't served the paying public very well.

The logic the Supreme Court used in the BCCI's case - that as selectors of the national team and by controlling the activity of players and others involved in the sport, they serve a public function - applies equally to other sports bodies.

And given the Commonwealth Games scam and the decrepit state of sports such as hockey, they need a rap on the knuckles as much or more than the BCCI does. But in the long run, it is not in any sport's interest to be run by government fiat. That is likely to lead to stifling bureaucracy and even poorer results.

That is why this verdict must function as a wake-up call. Sports bodies must retain their autonomy - but they must do so by displaying probity. Financial transparency must top the list of needed reforms, starting with external auditing of accounts by independent bodies.

And a maximum tenure at the head of any sports body, as well as a quota for sportsmen, must be established as well. Together, these measures have a chance of breaking the sports administrator-politician nexus that has bedevilled so many sports in the country.









Writing in the New York Times on August 20, 2002, Jeffrey C Goldfarb quoted an Asian activist's conviction that "American democracy requires the repression of democracy in the rest of the world".


This explains why Washington finds itself both behind the curve and on the wrong side of history in struggling to cope with the crisis in Egypt despite the $1.3 billion annual US stipend since 1979.

The privileging of 'Our' geopolitical and commercial interests over 'Their' freedoms and aspirations is a toxic legacy of wrong-headed western policies for more than half a century. The face of America in the Arab world today is that of ageing autocrats using US-backed and armed security forces to rob and brutalise their own people while presiding over corrupt and rotting political systems.

The post-colonial Arab state was custom-built to serve western interests: strong enough to keep the restive natives in check and maintain 'stability' at home, but too weak to challenge foreign influence and too intimidated to champion the Palestinian cause. The dramatic explosion of pent-up anger in the Arab street means that Washington has to find the right balance among backing popular will, standing by a long-time ally, promoting regional stability, containing the threat to Israel, stopping the spread of Islamist influence, and safeguarding economic interests.

The Egyptian uprising is a paradoxical explanation for the intensity of much anti-American sentiment. For it is a forceful reminder of just how powerful is the passion for freedom, how strong the loathing for regimes and rulers who tyrannise their own people, how bitter the feelings towards outside powers that prefer to prop up friendly dictators rather than team up to topple them.

In pursuing short-term tactical policies of buttressing the domestic and regional stability of dictators, successive US governments have betrayed not just the people yearning to overthrow their local tyrants, but also their own ideals. Mystifyingly, they fail to grasp the power of the metaphor of the shining city on the hill, the hypnotic pull of the ringing American declaration of independence, the stirring inspiration of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. These are not just American treasures; they are the common heritage of mankind.

Throughout the former Soviet satellite states in Central and Eastern Europe, there remains a residue of popular goodwill towards Americans for the unflagging support for their political aspirations during the dark decades of the Cold War when their destiny was under the Soviet thumb. The world today would have been poorer and sadder if Washington had not helped to bring about an end to their tormentors, from Berlin to Poland, Georgia and Ukraine. Nor can Washington fairly be asked to assume the burden of changing history for the better in all places all alone.

But the world is also today the poorer and sadder for many because Washington so often compromises ideals for stable relations with autocrats. Other people seek what Americans take for granted: political freedoms, civil liberties, material prosperity, the right to keep legitimately acquired property and wealth rather than have these confiscated by government, and accountability of rulers to the rule of law. They are bewildered and embittered when Washington turns its face away from them so as not to antagonise friendly regimes or strategically important allies. Much of the anti-American sentiment among Arabs arises not because they hate what America stands for but because they aspire to American values and freedoms which have been systematically crushed on the back of US money, arms and training.

The gap between the lofty, soaring rhetoric of liberty and freedom in President George W Bush's second inauguration speech in January 2005 and the reality of his ties to authoritarian regimes was particularly pronounced. In an eloquent passage, Bush affirmed that "as long as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny...violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom... We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right."

Just so. And yet the passage is at odds with the actual record of the administration. President Barack Obama's record has been no less schizophrenic, with his Cairo speech juxtaposed uneasily alongside reduced support for the freedom agenda in Egypt.

Like Pakistan, Hosni Mubarak's Egypt has extracted handsome rent from Washington by threatening a far worse alternative if it collapses. In both cases, compulsions of short-term expediency have trumped strategies of long-term vision. From Egypt to Pakistan and beyond, Washington's problems will not end unless and until US policy makers recognise, and act on the acknowledgment, that dictatorship and military rule are the problem, not a solution, and that democracy, messy and untidy as it might be, is always preferable.

The writer is professor of political science, University of Waterloo.






Is the government in office the same as the state? Not at all. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's raised more than hackles last week when he suggested opposition parties who were stalling parliamentary proceedings 'should join the Maoists'.

The FM's remark also implicitly raised a point of constitutional nicety that is often overlooked in the hurly-burly of politics: namely, that the government in office is not the same as the much larger entity of the state. Mukherjee's comment was set against the backdrop of the demand by the opposition to form a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) to go into the scandal of the 2G spectrum scam.

The Congress-led UPA government's refusal to set up a JPC, and its argument that the already-formed PAC (Public Accounts Committee) was competent to deal with the issue, led to a logjam in Parliament bringing legislation to a grinding halt.

The finance minister accused the opposition of 'destroying Parliament' and likened them to Maoists who try to undermine the Indian state. While Mukherjee's remark might make for good political rhetoric it makes for bad constitutional law, confusing as it does a particular government currently in office, which is a coalition government at that, with the state, which includes not just the ruling coalition but also the opposition parties, as well as the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the defence services.

The Maoists are indeed against the Indian state, in all its ramifications. Can the opposition parties be described as being anti-state or anti-Parliament? Most emphatically not. In fact, in any worthwhile democracy the opposition plays as important a role in the functioning of the state as a whole as does the party, or coalition, in office.

True, in the present case the opposition's persistence in its demand for a JPC, and the UPA's stubbornness in refusing to allow it, led to a gridlocked Parliament at a particularly bad time for the country when seemingly uncheckable inflation is threatening to put a brake on economic growth. Both the opposition and the UPA are to blame for this paralysis of governance.

That said, the finance minister's accusation evokes the political conjuring trick of which Indira Gandhi was a consummate exponent. Her slogan 'Indira is India, and India is Indira' sought to create an optical illusion, a smoke-and-mirrors stage effect, in which the party of which she was the undisputed leader and the country were seen to be one. Her call for a 'committed' bureaucracy and judiciary (committed to the interests of her party) and her authoritarian intolerance of any form of dissent inevitably led to the declaration of Emergency, the closest that India has come to dictatorial enslavement since throwing of the yoke of British rule.

Dissent and disagreement with the governing party or parties - provided this dissent is conducted by constitutional means - is not merely permissible in a democracy but is a prerequisite. Any attempt to stifle or jeopardise legitimate, non-violent dissent - by the opposition, the media, minority groups, trade unions or any other constituent of our polity - in the name of stability of governance, or for any other reason, undermines the foundation of democracy. Dissent is not the price we pay for democracy; it is the guarantor of democracy.

And the first rule of democracy is not just the right but the duty of all citizens, and not just opposition politicians, to question and disagree with the government in office. By doing so we're not subverting the state - as the Maoists self-avowedly are seeking to do - but strengthening its democratic foundations. In other words, UPA-II is not synonymous with the Indian state, any more than the NDA was before it. Let's not mistake one political tree for the entire Indian forest.








The Indian diplomatic service has been issued a written warning by the foreign secretary Nirupama Rao that there will be zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and domestic violence among its rank. The note has followed the recall of two diplomats, Alok Ranjan Jha and Anil Verma, following allegations against both of them. Unfortunately, the promise of disciplinary action should be believed only when seen. The Indian bureaucracy has an impeccable record of protecting its own from punishment or ensuring that disciplinary action is diluted to the point of meaningless.

This is a consequence of Article 311 of the Constitution which was designed to infuse bureaucrats with the courage to criticise their superiors. It is a protection that is seen as unique to the Indian Constitution — and it has become widely misused. Over the years, this immunity has spread well beyond the senior bureaucracy for whom it was first propounded and includes even cooperative employees. Ironically, the entire article may be irrelevant given that the right of judicial review has been extended to government employees. As the Fourth Report of the Second Administrative Reforms Committee noted, "This has created a climate of excessive security without fear of penalty for incompetence or wrongdoing." The same committee later showed that the disciplinary process for a major penalty against a bureaucrat has over 30 administrative stages. In practice, the discipline of bureaucrats is even more lax. The Ministry of Personnel is notoriously slow in investigating and prosecuting members of the IAS and IPS who have been charged with crimes. One IAS officer, Mahesh Gupta, was repeatedly promoted after being charged with corruption that he ended up in charge of the same policemen who were investigating him.

This, unfortunately, has increasingly become the story of India's bureaucracy: responsibility without accountability. Inevitably, the consequence has been that the responsibility has come to be treated in a cavalier fashion. No one should be surprised that India is consistently rated as having the worst bureaucracy in Asia and that the best and brightest of India's youth avoid government service.

The supposed iron cage is eaten through with rust. And a first step towards correcting this is to tighten the present disciplinary process, ensure bureaucrats under investigation are neither promoted nor given any job, and, eventually, the protections enshrined in Article 311 be diluted considerably.






The Shiv Sena, that beloved custodian of Indian morals and culture, is nothing if not thoughtful. After thoughtfully bashing up courting couples on Valentine's Day for displaying amorous tendencies alien to our traditions, the Shiv Sena lads have sprung a surprise on us. They have decided to lend a helping hand to disc jockeys. The Sena is exercised about these spinmeisters being exploited and having to labour under dubious conditions. So if any shyster running a club thinks he can shortchange his DJs, be assured that he will be dancing to another tune composed by the Sena.

If any of you naysayers thought that western music was not exactly music to the ears of the Sena, remember how bowled over the Sena patriarch was when the late Michael Jackson came calling to Matoshree. Even his visit to the bathroom while there became the stuff of Sena legend. The Sena's newfound musical inclinations could have something to do with the new kid on the block, the 20-year-old Aditya Thackeray who is clearly the heir apparent. We wonder how rival and uncle Raj is going to counter the Sena's youth connect. We suggest that instead of spending time bashing up immigrants, the Senas go in for an image makeover. Raj could take up the cause of bar dancers, something that used to get the Sena's goat in the past.

Sadly, we see a certain note of skepticism on the part of some DJs who are wondering if the Sena has some political agenda in espousing their cause. But we feel such fears are unfounded. The Sena just wants to tell the world that it is in the swing of things. And if things keep up like this, the day won't be long when Lady Gaga drops in to Matoshree for natter with the aging tiger. Or better still, maybe Katy Perry could compose a Marathi ode to the Sena, given her fascination for all things Indian. The possibilities are endless but the Sena sure seems bent on hitting the high notes with this one.






'Is the Karmapa a Chinese spy?' 'Is the possible successor to the Dalai Lama a Chinese mole?' 'Is this another clever ploy of China to take control of the border regions?' The media have gone berserk with speculations about the Karmapa Lama. Sadly, the coverage has failed to do any groundwork research. This episode not only exposes the way the Indian media works but also jolts the Tibetan faith in Indian democracy and harms India's long-term interests in Tibet.

The police raid found a few crore rupees worth of cash. At most, this may be a case of financial irregularity or non-transparent dealings by the managers of the Karmapa's monastery for which they should be held accountable. Raising questions about a person being a spy for another country is a serious matter. It destroys his or her reputation. The news stories reflect a witch-hunt and betray the lack of an understanding of Tibetan life in India.

Ogyen Trinley Dorje is the 17th Karmapa, the oldest lineage in Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the Karma Kagyu sect. He is one of the rare lamas recognised by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. There is nothing conspiratorial about it. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, China was more accommodative of Tibet-based religious figures, consulting and coordinating the choice of reincarnations with the Dalai Lama and other lamas in exile. This accommodativeness came to an end with the crisis over the Panchen Lama's reincarnation in 1995.

The Karmapa's selection after the demise of the 16th Karmapa was not without its own controversy as there is a rival candidate, Trinley Thaye Dorje, who had the backing of a senior Karma Kagyu figure, the Shamarpa. The Shamarpa is reputed to have close connections within the Indian security establishment and bureaucracy. But most Tibetans have accepted the Dalai Lama's choice. In fact, within China-controlled Tibet, veneration for the Karmapa is next only to that of the Dalai Lama. Even within the Gelug (the sect of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) monasteries in Tibet, one comes across the Karmapa's picture and it is clear that for ordinary Tibetans, the Karmapa's proximity to the Dalai Lama adds to his sacredness.

It is true that the Karmapa has avoided making anti-China political statements and Beijing has therefore not denounced him. Again, there is nothing suspicious about this. The Chinese had refused to openly criticise even the Dalai Lama in 1959 until he made a public statement after his exile. Beijing does not want to denounce the Karmapa and thus contribute to the creation of another globally recognised figurehead around which the Free Tibet movement will mobilise. Moreover, in recent history, Karmapas have avoided overly political positions since in the traditional Tibetan State, the Gelug sect was dominant. By focusing solely on religious affairs, the present 17th Karmapa is following the footsteps of his previous reincarnation.

It is unfortunate that without appreciating the nuances of sectarian politics within Tibetan Buddhism and Sino-Tibetan relations, the Indian media portrayed the Karmapa's apolitical stance as suspicious. Continuing speculation about the Karmapa's escape from Tibet in 1999 reminds me of a Japanese conspiracy theory film where the filmmaker argued that he was 'sent' to Sikkim to get control over the 'Black Hat' kept in Rumtek monastery in Sikkim. Interestingly, this film was given to me in Beijing!

Decades of repression during the Cultural Revolution has not been able to shake the belief that Tibetans have in their lamas. The Indian media's onslaught on the Karmapa will only reaffirm Tibetan respect for the Karmapa. But it will certainly backfire for India as followers of Tibetan Buddhism in exile, in the border regions, in Tibet and in the rest of the world, will resent this humiliation of the religious figure. Had it been the Shahi Imam or Baba Ramdev, would the media have taken such liberties in going to town with such an unconfirmed story?

Hardline officials in China must be laughing their heads off at the Indian media circus. They know that this will not only create confusion in the exiled Tibetan community in India, but will also create a disenchantment about India among Tibetans inside China. India has let the Tibetans down on many occasions since the late 1940s when the latter sought help and support in making their claims for independence internationally and in 1954 when the Panchsheel agreement was signed with China over the old Tibetan State. India has provided refuge to more than 100,000 Tibetan exiles. But we must not forget that the exiled lamas provide a stability and keep the people in the borderlands pacified in a manner more effective than the Indian military. Tibetans are over-generous with their gratitude to their Indian hosts and are hesitant in reminding India of a small inconvenient truth: until 1951, the disputed border regions were neither Chinese nor Indian but Tibetan. In return, the very least Indians could do is not malign Tibetan religious leaders before they are even proved guilty of their misdemeanour. Is that too much to ask?

Dibyesh Anand is an associate professor of international relations at Westminster University, London and the
author of Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics

The views expressed by the author are personal





The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) remains a bundle of convenient contradictions. In its latest decision on the environment and forest clearances for the integrated steel plant and captive port for the South Korean company Pohang Steel Company (M/s Posco), the ministry has listed 28 and 32 extra conditions which the company will need to follow.

According to the ministry's admission, these conditions, along with their faith in the state government of Orissa to follow the recognition of the forest rights process, will be adequate to make the project benign from an ecological and social point of view. The conditions, it is said, will be closely monitored.

The practice of conditional environmental clearances goes back to the time when projects and activities were being reviewed under the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 1994 (revamped in 2006). This process involved the process of preparing an EIA, a public hearing and review by a set of expert committees housed within the MoEF, which has till date approved over 7,000 projects, now in various stages of implementation. In the last year and a half, the approval rate under the EIA notification has averaged 97 projects in a month for just four sectors under MoEF's review.

Since 2009, the MoEF has itself acknowledged that its regional offices, which have been entrusted the task of monitoring these environmental clearances, have both humanpower and infrastructure capacities to ensure that the effective monitoring of environmental clearance conditions can take place. This has been stated to justify bringing about institutional reform where the ministry could outsource the task of clearances and monitoring to a seemingly professional body that it seeks to set up.

The current situation is that each project is monitored once in every three or four years by the ministry's regional offices. With an average of two to three officials each in the six regional offices, ensuring compliance of environment clearance conditions is a near impossibility. Evidence from project implementation across the country indicates a near causal approach to the compliance of conditions by project authorities even though violations are evident.

Yet, mega projects like Posco, despite their irreversible ecological and social impacts, continue to be granted approval. They hide behind the garb of conditional clearances with absolutely no guarantee that these would be complied with. These conditions help scuttle the fact that the setting up of a 12 million tonne steel plant and captive port in the area will dramatically change the landscape of a fragile coastal stretch, which primarily supports agricultural and fishing livelihoods.

Posco's operations in Orissa had been accorded environment clearance way back in 2007, based on poor and inadequate assessments. However, the company had not been able to start operations due to sustained protests by the people of Dhinkia panchayat in Jagatsinghpur district of the state. It was in July 2010 that the MoEF set up a four- member committee to review the environment and forest clearances (issued under the Forest Conservation Act, 1980) for Posco. Three members of this committee had found a huge list of irregularities in the manner in which approvals were granted and recommended their withdrawal; an opinion that the chairperson of the committee, unfortunately, did not agree to.

The final word from the MoEF's corridors states the strategic, economic and technological importance of the Posco project. Even though environmental laws are to be upheld, in Posco's case they only need to be in the form of additional conditions. The rest, as they say, will be history.

Kanchi Kohli and Manju Menon are members of the Delhi-based Kalpavriksh Environmental Action Group

The views expressed by the author are personal





What a pleasant surprise to find Waheeda Rehman figure in the list of Republic Day honours this year. Awarding her the Padma Bhushan, 39 years after she received the Padma Shri in 1972, is a wonderful way of recognising her achievements and immense contribution to the world of cinema.

When she was awarded the Padma Shri, she had just won the  1971 National Award for Reshma aur Shera. She had also picked up the best actress awards for Guide and Neel Kamal in 1966 and 1968 respectively. Filmfare had honoured her with a life-time achievement award in 1994. But after the death of her husband, Kamaljit Singh in 2000, Waheeda picked up from where she had left with inspiring performances in films like Rang De Basanti (2006) and Delhi-6 (2009).

But to really appreciate the awe-inspiring Waheeda Rehman, one simply has to see her classic films. In her first Hindi film, CID (she made her debut a year earlier in 1955 in the Telugu film, Jayasimha), she played a vamp and left an indelible mark. The first image that comes to my mind when you say 'Waheeda' is that of Rosie Marco from Guide, and then Kamini from CID. And no one compares to her play of eyes during the hide-and-seek game during the 'Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana' song sequence in CID.

Guru Dutt often would say that an actor has to act 80 % with his or her eyes. Waheeda was almost 'all eyes'. Gulab in Pyaasa (1957) hardly opens her mouth. But the intensity of her expressions come from Waheeda's eyes. Guru Dutt's picturisation of the sequence 'Aaj sajan mohe ang laga lo' in Pyaasa says it all. What Gulab emotes, what she expresses — whether it's love, longing or helplessness — it's all in her eyes.  The same extraordinary mobility of her face and eyes is visible when, without speaking a word, she is seen to invite Vijay (Guru Dutt) in the 'Jane kya tune kahi, jane kya mene suni' song in the same film.

Waheeda came to Guru Dutt's notice when he saw her dancing in the 1955 Telugu film (her second film ever) Rojulu Marayi. But he never did anything with her dancing talent, instead deciding to focus, to the point obsession, on the romanticism of her eyes. Her prowess as a dancer was left to Dev Anand to bring to a larger audience in Guide and Prem Pujari (1970).

KK Paul is a former Delhi Police Commissioner

The views expressed by the author are personal









As the Sabarimala stampede cruelly exposed last month, we are a long way from formulating solutions to tackle large crowds, let alone implementing them. Adequate infrastructure to accommodate pilgrims and commensurate deployment of crowd managers such as the police ought to be administrative second nature. But incidents such as Sabarimala demonstrate time and again the persistent lack of these. In fact, this lack can be stretched to include the policy and practice of crowd control at large in India, such as at political rallies and public protests. Pilgrimage and protest, as the largest crowd pullers, must meet more administrative research and solutions. Nevertheless, handling a pilgrimage and handling a protest call for different aptitudes in the police forces.

The chief ministers' conference on internal security in New Delhi, therefore, has judiciously raked up these issues among others. On the table at the meet is the development of non-lethal techniques and standard operating procedures for controlling crowds. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underscored the need for these in his address, referring to the deaths of Kashmiri protesters during last summer's stone-pelting incidents. The state government's dilemma then exemplified the problem of crowd management in a hostile situation without any loss of life. There had to be a standard operating procedure beyond the laathi and the bullet.

Therefore, even as effective crowd control measures are designed and subsequently put in place, the Central and state governments must pay attention to a longstanding imperative — police reforms. As the prime minister noted, just as people come forth to offer information to the local policeman "only when they see him as a friend" — ground information that builds upwards into intelligence necessary for internal security — similarly, at the other end, police personnel must be sensitised to deal with the diverse elements composing a crowd, the differing natures of crowds and the varying degrees of challenge they pose. Non-lethal gadgets, anti-riot gear and techno-logy upgrade are necessary. But these must be framed by more holistic behavioural training and skills development. It is reassuring that these are being attended to now with a sharper focus.






The forthcoming budget statement of the UPA government will be critical for many reasons. Politically, the budget comes against the backdrop of worsening relations between the ruling alliance and the BJP-led opposition. As yet, there is little clarity in regard to what would make the BJP refrain from disrupting the budget session of Parliament; the party remains steadfast in its demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the spectrum scam.

The political environment has got even more vitiated with the opposition upping the ante over large amounts of black money stashed away by Indians abroad. BJP leader L.K. Advani has demanded that such money be brought back to India to be invested in building the country's infrastructure. Though black money is not a new issue, it appears to have got some renewed traction in the backdrop of the mounting charges of corruption against the ruling alliance. Once you add to this potent cocktail the persistent food inflation, at over 15 per cent, the ground becomes fertile for a strong dose of agitational politics.

So here is the big paradox Finance Minister Pranab Mukh-erjee faces: how can he come up with a budget which remains growth-oriented and is yet non-inflationary? This question will bother the finance minister for longer than we can imagine. Delivering high growth with low inflation is now a structural issue which one budget cannot resolve. However, this budget can start to lay down a roadmap for delivering reasonably high growth with low-to-moderate inflation.

Delivering non-inflationary growth will require a special set of reforms which have become politically critical now. On these will depend the smooth survival of the UPA over the remaining three years of its tenure. There is little doubt that another year of high food inflation will be politically disastrous for the ruling alliance.

Pranab Mukherjee will have to show a strong commitment to non-inflationary, growth-oriented reforms for another reason. There is a growing perception among businesses that the UPA has given up on reforms that are required to broad-base the economy further in an orderly manner.

The agriculture economy has to be expanded on a war footing to deliver non-inflationary growth. The current episode of high food inflation has reinforced some home truths: the long-term supply response from the agri-sector has been poor, and is not keeping pace with rising incomes and demand. This problem is not new and has been deliberated upon.

In his 2010-11 budget, Pranab Mukherjee said that the government had laid special emphasis on spurring agri-growth by drawing up a strategy to "extend the green revolution to the eastern region of the country and by organising 60,000 pulses and oilseeds villages in rainfed areas of the east". However, one has not heard much from the government as to how the strategy of extending the green revolution to the rainfed eastern region is working, if at all. This is the kind of project to which the prime minister and finance minister must lend their political weight, in the way the government did to the first green revolution decades ago. Somehow, that level of commitment seems to be missing these days, even though the problem of stagnating agriculture supplies is quite well known.

Another big challenge for Pranab Mukherjee will be how to keep the UPA's commitment of increased allocation to key social sector programmes such as NREGA and food security without further stoking the inflation caused by supply constraints in agriculture. For instance, recently, the government proposed that it will link the payments under the rural employment guarantee scheme to the Consumer Price Index. Now this will justifiably result in more money being put in the hands of rural labourers. However, if the supply of agriculture products remains stagnant, it will further stoke food inflation in the short to medium term. It's the same story in the legislated food security programme which, in its current format, can be implemented smoothly only if foodgrain production is of a much higher order.

At a more macro level, Pranab Mukherjee is under severe pressure to consolidate the rising fiscal deficit as a means to lower inflationary expectations. The RBI, in its monetary policy statement last fortnight, has clearly pointed to high inflation as the main risk to growth and has called upon the Centre to use its fiscal instruments to complement the central bank's effort to lower inflation expectations.

Pranab Mukherjee had delivered liberal doses of fiscal stimuli in the previous two budgets as the world economy remained shaky post the global financial crisis. One of the key outcomes of the liberal fiscal and monetary policies pursued around the world since 2009 is high inflation, which emerging economies, particularly, are grappling with. So clearly it is time for some roll-back of both monetary and fiscal boosters in emerging economies. India cannot escape that process, as inflation is the biggest tax on the poor.

The government ran a high fiscal deficit (its gross borrowings) of 6.8 per cent of GDP in 2009-10. This financial year the fiscal deficit target is 5.5 per cent of GDP, which translates to a budgeted gross borrowing of Rs 3,81,000 crore.

The finance ministry says it will remain within its borrowing target this year. This claim however hides the fact that it got a bonanza Rs 1,00,000 crore from auctioning spectrum and a large part of this was not budgeted as a receipt. If this receipt is taken out of the equation the fiscal deficit would indeed overshoot the target. Also there are hidden oil and fertiliser subsidies of over Rs 1,50,000 crore this year. There is no knowing how the government will adjust these amounts as it now stands committed to be transparent about subsidies.

So the overall picture that emerges is that Pranab Mukherjee will find it very difficult to present a non-inflationary budget, especially with all the new expenditures that the UPA is committed to as part of its political agenda. And historical evidence shows no economy in the world has been able to deliver high growth with high inflation for a long time.

At some point, higher inflation starts to affect growth and hurt the poor. This is the biggest risk the UPA faces in the near term.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'








Nepal's three major political parties — the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist — never get tired of advocating the politics of consensus, but they have failed to come even to a minimum understanding of electing a prime minister in the past seven months. Grilled, booed and jeered by the people, the three parties finally took recourse to amending the law on the election of the PM by the parliament. Those who get the lowest votes will be eliminated and "neutral voting or abstaining" will be prohibited. When only two candidates are left, the winner will be decided by a simple majority. If all goes according to schedule, the country will have a new PM by February 3.

But people who feel let down by the current set of leaders are sceptical of the effectiveness of such a PM, given the fact that he would be more a product of the compelling law than of an agreed agenda and political understanding.

Over the past two weeks, after President Ram Baran Yadav had renewed the election process — first by giving 10 days to the House to explore a consensual approach and then, on its expiry, asking them to go by a simple majority process — political parties failed even to decide on their candidates. Madhav Nepal continues to remain the caretaker PM for a record eight months.

In the midst of all this, Yadav left for India — Kolkata, Chandigarh and Delhi — on a 10-day visit beginning January 27. The visit was on an invitation of the Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata, and the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, from where he got his MBBS and postgraduate degrees respectively. The visit was meant to be a private one. But the government of India volunteered to make it "official". This gives enough hint that India, concerned about the lack of progress in the constitution-making process in Nepal and the absence of a full-fledged government all these months, will begin a serious "review Nepal situation". This is a time when the president is under pressure from some political quarters at home to assume executive role, since a caretaker PM cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. India seems to be weighing that option and its likely implication for the peace process.

Is the president willing to have executive powers? Won't the continuation of a caretaker PM beyond six months set a dangerous precedent? India's recognition of a presidential takeover may also influence the stance of the outside world on the emerging situation in Nepal.

A readiness on the part of the president — soon after his India visit — would give fresh ammunition to the political parties, the UCPN-M in particular, to "suspect an India hand" in all that. It could also trigger a new political equation that could bring together the radical left, including Maoists, which might challenge the president and other political parties. That will mean a collapse of the constitution-making process.

People may not come out on the streets to defend one party or the other this time round, given the lack of seriousness on their part to implement the comprehensive peace agreement or to adopt a new constitution by May 28. In fact, there is growing opposition towards leaders and members of the constituent assembly. CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal, who is also an aspirant for the PM's post, was slapped at a public meeting recently. The local administration, which had ordered the man's detention for 15 days, was forced to release him as public support for him almost took the form of a campaign — leader versus people. Similarly, in the past two months, people, especially in rural areas, have been assembling in public places and offering tarpan — a ritual for the dead — to the 601 members of the constituent assembly. This exercise has hardly provoked any protest from the parties; instead it has people in thousands gathering to cheer the organisers who treat the parliamentarians as "dead", and therefore incapable of creating a constitution.

Scepticism apart, President Yadav told a recent gathering of top political leaders, including PM Madhav Nepal and Maoist leader Prachanda, that under no circumstance would he endorse a draft constitution that would have ethnicity-based federalism which would threaten the country's unity and integrity. That tussle appears around the corner. A fight between political parties and the first head of state of republican Nepal is not what is required at this stage.







The CPM's People's Democracy calls for a reorientation of the economic policy. It says while President Pratibha Patil in her Republic Day eve address spoke about empowering the poor and marginalised sections to make them part of the growth story, at the World Economic Forum in Davos leaders of India Inc and senior government officials who advise on economic policies spoke in terms of rolling back even the existing support that is provided to those sections. The contrast could not have been more stark, an editorial says.

It says the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission has called for reforms of labour laws, articulating India Inc's demand for an unbridled hire-and-fire policy, while an economic advisor to the PM has virtually called for a withdrawal of all subsidies, including those for petroleum products and fertilisers and a stop to all social welfare expenditures like the NREGA and Bharat Nirman.

In the context of labour laws, it says, the argument being made is that the abolition of existing laws is a necessary precondition to accelerate industrial growth which would create employment. "In other words, we are being told that by making an employed worker unemployed today, future employment would be generated."

It adds: "In absolute terms, the tax foregone under corporate income tax and personal income tax alone amounted to Rs 1,04,471 crore in 2008-09 and Rs 1,20,483 crore in 2009-10. In other words, nearly 2.25 lakh crores of rupees, which should have constituted the legitimate revenue of the government, was consciously foregone." "Such massive concessions for the rich are, however, called 'incentives' for growth. Concessions for the poor and needy are always called 'subsidies' which are bad for the economy and growth," it says.

Bring back black money

A leader in the CPI mouthpiece New Age is on the controversy around black money. It says while the president talked about the issue of corruption in her address on the eve of Republic Day, the finance minister came out with a "lame" defence of the government's failure in curbing widespread corruption and in bringing back black money stashed away in foreign banks.

The president, it says, highlighted the issue of corruption, saying it was the enemy of development and good governance and sought systemic changes to deal with it. The article refers to the promise made by the Congress to unearth black money within 100 days of assuming office: "But after coming to power, just like other promises, it forgot all about this as well. It was well aware that many leading lights of its government are involved in stacking away black money in foreign banks."

It says the government, instead of publishing the list of those who have bank accounts in tax havens and taking measures to bringing back black money, is using the argument of international agreements to shield culprits.

It says Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's assertion that such disclosures will violate the secrecy clause in agreements on "tax havens" has been found to be not true. "The bank that has provided the list itself has said that there is no secrecy clause.... Similarly nobody is ready to believe him [Mukherjee] when he says that even he has not seen the list. Does it mean that only the prime minister knows about it? These are all lame-duck excuses and a clear attempt to hide the facts from the people."

Pondering on POSCO

The conditional clearance given to Posco's proposed iron and steel plant in Orissa has come in for criticism from the CPI (ML). An editorial in ML Update says the green signal to Posco and the Orissa government followed their assurances to comply with environment and forest rights laws that they had already violated and lied about.

It says the environment ministry cleared the "notorious Posco project" despite the fact that three committees — the Saxena Committee, the POSCO Enquiry Committee and the Forest Advisory Committee — set up "at the behest of the ministry itself have testified to rampant and deliberate violations of the Forest Rights Act by the project".

"The various conditionalities which accompany the ministry's clearance of the Posco project are nothing but a flimsy piece of fiction to hide the fact that in India today, corporations are a law unto themselves, with a licence to loot in brazen violation of laws to protect the environment and people's rights," it says.

At the Republic Day parade, India's adivasis, it says, were showcased in colourful tableaux of folk culture: "What a contrast to the real lives of adivasis in a desperate struggle to defend their livelihood against corporate land grab."








Karmapa trouble
Home Minister P. Chidambaram has rightly sought to put a lid on official innuendo that Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the Karmapa Lama, is a "Chinese agent". After the raid on Karmapa's offices near Dharamsala last week, unnamed government officials have been quoted in the media as saying Karmapa owed political allegiance to Beijing.

Beijing reacted quickly to deny the allegation. The Global Times newspaper quoted officials as saying that speculation in the Indian media about the Karmapa reveals a "mistrustful attitude" towards China. On his part, Chidambaram said that the government is yet to come to a judgement on whether the Karmapa Lama is a Chinese spy.

Although his claims to be the 17th Karmapa Lama are disputed by others in the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, Ugyen Trinley Dorje's authority has been recognised by both Beijing and the Dalai Lama. The allegations that he is a Chinese agent are not new. Ever since his arrival in India in January 2000, there was intense unease in Delhi about the circumstances of his "escape" from China. The thesis that he might be part of a Chinese plot to destabilise the Tibetan community in India and gain influence in the Buddhist belt of the Southern Himalayas had considerable currency within the security agencies.

Giving a new lease of life to these allegations, in public, reflects rather poorly on India. Assuming for a moment that Karmapa was indeed a Chinese agent, the big question is: what has Delhi done about it in the decade that the Lama has lived on Indian soil?

If India was convinced that he was a hostile element, why didn't India simply hand him over to China or deport him to another country willing to take him? If he was merely a suspect, why did government agencies not monitor his activities closely? Isn't a decade a long time to come to a judgement? Worse still, did Delhi have no capacity to turn the Lama around after receiving him — as a teenager — more than 10 years ago?

India needs to show a lot more sophistication and maturity in handling a religious figure who could influence the course of Himalayan Buddhism in the coming decades and have much impact on Sino-Indian relations. One important first step is to begin an intensive dialogue with the Karmapa, offering him full respect and dignity.

Taiwan Tunnel

When you combine hyper-nationalism with engineering, you get spectacular projects. One such is the proposed under-sea tunnel between China and Taiwan. Although the idea has been around for a long time, it was always considered unreal given the engineering challenges, political problems and staggering costs.

At nearly 150 km the China-Taiwan tunnel would be three times longer than the tunnel under the English channel between Britain and France. After the Three Gorges Dam, the Tibet Railway, and the plans to build a railway line across the Karakoram range into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, nothing would seem impossible for Chinese engineers.

On the political front, there has been a dramatic upswing in relations between Beijing and Taipei in the last few years. After years of denouncing Taiwan as a renegade province and threatening to use force to integrate it with the motherland, Beijing has now adopted a subtler approach — making deeper economic integration with the main land an attractive option for Taipei. It appears to be working.

Appeals are now being made to Chinese billionaires to make financial donations to the project. A well-known Chinese philanthropist, Chen Guangbiao, on a current trip to Taiwan declared that he will sell all his assets to help make the tunnel a reality.

"The 21st century is the century for the Chinese," Chen said. "I believe that a cross-Taiwan Strait bullet train system can be built, if all Chinese philanthropists could contribute one-tenth of their assets to such a project." Don't be surprised if the idea catches on.

Blocking 'Egypt'

Responding to reports that Chinese authorities were blocking internet searches for "Egypt" in major micro-blogging sites, a government spokesman in Beijing on Tuesday simply said that the "internet is open" in China. There was no attempt at an explicit denial of the reports.

According to international news agencies, keyword searches on a Twitter-like microblog service,, generated no results on the Egypt unrest on Tuesday. Searches on some web portals returned an error message, the agencies said.

China's major news outlets like Xinhua have reported on the major developments in Egypt without much emphasis on the mass protests in Cairo and other Egyptian cities.






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 clamouring 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 America. 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 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 Mubarak, when they insist that he must make a giant leap — away from Egypt.

As I see it, 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 Mubarak still seems to be digging in. State television doesn't even show images of Tahrir Square, and it emphasises 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 neighbourhood 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 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 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.

The New York Times








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 teargas fired by the police. We began to shout, "Peaceful, Peaceful," trying to show the police that we were not hostile, we were demanding nothing but our liberty. That only increased their brutality.

Fighting began to spread to the side streets in the ancient, largely Coptic neighborhood. A friend and I took shelter in a small alleyway, where we were warmly welcomed. The locals warned us not to try to escape to the metro station, and pointed us toward a different escape route; many of them even joined the protests. Eventually, a man drove us in his own car to safety.

Clearly, the scent of Tunisia's "jasmine revolution" has quickly reached Egypt. 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. 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 strewn everywhere.

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. 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.

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.

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 mushroomed across the city, seeking to loot shops and terrorise civilians in their homes. 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 the Corniche on the Nile, 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 teargas, 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.

Ez-Eldin is the author of the novels 'Maryam's Maze' and 'Beyond Paradise'. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.

The New York Times






As the Sabarimala stampede cruelly exposed last month, we are a long way from formulating solutions to tackle large crowds, let alone implementing them. Adequate infrastructure to accommodate pilgrims and commensurate deployment of crowd managers such as the police ought to be administrative second nature. But incidents such as Sabarimala demonstrate time and again the persistent lack of these. In fact, this lack can be stretched to include the policy and practice of crowd control at large in India, such as at political rallies and public protests. Pilgrimage and protest, as the largest crowd pullers, must meet more administrative research and solutions. Nevertheless, handling a pilgrimage and handling a protest call for different aptitudes in the police forces.

The chief ministers' conference on internal security in New Delhi, therefore, has judiciously raked up these issues among others. On the table at the meet is the development of non-lethal techniques and standard operating procedures for controlling crowds. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underscored the need for these in his address, referring to the deaths of Kashmiri protesters during last summer's stone-pelting incidents. The state government's dilemma then exemplified the problem of crowd management in a hostile situation without any loss of life. There had to be a standard operating procedure beyond the laathi and the bullet.

Therefore, even as effective crowd control measures are designed and subsequently put in place, the Central and state governments must pay attention to a longstanding imperative — police reforms. As the prime minister noted, just as people come forth to offer information to the local policeman "only when they see him as a friend" — ground information that builds upwards into intelligence necessary for internal security — similarly, at the other end, police personnel must be sensitised to deal with the diverse elements composing a crowd, the differing natures of crowds and the varying degrees of challenge they pose. Non-lethal gadgets, anti-riot gear and techno-logy upgrade are necessary. But these must be framed by more holistic behavioural training and skills development. It is reassuring that these are being attended to now with a sharper focus.








The upward revision of the GDP growth rate for 2009-10, from 7.4% to 8% in the quick estimates made by the CSO, may apparently boost confidence (ministers like Pranab Mukherjee spoke of an 8.5% growth for 2009-10 early last year). But the savings and investment rates estimated for the year are far from comforting and put a big question mark over the sustainability of the high growth rates in the medium term. The savings rate has marginally improved from 32.2% of GDP in 2008-09 to 33.7% in 2009-10, slightly below the 34% level estimated in the mid-term review of the Eleventh Plan and far below the 36.9% level achieved in 2007-08, just before the advent of the global crisis. Similarly, in the case of investment rates, while the numbers have improved from 34.5% to 36.5% over the last two years, the rate still falls far short of the the peak rate of 38.1% achieved in 2007-08.

The slow recovery in savings and investment rates is mainly because corporate and public sector savings and investments are yet to recover in the post-recession period. For instance, the numbers show that while household savings (as % of GDP), and especially their savings in financial assets, have remained largely stable in the second half of the decade, corporate savings, which stood at 8.1% of the GDP in 2009-10, were 1.3 percentage points lower than the levels achieved in the first year of the Eleventh Plan. The scenario was even worse in the case of the public sector, where the savings rate of 2.1% in 2009-10 was less than half of the 5% level achieved two years ago. The worst affected on the investment front has been the corporate sector, where the investment rates have slipped sharply by more than 4 percentage points, from 17.3% of GDP in 2007-08 to 13.2% in 2009-01. And the nominal corporate investments have almost remained stagnant for the last three years, with the numbers barely moving from Rs 8,63,154 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 8,64,643 crore in 2009-10, which bodes badly for the economy, considering that the corporate sector is the biggest investor in the economy. In fact, the trends show that the share of the corporate investments in total investments steadily decelerated from 45.5% to 36.6% between 2007-08 and 2009-10. And the public sector is in no position to compensate for the fall, given the large deficits. So, any steady pick-up in the economy will now depend on putting savings and investments back on the fast track or substantially boosting productivity levels—both difficult targets in the current scenario.






The Top 500 Global Financial Brands list released by UK-based Brand Finance (see page 1 story)—with 18 Indian entries—in a way reflects the goings-on in the Indian banking sector. Indian banks and financial institutions have consolidated their position, with their brand value growing by a fifth over 2010. This reflects the Indian banking sector's resilience in overcoming the slowdown of 2008-09. A majority, 13, of the 18 Indian brands in the top financial brands list improved their brand value over the last year. When you start looking at individual performances, the story gets layered with a clear difference between well-run and badly-managed banks, irrespective of their ownership. The country's biggest lender, SBI, the first-ever Indian bank to break into the top 50 club in 2010 at rank 36, not just moved up two rungs, its brand value also jumped by over a billion dollars on the back of sustained product innovation and customer-orientation. Ditto for Central Bank of India, which stormed up 81 places in the list to rank 390, even as some of its other public sectors bank (PSB) peers saw an erosion in value, chiefly Bank of India and Union Bank of India. Other PSBs on the list, like Corporation Bank, Allahabad Bank and Canara Bank, managed to improve their brand values, even though some slipped on the ranking table.

The real India story is the strong showing by private banks. Axis Bank, under its new leader Shikha Sharma, saw brand value go up almost 50%, with the bank now just shy (at rank 202) of breaking into the top 200. The other big gainer was Kotak Mahindra Bank, which shot up 24 positions and increased brand value by over a third. The country's largest private-sector lender, ICICI Bank, also improved its ranking by a notch, and brand value by over $337 million, to remain the only other Indian bank in the top 100 apart from SBI at rank 34.

Globally, the big event was the re-entry of two Chinese banks in the top 10—Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) at rank 8 and China Construction Bank at number 10 after a two-year hiatus. Importantly, ICBC pipped Citibank, which slipped to rank 9 from 5 last year. With just two Indian banks in the top 100, compared to 10 from China and three from Brazil, and none in top 25 (four from China and three from Brazil), clearly, the heft of the Indian economy is yet to translate into global size and scale of its banking sector.





There has been talk of oligarchic capitalism developing in India, driven by some papers written on the subject. The Economist, in its January 27 issue, has an article on it citing some of these subjects (Dancing elephants). And several caveats are in order. Economists who dabble in competition policy and industry structure have standard measures like Herfindahl index and concentration ratios. Assuming there is a high level of concentration, is that necessarily a bad thing? Globally, competition policy instruments can focus on structure (market shares), conduct (unfair or restrictive business practices) or performance (prices, profitability). High market share or high prices and profitability should be whittled down by competition, unless there are entry barriers created through unfair or restrictive business practices or government licensing policy. Other than mergers and acquisitions, where there are high transaction costs if a merger/acquisition has to be subsequently broken down, that's the reason why competition policy in most countries has moved away from structure and performance to conduct. Without getting into nitty-gritty (such as incomplete redressal of unfair business practices), that's the reason India has moved from MRTP Act to CCI Act. It is a separate matter that CCI's suo motu action still leaves a lot to be desired.

Post-1991, reforms have led to greater competition, including that which has come in through the trade liberalisation route. However, that liberalisation has been imperfect. For instance, it is pronounced for manufacturing, limited for services and non-existent for agriculture. In both agriculture and services, licensing restrictions (through government policy) remain. Many services sectors also exhibit characteristics of what used to be called natural monopolies. If there are increasing returns to scale, is a high market share necessarily bad from a consumer's point of view? At a local level, can open access and free choice and competition be implemented for electricity distribution? In many service sectors, former public sector monopolies have been replaced by private sector oligopolies, or even local monopolies. This requires greater regulation and oversight, not just by CCI, but also sectoral regulators. Not only has regulation failed to keep pace with liberalisation, the liberalisation is incomplete. Therefore, any talk of oligarchic capitalism has to be with reference to manufacturing, not services or agriculture. Some of these studies are indeed focused on manufacturing. However, there is a major data issue there. As back-of-the-envelope numbers, 40-45% of manufacturing originates in small-scale and medium-sized sectors. Typically, these are not registered firms. Indeed, the 3rd SSI Census showed that a large number of such firms opt out of such registration, with non-registration ratios varying across states.

Since registration brings benefits and incentives, why don't firms register? Part of the answer has to do with high procedural costs of registration. The remainder has to do with registration bringing firms under the government's regulatory canvas, with scope for harassment and rent-seeking. Even when firms are registered, they aren't publicly-listed firms. Because of corporate governance requirements (such as independent directors), some smaller firms have voluntarily de-listed. Unlike developed countries, across segments, the Indian economy has a very high share of unorganised/informal elements and with development, there ought to be greater formalisation. Formal databases, including something like IIP, do not capture this sector adequately. Pre-2007, one of the driving forces behind manufacturing growth was this small-scale sector. Therefore, any exercise that bases itself on formal databases alone is likely to offer a jaundiced view. That apart, trade competition is not taken into account. Because of data limitations, most empirical analysis is based on CMIE sources, such as data on publicly listed firms. In the cell-phone market, if Nokia's market share has been driven down to 35% from 65%, that isn't likely to be thrown up in any such studies, or at least, not yet.

It is because of such constraints that policy implications of such studies are unclear. It is a fair point to make that competition requires free entry, and free exit and free exit don't exist, be it for the public sector or the private corporate sector. It is also a fair point to make that there has been a public sector decline and a relative gain for the private corporate sector. But what does one read into the proposition that private sector firms now possess a greater share of sales or of profits? As a factual statement, the proposition is correct. But it refers to the corporate sector alone and Indian industry isn't about the corporate sector. Consequently, comparison of concentration ratios in India with those in developed countries is neither here nor there. In manufacturing, it doesn't necessarily prove the existence of oligarchic capitalism. Had the argument been made for services, on the face of it, there would have been greater credibility, since one knows that lobbying for licences has switched from manufacturing to services. But because of data constraints again, such studies cannot be done. Consequently, one has studies that have limited policy value. And in sectors where the policy value is potentially greater, there are few studies.

The author is a noted economist





For the last week or so, the country appears riveted to the drama being played out in an Islamic seminary deep in India's Hindi heartland, near Saharanpur—the Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband—which is the second biggest centre for Islamic learning in the world.

The drama started off innocuously enough when the new rector of Deoband, Maulana Vastanvi, said in an interview that Muslims in India needed to look beyond the events of 2002, the reference, of course, was to the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat.

The uproar that followed and the calls for Vastanvi's resignation following that particular statement quite obscured the fact that he had also, in the same interview, said that Gujarat's chief minister Narendra Modi could in no way be let off the hook. It also quite conveniently recalibrated the power struggle within the seminary and the Muslim community as a whole into that of a "true" Muslim and a collaborator to the Sangh cause.

What is really happening in Deoband, had Vastanvi resigned as rector or not, and who are the people who are poised to take his place in case he is edged out on February 23?

The seminary of Deoband was founded in 1886 and has had a major role in shaping Muslim politics in India. In wielding this power, it has also spawned a political wing of its own, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. It saw an uninterrupted headship during 1935-1983 under Qari Tayyeb, a learned scholar of Islam and who steered the seminary as best he could. In 1983, politics-savvy Asad Madani entered the picture and in a coup of sorts, his uncle Marghoobur Rahman was appointed rector of Deoband. The Madani family, well respected across the community, has held sway over the seminary since then.

The death of Marghoobur Rahman in December last year necessitated the appointment of a new rector, and this was duly done through the Majlis-e-Shoora, a 17-member board of learned maulvis, 14 of whom were present when the meeting to elect Vastanvi took place on January 10, 2011.

His election, with eight out of those 14 votes, stunned the establishment in Deoband, not least because he was a non-Qasmi (a Qasmi is a graduate from Deoband itself) but also that he would be bringing an entirely new sensibility to community at large. Plans for a medical college attached to Deoband and specialised courses of study were part of his appeal to many members of the Shoora.

The controversy over Vastanvi and the people who have come down on both sides of the argument reflect the debate that is raging at the heart of the Muslim community in India. The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid judgement, and the way it was received by the Muslim community at large, has stunned many, especially those political parties that claim to receive support from the community.

The victory of Nitish Kumar in Bihar and the BJP's spectacular performance in the state has also nailed the lie on just how Muslims vote or are prepared to vote in the future. Vastanvi brings with him a modernising project through specialised education, away from the strictly theological imperatives, and many in the community are demanding that this project be given full rein.

The only recent instance of an en bloc Muslim vote was in the 2004 General Elections, fresh after the 2002 Gujarat riots, the heinous nature of which united the community against the BJP. It is not surprising, therefore, that a modernisation project, which threatens established power structures and age old "safe" ways of engaging the Muslim community, is being debunked by the bogey of 2002.

Vastanvi, who offered to quit in the aftermath of his remarks, has now decided to stand his ground—quite obviously he has been assured of some support. For Indian Muslims, it is a debate that will settle many questions and hopefully chart a clear way to the future.






Myanmar's recently elected parliament has convened at Naypyidaw, but it would be unwise to expect first-hand accounts of the session in the media. In the "discipline-flourishing democracy" of the junta, journalists were not allowed to cover the opening day's proceedings. There can be no visitors to this parliament, and anyone other than a legislator caught entering the building faces a one-year prison term and fine. The shadow of the junta is everywhere. The new bicameral parliament has 664 members, of which nearly 500 belong to the Union Solidarity and Development Party, a proxy for the military regime that goes by the name of State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Separately, 25 per cent of the seats in both houses go to serving military officers. Together, the junta controls, more or less, 82 per cent of the parliamentary seats. The opposition, represented by the National Democratic Force, a splinter group of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, has a mere 16 seats. (The NLD boycotted the elections.) Parties representing Myanmar's ethnic nationalities form another small clutch of opposition voices. But the military's brute majority ensures that the reins are firmly in its hands. Any opposition proposal seeking reforms in governance, in the Constitution, or in the political system, is certain to meet a swift end. In any case, the rules governing proceedings give opposition members little room to freely ask questions, or introduce legislation. The elections, held in November 2010, were a sham exercise in democracy; the convening of the parliament is an extension of this trickery.

The legislators are to elect a President who will head the new government that will replace the SPDC. It is certain that he will be a trusted representative of the junta. Will Senior General Than Shwe put up his own name or is it going to be another general slightly lower in the hierarchy? The military will also be well represented in the cabinet. There should be no doubt now that Ms Suu Kyi took the right step in boycotting the election. Her participation in the junta's "road map to democracy" could have only given it legitimacy. On her release from long years of house arrest, an event timed by the junta to immediately follow the election, the Nobel Laureate spoke about dialogue with the military towards national reconciliation and putting in place a genuine democracy in Myanmar. The regime has not responded to the offer. Ms Suu Kyi's shining achievement has been to demonstrate through thick and thin that she remains immensely popular with the people of her country — and therefore cannot be written out of Myanmar's political equation.





The notification of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 has provided a legal framework for protecting an ecosystem that has come under serious threat from unregulated development activity. Wetlands provide a range of ecosystem services, not the least of which is water security to vast regions housing millions of people. If cities depend on them as reservoirs and flood control systems, rural communities derive basic sustenance from these marvels of nature. It is welcome, therefore, that the rules prohibit some of the more destructive activities that have wiped out a large number of wetlands in several States. Inland and coastal wetlands have been lost over the years due to reclamation, conversion to industrial use, dumping of solid waste, discharge of untreated sewage from cities and towns and effluents from industries, and encroachment for construction. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has acted commendably to stop this tragic course. But the conservation effort can succeed only if the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority created under the new rules has sufficient independence to work with the State governments and local authorities to identify and protect water bodies. Also, it is important to allay, through vigorous action, the apprehension among research scientists that the Authority may not have the freedom to pursue its mandate considering that the Secretary in the same Ministry heads it.

A good beginning has been made by extending the rules to, among others, 25 wetland sites listed under the Ramsar Convention. Some of them are also covered by other environmental protection laws pertaining to forests and wildlife. In addition to the biodiversity-rich Ramsar sites, there are several less-known wetlands in India that have been documented by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History. All of these are demonstrably important to local communities and potentially qualify for protected status. The real test for the new rules lies in the ability of the Authority to monitor the actions of the nodal department in the States, which will be responsible for enforcement. These departmental personnel must ensure the health of wetlands that fall outside the jurisdiction of the Forest department. There is a growing community of environmentalists who are keenly documenting the state of water bodies. All that the Authority has to do is to enlist these community conservationists as its voluntary field workers to maintain the vigil. State governments and local bodies, which are now on deadline to end the disposal of waste and effluents into wetlands, must move with alacrity to enforce the rules.








With Karnataka Governor H.R. Bhardwaj sanctioning the permission that two advocates sought to file a case against Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa over allegations of corruption including the de-notification, to benefit his relatives, of land acquired by the government, the decks appear to have been cleared for the next inescapable step. That step, if the confrontation worsens, could be the dismissal of the Chief Minister and the imposition of President's Rule in the State. The all-too-predictable violence that was let loose during the State-wide bandh called by the Bharatiya Janata Party on January 23 following the Governor's action, could well provide the justification for such drastic action.

According to a report in Varta Bharati, a Kannada daily (January 23), the Governor, who is known to be a loyal Congressman, warned a delegation of BJP Ministers led by Law Minister S. Suresh Kumar that called on him to protest against the sanctioning of prosecution, of such a step. The warning was issued in the context of the BJP's call for the bandh, before the bandh degenerated into violence the following day. The Union Home Minister too warned the BJP that taking the battle to the streets would be unacceptable.

However, such warnings are unlikely to persuade the BJP to moderate its protests. The BJP would like nothing more than get its government dismissed and wear the halo of martyrdom. The party had done exactly that when the Janata Dal (Secular) walked out of the coalition led by the BJP and paved the way for the collapse of the first government led by Mr. Yeddyurappa within a week of its assuming office in November 2007. Less than a year later, in May 2008, the BJP came to power on its own, albeit with the help of a few independent MLAs to muster a majority in the Assembly.

In its three years in office, the BJP government has exposed itself in all its venality, and worse. These years were marked by a further entrenchment of communalism and destruction of social harmony even in areas where communalism was not an issue earlier. The Bababudangiri-Datta Peetha issue, attacks on churches, criminalisation of normal aspects of social interaction such as conversations between boys and girls belonging to different communities … the list can go on. Serious allegations of corruption have been made by the Lokayukta, who considers L.K. Advani a "father figure."

The BJP, which historically has been an inconsequential political force in the State, was able to become part of a government in Karnataka in February 2006, even if only as a partner in a coalition with the JD(S), thanks to an alliance that the JD(S) struck with the BJP. Driven by his antagonism to the Congress — which probably earned that following its successful poaching of a JD(S) leader and attempts to break the JD(S) — he broke with Congress-JD(S) coalition government under the Congress' N. Dharam Singh that had assumed office following the 2004 Assembly elections.

This was not the first time that a 'secular' political party was joining hands with the BJP solely with a view to retaining power. But the seeming lack of qualms on the part of the JD(S) was striking. Though it had won more seats than the JD(S) in 2004, the BJP, taking a long-term political perspective, agreed to serve under a JD(S) Chief Minister. The understanding was that the BJP nominee would head the government for the last two years of the life of the Assembly. However, after happily being in power with the BJP, whose leader was the Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister in the coalition for two years, the JD(S) walked out when it was the BJP's turn to head it.

The BJP exploited this 'breaking of faith' by the JD(S) and emerged as the largest single party in the May 2008 elections, but it was still short of a majority. It, however, managed the required numbers and, in its own eyes, became the legitimate party of government in the State. It has been routinely asking for the elimination of the JD(S) as a political force in the State. It envisages a 'two-party system,' with two 'national parties', itself and the Congress, competing for power. No doubt, this explains the virulence of the JD(S)' opposition to the BJP. Leaders who have even older grudges against the Congress accuse the two parties of being in a 'secret alliance' with a view to marginalising and eventually eliminating the JD(S) as a political force.

Pipe dreams, really. Three into Two will simply not go; the reality defies the formula. For the political pathology of the state and society in Karnataka is marked by near-frozen divisions rooted in caste and regional loyalties. Fortunately, religion and language identities allow for some plasticity. The fragmented polity merely reflects this social and political reality.

These differences once found their political expressions within Congress factions. Until the period of the Emergency and its immediate aftermath, the competition was essentially between and among these factions. Palace coups could take care of internal dissidence without affecting the dominance of the Congress. Thus, even during the three decades of unchallenged dominance of the Congress in Karnataka, only three Chief Ministers completed their term: K.C. Reddy, S. Nijalingappa and Devaraj Urs. K.C. Reddy had the advantage of being the first Chief Minister after Independence; and the last, Devaraj Urs, the extraordinary conditions that prevailed during the Emergency.

This has not been the case post-Emergency, when the State had five Congress-led governments — including one led by S. Bangarappa who has gone through a veritable odyssey of political journeys including a stint with the BJP. Only one of these, led by S.M. Krishna, was able to complete its term. The BJP has exploited this instability, and the deep desire of the urban middle classes for stability, by presenting itself as the very symbol of political rectitude and stability.

There is little doubt about the incompetence, and worse aspects, of the first BJP government in Karnataka, now in its third year. Its very beginnings when the BJP had not won an absolute majority of seats in the 224-seat Legislative Assembly but managed to form the government, invested the government with a measure of illegitimacy.

However, given the State's depoliticised polity, beset metaphorically with too many circuses, the political mobilisation against such a regressive political formation has had very little that is political about it. Instead, it too looks like a circus. Consistent with the Congress culture to which the JD(S) too is heir, the mobilisation has always looked like yet another attempted palace coup that was a feature of the rearranging of the deck chairs during the years of Congress dominance. Only this explains the constant visitations upon the Raj Bhavan, routinely described as 'courtesy calls'. The leader of the Congress Legislature Party routinely calls for the resignation of the Chief Minister, sometimes imploring the BJP Legislature Party to ditch Mr. Yeddyurappa and elect a new (BJP) leader in his place. It is almost as if the problems faced by the people of the State are not the doing of the BJP but of one individual.

In the last three years of the BJP government, one has not come across a single mass public rally anywhere in the State by any opposition party seeking to expose the corruption, and worse acts, of the BJP government. No political party seems to want to "go to the people." This does contrast with the kind of political mobilisation that takes place routinely on matters of public polity in faraway Assam. There, the separatist insurgent outfit, the United Liberation Front of Asom, still outlawed though its leaders are on bail and freely moving about in the State, is now planning to hold State-wide political conventions to seek opinion and guidance from the people on its three-decade-long struggle for sovereignty.








When I came to Dubai nearly four years ago to write a book, the great financial crisis that was to afflict much of the world had just begun to take shape. In the event, one of its most notable victims was this tiny Emirate, a city-state that had risen out of the Arabian littoral's unforgiving desert and become a global metropolis in barely two decades. Its economy was hit hard, and it is still recovering.

Now another crisis is in full bloom — the popular revolt in Egypt — in another part of the Middle East. This one has far deeper implications concerning governance for everyday Arabs than anything they've experienced. The story of people-driven democracy is still unfolding, I yearn to cover it, but the time has come for me to leave Arabia because a different assignment — in southern Africa — beckons. I have always felt that it's best to say farewell while one is still welcome to stay.

Optimism, admiration

I end my four-year tenure in Dubai as I began: with optimism about Emirati society, and with admiration for its tolerance. I end my tenure, however, with the nagging feeling that I may not be the last person of Indian origin to leave this land, which was largely built with the brains, brawn, and banking and bargaining skills of South Asians. Even though India is the largest trading partner of the United Arab Emirates — home to Dubai and six other sheikhdoms — it is Pakistan that's on the ascendancy here. There is, of course, the Islamic connection that binds the two countries, but there's also the fact that Pakistan has been extraordinarily diligent in cultivating the Emiratis. There are roughly 1.7 million Indians in the UAE — but there are also 1.6 million Pakistanis; the numbers of the former are decreasing, while those of the latter are on the rise.

Indian or Pakistani, the presence of South Asians has been nourishing for the UAE, a country whose own nationals constitute just about 10 per cent of the population. It has been a heady experience to observe this, even for a veteran journalist who has reported from more than 150 countries in a career spanning more than four decades.

Here in the UAE, I saw for myself a nation under construction in white speed. I witnessed how city-states such as Dubai showed their resilience during a wrenching financial crisis. I cringed when the international media often misread social clues here. I fulminated at the malevolence of some observers who wrote off Dubai when the real-estate bubble burst. They failed to understand that societies, like people, have their ups and downs, and that the development of Dubai is, simply put, an act of indomitable will. I know that Dubai will never be deterred: it has come too far along the road to development for any catastrophic collapse to occur.

Lessons learnt

That said, what were the special lessons I learned during my time in this extraordinary country blessed with great reserves of crude oil but not with a significant cohort of home-grown talent?

I learned that as a foreigner, one should never forget that one is a guest here. That means it's important to be always respectful of Emirati customs and traditions. That also means one must always follow the law — in letter and in spirit. The UAE is arguably the most liberal of the six countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council. But it is foolhardy to push the envelope too much. I am not a squeamish man — not after having covered coups, earthquakes and wars on many continents — and I do not ride a high moral horse. I am appalled, however, at how indifferent many expats are to local sensitivities.

Local sensitivities to bacchanalian behaviour by outsiders may not be reactionary. But that doesn't matter. The UAE is an Islamic society, with its own canons and customs. The least that we transients can do is to study those principles, and to be mindful of them. The least we transients can do is to accept that all cultures are entitled to celebrate their special histories and practices.

Another lesson: Never say in private what you'd be ashamed to say in public. This is not to suggest self-censorship, or muzzling of one's opinions. But anyone coming to the UAE is surely aware that the political system here is not akin to the Westminster or Washington or New Delhi models. This is not the place to make radical political statements — because the UAE is not a political society. Its governance is based on tribal traditions of fairness; grievances do get heard and do indeed get resolved, for the most part.

There's no point in cavilling about hereditary rule in the seven emirates: it is what it is, and no amount of snarky commentary is going to change the system. I always say to fellow foreigners: This is a place to come to enjoy your life, ply your trade, become prosperous, and revel in the sheer beauty of the UAE. This is not the place to practice politics. If you want to run for public office, try London, or New York, or New Delhi, or Papua New Guinea. If you want to come to Dubai, leave your political baggage behind. My Egyptian and Palestinian friends find this difficult to accept. But they really have very little choice in a country where the whereabouts and whispers of every person are carefully monitored.

Yet another lesson: Try and circulate beyond your own ethnic communities. People who complain that they have few Emirati friends sometimes ask me how did I manage to have so many. No magic to that: Just reach out. This doesn't mean that you will always form enduring friendships with nationals. But you will always find warm welcomes. Dubai offers unique opportunities for cultural cross-fertilization. It's a pity that far too many foreigners seem stuck in the grooves and groves of their own communalism. This especially true of Indians, who often seem daunted by a perception that Arabs are racist and that they favour whites. I can't speak for Arabs, but I doubt if I've been judged by the pigment of my skin. Many Emiratis I know seem puzzled at the trademark servile mannerisms of Indians. I've been puzzled, too.

Still another lesson: Trust is hard won here. Your work will be generally recognised. If it isn't, then just shrug, swallow an aspirin, and slide away. You need to know when to leave, because no one will really ask you to go away. That simply isn't the Emirati way: Emiratis don't like to lose well-wishers, but that doesn't mean they are prepared to tolerate inefficiencies and indifference.

And that brings me to perhaps the single most important lesson that I learned during these last four years: You may choose to leave Dubai, but Dubai never leaves you. Once you get here, Dubai lodges itself in your DNA. And that is not a bad thing at all, no matter where in the world you go next. I leave Dubai with the comforting knowledge that I will always be welcomed back.

( Pranay Gupte's next book, "Dubai: The Journey," will be published soon by Penguin-Viking to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.)








When President Obama unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, one predecessor was quick to applaud his selection for the award.

"I could not have thought of any other person that is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize than Barack Obama," Mohamed ElBaradei, then the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a videotaped statement. He went on to praise Mr. Obama's commitment "to restore moral decency" to the lives of people around the world.

But on January 30, Mr. ElBaradei, now a prominent face of the opposition on the streets of Cairo, was sounding a different tune. "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," Mr. ElBaradei told CBS's "Face the Nation." He called the United States' refusal to openly abandon President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt "a farce."

Fractious relationship

Mr. ElBaradei, 68, had a fractious relationship with the Bush administration, one so hostile that Bush officials tried to get him removed from his post at the atomic watchdog agency. But as Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the secular opposition on the streets of Cairo have increasingly coalesced around Mr. ElBaradei to negotiate on their behalf, the Obama administration is scrambling to figure out whether he is someone with whom the United States can deal.

Since the protests in Egypt erupted, Obama administration officials have been trying to reach Mr. ElBaradei, but they had not made contact as of January 31 afternoon, a White House official said. "I think that outreach is ongoing," said Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary.

Besides both winning Nobel prizes (Mr. ElBaradei won his Peace Prize in 2005), Mr. Obama and Mr. ElBaradei both opposed the war in Iraq, a position that tainted Mr. ElBaradei's relations with the Bush administration. Mr. Obama and Mr. ElBaradei spoke by telephone three times in the fall of 2009, as the nuclear agency director was finishing up his term, and the two men met in September 2009 at the United Nations, where Mr. Obama was hosting a nuclear security summit meeting. They talked about Iran's nuclear ambitions, a White House official said.

Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks showed that Mr. ElBaradei was enthusiastic about Mr. Obama in the early months of his presidency. In April 2009, a cable reported, he told the American representative to the IAEA, Gregory L. Schulte, that on a recent tour of Latin America "his message to each government had been to 'help President Obama succeed.'" He praised Mr. Obama's April 2009 speech in Prague on nuclear disarmament, which had echoed some of his own proposals, declaring "with a laugh that he could have written it himself."

The issues

But now, the biggest questions for the Obama administration are Mr. ElBaradei's views on issues related to Israel, Egypt and the United States. For instance, both the United States and Israel have counted on the Egyptians to enforce their part of the blockade of Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group Hamas.

But in an interview last June with the London-based Al Quds Al-Arabi, Mr. ElBaradei called the Gaza blockade "a brand of shame on the forehead of every Arab, every Egyptian and every human being." He called on his government, and on Israel, to end the blockade, which Israeli and Egyptian officials argue is needed to ensure security.

During an IAEA board of governors meeting in June 2009, Mr. ElBaradei clashed sharply with Israel's representative over a Syrian reactor destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in 2007. An American cable from Vienna said that Israel had ignored advice not to criticise Mr. ElBaradei publicly, and he responded in kind, accusing Israel of violating international law.

Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and a friend of Mr. ElBaradei, said on January 31 that Mr. ElBaradei wanted Israel to join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Israel, along with India and Pakistan, is not a signatory.

One senior Obama administration official said that it was not lost on the administration that Mr. ElBaradei's contentious relations with the Bush administration helped explain why he was now being viewed by some as a credible face of the opposition in Egypt.

"Ironically, the fact that ElBaradei crossed swords with the Bush administration on Iraq and Iran helps him in Egypt, and God forbid we should do anything to make it seem like we like him," said Philip D. Zelikow, former counsellor at the State Department during the Bush years. For all of his tangles with the Bush administration, Mr. ElBaradei, an international bureaucrat well known in diplomatic circles, is someone whom the United States can work with, Mr. Zelikow said.

However, he allowed, "Some people in the administration had a jaundiced view of his work."

Among them was John Bolton, the former Bush administration United States ambassador to the United Nations, who routinely clashed with Mr. ElBaradei on Iran. "He is a political dilettante who is excessively pro-Iran," he complained. Even some of Mr. ElBaradei's staff members chafed a bit when he softened the edges of IAEA reports, especially on Iran. They believed he was doing everything he could to avoid giving the Bush administration, or Israel, a reason to launch a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Mr. ElBaradei's term ended early in Mr. Obama's tenure, so any real differences over how to handle Iran never came to a head. And when he left, he said over a dinner that he was enormously admiring of Mr. Obama, chiefly because the new President had adopted much of Mr. ElBaradei's nuclear agenda.

When Mr. ElBaradei returned to Egypt for a visit last February, American diplomats observing his reception thought he had some potential to become an anchor for the political opposition, according to diplomatic cables.

At the same time, American diplomats underscored the limits of his appeal, saying his "broader public support remains unclear" and quoting news reports and members of the ruling party as mocking him as an arrogant outsider.

"Many criticised his intention to 'impose conditions' on Egypt from afar and his desire to see the presidency given to him on a 'silver platter,' " a cable said. ( David E. Sanger contributed reporting.)— © New York Times News Service






Sitting in a testing facility at the University of Colorado, the inner shell of the Dream Chaser space plane looks like the fuselage of an old DC-3.

The test structure has been pushed and pulled to see how it holds up to the stresses and strains of spaceflight. With an additional infusion of money from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the company that makes the Dream Chaser, Sierra Nevada Space Systems, hopes to complete the rest of the structure and eventually take astronauts to orbit.

"Our view is if we could stop buying from the Russians, if we could make life cheaper for NASA, and if we could build a few vehicles that do other things in low-Earth orbit that are valuable, isn't that, at the end of the day, a good thing?" said Mark N. Sirangelo, the company's chairman.

The Dream Chaser is one of several new spacecraft that companies are hoping to launch into space with help from the government. Last year, the Obama administration pushed through an ambitious transformation for NASA: cancelling the Ares I rocket, which was to be the successor to the current generation of space shuttles, and turning to the commercial sector for astronaut transportation.

So far, most of the attention in this new commercial space race has focused on Boeing, which has five decades of experience building spacecraft, and Space Exploration Technologies Corporation — SpaceX, for short — a brash upstart that gained credibility last year with two launchings of its Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, a founder of PayPal and chief executive of Tesla Motors, already has a NASA contract for delivering cargo to the space station, and says that it can easily add up to seven seats to its Dragon cargo capsule to make it suitable for passengers. Boeing is also designing a capsule, capable of carrying six passengers, under the corporate-sounding designation of CST-100.

But Boeing and SpaceX are not the only competitors seeking to provide space taxi services, a programme that NASA calls commercial crew. Last year, in the first-round financing provided for preliminary development, Sierra Nevada Space Systems won the largest award: $20 million out of a total of $50 million.

Announcement in March

In December, another space company, Orbital Sciences Corporation, announced it had submitted a similar bid for a space plane it wants financed during the second round. NASA is to announce the winners by the end of March, and they will divide $200 million.

About half of NASA's $19 billion budget goes toward human spaceflight — the space shuttles, the International Space Station — and $200 million this year is just a small slice.

"If this is indeed the path to do this work, it's probably not what they should be putting into it," said Mr. Sirangelo, who is also chairman emeritus of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a trade group. "But on the other hand, it's a lot more than we had before. And it's an acknowledgment there's momentum in the industry and what we're trying to accomplish. So that's good."

After the second round, NASA would like narrow its choices down to two, maybe three, systems to finance.

The blueprint for NASA, passed by Congress last year and signed into law by President Obama, calls for spending on commercial crew to rise to $500 million each year in 2012 and 2013.

Mr. Sirangelo said the company had invested its own money into the Dream Chaser — indeed, more than the $20 million that NASA has provided. Over the past year, the company has done a test-firing of the engines it plans to use on the Dream Chaser, and it dropped a scale model of the spacecraft from a helicopter to verify the aerodynamics.

The design of the Dream Chaser also has a long lineage, inspired by a Soviet spacecraft. In 1982, an Australian reconnaissance aircraft photographed a Russian trawler pulling something with stubby wings out of the Indian Ocean. It turned out to be a test flight of a space plane called the Bor-4, and the craft captured enough curiosity that engineers at NASA Langley copied it.

NASA called its version the HL-20, and for a while in 1991, it looked to be the low-cost choice for taking astronauts to and from the space station. Then the NASA administrator who liked it, Vice Adm. Richard Truly of the Navy, left, and the man who replaced him, Daniel S. Goldin, thought it was not cheap enough and ended the work.

The Dream Chaser design keeps the exact outer shape from the HL-20 — a decision that allows Sierra Nevada to take advantage of years of wind tunnel tests that Langley had performed — while modifying the design within. The biggest change is the addition of two engines, which reduces the number of passengers to seven from 10, but adds manoeuvrability. To finish developing the Dream Chaser would require less than $1 billion, Mr. Sirangelo said, and it could be ready to fly an orbital test flight in three years.

He imagines that one flight could combine a number of tasks — taking astronauts to the space station and then stopping on the return trip to repair or refuel a satellite. Officials at Orbital Sciences — a company in Dulles, Va., that builds and launches rockets and satellites for everything from television broadcasts to scientific research — say they are excited by the possibilities of commercial crew, but they are more cautious.

Its space plane design is a refinement of the HL-20. Following in the pattern of tapping Greek mythology for the names of its spacecraft, Orbital calls its plane Prometheus. Orbital says development of Prometheus would cost $3.5 billion to $4 billion, which would include the cost of upgrading the Atlas V rocket and two test flights. With enough financial support, David W. Thompson, chief executive of Orbital, is sure that his company can build and operate Prometheus. But he is less sure that his industry is at a tipping point for spaceflight to become much more common, driving down prices and opening up space to new businesses. "I think it depends on what the demand curve really is," he said. "I would say I'm highly sceptical."

    © New York Times News Service







The government's qualified green signal to South Korean steel giant Posco's $12 billion steel mill and captive port in Orissa is a mixed bag: the true implications of the 60-odd conditions which Posco has to fulfil are still not clear. It is learnt there could be stumbling blocks such as the rehabilitation of around 10,000 cultivators and 471 families who till their own land in 11 villages. It is really surprising that it was left to the Orissa chief minister to ensure compliance — after all he is an interested party, in the sense that he was actively pushing the Posco project, perhaps to encourage further overseas investment in his state's development. Local residents and those likely to be affected by the project have for long complained that neither chief minister Naveen Patnaik nor his ministers, or indeed anyone from Posco, have ever bothered to interact with them, find out how their livelihood will be affected or to indeed ask what they wanted. This was always left to lower-level functionaries. They also note that minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh, considered in many quarters as a "green" champion, had also never bothered to visit the affected areas though he has always personally interacted with industry bodies to hear grievances. The locals say while they have heard Posco has built a township to rehabilitate the affected people, this might not necessarily be what they want.

The authorities' utter disregard towards ordinary Indians affected by development projects is both shocking and surprising — after all the analysis and soul-searching on how movements like those of the Naxalites has grown in India, has the government really learnt no lessons? In this 62nd year of the republic, which we began just a week ago, New Delhi simply cannot act with a colonial mindset towards citizens who happen to be impoverished, unskilled and uneducated.

It appears Mr Ramesh might have had to capitulate in the face of tremendous pressure brought on him from within and outside the country, and to counter the rising criticism in many quarters that he is "anti-development" and that he and his ministry are impeding the nation's growth. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, on a recent visit to Seoul for a G-20 summit, had in fact given an indication to his South Korean hosts that the Posco project would go through. One by one, Mr Ramesh has had to approve a number of projects he had put under the scanner — Vedanta Resources, Navi Mumbai airport, the nuclear power projects in Jaipura in Maharashtra and Lavasa near Pune — even if with some "conditions". The explanation is that these have a lot of "economic, technological and strategic" significance for the country. A South Korean minister had warned that the thousands of jobs which Posco would create could not be ignored. But what about the 10,000 or more people who stand to lose their livelihood? Nevertheless, it might be a tad unfair to call the minister of state for environment "Rollback Ramesh" in the way the NDA's onetime finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, used to be called "Rollback Sinha", after capitulating on a series of proposals in his Budget.

All this is not to deny the fact that development and job creation are desperately needed in this country. It needs only to be done with a lot more sensitivity. Posco, for example, had been offered an alternative site barely 4-5 km from the existing one. It is also not too late to sit down with the affected locals and discuss with them how their interests can be protected while the project moves ahead. If "inclusive growth" is to mean anything more than just a slogan, that could be the way forward.






India is planning to replace the rules under the Environment Protection Act with a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai) Act. This will give genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) fast-track approvals and throw its critics into jail. The recently-appointed minister of science and technology, Ashwini Kumar, has announced that the Government of India is planning to introduce four bills in the upcoming Budget session — Brai Bill, DNA Profiling Bill, Regional Centre for Biotechnology Bill and the Public Funded R&D (Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property) Bill. The Prime Minister's Office has already written to various state governments suggesting partnerships with corporations in the seed sector. This rush to push genetically-modified and patented seeds ignores evidence that GMOs will not be able to provide food security. Genetically-engineered seeds are patented. Patents allow companies to collect royalties. This increases the price of seed. Patents also force the farmer to buy seed every year. This pushes up the price of seed and traps farmers in debt. Debt has already pushed 2,50,000 Indian farmers to suicide in the last 15 years. Citizens as consumers also pay a very high price. They are forced to eat food with toxic genes. Biodiversity is replaced with uniformity; Taste and quality are replaced with hazards; And freedom to choose is replaced with force feeding.
A serious issue related to GMOs is conflict of interest. In fact, WikiLeaks recently released a communication where the US ambassador in Paris, Craig Stapleton, a close friend and business partner of then President George Bush, is urging the White House to launch a military-style trade war against GM sceptics in Europe. "Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the European Union since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits", he wrote. America's science and technology adviser Nina Fedoroff was sent to India in February 2010 to try and prevent the moratorium on Bt brinjal. At the Biotechnology Industry Organisation's annual convention in May 2010, Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, US, told several hundred attendees from around the world that the US state department will aggressively confront critics of agricultural biotechnology as the United States seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The US-based multinational seed giant Monsanto which has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with six states, controls 95 per cent of all GM seeds sold in India.

In India, the same scientists who promote GMOs sit on regulatory bodies. When the environment minister asked six academies of science to provide their scientific inputs for the Bt brinjal moratorium, what they submitted was propaganda material lifted verbatim from industry literature. The situation is worse in the US where the biotechnology industry literally runs all government agencies. That is why the US government tried to sue Europe in World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the GMO bans in some countries. The WTO GMO campaign was started by Navdanya with a large coalition of groups worldwide. Navdanya had to organise a massive global campaign and submitted 60 million signatures to WTO at the Hong Kong ministerial to prevent the removal of the bans.

GMOs continue to be promoted as the only solution to hunger and food security. However, the tools of genetic engineering are merely tools of transferring genes across species boundaries. They are not tools of breeding. The breeding is still done through conventional methods. The yield of a crop is determined by conventional technologies, not by genetic engineering. Yield is a multi-genetic trait, and genetic engineering cannot deal with complex traits. The report "Failure to Yield" of the Union of Concerned Scientists — a non-profit science advocacy group based in the US — shows that in no crop has genetic engineering contributed to yield increase. The yield trait comes from the variety into which a GM trait is introduced. As Andrew Pollack of the New York Times observes: "The yield of a crop is mainly determined by the seed's intrinsic properties, not the inserted gene. An insect resistant protection gene will not make a poor variety a high yielder". The scientists' claim that GMOs will increase food security is therefore an unscientific myth. Over the 20 years of commercialisation of GMOs, two traits account for most genetic modification. These are crops into which a gene has been added to resist herbicides (herbicide-resistant crops) or a gene has been added to resist pests (Bt crops). The former are supposed to control weeds, the latter are supposed to control pests. However, herbicide-resistant crops have led to evolution of super weeds, and pest-resistant crops have led to creation of super pests. Monsanto introduced Round-up Ready Crops for herbicide resistance. When super weeds started to overtake crops, Monsanto introduced Round-Up Ready II. In 2010, it introduced smart stax with eight toxic genes — six for insecticides and two for herbicide resistance. Monsanto's strategy was to "create a captive customer base" through stacking eight toxic genes. The strategy was a failure. Monsanto lost 47 per cent of its shares, and is paying US farmers $12 per acre to deal with the problems created by its GMO seeds. If one toxic gene does not control pests and instead creates super pests, stacking six insecticidal genes will only accelerate the emergence of resistance. Monsanto and others who promote GMOs forget Einstein's observations that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result".

Another serious issue related to GMOs is the destruction of biodiversity, and the creation of monocultures and monopolies. India had 1,500 varieties of cotton. Today 95 per cent of cotton grown in India is Bt cotton. And most of the Bt cotton is owned and controlled by Monsanto through licensing arrangements. Monsanto charges `50 lakh as an initial licence fee and then royalty. When GM Bt cotton was introduced, prices of cotton seed jumped from `5 per kg to `1,600 per 450 gm of which the royalty was `725. If this extraction of super profits had continued, it translated into an annual transfer of `1,000 crore or `10 billion from poor Indian farmers to Monsanto. For the farmer this means debt. An anti-trust case against Monsanto filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh has forced the company to reduce the price of Bt cotton, but the introduction of Bollgard II has pushed the prices up again.

A failed and hazardous technology such as genetic engineering can only be pushed through dictatorial means. GMOs and democracy cannot co-exist. GMO-free food and agriculture is necessary for creating food security and defending food democracy.

Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust






The three major causalities of "2010 scams" that I intend to discuss here pertain to certain good practices and principles expected from the leaders of our democracy, but ones which have not been followed by them while taking decisions. They are:

Erosion of the implicit trust of the people of India in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh;

Serious damage to the credibility of telecom minister Kapil Sibal when he defended the decisions of his predecessor in office in the allocation of 2G spectrum; andFailure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership at the national and the state level (in the case of Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa) to take mature political decisions keeping in view the larger interests of the state and the nation.
With regard to Dr Singh forfeiting the implicit trust of the people, I would like to go back to 21 June, 1989, when Prime Minister-designate P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted Dr Singh to join his Cabinet as finance minister. At that time, Dr Singh asked me whether Rao would stand by him even if some of Rao's own Cabinet or party colleagues were to oppose Dr Singh's proposals and plans. Knowing Rao's mind fairly well, I assured Dr Singh that he would have Rao's full trust and support.

When Dr Singh became the Prime Minister, it was clear that his style of working was very different from that of his predecessors. He created the impression that he was reluctant to be harsh in pulling up his colleagues even when he found some of them crossing the line of Cabinet discipline. The most conspicuous example was when he issued a set of instructions to the minister of telecommunication on policies and procedures to be followed in the allocation of 2G spectrum. However, when the minister insisted on implementing the policies and procedures he considered best, Dr Singh, through his letter dated January 3, 2008, simply acknowledged the latter's letter dated December 26, 2007, and this left the minister free to do what he was bent on doing.
In doing this, Dr Singh was exposing his weakness to overrule the minister and refer the whole matter to the Cabinet for a discussion. Perhaps he still nursed the fear he had expressed to me in 1989, about losing the support of politicians. Whatever may be the case, one thing is very clear now — that the impeccable faith the common people had in Dr Singh has become a major causality of "2010 scams".

Now let's deal with the defence put up by Mr Sibal of the decisions taken by his predecessor A. Raja. During my tenure in the Rajya Sabha (2002-2008), I watched and heard with admiration the persuasive arguments of Mr Sibal couched in very dignified language, both as a member of the Opposition as well as a minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. He came to Parliament with the reputation of a successful lawyer in the courts in New Delhi. But I saw an all together new Mr Sibal when I watched him in a very aggressive mood during a recent television interview. One was confused trying to figure out who was interviewing whom. At one stage, Mr Sibal even tried to expose the interviewer's alleged lack of grasp on the technicalities of the 2G spectrum affair.

My first question about Mr Sibal's overenthusiastic performance as a defender of Mr Raja is why did a highly experienced lawyer like Mr Sibal intervene at this stage to defend Mr Raja when the Supreme Court itself was monitoring the investigation and a one-man committee was looking into the procedures and policies followed by the telecom department since 2001. And second, whether Mr Sibal had Dr Singh's permission to do so.
Mr Sibal's defence came at a time when the Central Bureau of Investigation was investigating the matter. By ridiculing the Comptroller and Auditor General's estimate of the presumptive loss to the nation, Mr Sibal, a senior member of the Cabinet, showed scant respect for a very important institution of our democracy. It is most unfortunate that Mr Sibal invited very unpleasant comments from the highest court in the country when it asked Mr Sibal "to behave with some sense of responsibility". This is not a mild rebuke. Mr Sibal's credibility has taken a severe beating.

What has happened in Karnataka in the last few months after the revelation of the lack of discretion shown by Mr Yeddyurappa in the allotment of land is something about which the BJP leadership cannot feel happy. Its first reaction to the chief minister's indiscretion was to ask him to resign after returning all the land allotted to his close relatives. But in spite of the BJP's brave attacks on corruption in the Congress, it yielded to the pressure of the chief minister and allowed him to continue in office. This has tied the national leadership of the BJP in knots and there's no easy escape.

Ever since his days in the Jan Sangh, Mr Yeddyurappa is considered one of the pillars of the BJP. And his prominence within the party rose significantly after he contributed substantially in bringing the BJP to power in Karnataka. If such a person cares more for the chief minister's chair than the good of his party and the state, we can form our own opinion about the quality of leaders in the country's main Opposition party. The state BJP is divided in factions, and Mr Yeddyurappa has been resorting to enticing people from rival camps to his side by giving them undeserved favours from the government, including allotment of land and conferring the title of "minister". It has been reported that in addition to the 30 members in the Cabinet, Mr Yeddyurappa has appointed 30 members with ministerial ranks. Though without power, they enjoy all the perks of the office. Actions like this by the chief minister are exposing the government to ridicule.

While the blame-game is going on between the BJP and the Congress, this unseemly controversy about who is more corrupt than the other is leading to the digging of graves of both the national parties in Karnataka. If the BJP high command still shows lack of will — or is it lack of courage in taking the risk of losing power in Karnataka? — it may fall under the weight of its own misdeeds.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra






Assam is the key state of the Northeast (N-E). Its population is more than double the combined population of the remaining seven states of the region and its natural resources, in terms of oil, tea and minerals, far surpass those of all the other N-E states. Its geo-strategic location is crucial — surface communications to the other N-E states pass through Assam. If Assam gets cut off from the mainland, so does the entire land mass of the N-E.
Tribal insurgencies in the N-E affect a small segment of our population in the peripheral areas. The Naga insurgency has lost steam with the ceasefire holding in Nagaland for the last 14 years. Insurgency in Manipur continues as a low-key affair. The Mizo insurgency was resolved through a political settlement and installation of the undisputed insurgent leader, Laldenga, as chief minister of Mizoram. Attempts to replicate the Mizoram model in Assam, or Jammu and Kashmir, are unlikely to succeed because of demographic diversity and there being no one undisputed leader in these sates. The people of Assam felt discriminated against by the Centre in various ways. Assam had been left out of the Green Revolution. It was denied full benefits from its oil and tea resources. The unabated influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh, encouraged by the ruling party for its votebank, has been affecting the state's demographic profile: the Assamese fear they may become a minority in their own state.

In 1979, the Election Commission found the names of 70,000 illegal migrants in the voter list of Mangaldoi constituency. This ignited widespread upheaval in the state. A peaceful students' movement with unprecedented mass support was started. Concurrently, United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) militancy started in tandem and gained great momentum, garnering tremendous resources during the five years of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) rule in the Eighties. The AGP government was dismissed and the Army called out to restore normalcy. It inflicted heavy attrition on Ulfa.

Arbinda Rajkhowa, the president of Ulfa, and Anup Chetia, its general secretary, agreed to peace talks in 1992 but wanted to bring Ulfa commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah from Bangladesh. They were allowed to go to that country for that purpose but they went underground and did not return. The Ulfa armed cadres set up camps in the jungles on the foothills of Bhutan while the Ulfa leadership was comfortably ensconced in Bangladesh. Then there was widespread popular support in Assam for Ulfa.

Insurgency was at its peak in 1997 when I took over as governor of Assam. I remained in that appointment for six years, till 2003. We worked on a three-pronged strategy — unified command, economic development and psychological initiatives. Each prong yielded rich dividends. We had been fighting insurgency in the N-E for 40 years, yet we did not have a unified command. The Army, paramilitary and police were acting more as competing, rather than complementary, forces. The setting up of a unified command, with the Army coordinating operations, proved highly successful. We inflicted heavy attrition on Ulfa — 2,500 killed in encounters while 3,000 surrendered with weapons. This broke their back. On the economic front, our major achievement was to install one lakh shallow tube wells. This turned Assam from a rice-deficit to a rice-surplus state. As for psychological initiatives, my 42-page printed report to the President recommending repeal of the obnoxious Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act and other measures to stop illegal migration, which had been the rootcause of insurgency in Assam, took the people by storm. Various psychological initiatives with high emotive content were undertaken. The icons of Assam were projected as national heroes. Our declared aim was to make the people of Assam proud of their past and the rest of India proud of Assam. Ulfa was isolated from the people. The rural people apprehended 81 Ulfa militants in different incidents. The Ulfa surrenders began to be witnessed appreciatively by thousands of people. Although the success achieved by us in Assam went largely unnoticed in our country, it drew attention in the US. Dr Anne Simons, in her monograph for the US' National War College, mentions Assam as a counter-insurgency success story of the 20th century.

The gains of 2003 were frittered away for extraneous reasons. The IMDT Act, struck down by the Supreme Court, was brought back through the backdoor by the Central government, amending the Foreigners Tribunal Order of 1964. With the 2006 Assembly elections approaching, the state government ordered suspension of operations in January 2004. Ulfa stragglers encircled in the jungles north of Dibrugarh faced extinction. In an ill-conceived attempt to win over Ulfa, indirect talks through a peace consultative group were started. This process dragged on for over a year without any result. This suited Ulfa as it gave them all the time to reinforce and regroup. It was allowed to resuscitate itself for electoral gains at the cost of national security. The armed outfit responded by attacking Independence Day celebrations at a school in Dhemaji in which some 30 schoolchildren were killed. Emboldened by its new-found strength, Ulfa started periodic terrorist strikes. There was no support for them from the people. The National Games were to be held at Guwahati in 2007. The chief minister appealed to Ulfa not to disturb the games. This further strengthened Ulfa's armed clout.
In 2010, the Bangladesh government handed over Arabinda Rajkhowa and some other top Ulfa leaders to India. Paresh Baruah escaped to China. Almost all the top Ulfa leaders were now in our captivity. With state Assembly elections to be held in April, the state government has tried to woo the rebel leadership. Rajkhowa and other top leaders were released on bail to hold unconditional peace talks. He was given a hero's welcome all over Assam, with welcome arches and huge crowds. He has now declared that there can be no compromise on his demand for independence for Assam. Baruah has opposed the holding of talks and wants to continue the struggle. There are reports of Ulfa leaders holding secret conclaves. Recruitment and training of rebel cadres have started. Some rebel leaders have openly vowed to avenge the attacks on their camps by the Royal Bhutan Army in December 2003. Bhutan has apprised India of its concerns. The reaction of Bangladesh, threatened by Islamists, is not known; however, Ulfa leaders have links with the latter. There is every possibility of Rajkhowa escaping again, as in 1992, and joining Baruah in China. Beijing has a golden opportunity to destabilise India in Assam. No matter what happens in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Assam, we have brought about a grave threat to our national security for petty electoral gain.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.








The popular uprising in Egypt, the most populated and influential country in the Arab world, has created a tumult far beyond its geographical spheres. The year 2011 is now being thought of as the 1989 of West Asia. Tens of thousands of Egyptians congregating peacefully in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo reminds one of the scenes of Warsaw, Prague and Berlin — when the sudden fall of the Soviet empire led to the liberation of Eastern Europe. Is the Arab world headed for liberation and true democracy?


It all began with Tunisia. On Dec 17, Muhammad Al Bouazizi, an unemployed postgraduate, was not allowed to set up a vegetable stall by the municipal authorities.Unable to face the grim prospe-cts of starvation of his eight member family, Al Bouazizi left a message for his mother on Facebook and set himself ablaze outside the municipality office. The fire didn't engulf Al Bouazizi alone.The country of ten million people, badly riddled with corruption, nepotism and unemployment, was up in flames, thus 'igniting' the jasmine revolution.Within a month of vociferous protests raging across the country, Zain El Abidine Ben Ali, dictator of Tunisia since November 1987, fled.Denied asylum by the French, the despot could only find refuge in autocratic Saudi Arabia.


The jasmine revolution has generated hope for democracy on the Arab street. After Tunis, protests were witnessed in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan. Long shackled populations of Libya, Saudi Arabia and other countries may also rise against their rulers.If Egypt sees a peaceful transition towards democracy, it will herald a revolution in the entire region, confirming in a sense the trend that the US vice president described as "a lot ... going on across ... from Tunisia to all the way to Pakistan".


For the last thirty years, United States and many other western countries have supported Hosni Mubarak's autocratic regime. So far he has been able to convince Western capitals that if his regime collapses, he will only be replaced by Islamists. For the US, it has been a choice between a democratically elected but Islamic government, and a stable pro-west authoritarian rule. This time too Hosni Mubarak tried to 'delegitimise' the popular uprising as inspired by 'Islamists'. The international community, however, seems to have finally come to terms with the fact that rather than having any ideological connotations, the unrest on the Muslim street is purely driven by the dispossessed.


Meanwhile Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief, has fast emerged as the face of the uprising. Opposition groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, have nominated ElBaradei for negotiations with the government "in anticipation of Mr Mubarak's early exit from the political scene". But he is not the real player. He has lived half of his life abroad and has very little support of his own among the masses. According to Middle East watchers, if elections are held today, Muslim Brotherhood will sweep the polls. And it is feared that if elected they may annul Egypt's peace treaty with Israel signed by Anwar Sadat in 1979. Egypt was the first Arab country to officially recognise Israel.


Judging by the intensity of the uprising, it seems that the exit of Hosni Mubarak is a foregone conclusion. Even if he defies the public mood and survives, he will be a liability, unable to serve American interests in the region. The departure of Mubarak may be considered a setback in Washington. However, if a true democracy is allowed to take root, the uprising will ultimately prove to be the 'birth pangs' of a new Middle East. Certainly, there is also a chance that hardliners may come to control the reins of power. But the policy of isolating the Islamists has only produced al Qaeda and its types and also made them popular on the Muslim street.


An all-inclusive approach will eventually only moderate the extremist ideologies. Even if the fringe continues to persist with its extremist mindset, it will not find many takers for its destructive agendas. Ross Douthat in his recent column in the New York Times has made a profound observation: Mubarak foreclosed any possibility of an Islamic revolution in his own country. But he also helped radicalise and internationalise his country's Islamists, pushing men like Ayman Al-Zawahiri (arguably the real brain behind al Qaeda) out of Egyptian politics and into global jihad.


Lastly, in this world of Facebook and Twitter, the social networking platforms have proved to be immensely beneficial in organising the Arab uprising; people cannot anymore be denied the freedom of expression. Doing so will only lead to more radicalisation and bloodshed.


The writer is a Srinagar-based columnist and political analyst.







The Hajigak iron ore deposits near Bamiyan in Afghanistan are one of the largest in the world with an estimated 1.8 to 2 billion tonnes of high-grade ore, enough to feed a steel plant 10 million tonnes per annum for a century. The Afghan government has been looking for someone to mine them and had sought international bids last year.


A turning point in India's stake in Afghanistan was reached when a consortium of Indian companies, backed and aided by the government, put in a bid for the mines and possibly steel plants in that dangerous, war-torn country.


This was at a time when the continuance of America and its allies is uncertain beyond 2014, and the region is likely to witness a new phase of the 'great game' in which India is expected to play a larger part. With a reduced role for the US and its allies, Afghanistan is going to seethe once again as a battleground not only for tribal rivalries, but between neighbors like Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and India.


The Afghan government has been looking for partners to exploit the country's rich mineral resources for several years but has only found one taker so far. The Beijing-based Metallurical Corp. of China won the license to mine Afghanistan's biggest copper deposits at Aynak in 2007. This will give it a much greater role, and together with Pakistan, could allow Beijing to dominate the region.


Pakistan's role has been to aid and abet the Taliban. The US, being unable to tame the Taliban despite having 110,000 troops and spending $115 billion every year in Afghanistan, is in a spot. Domestic support for the war is also declining.An opinion poll, published recently by the Washington Post reveals that a record 60% of Americans now believe the war is not worth fighting.


The changing view of the American establishment comes out starkly in an article in Foreign Affairs by Robert Blackwill, a senior foreign policy analyst and former US ambassador to India. Titled 'Plan B in Afghanistan', Blackwill argues that a de facto partition of Afghanistan is the least bad option. The article, which has also been carried in condensed form by some Indian newspapers, says, "Washington should accept that the Taliban will inevitably control most of the Pashtun south and east… a de facto partition offers the best available alternative to strategic defeat…


Washington would concentrate its efforts on defending the areas in the north and west of Afghanistan not dominated by the Pashtuns."


The Indian foreign policy establishment is aware that the new perspective changes the equations in the neighbourhood. Though Indian aid of $1.3 billion to build roads, power lines, a dam, provide buses and build the new Afghan parliament, etc have won it much support among the Afghan people, all this goodwill could be lost if a Pakistan-backed Talibanmoves in to control the Pashtun heartland.


Backed by the strong economic interest of China in the Aynak copper mine, the China-Pakistan axis would undermine our influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan, by its proxy control of the south and the east, and China by the economic clout it would wield.


Clearly India has to be prepared for such an eventuality. While any kind of armed intervention should be ruled out, we cannot afford to desert a long time friend either. Luckily, the Hajigak, mining bid provides just such a chance.


Merely to take out the iron ore in a typical colonial way would not do. What is needed is an integrated approach that would involve building a railway, one or more steel plants, generating employment within the country by having ancillary steel units and workshops, and creating vast employment potential by building and maintaining roads and truck transportation.


It would go a long way in moving the Afghan economy from drugs and guns. Sensibly handled, China need not only be a rival but could share a partnership in the development of Afghanistan since both Asian powers have an interest in a stable region.


Even Pakistan could have something to gain. At present it has only one integrated steel plant near Karachi and the total annual steel production in that country is under 5 million tonnes versus a consumption of over 8 million tonnes. It is the closest market for steel from Afghanistan.


Given the difficulties in Afghanistan, such a scenario might seem utopian. But it offers a good chance, if ever there is one, of restoring peace to a troubled land.








Soaring food prices have made life hard not only for ordinary people but for affordable sections of society as well. People are wondering why food prices are getting out of government's control. Political opposition has made it an issue to demoralize the government. People ask why the Prime Minister, known world over as an outstanding economist, is tight lipped on this explosive situation. Economics pundits come out with theories to explain why prices have skyrocketed: they also suggest remedial measure, which may or may not prove effective. The fact of the matter is that in a spectrum of globalization and market economy, nothing related to economic affairs can be taken into account in isolation. An overview of world economy shows that price hike is a global phenomenon and not exclusive to our country. Recently the United States government cut the stock forecast for the country's key crops. Argentina and Brazil are suffering dry spells and Russia from drought. On the other hand, excessive rainfalls have damaged crops in India and Indonesia, while Australian agriculture output will suffer because of floods. Despite great scientific and technological advancements, by and large, agriculture in most parts of the world depends on how favourably the nature behaves and how far the globe escapes unpredictable natural calamities. Apart from the wrath of nature, a Western push to use bio-fuels made from corn to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and increased demand for meat and dairy products from the richer Asian countries are also put forward as factors important enough to cause food scarcity and rising prices. All of these, however, are external causes which are not easily, if at all, controllable. What these help masking are causes that have led to the stagnation of agricultural sectors in the developing world, causes that are rooted in the policy choices of governments. According to a western expert, most of the world's hungry people do not use international food markets, and most of those who use these markets are not hungry. The fact is that international food markets, like international markets for everything else, are used primarily by the rich, not the poor. In world corn markets, the biggest importer by far is Japan followed by the European Union. Next comes South Korea. Surely, citizens in these countries are not underfed. In the poor countries of Asia, rice is the most important staple, yet most Asian countries import very little rice. Hunger is caused in these countries not by high international food prices, but by local conditions, especially rural poverty linked to low productivity in farming. India is no different in this regard given the misalignments of policy interventions. Interventions in the farm sector are mainly in the form of high support prices for food grains, various subsidies (mainly power and fertilizer), debt write-offs and so forth. India's food grain production growth rate has been lagging behind population growth rate. This can be mainly attributable to low levels of yield. For example, India's production of onions and potatoes has been 162,648 and 5,333 respectively per hectogram per hectare of land in comparison to 565,628 and 462,734 figures in the US. Low level of productivity is a manifestation of continuous under-investment in this sector. As has been observed, the gross capital formation (GCF) in agriculture (a sector on which about 60% of India's population depend upon for their livelihoods) as a percentage of total capital formation in the country has been falling continuously since fiscal year '07. Subsequently it has picked up, but only just. Unfortunately, rather than investing adequately in a sector that is severely deficient on physical infrastructure, be it irrigation, cold storage facilities, transportation or whatever, India's food subsidy budget is ballooning. From under 200 billion rupees in 2000, it has shot up to over 9 billion rupees in ending 2010. The legendary inefficiency in the procurement and management of food grains by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and that of the Public Distribution System (PDS) notwithstanding, the sudden spurt in minimum support price (MSP - the remunerative price that is paid to farmers for their produce) since fiscal year 2007, and the large quantity of procurement, has resulted in food subsidy reaching stratospheric levels. As is quite well known, the decision for setting the MSP of a produce during a crop year is fraught with political connotations. In fiscal 2008, the MSP was increased to keep parity with global food grain prices on the back of a global food shortage. Thereafter, there was no way of reducing the price. Then came the elections and the MSP was raised even further. And it is the rich and the strong farmers' lobby that gains the most from increases in MSP.

Clearly, it is this continuous rise in MSP (apart from the inefficiencies in the system) that has been accelerating food inflation in India. In fact, apart from fiscal 2010 and, to a certain extent in fiscal '92, falling food grain production did not lead to an inflationary spurt, thereby debunking the myth perpetrated by the government that shortage of production leads to inflation. Hence, subsidies and interventions cannot lead to amelioration of the malaise afflicting the Indian agriculture sector. Fertilizer subsidy, for example, leads to widespread use of urea leading to imbalance of soil nutrients, thereby impacting productivity. The much talked-about debt-waiver schemes have not necessarily reduced the indebtedness of the farmers nor have these resulted in substantial decline in incidents of farmer suicides. Farmers continue to be burdened by debts, both from banks and other institutions - the number of suicides in 2009 was 1,200 higher than in 2008 and just about at par with the average of the post-1997 period. The real need is directed investment to ensure that the dilapidated physical infrastructure in the farm sector is modernized, streamlining procurement and distribution mechanism, and working toward ensuring capacity building of the farmers.







Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom day observance gripped the PCC more than anything else this time. The two factions lead by their respective icons and heavyweights made no secret of their deep-seated rivalry for pre-eminence in party's structure and influence. People enjoyed their diatribes gustily because they had chosen the martyrdom day of the apostle of peace for shooting subtle missiles of sarcasm and derision to show they have no qualms in trivializing the somber occasion. While one faction chose to rake up "saffron terror" the other trumpeted "party discipline" by which they meant unquestioning loyalty to the party's centripetal force. This transparent horn-lock does all the good to the leaders and all the bad to the people whom they flock to their rallies to make a grand tamasha.. In reality, being the mutilation of patent democratic culture, it does little justice to their cause and no justice at all to the apostle of peace in whose name rallies were organized. And don't forget the vicarious thrill which the Congress High will be deriving at the bizarre drama of its party's factions in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir.








Be it the 2G scam, Aadarsh housing scandal, B S Yeddyurappa's mis-governance and "immorality", the issue of administrative and political corruption has generated a sense of disquiet across the country. A common feature of these and other cases is brazen violation of law and established procedures and regulations and the large volume of money involved. Successive Governments have failed to tackle corruption because the parties running them did not have clean hands and their approach has been half-hearted and ad hoc, resulting in its wild growth in size and depth. There is a change in the profile and qualitative implications of corruption and there is misuse of power by Government functionaries for substantial private gain from huge profits for most of the leading domestic and foreign business houses.

Politicians, such as, Yeddyurappa (against whom the Karnataka Governor has recommended prosecution in corruption cases) have crossed all limits of obduracy and arrogance of power and set new standards in political blackmail and mafia tactics. A subtle distinction is sought to be made by BJP President Nitin Gadkari between "immorality" and "corruption"' while defending his corrupt chief minister so as to escape the legal consequences of wrong doing and the brazenness in shielding them is truly appalling. Worried about the general deterioration in the overall value system of the nation, a group of prominent concerned citizens, including from the corporate world, made bold to comment on the situation and felt compelled to point out that the stakeholders should not be guided by narrow and short-sighted considerations and not allow India's huge growth potential and poverty alleviation challenges to be diluted or digressed from, which would be a great loss, especially to the poor and dispossessed in the country.

The factors leading to the present situation are too well known, but what is lacking is concerted and sincere efforts to tackle the problem of administrative and political corruption at its roots to ensure its total eradication. There is huge governance deficit in almost all spheres of national activity, covering Government, business and institutions. Widespread discretionary decision-making has been routinely subjected to extraneous influences. The judiciary, in the prevailing gloom, is a source of some reassurance, but creation of genuinely independent and constitutionally created regulatory bodies, manned by persons who are judicially trained in the fields concerned, would be a big step towards restoring public confidence.

There is general agreement that corruption needs to be tackled with a sense of urgency, determination and on a war footing. Each state should have effective and fully-empowered Lokayuktas in order to take corrupt people to task. There is a long-standing demand for making investigative agencies and law enforcement bodies independent of the executive as far as possible. Elected legislators should learn to make a distinction between dissent and disruption. While in the era of coalitions tolerance and compromise still pose a big challenge, political parties must not sacrifice the dignity and value of parliamentary legislative institutions by indulging in extreme rowdyism and street-level politics and yet expect the same to provide regress for their grievances and demands and in the process, undermining them. The situation is best tackled by openly debating these issues to reassure the citizens of the value of democracy and debate and not make a mockery of these institutions and undermine the people's faith in them. These myopic rowdy elements would become the first casualty of an upheaval.

Undoubtedly the volume and expanse of corruption have increased since liberalization of the economy which gave an opportunity to the corporate houses to decide policies and the price of Government transactions. Under the old License-permit raj corrupt deals mostly took place under the table and some stigma attached to them but with liberalization and the way it is being implemented, the character of underhand deals and sense of shame have completely disappeared. It has now become an accepted thing with both the political class and bureaucracy, which still wields enormous power. This is corroborated by the response of the Congress Party and principal opposition the BJP, whenever they face allegations of corruption and end in measures aimed at obfuscation. Delayed action follow only when there is little hope of escaping collateral damage.
In order to control corruption there must be upgradation of the values cherished by the people, by the society and the system of governance. People want to grab power to make money and grab money to come to power. This vicious cycle needs to be broken. Whichever party is in power is reluctant to face transparency but, when it sits in the opposition, deems it a moral right to point an accusing finger at those in power. It is a sad commentary on the way of functioning of the political parties which actually have no right to accuse others of corruption when their own hands are tainted. Corruption by Yeddyurappa, Romesh Pokhriyal, Mayawati, among others, is defended while that in the ruling coalition is highlighted in a noisy manner.
The institution of the Lokayukta, with powers of investigation and prosecution, is a good step in the direction of curbing corruption but there is a limit to the amount of work it can handle. Even the Karnataka Lokayukta felt compelled to resign because the Yeddyurappa government had put obstacles in its way and retained tainted ministers arraigned by him. Whether Justice Hegde will now be able to do some work and get full cooperation from State Government remains to be seen, but the manner in which the Chief Minister is hanging on despite several corruption charges against him, gives little hope that things will improve and the guilty will be punished. At the end of the day Justice Hegde said in utter frustration, that he "felt let down".
Politicians should first set an example in honesty and not make money in devious ways to fight elections. The investigating agencies, such as, CBI, should be allowed to do their work without interference and collect sufficient evidence to nail public servants. The laws dealing with corruption should be made more stringent, particularly those relating to disproportionate assets. The annual property returns of politicians, bureaucrats and judges should be made public and any false declaration severely dealt with. Stringent measures should be taken to unearth black-money circulating within the country and stashed abroad. Corruption in the government's taxation departments must be tackled to check evasion of taxes, often done in connivance with tax officials. Societal values need to be upgraded with politicians and rulers setting an example of honesty and transparency. Corruption needs a multi-pronged approach and connot be tackled piecemeal. [NPA]








Progress of civilization everywhere has led to subjugation of nature. This conquering of nature by man was in fact enforced in part by religion especially the Judeo-Christian tradition and in part by technology. Renaissance and Industrial Revolution accelerated this conquest, so much so that by the 1950s and 1960s the degradation of nature and environmental pollution became so important in the western hemisphere especially in Europe that search for a viable solution to these pressing problems became dominant in academia as well as in politics.
Out of such environmental issues emerged the concern for wetlands. The initial call for an international convention on wetlands came in 1962 during a conference which formed part of project MAR, a program established in 1960 following concern at the rapidity with which large stretches of marshlands and wet lands in Europe were being reclaimed or otherwise destroyed with a resulting decline in numbers of waterfowl. Initially the envisaged convention was directed specifically at the conservation of waterfowl, but in the final text conservation of wetland habitats (rather than species) took prominence. Finally at an international meeting held in the Caspian seaside resort of Ramsar in Iran, the text of convention was agreed on 2 February1971 by the delegates of 18 participating nations. The convention entered into force in December 1975.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem and the convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet. The number of member countries, is 160 at present. The number of sites designated for the list of wetlands of international importance is 1911 and area covered by such sites is 186950196 hectares.

The convention's mission is the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation as a contribution towards endeavoring sustainable development throughout the world, which is quite understandable given the fact that water is the source of life. All organisms contain water and depend on it for survival. Water is crucial for all biodiversity including mankind.

The convention uses a broad definition of the types of wet lands covered in its mission including lakes and rivers swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, and peat lands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near shore, marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human made sites such as fish ponds rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans. Wetlands cover a significant part of the earth. The UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre has suggested an estimate of almost 5.7 million Km2- roughly 6% of the Earth's land surface under wetlands of which 2% our lakes, 30% bogs, 26% fens, 20% swamps and 15% floodplains.

Wetlands are among the world's most productive environments. They are cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. They support high concentration of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. At least 12% of all globally threatened birds depend on wetlands. Wetlands are also important store houses of plant genetic material. Rice for example, which is a common wetlands plant, is the staple diet of more than half of humanity.

Wetlands moreover provide water storage, storm protection and flood mitigation, shoreline stabilization and erosion control; groundwater recharge and discharge; water purification; retention of nutrients, sediments and pollutants and stabilization of local climate conditions. They are valued as source of water supply, fisheries (more than 2/3 of world's fish harvest is linked to the health of wetlands areas), recreation and tourism opportunities.
In addition, wetlands have special attributes as part of the cultural heritage of humanity. They are related to religious and cosmological beliefs and spiritual values, constitute a source of aesthetic and artistic inspiration, yield invaluable archaeological evidence from the remote past, provide wildlife sanctuaries, and form the basis of important local social, economic and cultural traditions.

United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment recognizes the enormous global economic importance of wetlands, valued at up to US$15 trillion dollars in 1997. The economic worth of the ecosystem services provided to society by intact, naturally functioning wetlands is frequently much greater than the perceived benefits of converting them to 'more valuable' intensive land use- particularly as the profits from unsustainable use often go to relatively few individuals or corporations, rather than being shared by society as a whole.
However, these wetlands are often extremely vulnerable- the use of water by people has strongly affected almost all wetlands on earth. The construction of dams changes the course and ecology of rivers, pollution, water extraction, development and tourism activities threaten the bio diversity of lakes, fens, mires and bogs are being exploited industrially or converted into agricultural land and climate change has large implication for many wetlands areas.

Unfortunately the attraction of short-term, private-sector profits continues to drive the destruction and degradation of wetlands in many parts of the world. In fact, there are worrying signs that wetlands-and the services they provide us with- are lost at a higher rate than some other ecosystem types.

In India for instance, more than 100 wetlands desperately need protection from pollution, development and other forms of misuse, say Zafar ul Islam and Asad Rahmani of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). They call these wetlands India's "liquid treasures". Significantly, 3 of the 5 Ramsar Sites in Jammu and Kashmir, viz, Wular, lake, Tso Moriri and Mansar Lake are under attack from encroachment and pollution.
The multiple roles of wetland ecosystems and their value to humanity have been increasingly understood and documented in the recent years. This has led to large expenditure to restore lost or degraded hydrological and biological functions of wetlands. But it is not enough. The race is on to improve practices on a global scale, as the world tries to cope with the accelerating water crisis and the effects of climate change. For, one third of the world's population today lives in countries already experiencing moderate to high water stress. By 2050, two out of every three people may well face life in water stressed conditions.

Keeping this in view, Wetlands and Forests is the theme for World Wetlands Day 2011, allowing us to look at the big picture of forests in our lives including forested wetlands and the special benefits they bring including vital roles in carbon storage. Fresh water availability on global scale depends on our forest. So too, to a large extent, does fresh water quality. The health of our wetlands is linked to the health of forests in there catchments. Losing and degrading forests means losing and degrading wetlands.

As the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of Ramsar Convention, it remains to be seen if the world in general and nation states in particular are able to grasp the value of wetlands in the survival of humanity and reformulate their plans, policies and priorities accordingly.

(The writer teaches Geography at GDC, Kathua )








By basic education, what is meant is to read , write and count in one's own language. Unable to read, write, count or communicate is a tremendous deprivation as said by noble laureate Amartya Sen.
Knowledge inspire, provides confidence and improves quality of life and the absence of which makes a person inferior, depressed and unwanted in the society.

The reasons for such situation may be contributed to uneducated parents, unaffordability and non availability of education facilities.

In India, with vast pupulation size, imparting basic education to all is a stupendous task especially for those who live in remote areas.

The Government of India in the recent past have taken this issue with priority and launched various schemes namely Sarvya Shiksha Aviyan, district primary education programme operation board, Kasturba Gandhi Sikhsa Yojna, Mid Day meal scheme which have some kinds of success rates.

On a one lac population, the data shows that in 1950-51 the primary education takers were 192 corresponding to 1224 in the year 2000-01 which shows an increase 15.7%. Similarly the increase in middle education has gone up by a meager 6.6% from 1950-51 to 2000-01.

The country with a hundred million plus population is presently having only one million schools, experts feel that another half a million schools will be required to impart at least the basic education in India. India is one of the 135 countries which have made education as fundamental rights. However, the constitutional amendment came after 55 years of independence in December 2002.

The right of children to free and compulsory education came even later in 2010 when the act was put into practice.

The highlights of right to education act include free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years, private schools to admit 25% children from disadvantaged group with free uniform and books, maintain a minimum pupil - teacher ration etc.

Education being a state subject as prescribed in our constitution, it is imperative for the state Govt to act aggressively in order to organize the education system in their states but barring few states, most states do not have basic education on its priority list.

Women education in India specially suffered a lot for over last 500 years under Mughals, British and the suppressive attitude of the male folks in general. In some states legends like Ram Mohan Roy, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar emerged. They understood the need of women's education in the society and made heroic efforts to educate women. Their efforts did make some revolutionery changes in Bengal but huge parts of the country remain uneducated as far as the women education is concerned.

Records of women education in India are available in ancient text which proves that ancient Indian women were educated and society realized the importance of educating women.

Presently women education in urban India is going up at a steady speed but in rural India the percentage of educated women is a cause of concern. The under previleged and back ward populate also have a severe shortage of educated men and women.

Low enrollment in the school, prevailing early marriage in rural India, engaging girls in domestic works to earn money for the family and prejudices attached to women education are only few reasons for low rate of educated women in the country.

The Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh made heart felt appeals to his contrymen to invest in education. Investment in education will not only increase the percentage of educated people in the country but will widen the passage of growth in technology and human resources.

A good number of Non Govt Organizations (NGO) and voluntary set up have come up with various models for up lifting the country's education but the need of the hour is so great the progress will continue to be slow.
The Indian corporate world has come forward in an unprecedented way to support the Govt policy on providing basic education. This time it was not a mere lip service but genuine efforts to actually up lift the basic education in the country.

The corporate India was initially more engrossed in educating children in close proximity of their location but has broken the barrier now and expanded educational activities all over the country. On the fore front Wipro Chief Azim Premji has opened up a massive plan of worth Rs 8800 crore endowment trust to train the trainer.
The trust will also support such activities which will promote elementary education in the country. In addition to Wipro, Bharti Enterprise, Tatas, ICICI, HSBC, DLF, Maruti Udyog,Larsen & Turbo and other big names of the corporate world have joined hands in spreading education to all and sundry. They have realized the need to educating the under privileged.

The corporate big wigs do not consider the expenditure as donation but a long term investment for their business in particular and country in general.

They believe that educated labour force will be more productive and technically better which will ultimately help in improving quality and growth. (PTI)










There is green light at the end of the tunnel at last for South Korea's Pohang Steel Company (Posco). The Environment Ministry has given conditional clearance to its 12-million tonne steel project in Orissa after putting in 60 new conditions — 28 for the steel plant and 32 for the captive port. Even that is quite a concession from the ministry which had almost shut the doors on the Rs 51,000-crore project, which was to be the biggest foreign direct investment in the country. There are reports that the clearance has come only after the PMO put its weight behind the "yes" lobby. However, as Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh himself admits, projects such as Posco have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country and saying no to such projects would have given India a negative image, affecting others wanting to invest here.


The need for generating non-agriculture income in a state like Orissa is pressing. All that has to be ensured is that the industrialisation does not take place at the cost of the environment and local livelihoods. The new conditions are fairly comprehensive to ensure that. These include restrictions on air emission, water sustainability and providing a green cover at the site. The company will also have to spend 2 per cent of its annual net profit on social welfare, which would be over and above the resettlement and rehabilitation and corporate social responsibility obligations of Posco.


The whole controversy arose because an element of arbitrariness crept into the procedure of granting clearance. There should be clear-cut guidelines about the conditions one has to fulfil before undertaking such a project. With such transparency in place, there would be no question of allegations of bias or favour. There is no doubt that India needs a massive dose of industrialisation. That can very well be done with nil or negligible threat to environment if only the prevalent miasma of corruption can be removed and professionalism brought into the functioning of the government.









Addressing yet another conference of Chief Ministers on internal security, an exercise launched after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, both the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister on Tuesday harped on fresh threats posed by new terror groups. Although 2010 was relatively peaceful, with only two major incidents reported from Pune and Varanasi, India remains vulnerable to terror strikes and internal strife. The preceding year did register fewer casualties of security forces, despite Maoists wiping out an entire company of the Central Reserve Police Force ( CRPF) in Chhattisgarh, but the number of civilians killed by militants, Maoists and terrorists rose sharply during the year. Ethnic violence, religious fundamentalism, Left-wing extremism and cross border terrorism remain serious challenges for the Indian state. The report-card has, however, been a mixed bag. To cite just one example, while the states have set up 71 coastal police stations and the Centre has delivered 183 interceptor boats to them, the boats are still not operational because of the dearth of trained manpower.


By far the most important statement in the Prime Minister's address, however, was the need to focus on the policeman as 'a friend'. Acknowledging the role of the policemen in internal security, the Prime Minister rightly asserted that the police would be able to discharge its duties only when people start counting them as friends. But while the Centre has set aside a whopping Rs 2000 crore for modernising the police in states and has readily offered money, material and moral support, few states have taken the initiative to free police from political interference and help the force transform itself as a friend of the community. Also, India still has about 130 policemen for every 100,000 people against the figure of 220 suggested by the United Nations as the norm. The states thus require not just more policemen but also better trained and more sensitive policemen.


The Union government's budgetary allocation for internal security has gone up from Rs 25,923 crore in 2008 to Rs 40,582 crore during the current financial year. But the stereotype of the policeman as a bumbling, inefficient, arrogant and corrupt buffoon has not changed. The states, therefore, have a duty to come forward and transform the police first if the people are to feel safe and secure.









The protests against the dictatorial regime of President Hosne Mubarak of Egypt have become unstoppable. There are clear indications that his days are numbered. He has little chance of successfully weathering the storm when the military has refused to use force against the protesters. The police has already failed to stem the tide of protests, which led to the looting of shops and the transport system getting paralysed. Mr Mubarak is trying to control the situation through his most trusted man in the government, Vice-President Omar Suleiman, but in vain. He has ruled Egypt for three decades as a dictator, not allowing the political parties other than his own to grow roots. But times have changed. People want nothing less than his ouster from power.


The coalition of the parties behind the protests is composed of anti-American elements like the Muslim Brotherhood and left organisations. They are getting massive support from the people owing to the fact that there is a strong anti-American sentiment all over the most populous Arab country. Mr Mubarak has been surviving in power owing to US support. But the people of Egypt want his government to be replaced by a democratically elected administration. Will the US lend its support to the pro-democracy protesters? Or will it try to protect the despot? The American stand will expose its real intensions. India should not shy away from sympathising with aspirations of the Egyptians who want political reforms for genuine democracy. This does not amount to interfering with the internal affairs of Egypt.


There is a powerful message in the pro-democracy protests that have engulfed a major part of the Arab world, including Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen: it is not possible to hide the truth in this age of Internet and private TV channels. The Mubarak regime had failed to deliver on almost all fronts. The Egyptian economy has been passing through a very difficult period for a long time. Unemployment has been spreading fast. In such a situation, people's anger was bound to result in the kind of revolt his regime faces today. The Egyptian economy will suffer further as tourism, the country's major revenue earner, has almost collapsed. With petroleum prices likely to shoot up, the situation will become unbearable for Egypt. In the larger interests of his country, therefore, Mr Mubarak should say goodbye to power and allow a democratically elected government to be formed.

















The joint statement issued during President Obama's visit to India last November mentioned that "…the United States intends to support India's full membership in the four multilateral export control regimes (Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime, Australia Group and Wassenaar Arrangement) in a phased manner..." The US committed itself without any reservations. In fact, it has recently lifted its ban on exports to several "entities" in the Atomic Energy Commission and the Defence Research and Development Organisation that were on its prohibited list for decades.


Clearly, the US is following through on the inner logic of the Indo-US nuclear deal, which the Bush administration had hammered through the U.S. Congress, the International Atomic Energy Agency and, finally, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008. This agreement allows India to import nuclear technology, materials and equipment from abroad, despite its not joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or placing its entire nuclear programme under safeguards, which is a pre-requisite for all such transfers by proficient and capable countries. Consequently, India has been accorded a truly extraordinary concession.


The question now is: can the US deliver on President Obama's promise? Can it hammer through again India's admission into these four export control regimes despite the reservations of various countries due to their domestic or foreign policy compulsions?


Not unexpectedly, Pakistan has denounced the American pledge by arguing that it would upset the "strategic balance" between the two nuclear armed adversaries. It alleges that after India gains entry into these regimes, it would be enabled to import sensitive technology, materials and equipment relating to nuclear, missile, conventional, chemical and biological weapons, and enlarge its existing arsenals. Its main grievance, however, is that a similar dispensation is not available to Pakistan. It is also most unlikely that it would ever be similarly favoured, given its horrendous proliferation record. Pakistan's fulminations are entirely in character since it really has no foreign policy, but only an India policy.


However, Australia recently refused to sell uranium to India on the grounds that it has not signed the NPT. New Delhi has been arguing that it needs to enlarge its atomic energy programme to generate clean energy, and that it can be trusted with Australian uranium. While respecting India's strong non-proliferation credentials, Australia remains adamant despite its having joined the decision taken by the NSG members in 2008 to countenance the Indo-US nuclear deal, which entailed India's being made an exception to the prohibitions of the NPT. This logic could prompt Australia to oppose India's entry into the NSG and other export control regimes.


Then there is the parallel case of Japan. The intense negotiations on an India-Japan civilian nuclear trade pact are completely bogged down at present on the issue whether India can recycle spent reactor fuel from nuclear facilities using Japanese equipment and materials. Japan emphasises that reprocessing can produce nuclear fuel but also weapons-usable material. But India believes that nuclear fuel reprocessing is imperative to pursue its fast breeder programme. Japan is also leery of the fact that India is adamant on not joining the NPT, and has also refused to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. New Delhi is not agreeable to even a reference being made that it will continue to abide by its self-imposed ban on nuclear tests, which it had promised the Nuclear Suppliers Group when the Indo-US nuclear deal was being negotiated. On the other hand, India has sought to clarify that a nuclear trade deal with Japan will not inhibit its military nuclear programme, which is anathema to Japan. These differences remain unresolved. Will Japan support India's entry into the export control regimes in these circumstances?


No doubt, nations like France, Russia and the United States are eager to take advantage of the trade opportunities inherent in the Indo-US nuclear deal and would be quite willing to support India's entry into these export control regimes. But there are several other countries that have reservations, and it could be reasonably expected that they would oppose India's admittance into these export control regimes. This would not matter if decisions in these bodies were to be taken on the basis of majority voting, but this is not the case. All decisions in these bodies are mandated to be reached by consensus, which it would be very hard to achieve.


So, what should India be doing to reverse this situation? It could request the US to bulldoze the members of these various regimes to accept India's membership. It might be recollected that several NSG members like Norway, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland and the Netherlands had opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal. China's role was very dubious. While assuring India and the US that it would not oppose the deal, it encouraged the dissenting voices in the NSG to oppose it. Ultimately, it was American pressure, lacing threats with inducements that got the Indo-US nuclear deal through the NSG. India could request the US to turn its broadside again on the countries opposing its entry into the export control regimes. But President Obama in 2011 is not President Bush in 2008. China's position has also changed; hence American pressure, though important, may not be decisive.


How can India help its candidature of these export control regimes? Clearly, it can harmonise its domestic export control laws with that in the export control regimes; clarify that India will continue its moratorium on nuclear testing unless specified events occur; declare that it will cease fissile materials production for military purposes to facilitate the passage of the Fissile Materials Control Treaty; and enter the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to highlight its responsibility towards stopping the clandestine export of sensitive technologies.


Hopefully, a concerted effort by the US and India would enable New Delhi's entry into the four export control regimes visualised by President Obama. Currently, however, delivering on this promise has become quite uncertain.








I have always considered myself a well-intentioned man. All these years, I have been living under the impression that I am held in high esteem by my friends and colleagues. That I had been living in a fool's paradise, was revealed to me, the other day.


One day, after spending a bit hectic day in the office, I was back home, enjoying my evening cup of tea, that my phone rang.  I picked up the receiver. Before I could utter anything, the caller spoke up: "How are you"?


"Fine, sir."


"Have you recognised me?"


The person calling had a peculiar voice.  I had recognised him.  In fact, he was one of my former colleagues, who had retired about two years ago. We had remained posted at a station.  There was no question of my mistaking his identity.  


"Yes, sir.  How can I forget you," I replied humbly.


"How is life?"


"Fine, sir."


"Actually, I wanted to put you to trouble."


"You are welcome, sir.  It would be my pleasure."


"Actually, I have a personal matter pending with Narang."


"I am N…a……r…"


Before I could complete my response, the caller interrupted again.


"Actually, my arrears file is pending with Narang.  But that crook has been sitting over it for the last two months.  Though we were together at a station, yet I was not very intimate with him.  What should I say about him. Bahut Bud Demag Aadmi hai."


"Yes, sir," I replied.


The person calling also showered other calumnies at Narang.  Decency demands that I refrain from repeating them here, verbatim.


The caller continued: "Since you are posted with him and may be close to him, I thought of calling you.  It would be better if you could talk to him at your level".


"Yes sir, I will try," I replied.


"OK.  I will call you after two or three days."


I put the receiver back on the cradle.  It took me quite some time to be my normal self.  I did not know whether to laugh or cry.  I had recognised the person calling, but the latter had not recognised that he was talking to Narang himself.


I could make out to whom my former colleague wanted to talk.  I picked up our official directory to make the call to my friend, to whom my former colleague wanted to talk.  What I found was that our phone numbers had got swapped in the directory.  I am still waiting for a phone call from my former colleague.









Man of the moment? Of course Mohamed ElBaradei is. But man of the people, I have my doubts. He doesn't claim to be, of course, and sitting in his garden easy chair near an impossibly blue but rather small swimming pool, he sometimes appears – even wearing his baseball hat – like a very friendly, shrewd and bespectacled mouse. He will not like that description, but this is a mouse, I suspect, with very sharp teeth.


It's almost a delight to dissect the bigger mice who work in the White House and the State Department. "Do you remember how on the second day, all we heard was that they were 'monitoring the situation'. On the second day, Secretary Clinton said: 'We assess the situation as stable'; it was funny yesterday, too, to hear Clinton say that 'we have been urging the Egyptian Mubarak for 30 years to move on this – and he moved backward – how on earth can you still ask him to introduce democratic reform? Then Clinton talks about 'the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people' and now they are talking about 'the smooth transition of power'... I think they know that Mubarak's days are numbered."


Without any prompting, ElBaradei – Nobel peace laureate, ex-UN nuclear chief inspector, etc, etc – bites our own dear leader. "Yesterday, I heard Mr Cameron saying that 'democracy is not an election, that it's 'block-building'. Well, everybody knows that. But how do you talk about building a judiciary, civil society – how do you talk about these 'building blocks' – under a dictatorship? You either have a civil society or you don't."


Sometimes, ElBaradei sounds too hopeful. He agrees that the best potential Egyptian leadership have all been exiled, deliberately of course. On a recent speaking engagement at Harvard, he found 15 Egyptians on the Harvard Board.


"I told them: If you come back, you can run Egypt." But it's not that simple. As ElBaradei admits: "It's an old story that ends: 'Mubarak is a friend of Israel and we think a change will bring a government hostile to Israel and it will bring on an Iranian-type velayeh-fakhi [guidance by a supreme religious leader]. I say this is like 'True Fiction'. You need to get rid of this 'True Fiction' about the Muslim Brotherhood and the automatic hostility towards Israel. It is a fact that a durable peace can only be between democracies and not between dictators and, if you want a durable peace, whether Egypt is a democracy or a dictatorship, the feeling of the people in the region is not going to change."


He says he is convinced that Mubarak will go. And so say all of us. He also says he believes the Egyptian army will not fight the Egyptian people, which is by no means certain. I suspect that, like me, ElBaradei isn't very keen on armies. "I think, ultimately, that the Egyptian army will be with the people. This is common sense when you see a couple of million people in the street who are representative of 85 million Egyptian people who hate Mubarak, who want to see his back. The army is part of the people. And at the end of the day, after anyone takes off his uniform, he is part of the people with the same problems, the same repression, the same inability to have a decent life. So eventually, I don't think they are going to shoot their people. And why should they shoot their people? To protect what?"


When Egypt lost the 1967 war, ElBaradei wrote that "a soldier fights because he defends something he wants to keep. But in the 1967 war, what was the Egyptian soldier fighting for? There was nothing to go back to. So they ran away". Nasser, so the great man believes, was the worst of Egyptian dictators – "he even nationalised the grocery shops" – but the path of dictatorship ran right through to today. Even a few months ago he could not imagine what would happen. "I had gone to a wake, I told my brother, and I looked at the eyes of the mourners and they were dead – they were dead souls. And now I look at the people today and they have recovered their self-confidence. They are free. It was like a pressure cooker."


He talks about hypocrisy, dictatorship, criminal malfeasance, the darkest deeds of the Egyptian security services, the loyalty of the Egyptian army to the people in a high, astringent but deadly voice. No he doesn't want to be the president, but when I ask him if he might consider a transitional presidency for himself – until fair elections, naturally – I receive a traditional reply. "If there's a consensus by all people to do whatever they think I can do for them... I will do that." Hmmm, I think to myself.


"All this will continue to be the same until you address the plight of the Palestinians, until you review your policy in the region. We have this strange relationship where you are calling this peace but you cannot even publish an Israeli book here, or vice-versa, for example. If you really want peace, yes, the peace can be made durable with democracy, but also you have your responsibility – which is to review a balanced relationship, particularly on the Palestinian issue, Iraq, Afghanistan, what have you, and then you will have an Arab world which will be friendly to the West."


ElBaradei is surprisingly mild when he speaks of Mubarak the man. He last saw him two years ago. "I would go to see him when I returned from a UN mission or a holiday. I always received a friendly reception. It was a very cordial relationship. It was one-to-one, just us, and there was no formality. I would tell him what I thought of this or that problem, what might be done. He doesn't really have advisers who have the guts to tell him the truth."


Much good did ElBaradei's advice do. He is outraged by the arson and looting. When I ask if state security policemen were behind the arson – which is used by Mubarak, Obama and Clinton to "tag" those who demand Mubarak's departure with violence – the mouse shows its teeth. "They [the police] were, we are now hearing about documents which show that some of these uniformed officers have taken off their uniforms and gone about looting. And everybody says that they have been ordered to do this by the regime or the ministry of interior or whatever. And if this is true, then this is the most sinister of criminal acts. We have to verify this. But for sure, many of these bands of thugs and looters are from part of the secret police."


And then suddenly, in that high voice, eyes glittering behind pebbling spectacles, the mouse becomes a tiger. "When a regime withdraws the police entirely from the streets of Cairo, when thugs are part of the secret police, trying to give the impression that without Mubarak the country will go into chaos, this is a criminal act. Somebody has to be accountable. And now, as you can hear in the streets, people are not saying Mubarak should go, they are now saying he should be put on trial. If he wants to save his skin, he better leave."


My God, those teeth are sharp. — The Independent








As a popular uprising against the rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak shows no sign of letting up, the question of what people or groups could take a stake in power is fast rising to the fore.


Throughout his three decades in power, Mubarak's government has systematically weakened and manoeuvred against all the opposition parties. Other than Mohamed ElBaradei, here are some of the people and groups whose names could figure in the coming days:


Mohammed Badie


Badie, 66, became leader of Egypt's biggest opposition group last year. The Brotherhood is run on a collegiate basis, with a number of figures who often speak in its name such as Essam al-Erian or London-based Kamel El-Helbawy. But if it were to enter into talks with the government it would be on the authorisation of its "murshid 'aam", or general guide, Badie. Badie is seen as a conservative, in the typical mould of Brotherhood leaders, who was reluctant to challenge the authorities for fear of provoking more repression. The government says the Brotherhood is a banned organisation but allows it to operate within limits.


Ayman Nour


A liberal politician and trained lawyer, Nour was Mubarak's rival in the 2005 presidential election but suffered for his impertinence. He was jailed after conviction for submitting forged documents when setting up his Ghad (Tomorrow) party. He was released after serving more than three years of a five-year term. The law as it stands bans him any political office for at least five years after the end of his original jail term, which would rule out running in elections in September. Nour served previously as a parliamentarian for the Wafd party, which he left.


Amr Moussa


The secretary general of the Arab League was a popular foreign minister under Mubarak, celebrated by singers for his populist pro-Palestinian rhetoric during years of Arab-Israeli peacemaking. His move to the Arab League, a conservative organisation that backs existing Arab rulers, has tarnished his image somewhat but he has been cited in the past by many Egyptians as someone they would support as president. He has been vocal since the protests began, saying on Sunday he wanted to see multi-party democracy in Egypt.


Ahmed Zewail


Egyptian winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999, Zewail said last year he had no political ambitions. However, newspapers said on Monday he would return on Tuesday to continue work in a committee for constitutional reform including Ayman Nour and prominent lawyers. Al-Shorouk newspaper published a "letter to the Egyptian people" in which he proposed a "council of wise men" to write a new constitution.


Hamdeen Sabahi


A popular Arab nationalist politician who leads the Karama party that has never achieved formal licencing from the government. Elected to parliament in 2005, Sabahi considered running in the presidential elections that year after Mubarak introduced amendments under pressure from Washington but later changed his mind. He was expected to attempt a bid for the presidency this year.




Respected trade union leader George Ishak founded the Kefaya movement in 2004 that galvanised protests against Mubarak's rule in 2005 around the idea of rejecting his son Gamal as a future president. The movement, which appealed to middle class professionals, subsequently lost its momentum.but when protests began last week Kefaya appeared to play a role in mobilising them.


Other groups


The Wafd party, with its roots before the 1952 military coup, has traditionally been the bastion of liberal democrats in Egypt. But it is seen as having been coopted by Mubarak's government in recent years. The leftist Tagammu has played a similar role. Magdy Hussein, leader of the Islamist Labour party, is a popular opposition figure who has frequently been in and out jail. — Reuters








Much more needs to be done to counter the menace of corruption than simple hesitant sackings and registration of cases. The scale of corruption, institutionalized and protectionist as it is, in this country needs more than the existing laws to root it out. Scandals suddenly tumbling out of the cupboards, one after the other, with sleazy and shoddy stories of involvement of bigwigs have shocked the entire nation. It is not as if corruption has suddenly been revealed, shaking them out of their skins. It is a well grounded phenomenon and everybody is already well acquainted with it and its adverse fallouts. It is all too well known a fact that corruption is too deep rooted deeply entrenched and percolating right from the top has reached the grassroots only due to full political and official patronage of those at the highest seats of power in the country. The recent series of expose in various scams have not only highlighted the strong nexus between bureaucrats, politicians, mafia and the media, they have also amply demonstrated the virtual helplessness of the top brass in even questioning it. The silence of the prime minister in scams like 2G spectrum and the controversial appointment of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, and his government's bid to cover up, have all pointed out how deeply entrenched corruption is in the polity of India and shown the difficulties of this being challenged politically. The opposition has miserably failed to take up the issue head-on as the vicious cycle of corruption has spared nobody, not even the BJP which has its own corruption monster of Yedurappa to deal with. With few murmurs on Indian black money stashed away in Swiss banks, there is reason to believe that nobody wants this probed or the money returned because at the end of the end, politicians and officers of all hues are benefiting from the tax free regime of Switzerland. The picture seems rather dismal and bleak.

However, things have still not reached a point where corruption cannot be treated at all. Those at the helm of affairs cannot get away by simply saying that it is the corruption at the grassroots that needs to be tackled. If there is corruption, institutionalized as it is, percolating right down to the grassroots, it exists and thrives only because it starts from the top and it is patronized at that level. Therefore, any cleansing process has to begin from top to bottom, not the other way round. Though political will at the top by people who do not just have clean images but also the spine to challenge the institutionalized form of corruption is of course needed, the right kind of push now needs to come from the civil society. An optimistic sign is visible in the marches against corruption held in Delhi and 40 other cities. However, this is too little. Such isolated efforts cannot yield results. What is required is perseverance and consistency to enable the right kind of people in the country's administration to bring in suitable reforms to cleanse the system. Activism should begin from the grassroots and fight against corruption has to begin with a public movement since all political leadership and bureaucracy have completely failed. The public has been gradually numbed into silence by the gradual decline of the system that is so corrupt that development fails to devolve down to the grassroots level and the administration totally fails to deliver. The rising inflation and the growing disparities are all off shoots of a corrupt polity. Clearly, corruption is one of the major threats to the country today and must be recognised as the evil it is. Where governments fail to deliver, the onus lies largely on the public which must come out of its complacent mode and respond suitably, organize itself into a movement and vow not to tolerate any business of corruption rather than indulge itself with the luxury of logic bereft of idea of legalising corruption. Public movements like the RTI need to be strengthened further as they are a potent tool in the hands of the masses to induce accountability and transparency. There is a need for greater public mobility and informed opinion about how RTI is being dealt with in the official circles and how some activists are getting harassed and even bumped off with not even a whimper of protest against the brutal killings, simply to protect the strong deep rooted nexus between the corrupt. Cleansing the system would not simply require adequate laws. It also requires autonomous bodies to bring in public accountability and transparency by investigating cases of corruption fairly. The public should gear up itself to ask questions and push for reforms including the creation of the much needed ombudsman for probing cases of corruption and nailing the culprits without the interference of petty politics that are eating into the vitals of the country.






The new forest policy as outlined by the Jammu and Kashmir government for protection of existing forest cover besides clearance of encroachments has generated skepticism among the experts in the field. The experts are seeing this new document as another attempt to divert the attention of the people from the crucial and critical area of the forests which has been witnessing degradation over the past five decades due to indiscriminate exploitation of the forest resources by the politicians and contractors in connivance with the forest officials. The experts feels that this tendency needs to be checked at the very beginning in order to protect and conserve the forests for the future because much depends on them for the entire population within J&K and in the neighbouring country. The water resources of the state are shared by the two countries and they are dependent on the forest cover of J&K. The perennial streams of water are the product of the forest cover and needs to be preserved at all costs. The government is now thinking of clearing the encroachments which have there for decades together because of the limited cultivable land resources in this hill terrain and a large chunk of population is dependent on them. Instead of outlining the policies and guidelines only, the government has to put a blanket ban on felling of green trees for decades together and initiate stringent action against those violating these laws. Moreover, corruption in this sector needs to be checked to curb the activities of the forest smugglers and contractors alike to prevent cutting of trees. Besides these measures, the government needs to encourage import of timber for meeting the local demands. These measures are to be supplemented with reward and punishment policies besides involvement of the local people in conservation of forests. Unless people of the state have a stake in protecting the forest now policy can succeed.







Who could imagine that the national flag, a symbol of unity would be reduced to a game of one-upmanship among our netagan? A piece of tri-coloured cloth which evokes pride has been trashed and defiled by our so-called patriots who swear by the Constitution. That too as India celebrated its 61st Republic Day Wednesday last. Which once again underscored how Mera Bharat Mahan has morphed into annus horribiles, Republic of Scams!

Epitomizing, a severe governance deficit and a complete breakdown in public governance across the board with a hamstrung Government unable to deliver. Reducing India to a situation where death is the price of honesty!
Where should one begin. The storm over the unfurling of the tiranga in Srinagar, the issue of black money stashed in Swiss banks, the appointment of tainted Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the burning of an honest Collector in Maharashtra et al.


The BJP-Omar Abdullah fracas over hoisting the national flag at Srinagar's Lal Chowk on Republic Day turned a happy occasion into an ugly confrontation. True, the State Government was successful in foiling the Saffron Sangh's plans but at what cost? The arrest of the BJP leaders has only worsened the stand-off between the Congress and the BJP.

True, the Congress has a point when it asserts that the hard-earned peace following a violent summer agitation should not be frittered away in the BJP's raucous Ekta Yatra under the cover of 'nationalism'. The Saffron nationalists read it as a symbolic proclamation that the writ of the Indian Government runs from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Both trying to score brownie points at the cost of the flag.

What should one say about the trillions of rupees plundered by our mighty rulers and stashed away in Swiss banks. Look at the absurdity. Despite being harangued by the Supreme Court about the list of evaders it had received from Germany, the Government hid behind the facetious plea that under the double taxation treaty it was bound under secrecy. Conveniently forgetting that the treaty pertains to dual taxation and not money secreted abroad.

When pushed by the judges, the Government asserted it could disclose only a few names! Perhaps, it is scared that it would fall if the name were disclosed. Sic. Most scandalous is Union Finance Minister's disclosure of the disappearance of $8 billion from the Swiss account of Pune stud owner Hasan Ali. That too, three years after the Enforcement Directorate was seized of the matter. No, Hasan was not booked for stashing 'blood billions' but having three passports! Expectedly, all are clueless on how the money vanished.

The case of tainted Central Vigilance Commissioner Thomas is becoming curiouser and curiouser. After digging in its heels and anointing Thomas as the CVC, the Central Government played innocent before the Supreme Court hearing a PIL. First it said there was no case against Thomas, then no charge-sheet was filed against him, even when pushed by the Bench all the Attorney General could stutter was, Thomas's prosecution proceeding in the 1992 palmolien oil import case were missing from his file put-up before a three-member committee to select the new CVC. A half truth.

Complicating matters, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj has contradicted the Government's stand. During confabulations, she not only brought this aspect to the notice of both the Prime Minister and Home Minister put also noted her dissent. Ignored by the Government on the grounds that the majority view would prevail!

Arguably, the Prime Minister needs to come clean. What is so special about Thomas that only he and he alone should be the next CVC? Why did the Prime Minister and Home Minister ignore Swaraj's advice not to appoint him and instead choose any of the other two? Are we to understand that no due diligence was carried out? If so why? Were the case papers deliberately withheld? Can a tainted person sit in judgment over others?
Alas, the gruesome burning of Nasik's honest Assistant Collector exposes the depth of our national moral turpitude. Why? Simply, because he tried to prevent the kerosene mafia from adulterating the fuel. True, the 11 perpetrators have been held and the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has promised to come down heavily on the petrol and diesel mafia in the State. But this is easier said than done given the fact that one of the culprits who set the office aflame was roaming free notwithstanding that he had seven cases of fuel theft registered against him since 2001.

In his death the courageous collector exposed over Rs.20,000 crore fuel black market, which thrives on the largesse of a benevolent polity, bureaucratic nexus and mafia. Four RTI activists in UP, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra who too want to expose the dirt in the system are presently recuperating after being 'attacked' by State goons. On the obverse, we have bureaucrats who sleep on mattresses stuffed with crores of cash!
The writing is on the wall. The time has come to take stock. Enough is enough. We have to reform. And not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the tantrums of a belligerent ruling polity. If we don't, then we leave behind a ram-shackled democracy which Gen X has nothing to be proud off, despite 8-9 per cent growth.
Undoubtedly, public outcry over the visible sordidness of politics and administration is a welcome sign of the maturing of India's democracy. But it also involves effort, determination and imagination to take on the immoral perpetrators. One needs tenaciousness to go after the people involved. We need clarity that corruption is not just about a squeaky knee joint but an active impediment to growth and prosperity. So, instead of bemoaning our moral squalor and throwing up our hands, we need to focus on how to fight this hydra-headed monster.

At present, Indian democracy is funded by corruption. Bridges collapse, roads develop potholes, and pipes burst as corruption eats into quality. Sleaze enables private greed to grab land as a culpable administrative process looks the other way. Greased palms produce fake passports, eyes closed as RDX is smuggled in, so what if it endangers national security.

Money is looted from the exchequer, discretionary powers are used to sell licences, permits, mining leases, and spectrum. And the power of the State is used to extort money --- for perfectly legal activities such as land and car registration, passport, setting up a small unit or just about for anything.

Funds of political parties must be audited and made public, open to public scrutiny and challenge. The corrupt must be punished. This calls for a complete revamp of the criminal-justice system. All cases must be disposed off in less than two years. All this can happen, provided we muster the political will.
The question ultimately is, will our young netas put on their running shoes to prove that nothing is impossible by stalling the corruption juggernaut ? Or will they end up running a little harder and faster along the path to corrupt fortunes? Will death continue to be the price for honesty?







Very often in certain companies and quite often in family run organizations I see people strutting around acting as if their firm would pack up and collapse if they were ever to leave. Forget the boss, I have even seen peons and clerks acting in this way.

Most of the politicians in our country, ancient men and women quite often with one foot in the grave and the other in a hospital ICU behave as if the country is finished if they go. I wonder whether any of us feel the same way.
Do you?

A physician gave some rather whimsical advice to a patient, an aggressive, go-getter type of businessman. Excitedly the businessman told the doctor what an enormous amount of work he had to do and that he had to get it done right away or else things will fall apart.

"I take my brief case home every night and it's packed with work," he said with nervous inflection.
"Why do you take work home with you at night?" the doctor asked quietly.

"I have to get it done," he fumed.

"Can't someone else do it, or help you with it?" asked the doctor.

"No," the man snapped. "I am the only one who can do it. It must be done just right, and I alone can do it as it must be done, and it has to be done quickly. Everything depends upon me."

"If I write a prescription, will you follow it?" asked the doctor.

This, believe it or not was the prescription. His patient was to take off half-day a week and spend that half-day in cemetery.

In astonishment the patient demanded, "Why should I spend a half-day in a cemetery?"
"Because," answered the doctor, "I want you to wander around and look at the gravestones of men who are there permanently. I want you to meditate on the fact that many of them are there because they thought even as you do, that the whole world rested on their shoulders. Meditate on the fact that when you get there permanently the world will go on just the same and, as important as you are, others will be able to do the work you are now doing."

The man did just what the doctor told him to do. He went to a nearby cemetery and spent an afternoon, an entire afternoon, just as the doctor had ordered him to do. He saw graves and tombstones of hundreds of men and women and in the silence of the graveyard, he knew that they were missed no longer.

The patient got the idea. He stopped fuming and fretting. He got peaceful and developed a more competent organization and today his business is in a much better condition.

I am sure you also feel the same way, as the patient felt, that you are indispensable to your organization or wherever you spend time; why don't you follow the good doctor's orders?



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India still has enough green cover left for Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh to gather fig leaves to hide his shame each time he does a somersault on policy. It would seem Mr Ramesh wants to convince himself more than his critics that he is not changing his mind, but is in fact getting his way. After a series of policy reversals, with ostensible riders that the party concerned says they can ride, Mr Ramesh has now done the big one. A green signal has finally been given to the South Korean steel giant Pohang Iron & Steel Company (Posco) to take the next step to bring the biggest foreign-funded industrial project into India. The 32 new conditions for port development, the 28 new ones for the steel-cum-power plant and the additional one, not yet given, for forest use have all been found acceptable to Posco and the state government. A clutch of local activists will continue to protest and they have the right to do so, but an overwhelming number of people in Orissa will look forward with hope to new economic opportunities. It is truly shameful that it took more than five years to get to this point.

Industrialisation is not a picnic, it is a social and economic process. Anyone who has any understanding of the history of industrialisation and of the benefits, and indeed costs it imposes, should know that every such project has its pluses and minuses. The question is whether on balance this project would benefit the people of India, and indeed Orissa, or not, without imposing unaffordable social or ecological costs. In any such project some are bound to focus only on the negatives and some only on the positives. It is incumbent upon policy makers to take a balanced view. Mr Ramesh has repeatedly failed to adopt a balanced posture on a variety of policy issues, willing to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. Such populism is second nature to most Indian politicians. Mr Ramesh, we hoped, was not just another partisan politician, much less a populist. But climbing the Congress party ladder comes at a price and Mr Ramesh seems happy to pay that price. So what if the biggest foreign-funded industrial project is held up and the country's prime minister has to visit South Korea empty-handed and with just an apologetic smile on his face? Mr Ramesh now proclaims that the project holds "considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country". Really?! Imagine if Mr Ramesh could have got his act together and delivered this week's approval a couple of months earlier, on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Seoul.


 There will be more Poscos in years ahead, if India seeks to seriously push industrialisation forward, creating jobs in the millions for a rapidly growing workforce. Luddites and ecological extremists will seek to obstruct such projects. Political leadership would then mean taking the process forward, addressing all concerns in the best way possible in a reasonable period of time.






The outgoing chairman of State Bank of India, O P Bhatt, seems to be defending the indefensible and, in the process, making things worse by committing a second transgression. The first was initiating teaser rates and the second, not only standing by the action but in a manner that appears to be disrespectful of the banking regulator. Teaser rates cannot have more dubious antecedents. They were among the practices that brought upon the US the entire sub-prime crisis — a bubble built on sanctioning mortgages to those who did not have the means to service them. It is this that eventually snowballed into the financial crisis of 2008, from the adverse consequences of which the global economy is only now recovering. At a time when the property bubble was building up, mortgage initiators in the US induced people to take on obligations that they had no means of sustaining by offering starting interest rates and, therefore, payments that were artificially low. As was inevitable, when these rates were "reset" after a time, the borrowers were simply unable to keep up with their repayments and walked out. The last was made possible by the mortgages being "without recourse" for the borrowers. The social and economic blight that this caused is still starkly visible in US suburbia through shuttered foreclosed houses and depressed neighbourhoods, which had earlier been thriving communities.

It took some panache for SBI to adopt the practice of offering teaser rates after what had happened in the US but both the Reserve Bank of India and the Union finance ministry may have been somewhat indulgent initially for a good reason. Here was a public sector organisation seeking to leverage its size and going in for greater market share, thus rejecting the stereotype that the public sector is never able to pugnaciously fight it out in the marketplace. Mr Bhatt – the initiative was entirely his – has said in self-defence that SBI has taken pains to ensure that due diligence was exercised so that teaser rates did not rope in borrowers who were intrinsically unable to service the loans in the long term. He has been looking at the quarterly numbers for any signs of ill health and extending the practice only when none was visible. That may well be so but a housing loan is a long-term affair and these are early days. How long a large organisation like SBI can monitor from day to day a retail asset class that was vitiated in the first place with a wrong inducement is anybody's guess. Besides, SBI's assets are not in the best of health and it is in fact behind the norm stipulated by the RBI in making adequate provisions for non-performing assets. Mr Bhatt's response to this has been to say that the provisioning norms mandated by the RBI are not "appropriate" and the RBI has changed them "suddenly". This is of a piece with his latest remarks on teaser rates. Regulators and the regulated engage in regular public discourse over their differences of perception. This is not just acceptable but healthy. But an appropriate tone and tenor must be maintained. To publicly thumb your nose at the policeman is good for neither the organisation in question nor the system.








Before all of us get terribly spooked by the sharp sell-off in the stock markets, it might help to keep a few things in mind. The markets haven't suddenly woken up to the fact that there is a problem with governance in India; nor do investors believe that growth is about to fall off a cliff. The ripple here is part of a bigger wave. There is a sell-off across Asian emerging markets and renewed confidence in the so-called developed markets, particularly the US. So the carnage in the markets could be more the result of the re-allocation of funds than a "thumbs down" for India's domestic issues.

The underlying problem has, of course, been the phenomenon of two-track growth that the global economy found itself in since the end of 2009. Emerging markets like China and India led the global recovery and the US and Europe lagged. The cost of high growth has been rising inflation in Asia abetted partly by the easy monetary policy followed by the developed markets that ramped up global commodity prices. To cut a long story short, the dominant view among global investors is that Asian central banks need to hike rates a lot more. That, in turn, will adversely impact growth and profits of companies. The US, on the other hand, finds itself in a sweet spot. There is increasing evidence that growth is beginning to pick up – an unemployment rate of 9.4 per cent notwithstanding – as the effect of monetary and fiscal stimulus kicks in. Though the initial traction, quite surprisingly, is in consumer spending, investment expenditure could also pick reflecting in part the impact of a liberal depreciation allowance announced by the Obama administration.


 The fact that US assets are relatively cheap isn't quite helping the emerging markets' case either. A senior hedge fund manager who runs money both in the emerging markets and the developed markets told me recently that he had bought a "synthetic" stock, which is basically a bundle of stocks of 15 of the bluest chip US companies. Its valuation was roughly half that of the Indian market. Thus, the new trade that seems to have emerged in global markets appears to be "sell emerging markets, buy US".

Solace lies in the fact that these trades are unlikely to go on forever. As the emerging markets correct, their stocks will seem attractive again. The supply of liquidity for the US and Europe is likely to be easy across markets and neither the Fed nor the European Central Bank is likely to reverse monetary policy soon. As Indian stocks begin to look cheap, fund managers will again focus on the fact that, the US' recovery notwithstanding, India's growth is likely to beat the US by a mile. The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) rate hikes will have to stop at a point as inflation gets on a leash sometime in 2011. Markets are, mercifully, known to be fickle. Interest could return to the emerging markets by the middle of the year.

The niggling worry is if investors use this phase of bearishness on the emerging markets as an opportunity to re-evaluate the China-India story. Let me start with China. I hear a growing murmur of voices that seem convinced that China and its markets will see a major correction, if not a crisis, in the next few years. Ken Rogoff, former International Monetary Fund chief economist, explained the China risk rather succinctly in a television interview from Davos. China, he claimed, is becoming a more "normal" economy as the government and central bank find it imperative to use conventional economic policies and market-based policy instruments to manage their economy. Normal economies, Rogoff pointed out, have rarely seen decade after decade of uninterrupted high growth. Thus, it is quite likely that China will enter a slowdown if not an outright recession in the foreseeable future.

Besides, one has to be blind not to notice asset bubbles in the Chinese economy. In Beijing, the ratio of house price to average income in the city (a common measure of affordability) is over 25. The norm in most developed markets is four to five. An email circulating in China's cyberspace and reported in the Financial Times presents some interesting calculations. I quote the Financial Times, "Prostitutes, the e-mail says, would have to entertain 10,000 customers — a marathon feat requiring them to service one customer a night from the age of 18 until the age of 46 without an evening off to afford a place of their own." The problem with bubbles is the fact that they are known to burst suddenly without notice or warning — investors will have to factor in this risk in their decisions.

As far as India goes, inconsistencies in the "double-digit growth soon" view of the future are becoming somewhat starkly visible. I have argued in a number of places that the current episode of food inflation should be treated as a symptom of "overheating" rather than as a series of supply shocks. The implication is that the Indian economy might not be able to cross the 8 to 8.5 per cent growth threshold without spawning some pretty serious imbalances that can manifest either as consumer price inflation, escalating white collar wages, or the shortage of key infrastructure (clogged ports, power outages). The efficacy of jugaad or on-your-innovation to circumvent some of these problems seems to be diminishing as the pressure of growth builds up. The relentless parade of scams and exposé of graft seem to suggest that the robust institutions that we keep touting ("China might have the hard infrastructure but we have the soft infrastructure" is mandatory in all India investment spiels) might not be so robust after all.

These problems are unlikely to disappear overnight and will impinge on growth in the medium to near term. I won't be surprised if investors slowly begin to price in some of these risks of investing in Asian markets. This might well be Asia's century. But will it necessarily be Asia's decade?

The author is chief economist, HDFC Bank. The views expressed are persona







It is scarcely believable that less than two years ago the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) triumphantly returned to power for a second term, rid of dependence on the left. That was a halter round its neck, holding it back on so many reform initiatives. Parting ways with the left has indeed enabled action on one front, disinvestment, symbolised by the success of the large Coal India public issue. This, plus the massive sums raised through the auction of spectrum for 3G services, has rendered invaluable support to the fisc, enabling the government to keep footing the bill for grassroots programmes like the one for employment guarantee.

But that's about all. With over three years more to go before having to face another general election, there is enough time for the government to take "tough" decisions which can bear fruit before pre-election populism sets in. But the government seems inexplicably paralysed and in a state of dazed, directionless drift. Almost no initiative seems possible since some section or the other invariably opposes any move for change. The spectre that haunts UPA II is a Budget session in a shambles with the prospects of budgets having to be passed amidst pandemonium with zero discussion. An Opposition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose own stock across the country seems none too bright, is able to score on tactics (paralysing Parliament), thus highlighting the stunned political inaction of the ruling coalition.


 This need not be so. Many of the current crises offer golden opportunities to take dramatic action with a powerful political content which can only do good not just in the long but also in the medium term. Take the shocking murder of Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane who was after the fuel black market mafia. Here is a chance to turn the tables and take the upper hand. Declare a highly publicised war on the mafia — raids, arrests and even a few operations that look suspiciously like fake encounters. Not at all difficult since there is a Congress-led government in power in Maharashtra, led by a new and supposedly upright chief minister.

After a few days, raise sharply kerosene and diesel prices, with the prime minister going on TV to tell the nation that the fuel subsidy is only fattening the mafia and corrupt local politicians and officials. He can also promise that the large sums recovered and more will be used for a food security programme which will offer the poor food at Rs 3 per kg or less. We will finish the fuel mafia and remove hunger at one go, the prime minister can thunder out of the idiot-cum-soap box. As currently envisaged, the programme, in its first stage will involve an additional expenditure of Rs 15,000 crore — the subsidy paid to the oil marketing companies for the first nine months of the current financial year is Rs 21,000 crore and, according to one estimate, set to touch Rs 35,000 crore for the full year. Over the next couple of years, the programme can be tailored to target it better and slowly shift to direct cash transfer, enabled by the issuing of unique identities, for buying grain from the market. The last will also reduce the loss incurred by the operations undertaken by the public distribution system or the Food Corporation of India.

This is not all. The three major ills currently clouding the economic horizon are inflation, driven in good part by food prices, a high current account deficit, excessive reliance on volatile portfolio investment and falling foreign direct investment (FDI). A silver bullet of sorts is available to the government to address all these in one go. Ease restrictions on FDI in organised retail which will boost the overall FDI flows and a lot more. Policy can be tuned with this move so that it results in an improved cold chain, better farm to fork logistics and reduced markup between the two prices. This will lead to a rise in farm incomes and create incentives to raise food output and rein in food inflation.

All this will not happen in a day but in three years there will certainly be results which will address several constituencies: the aam janata at the bottom of the pyramid (enough food at affordable prices for all), the middle class (lower overall inflation) and economic agents or readers of business papers (reforms gaining momentum again). Movement in this direction will have another beneficial effect — it will improve investor perception of economic fundamentals and restore a degree of confidence in the stock markets, thus enabling a pickup in disinvestment. This, plus maybe the continuing spectrum auction, will maintain the revenue buoyancy visible in the current year and allow the government to do more without calling a halt to fiscal correction. Obvious candidates in areas where private investment is slow or non-existent will be rural roads, water harvesting and watershed management.

Economics is all about priorities, selecting a few key areas for action – not launching something as absurd as a 20-point programme – acting decisively on them, waiting for the ripples to spread and eventually loop back, to set in motion a virtuous cycle. The actions points are: ease bottlenecks, promote growth, reap higher revenues and with them conduct another round of tackling bottlenecks. Important as these measures are, it is idle to think that bold economic action alone will suffice. The current sense that UPA II is running to ground has been created foremost by the battering it is getting over corruption. Congress governments after a period in office are prone to sink under its weight. That can only be tackled by political initiative, something which is also vital for better economic management.







Accepting incentive packages from governments to set up industrial units, especially those announced fresh after elections, is risky. The government can change policies overnight and withdraw the stimulus bouquet with the same ease with which it offered the incentives. There is no remedy for the promoters against the government in such a situation. Not even from the Supreme Court.

Investors have spent huge amounts to set up projects, trusting the governments' alluring words, and then regretted when the promises were reneged. Their appeals have come to the Supreme Court, but they have not been successful. The latest to receive such a setback were some ten private steel mills that had established ventures in the hill region of Kotdwar in Uttarkhand (Shree Sidhbali Steels Ltd vs State of Uttar Pradesh).


 The enterprises were set up in the area counting on the concessions announced by the state government for hill area development, especially in the "zero industrial zones". The industrial policy of that year promised a 33.33 per cent rebate in electricity bills for five years. This was extended by another five years. The rebate was meant to compensate the extra expenditure incurred by the promoters in contrast to the units established in the plains and developed areas. The benefit was conferred on a geographical basis based on several factors: expenses on labour charges, maintenance cost, transport of raw materials and finished goods. It was hoped that industrialisation would increase employment and reduce the brain drain to the cities.

Later, the government reduced the rebate to 17 per cent and then the benefit was withdrawn altogether. Of the 28 industries affected, 15 have reportedly closed down. They moved the Supreme Court alleging that the withdrawal of the promised concession has threatened their very existence. The government action was against all accepted norms of trade since the firms were first induced to invest huge sums to set up plants and then the promise was broken. They brought up the theory of "promissory estoppel" in this context.

But this argument, as well as several others, did not impress the Supreme Court. "Where public interest warrants," said the judgment, "the principle of promissory estoppels cannot be invoked. Government can change the policy in public interest. The authority cannot be compelled to do something which is not allowed by law or prohibited by law."

Moreover, the rebate granted to the steel firms is only a privilege or freedom from an obligation which they were liable to discharge. "The right to enjoy a benefit is liable to be taken away in exercise of the very power under which the exemption was granted," according to the court. This power entitles the government to modify its industrial policy, and grant or withdraw fiscal benefits from time to time.

Electricity tariff is set by the electricity regulatory commission under the new regime since 1998. Earlier, the electricity board exercised this power. The commission cannot discriminate one region from another and declare differential tariffs on the basis of geography. A power company, which is a licensee, cannot modify the tariff determined by the regulatory commission. It would be against the statute.

The court was also averse to treading on government policy in this matter. The new industrial policy does not grant such subsidy and this decision is "in the larger public interest". The court cannot substitute its opinion with the government's view that the rebate should be withdrawn. The judiciary will interfere in the government policy only if it's "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable".

There were several other legal grounds on which the court rejected the industries' plea. But this tendency of the state governments, now approved by the judiciary, raises several other questions which affect investor confidence. Industrialists will now think thrice before investing in remote areas or accepting largesse from governments in the form of concessions in sales tax, excise duty or customs levy. Even an offer of cheap land acquired under the Land Acquisition Act would be looked at with suspicion.

The electricity laws grant unlimited discretion to the authorities to revise the rates from time to time. The General Clauses Act also grants immense power to the government to amend, vary or rescind notifications, orders, rules or bye-laws. The courts, in a series of judgments in recent times, have rejected the appeals of industries to compel the governments to keep their word. In such a situation, the trust in government promises could be strengthened if the industrial policies are tightly worded, making retraction of concessions more difficult for the government. If law does not help and policies are unpredictable and unreliable, the object of distributing the fruit of development will elude the hinterlands.





Monetary tightening has done little to curb inflation and will hurt investment, but the credit surge suggests that inflation is demand-driven, so it's better to have lower near-term growth than a hard landing later.

Madan Sabnavis

Chief Economist, CARE Ratings


When monetary tightening is not really achieving the objective of lowering food inflation, it deserves to be reviewed given its deeper impact on the investment climate

The focus of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) so far has been to use interest rates as a tool to control growth in credit which has been steady this year. The idea, ostensibly, is to reduce demand-pull inflationary forces and rein in inflation. There are two thoughts here. First, whether credit contraction will deliver the result in terms of combating inflation. Second, whether this act, or rather series of acts, will affect the economy adversely in some other way.

The concern is palpable on primary product prices that have been fraught with output failure in non-conventional articles (beyond kharif which is doing well) like fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat products. Here, interest rates or liquidity do not really matter because raising repo rates cannot augment supplies and we will continue to pay higher prices until such time as supplies come in. There is little evidence of hoarding on the back of bank lending. Therefore, credit contraction will have a limited impact on inflation and a further tightening of strings will just not work. 

To be charitable to economic theory, it may be said that credit contraction through higher rates will impact only demand-pull inflationary forces to the extent that they exist in our system. This will mean core inflation or "non-food, non-fuel, non-LME" inflation. But, most certainly it will not really achieve the desired objective of controlling the present issue of consumer inflation. The RBI may end up saying that the policy has worked, but really the retail prices of food would not be affected. The consumer price index (CPI) will continue to reflect the ground reality since the lower wholesale price index (WPI), due to declining prices of machinery or chemicals, does not affect us.

If this were so, the next question to be addressed is whether this move is a good idea especially since this measure will not be bringing down food prices. India is at a critical stage of growth where the push has been given during the global crisis years and the challenge is to maintain the momentum. Globally, central banks are easing interest rates and liquidity in a bid to encourage investment and consumption. Admittedly, monetary policy should be driven by domestic and not global factors, but if the objective of inflation is not really being achieved, should we be coming in the way of growth by tightening liquidity?

We have the curious combination of a high fiscal deficit and government borrowing, lower government expenditure and higher holdings of cash obtained through the 3G spectrum auctions, low growth in deposits, higher hoarding of currency by the public, and an industrial sector that is yo-yoing in terms of growth. Liquidity is an issue that is being aggrandised as banks are desperately borrowing Rs 1 lakh crore on a daily basis from the RBI. The wisdom of monetary tightening has to be questioned.

With the government having an edge when it comes to attracting banks in terms of investments in its debt, the private sector would be at a disadvantage with a shortage of funds and an increasing cost of credit. This will impact medium-term growth prospects especially when we need to have large quantities of investment in both industry and infrastructure. In fact, talking of infrastructure projects, those that are being undertaken will have their cash flows jeopardised since revenue streams are fixed over the tenure while costs would now be increasing due to higher interest payments. Therefore, there is a possibility of some adverse consequences here. Simultaneously, consumer spending on housing and automobiles will slow, thus weakening the backward linkages with industries that have been growth drivers in the past.

Keeping such a situation in mind, it does appear that when monetary tightening is not really achieving the objective of lowering food inflation, it deserves to be reviewed given its deeper impact on the investment climate. The RBI has also mentioned indirectly that it can do little more to ease liquidity with the Statutory Liquidity Ratio and Open Market Operations measures having limited impact. Under these conditions, it may be advisable to leave liquidity alone for sometime.

The views expressed are personal

Jahangir Aziz

India Chief Economist, JP Morgan

The credit surge tells us that the economy is overheating. If inflation is to be brought down, both monetary and fiscal polices need to be tightened significantly and urgently

In the January 25 policy review and in subsequent interviews, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) warned of a growing asset-liability mismatch in the banking sector. Its fear is that with deposits growing only at 16 per cent and credit at 23 per cent, a significant portion of the credit is being financed not from deposits but short-term borrowings and this is not sustainable. But the RBI may be missing the forest for the trees.

Though the RBI should be concerned about this mismatch, the problem of a significant asset-liability mismatch is likely to be specific to a few banks rather than the system as a whole. At nearly 76 per cent the system's average credit-deposit ratio has risen to its highest level in the last eight years. To finance this credit growth, banks have reduced their bond holdings but mainly at the RBI's repo window rather than selling them to non-banks. In addition, banks have been issuing a substantial amount of short-term papers to raise funds. These are probably the reasons driving the RBI's concerns.

On the other hand, banks have also raised deposit rates which should help lure depositors in the coming months. Moreover, excess bond holdings (over the 24 per cent Statutory Liquidity Ratio requirement) even after declining is around 4.5 per cent of deposits and about 200 basis points above the "normal" excess holding. In other words, banks still have a lot of space to fund credit growth. Finally, several banks have raised capital in recent months and some others are planning to do so in the near term. If credit growth picks up further, it can be financed without worsening the system-wide asset-liability mismatch. Some banks may face this problem, but this is a supervisory issue that can be relatively easily fixed.

One of the big disappointments of 2010 in India has been the failure of corporate investment to take off. Despite a strong public-sector led domestic demand and strained industrial capacities across several sectors, repeated global shocks and the recent rise in policy uncertainty in India have ostensibly depressed the desire of companies to undertake large investments at home. Unsurprisingly, credit growth remained sluggish for the better part of last year.

Since then credit growth has rebounded and accelerated recently. Credit grew from 17 per cent in March to a whopping 27.7 per cent in December! Its quarterly momentum nearly doubled from 15.5 per cent in the third quarter of 2010 to 30 per cent in the last quarter. The credit off-take in the fourth quarter of 2010 exceeded the combined off-take of the two previous quarters. Till about the third quarter of 2010 (the latest period for which disaggregated data is available) most of the credit off-take was in infrastructure (including to telecom firms to pay for the 3G licences and foreign acquisitions). My guess is that in the last quarter, credit growth spread beyond infrastructure but still not to other kinds of investment. And this is the real worry.

That inflation has been stubbornly sticky in recent months is no longer news. However, what has received far less attention than food price shocks is that core and non-food manufacturing inflation has been rising very sharply, reinforcing the still minority view that India's inflation has long stopped being a supply-side phenomenon and is now firmly driven by surging demand.

The worsening asset-liability mismatch should be taken seriously, but the credit surge is telling us something more fundamental and something more ominous. This economy – fuelled by loose monetary and fiscal policies – is overheating. India's growth far exceeds its capacity and that's the cause of the high inflation. If inflation is to be brought down both monetary and fiscal polices need to be tightened significantly and urgently. This will mean lower near-term growth for sure. But it will minimise the spectre of a hard landing later and safeguard medium-term growth. In its absence foreign institutional investors are leaving India just as they did in the early 2008. What the government and RBI do in the next few months will determine whether this growth sacrifice is a little now or a lot later.








Aishwarya Rai has the worst fans. Being an Internet-based film critic for awhile now, I can attest to having received a wee bit more than my share of hate-mail. It's quite staggering, really, to realise just how passionate people are about cinema, and more than a trifle alarming to wrap the brain around the fact that a very significant number of folks would love to bash my skull in based merely on disagreement – simply because, for example, I didn't like 3 Idiots.


And while I haven't yet faced physical violence – threats stopped fazing me quite some time ago – it's always interesting to see just how quickly people jump to their feet to democratically proclaim an opinion wrong. And then there are the bizarre kneejerk reactions – like being branded 'unpatriotic' after finding fault with something Amitabh Bachchan does — and fantastical accusations of favouritism


For example, a cursory glance around the Web will lead you to all sorts of conspiracy theories about how I am a corrupt champion of all things SRK, and while I think Mr Khan – whom I have met all of one time, during which he didn't hand me a mithai-dabba stuffed with banknotes – is a better actor than usually given credit for, the claws come out for his films just the same as everyone else. (Of course, under those reviews a new bunch of commenters wisely proclaim that I live in Akshay Kumar's pocket.)


The Internet messageboards are a thing of wonder. The process, in a nutshell, goes thusly: An article mentions Rajnikanth. A reader instantly calls Bachchan the real God. A third brings in a Khan. Cue conchshells, signalling the onset of war. And there we have it, boom, a simple review spawns a shameful discussion: a riotous melee, complete with racial slurs and regionalistic jargon and extreme obscenity. Bad, bad bloodshed, this.


Now, the haters have found Twitter. One unfavourable adjective about an actor they have a crush on results in my timeline choked with abuse. I stopped taking the bile personally several years ago – a close friend put it enviably well when she pointed out that I "had made enemies among the ungrammatical" – but since I actually enjoy Twitter, it is occasionally jarring to stumble upon a swearword when expecting a smile.


Which brings me back to the first line of today's column, one Ash should perhaps be concerned about. I frequently rip apart movies I consider bad – and she has admittedly kept herself in the firing line all through the last year – but her fans, and especially her online fanclubs, are the most profane bunch by a mile. Hiding behind stunning pictures of her, they use language that would shock a Mumbai policeman. Shame, Ash-fans, shame. Do you kiss your Taal poster with that mouth?








ENVIRONMENT minister Jairam Ramesh has passed the Posco buck, nominally to the government of Orissa but, in reality, to the courts. His final clearance of the project depends on a categorical assertion by the government of Orissa that there are no 'other traditional forest dwellers' among those whose land would be diverted for the project. Three committees appointed by the Union environment and forests ministry, which do not see eye-toeye on many things, all agree on two things: one, the people who would be displaced are indeed 'other traditional forest dwellers' and, two, their rights as defined in the Forest Rights Act have been violated in the Posco clearance process. Now, if the government of Orissa does provide the Centre with the categorical assertion that it has sought on the nature of the people who would be displaced, it is inevitable that the villagers would go to court. Whether the affected villagers are indeed people whom the Forest Rights Act seeks to protect is a matter of fact that would then be left to the courts to verify, beyond final challenge in the Supreme Court. This will take time. But a lengthy pilgrimage through the shrines of graded sanctity of Indian legality is not the only future open to Posco. The company can make a fresh, larger-hearted and better funded effort to win over the villagers whose lives and livelihoods would be disrupted by the project than the current one rejected by the villagers. People need certainty about their future incomes and occupations, and these would need to be superior to what they are asked to give up. This would not take much, given how the villagers eke out a living. But it does call for imagination, empathy and a willingness to engage directly with the villagers and not just with political and bureaucratic powerbrokers.


Has the first environment minister to take his job seriously, rather than as an office for rent-seeking, thrown in the towel? Not really. Posco is now a token of governmental commitment to industry and foreign investment. The state has to show its earnestness. At the same time, companies and their projects must respect, not bend, the people of India and their laws. The Posco decision sets the stage for companies to show how they are inclined







INDIA must shed its navel-gazing caution on the history being made in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and, hopefully, other Arab lands. A million men marching against Hosni Mubarak is significant not just because rebellion against authoritarian rule is being led in this part of the world neither by the sword nor by the Book, but by people power. This could well be the moment when democracy gets its chance in the Arab nations, after having been throttled by the Cold War and its surviving aftermath. The end of the decades-old Hosni Mubarak regime does seem imminent. And with Egypt's historically central role in Arab politics, developments in Egypt might herald the dawn of a new era in West Asia. The key question is what form and substance this apparent change-in-the-offing will take. With President Mubarak so far doing little more than shuffling his government like a pack of cards, and the people insisting nothing less than his ouster would suffice, one feasible way forward would be for some sort of national front, which encompasses opposition groups and parties, to engage with those elements from the regime who may have realised the inevitability of change. The latter is coalesced around the people's anger against continuing authoritarian regimes and the basic lack of democracy. In fact, democracy has also been held hostage in the region due to blanket US support for Arab dictators, who have used the idea of potential threats from Israel and Islamists to stave off any change. In that context, one of the most significant aspects of these widespread protests has been their secular nature, and an utter refutation of the Al Qaeda-idea that only violence can effect a change in West Asia.


It is inevitable that popular anger against regimes propped up by foreign support should contain foreign policy dimensions. But it is important that these Arab popular movements do not give in to anti-Israel hysteria and focus on democratising their national polities. Democracy, ultimately, is what will bring resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and that is where their immediate focus should be. India, the US and all other democracies should embrace the change in Arabia.








THE day will come when men will be killed for laughing", says an angry young revolutionary to her affluent uncle in 1925 Britain in James Hilton's nostalgic novel Random Harvest. The uncle quips, "That will also be the day when men laugh at killing!" That humour is there in the unlikeliest of situations is evident by the graffiti on a wall in Cairo even while Egypt is witnessing tumultuous street protests calling for the resignation of Hosni Mubarak who has been President for the last 30 years and whose regime has been associated with crony capitalism and repression. The anger on the Arab street is palpable. Yet, amidst all this fury, the graffiti on a Cairo wall quips, Antique dictators 4 sale!" The desire to get rid of Mubarak is motivated not by his age — at 82, he is only a few years older than India's democratically-elected gerontocrats — but as a reaction to corruption and repression at a time when inflation and unemployment are peaking.


The antique-dictator reference could also be to Tunisia's ousted 74-year-old president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali whose wife and family controlled 30% to 40% of the country's economy and owned assets in every sector from banks and insurance to transport, tourism and property while amassing an estimated $10 billion. Not to be outdone, the Mubarak family reportedly amassed an estimated $41 billion, including a London townhouse worth 14 million and a six-floor Georgian mansion where the President's son Gamal reportedly deposited the 97 pieces of luggage with which he flew from Egypt! All of which goes to show that there is some scam competition for our own netas. India's political leaders do quite nicely for themselves, thank you, without the kind of absolute power enjoyed by dictators. Which should persuade Tunisian and Egyptian presidents to join the protesters and shout, long live democracy!





THE Malegam committee has made a brave effort in its report to keep the microfinance industry alive while pacifying politicians in Andhra Pradesh who want to shut the industry down, accusing it of causing suicides. In the process, the committee has fallen between two stools, combining many sensible suggestions with others that are seriously flawed.


Since politicians have accused microfinance institutions (MFIs) of usurious profiteering, the committee suggests an interest cap of 24%. It assumes that MFIs can get funding at 12%. It says the lending margin (difference between an MFI's borrowing and lending rate) should be capped at 10% for large MFIs with portfolios above . 100 crore, and at 12% for smaller ones. This amounts to a double cap: a 10-12% cap on the margin, plus an absolute 24% lending cap.


Problem: MFIs simply cannot get all their funding at just 12%. The committee has looked at historical data that do not mirror today's realities. Yes Bank recently raised its interest rate to 17% for one MFI. Other MFIs are negotiating loans at 15-16%. Every time the RBI tightens monetary policy, interest rates go up. How can you cap MFI lending rates when there is no cap on their borrowing rates?


In trying to check profiteering, the committee may kill newer MFIs with high start-up costs, especially those in remote areas most in need of financial inclusion. Such MFIs lose money even with lending rates of 36%. The double cap may squeeze out all but a few large MFIs, including the major culprits of multiple lending and overlending!


The committee fails to address a basic question: why cap the margins and maximum loan of microcredit NBFCs when there is no such cap on other NBFCs? Even banks charge 24-30% forsmallpersonalloanswithoutcollateral. Credit card rates are also 24-30%.


The proposed interest caps are aimed at AP politicians and media critics, who think usurious interest rates are leading to suicides. The committee should have made sample calculations to illustrate the impact of interest rate cuts on the weekly equated installment of borrowers.


Fact is, if interest falls from 30% to 24% for a loan of . 8,000, the weekly installment falls by only . 7! It is absurd to suggest that . 7 per week is the difference between healthy and suicidal borrowing. In the MFI model, the bulk of the weekly installment is principal, and interest is a small component. Any MFI cap needs to be much more flexible than the Malegam norm.


The committee is so anxious to protect borrowers from excessive debt that its recommendations will strangulate small businesses. The committee says total indebtedness should not exceed . 25,000. But many studies the world over show that poor families already have much higher debt levels — loans from friends, relatives, moneylenders and pawnbrokers. No MFI agent visiting a village for half an hour per week can discover the true assets and liabilities of borrowers who have every incentive to hide the truth.


The committee may be right in thinking that consumer debt exceeding . 25,000 can be dangerous — although poor families routinely borrow much more for weddings. The committee wants at least 75% of MFI loans to be for productive purposes. Elementary economics says that money is fungible, and you cannot say how one single element of cash inflow is used for which spending purpose. The IRDP scheme tried to enforce the productive asset clause, so the same buffalo was displayed by every villager wanting a loan. Why aim for a repetition of this farce?


INFLATION means a buffalo costs up to . 25,000, up from . 10,000 not long ago. Soon the proposed combined MFI lending limit of . 25,000 will not buy even for one buffalo. Much worse will be the plight of other small businesses wanting to scale up. Lending norms must be indexed for inflation.


I have heard village women argue that they need . 50,000 for a good shop. They also say the MFI model is terrible for business. If an MFI gives her a loan of . 15,000, she can stock her shop with several items and attract good business. But weekly repayments mean that within six months her net loan is down to . 7,500, so she lacks working capital to stock her shop well. And after 10 months her MFI loan is so small that her shop shelves are half empty. Such people use multiple loans to manage their stocks. The committee fails to recognise either the gross insufficiency of . 25,000 as an enterprise limit, or the rationale of multiple borrowing in some circumstances.


MFIs can be asked to give two classes of loans. One would be small credit loans for consumption. Two would be micro-enterprise loans that can gradually be ramped up to . 2 lakh to enable small businesses to scale up. There is a dire need for microenterprise credit, which banks cannot meet but MFIs can. In Latin America, MFIs lend mainly to microenterprises rather than poor women. Compartamos charges 70% interest and is repaid by microenterprises, unflawed by sorry tales of suicide.


The committee says no MFI should devote more than 10% of its business to activities other than lending. This is plain wrong. MFIs have created a client platform in villages which banks cannot. This platform should now be used for a wide range of services, such as life and health insurance.


Many villagers buy animals, so MFIs should provide veterinary services and insurance. By bulking purchases of basic goods, MFIs can get villagers big discounts to retail prices. Such examples can be multiplied. Instead of aiming for such diversification of MFI services, the committee goes in the opposite direction.


There is no space in a short column to discuss all the other issues, on some which the committee has made sensible suggestions. But the RBI needs to take on board critiques of the report, and amend several recommendations that cry out for change.







CURTAILING liquidity to curb inflation may be counter-productive in the long run. During 2010, crude oil, metals and commodity prices, including foodgrains, had been moving upwards due to both demand-supply gap and global commodity market speculation. Six months before onion prices spurted in India, the price of Texas onion rose sharply due to insufficient supply. Cotton prices doubled in India and corn prices rose sharply following price hikes in global future markets. Wall Street banks and hedge funds had been steadily buying up much of the commodity stocks traded at the London futures markets, along with the supply chain infrastructure from warehousing and storage facilities to supply pipelines.


Commodity mutual funds and exchange traded funds in metals, agricultural commodities, gold and oil were being set up rapidly by the big global investment banks like J P Morgan, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Barclays that would allow investors to hold commodities without taking physical possession of the inventories. For commodities sold as asset class had become the investor's favourite instrument in 2010 outpacing stocks, bonds and currency transactions, both at the London and the New York exchanges.


In July 2010, following reports of insufficient Russian wheat crop, the prices of wheat shot up by nearly 50%. With Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ban on wheat exports announced for the second successive year, Arabian and African nations, which largely depended on Russian wheat, were the first to be hit. Egypt, the world's largest wheat importer, had to scramble up its deficient stockpiles by buying US hard wheat at much higher rates. This prompted banks, hedge funds and investors to corner foodgrains on forecast of future shortages and higher profits.


In September, the first of the food riots broke out, leaving 13 dead and hundreds injured in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, when its government increased the price of wheat by over 30% after a 10% rise in price of energy and water price. This was followed by an FAO warning of imminent global food crisis leading to further speculation and rise in prices of corn, soy, millet and sugar, besides vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy products.


As food inflation raised its ugly head over Africa and Asia, central banks of the emerging economies hiked interest rates to curb liquidity. The US Federal Reserve, meanwhile, eased liquidity resulting in the Wall Street banks and traders cornering all available stocks in metal, oil and foodgrain markets, and taking dominant positions, especially in London's deregulated commodity markets. Was it right for central banks in Asia to curb liquidity and raise interest rates for its industries and trading community when the US Federal Reserve empowered its buyers?


The inflationary pressure on emerging economies increased, especially as they had to buy crude from spot markets at higher prices with high cost funds as against zero interest advances to US buyers. This hurt them, especially in the critical energy sector where Brent oil and Asian crude advanced to nearly $100/barrel. The US has been able to increase its strategic crude oil reserves at Cushing to over 60 days of storage, a record all-time high that pushed down the WTI to below $90 a barrel over the last six months, making it easier for the US consumer.


India, on the other hand, has been forced to buy spot at peak prices due to low liquidity and strategic storage capacity of its refiners and stockist. Of late, we have started building a grossly inadequate strategic crude storage capacity of two weeks compared to the 60-day storage capacity of US and 90-day capacity of Germany, France and Italy. China, which has completed of the first phase of 20-day of reserves of 102 million barrels in 2009, has embarked on a project to store 90 days of oil by 2020 to meet its energy security.


 As US Fed chairman Ben Bernanke released the first instalment of QE2 of $75 billion in December for easing liquidity to the US domestic SME, retail and housing sector, the funds found their way to the London commodity markets, resulting in a frenzied buying by traders. This saw a sharp 30% rise in metal prices at the LME where single traders cornered 90% of the copper and 80% of aluminum stocks, besides 50% to 70% of stocks of zinc, nickel and tin. Whereas China has already stockpiled in 2009 when it created a strategic reserve for copper, Indian manufacturers are getting hurt by high prices and raising of interest rates in the domestic markets.


Curbing inflation by reducing liquidity has its limits and could hurt the growth of the Industry if the Reserve Bank of India continues the traditional response instead of bringing in new micro economic initiatives to tackle inflation.







EXACTLY 155 years ago, on seventh of February, Wajid Ali Shah, the ruler of Awadh, was forced into exile by the British. They gave him a supposedly generous allowance to live off his days peacefully on a sprawling estate in the Garden Reach suburb of Kolkata.


Had he remained king for just one more year at Lucknow, Wajid Ali would surely have been swept up in the great uprising of 1857, ending up dead like Rani Laxmibai at Jhansi, or like Bahadur Shah Zafar, in captivity. Would the supposedly sybaritic king have wanted such an exit?


He was an accomplished dilettante. Destiny had thrust him onto the throne of a kingdom known as "the garden, granary and the Queen-Province of India" which was coveted by a powerful enemy. But the British Resident had an obvious vested interest in portraying the illstarred prince as a corrupt nitwit. A sympathetic biographer presents a more complex picture:


 "Though he was a man of pleasure, he was neither an unscrupulous knave nor a brainless libertine. He was a lovable and generous gentleman. He was a voluptuary, still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he never missed his five daily prayers; the literary and artistic attainments of Wajid Ali Shah distinguished him from his contemporaries"; some of whom later confessed to have been struck by his serene sense of detachment coupled with courtliness.


This comes out clearly in the King's farewell to his beloved city, the lyric of which (Babul mora) has been immortalised by singers of the eminence of late Kundan Lal Saigal and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. On the surface, Babul mora talks about a newly-wed bride taking leave of her beloved father on the shoulders of four palanquin-bearers.


As she exhorts her parent to go back home, she exclaims that her once-loved courtyard has become as forbidding as a mountain and the gate an entrance to a strange country (from whose bourn no one returns). The farewell is thus the soul's allegory of our relentless journey to the final destination when the palanquin (duliya) becomes a bier (biriya) carried by pall-bearers.


 Only an enlightened soul (or a supreme artist) could summon the equanimity necessary for such a noble leave-taking. It inverts the pleasure palace into a songless desert and glorifies exile into lovers' paradise. This is the quality King Janaka embodied for the sake of instructing the sage Sri Shuka Muni.







The conditional nod to Posco makes a lot of sense but does the Environment Ministry have the wherewithal, let alone intention, to ensure compliance?

Even elephants, after they mate, come up with a calf in 22 months. But India's love story with Korea, of which the $14-billion Posco investment in Orissa was supposed to be the culmination, has been going on for over five years and is yet to produce a result.

Monday's orders by the Ministry of Environment, however, should end the extended labour pains. The Minister for Environment and Forests, Mr Jairam Ramesh, who has been excoriated for being obstructive and has even been spoken to by the Prime Minister, has come out with a set of conditions — 28 new ones — that make a lot of sense because they address genuine problems in respect of the environment, the forests, and the people who live off the forests.

That someone needed to start taking these things seriously was never in doubt. That this was not being done before Mr Ramesh came on to the scene is also not in doubt. That he is doing no more than implement the law is also quite clear.

He, therefore, deserves due credit for having made the care of the environment and displaced persons an integral part of the project sanctions. For example, by making it mandatory that the companies concerned devote 2 per cent of net profits to CSR, he ought to be able to end what has become a farce, where planting a few trees and running some elementary schools at a laughably low cost, has become the norm.

Much the same can be said about the other conditions as well because, taken singly as well as collectively, they address a felt need, apart from the added advantage of quieting the NGOs.

That said, the old aphorism that the path to hell is paved with good intentions must also be kept in mind. India abounds with well-intentioned laws which, either because of forgetfulness or for a consideration, it then fails to implement.

It is impossible not to wonder, therefore, if the Ministry has the wherewithal, even if it has the intention, to ensure compliance. This is important because Posco has to fulfil the conditions only after, and not before, the project gets underway.

Nor must it be forgotten that in India every condition, onerous or otherwise, can open an equal and opposite window for bureaucratic rascality. Inadvertently, therefore, Mr Ramesh may have laid a lot of eggs from which very golden geese may hatch for the benefit of low-level functionaries.

Politically, the ball is now in the State government's court. It is up to the Orissa government to provide such certification as is necessary.

In that sense, Mr Ramesh has deftly skipped away and thus taken the Central government, which was coming under increasing criticism for frightening away investors, out of the firing line.

The Prime Minister should call him for tea now and thank him for having killed many birds with one stone.






High repayment rates and low correlation with other asset classes make microfinance an interesting asset class for capital market investors. As the investor base for MFIs diversifies, the sector may experience lower liquidity risk.

February 2, 2011:  

The goal of an investment professional is to maximise the risk-adjusted return on the overall portfolio through diversification within and across asset classes. High repayment rates, low volatility of returns and low correlation with other asset classes make microfinance an interesting asset class.

What drives the high repayment rates and low volatility of returns? How can unsecured loans made to borrowers with no credit history be of higher credit quality than more established asset classes? To understand these questions, one has to look at the underlying model.

Social collateral

The joint liability group (JLG) system is an operationally intensive model with strong emphasis on adherence to simple, yet well-designed processes. The product is typically a one-year loan with equal weekly repayments. A group of borrowers get together and form the basic unit — the joint liability group.

Coming from the same neighbourhood, they know each other well enough to understand the cash flows and requirements of households, and have insight into the ability and willingness of the members to repay.

The group members collectively guarantee the loan given to members in their group. If a member fails to pay an instalment, the others in the group pool together and pay.

Very often, non-payment of an instalment is due to reasons of liquidity, not wilful default. Most low-income households have no collateral to provide. The model effectively replaces physical collateral with social collateral.

While this may appear simple, the implementation is complex. Borrowers, who have never availed loans in the past or experienced the discipline of repayments, need to be educated about the product, group formation process and the liability they take on being a member of the group.

Educating borrowers

MFIs spend a lot of time educating their borrowers through a well-defined CGT (Continuous Group Training) and GRT (Group Recognition Test) process before a loan is sanctioned and disbursed. While most MFIs insist on borrowers engaging in an income generation activity, often the loans are utilised to smoothen lumpy cash flows, typical of an agriculture-based economy.

Most rural households engage in multiple income-generating activities. They grow seasonal vegetables, rear livestock and work as daily wage labourers. Thus, repayments often come from within the existing household balance sheet, rather than from new business income.

The small weekly repayments match well with the high frequency cash inflows. The group guarantee, based on self-selection, repayment discipline with close group monitoring, and a financial product that matches the household's cash flow patterns, results in high repayments.

The low correlation observed between returns on this asset class and mainstream asset classes, such as equities, bonds, commodities and bullion, is because in the short run, the small-scale activities and occupations engaged in by borrowers continue irrespective of the happenings in mainstream markets.

As markets for end products/services produced by clients are largely local, the micro economy continues to function irrespective of whether inflation skyrockets, stock index nosedives, interest rates strengthen or exchange rates collapse.

Distinctive features

The features distinguishing microfinance from other asset classes are:

Very high granularity resulting in portfolio diversification: Microfinance loans have small ticket sizes that average Rs 12,000. As explained earlier, these loans are used for income generation, to smoothen cash flows and repay high-cost debt. The granular nature of loans with diversified business activity underlying them makes for a well-diversified underlying loan portfolio;

Short-term assets: These are short tenor loans where the frequency of repayment is far higher than standard loans. The principal outstanding steadily reduces with every week of repayment. Hence the duration of a typical loan with a one-year maturity is around six months. From a risk-return perspective, this is an attractive feature; and

Superior credit quality due to underlying model: Except for instances triggered by political risk, losses in this sector have been in the range of 1.5-2.5 per cent. Pool performance has been consistently good for originators who have tapped capital markets through well-structured securitisation transactions; this enables investors to take an exposure to this asset.

Efficient geographical diversification can be achieved by pooling loans originated by multiple MFIs across States and districts. The collection efficiency of such transactions structured by IFMR Capital has been 99 per cent. These numbers are far superior to those exhibited by other retail asset classes.


For an investor pursuing risk-adjusted returns, microfinance is certainly an asset class worth looking at. MFIs have been able to tap capital markets through securitisation transactions and non-convertible debentures (NCDs), attracting mainstream investors such as mutual funds, bank treasuries, and private wealth investors. As the investor base for microfinance diversifies, the sector is also likely to experience lower liquidity risk.

For instance, after the recent Andhra Pradesh crises, while banks reduced lending to the sector, NBFCs continued lending, preventing a liquidity crunch.

The professionalism and rigour of capital markets has resulted in increased transparency, operating efficiency and improved risk management practices in this sector. Market oversight and performance monitoring by investors and rating agencies will go a long way in establishing microfinance as a high-quality asset class.

(The author is with IFMR Capital.






Nuclear power, now more efficient and safe thanks to technology improvements, can ensure that energy needs are met, alongside mandated cuts in carbon emissions.

February 2, 2011:  

Nuclear energy is enjoying a renaissance. This is believable after knowing that worldwide more than 60 new plants totalling more than 50 gigawatts (GW) of power generation capacity are currently being built, while another 150 reactors have been either ordered or planned. Collectively, the global nuclear industry is likely to invest anywhere between $400 billion and $600 billion in the next decade.

New nuclear plants are mushrooming worldwide, from emerging economies such as China and India through West Asia to developed nations in North America and Europe.

Last year, the United Arab Emirates awarded the South Koreans a $20-billion contract to build four reactors capable of producing 5.6 GW of electricity by 2020.

"The green giant" China is currently building 25 reactors, which will triple the number of its operating units. Moving towards its aspirational goals of 80 reactors and as much as 400 GW of nuclear plant capacity by 2020 and 2050, respectively, China is rapidly perfecting indigenous capabilities in nuclear plant design, engineering, and manufacturing.

A new wave of development is anticipated in India, which has cleared the decks through a deal with the US.

These are remarkable advances because, "[a]t the dawn of the 21st century, nuclear power appeared to be drawing its last breath," as Aaron Wiener had written in Foreign Policy magazine last September before cataloguing a number of nuclear plant closures. This turnaround is being driven by four major themes:


"There is no alternative": There is growing realisation in policy, investment, and business communities that material cuts in carbon emissions without seriously compromising energy supply and its affordability will require sizeable supplies of nuclear energy.

For example, the International Energy Agency projects a 50 per cent increase in global nuclear capacity to merely meet the Copenhagen Accord's mild goals of a 17 per cent reduction in carbon emissions relative to 2005 levels by 2020. With no other renewable source having the energy density of nuclear and, barring one or two, being capable of supplying electricity consistently, reliably, and cheaply, "there is no alternative" to nuclear energy.

Step-change technology improvement: Most of the world's nearly 440 nuclear reactors are of the Generation II type and were deployed prior to the 1990s. Although new projects came to a halt in the past two decades, technology development, fortunately, continued. In recent years, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved at least four Generation III reactors, which demonstrate step-change improvements in safety, performance, and cost. These new reactors are often described as "inherently safe" to reflect their use of a number of passive safety systems that can be deployed without operator involvement and, therefore, significantly reducing meltdown risks.

Further, several Generation III reactors have been designed to use significantly fewer materials and components, making them cheaper. Finally, companies such as Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox are pioneering small, modular, and low-maintenance reactors ranging from 10 to 125 megawatts of capacity. Their successful regulatory approval and commercialisation can facilitate the market penetration of cheap, safe, and fit-for-purpose nuclear generation capacity.

Operational excellence: In the decades when nuclear power was in the wilderness, the industry focused on improving operational excellence. For example, the hundred odd nuclear plants in the US increased their capacity factor from around 60 per cent to 90 per cent in the past few decades, equivalent to increasing generating capacity by 25 per cent. A more significant improvement was in extending plant life from 40 to 60 years, significantly improving the economics of nuclear energy. Finally, the industry has been able to drive these improvements at low cost and without compromising safety.


In spite of the growing robustness of nuclear energy, government support is critical to drive new investments. A typical nuclear energy plant takes about 10 years to build, operates for 50-60 years, and is decommissioned over 10 years. Businesses cannot commit to such 70-80 year projects without strong and perceivably consistent government support. Fortunately, government support for nuclear power has grown globally. In the US, regulatory approvals are being streamlined, loans guaranteed, and new projects incentivised. China is supporting its nuclear reactors with the same gusto as it is encouraging solar and wind farms. In India, liability risks are being mitigated with new legislative bills.

The path forward, however, is going to be challenging because of several reasons. First, nuclear energy is unique in being the most misunderstood by the society. The safest of nuclear plants face significant siting challenges. Second, nuclear waste processing is poorly understood and, notwithstanding the numerous technological advances, continues to be a leading source of risk. Third, there is a global shortage of industry talent and professionals. Finally, businesses and investors have not forgotten the 2-4X cost overruns witnessed during the build-out of the existing fleet of nuclear plants.

Even so, we may not have a choice in adopting nuclear energy. Dr Homi Bhabha, the father of India's nuclear energy establishment, is reported to have said, "No energy is more expensive than no energy." The meaning of this aphorism is not lost on the emerging economies of Asia, Latin America, and Africa whose soaring demand for energy cannot be met by traditional supplies of oil, gas, and coal alone. They may have to exercise the nuclear option – meaningfully.

(The author is CEO of ADI Analytics LLC, a boutique energy consulting firm with offices in Houston and New Delhi).







February 2, 2011:  

It is certainly difficult to spin a racy tome out of such dry subjects as participatory notes, foreign exchange management and the convoluted workings of international tax treaties. That's probably why Chartered Accountant M.R Venkatesh, when penning this book christened it "Sense, Sensex and Sentiments", tagging on the provocative subtitle - "The Failure of India's Financial Sentinels".

Despite its title, this is not a book about the behavioural quirks of the Indian stock market. Nor does it reveal secrets that indict Indian regulators. Instead, much of this book is devoted to chronicling how offshore tax havens provide a convenient parking ground for the large pool of black money from India and how FII investments into Indian stocks through the Participatory Note (PN) route, may allow such illicit funds to round-trip back into the country. Such flows, the author argues, create multiple evils. First, flight of capital deprives the country of funds that could be deployed in developmental work. The money leaving the shores may be diverted to drug-dealing, criminal or even terrorist activities. And finally, if it returns masquerading as volatile "FII'' flows, the same money could destabilise financial markets, trigger wild swings in the Sensex and create huge forex management problems for the RBI.

Battle with PNs

The key takeaways for readers from this book lie in its candid account of controversial subjects — global laws on money laundering, the working of tax treaties, the hawala route and how the wealthy subvert international Know-Your-Client laws. Largely free of legalese, the book juicy anecdotes to keep the reader going.

The highlight is the painstaking account of unequal battle that Indian regulators have waged over the years with FIIs such as Goldman Sachs and UBS in their efforts to identify the anonymous investors who invest using PNs to funnel money into Indian stocks. It is clear that regulators have not managed to enforce even a reasonable degree of accountability on FIIs that issue PNs despite this. That PN-routed FII flows have survived, despite the dangers flagged by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (as far back as 2001) and later the Reserve Bank of India and the Securities and Exchange Board of India, are disturbing too. So is the discomfiting trend of SEBI's punitive actions being frequently overturned on appeal or being settled through consent orders.

The regulators did act

However, none of the above instances provides the justification to dub India's financial regulators as 'failures', as the book repeatedly does. After all, it is globally acknowledged that it was RBI's extreme conservatism on capital flows and interest rates that kept India's financial markets relatively insulated from the US credit crisis. And SEBI did take the very unpopular step of imposing a salutary ban on PNs in October 2007; only to be forced to revoke it in October 2008 as the liquidity crisis threatened to choke off capital flows to industry.

The tendency of the author to launch scathing attacks on various 'adversaries', without giving credit where it is due could give readers the impression that the book is not balanced.. Sample this from Chapter 6: "SEBI has been vested with enormous regulatory powers….Yet when it comes to direct action, SEBI invariably acts like a frightened fawn caught in front of dazzling headlights on a highway." This, in a chapter where many pages are devoted to SEBI's persistent attempts at nailing large FIIs, even as its wings were clipped at every turn by the Courts or the Securities Appellate Tribunal.

Flimsy evidence

The book also supports some of its claims with statements drawn from political rhetoric, public speeches or even plain rumours. Take the part which asserts that "Indian markets resemble a rigged casino". The sum and substance of this chapter is that market commentators in the electronic media have a 'sinister' motive in 'talking' the markets up and down. The evidence? "It is rumoured that these market experts have positions in the market running into several hundred crores of rupees at any given point in time". In a similar vein, is the conclusion that "rise and fall in commodity prices in recent years has nothing to do with demand and supply". Instead, the blame is laid at the doors of media 'hype' about monsoon failure and 'hoarding' by the government in the form of its foodgrains buffer stock.

While the book does a thorough job of highlighting the perils of globalisation and volatile capital flows, one feels that it could have added more value to readers had it also offered solutions.In the final page devoted to 'What needs to be done', the author has only this to say: "Obviously it is a terrible mess out there. The government must act and act forthwith… One way is that the Supreme Court intervenes in this matter and ensures a comprehensive probe into these issues by constituting a committee of experts with proven track record". Further, "SEBI and RBI must be asked to get to the root of the PN conundrum. We need to ensure that all PN holders are appropriately identified and only genuine PN investors are allowed to take money out of India". Incidentally, this is exactly what the regulators have been trying to do.

In any case, PNs as a means of routing money into the Indian markets seem to be losing favour. PNs accounted for as much as 55 per cent of the FII assets by value, in mid-2007. However, this proportion has since steadily declined to 15 per cent now. This suggests that Indian regulators surely, have been doing something right, in their battle against volatile capital flows.






Nutrient-based subsidy for urea is practicable only when all non-gas based units are converted to gas.

February 2, 2011:  

In a country like ours, where around 65 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, the Government has a major role in ensuring the availability of agri-inputs including fertilisers at affordable prices. At the same time, balanced fertilisation is necessary to enhance farm productivity.

The total consumption of urea is around 27 million tonne (MT). While 21 MT is met through domestic production, the balance is met through imports. Among the domestic producers, gas-based units account for 17 MT and the rest is produced by naphtha/furnace oil/LSHS-based units.

With effect from April 1, 2010, the industry is governed by New Pricing Scheme (NPS) for urea and nutrient-based subsidy (NBS) for phosphatic, potassic and other complex fertilisers.

Present NPS for urea

As per NPS scheme, the concession payable to each and every urea manufacturer is different. The farm gate price of urea is fixed by the Government and the difference between the farm gate price and the unit's cost of production/tonne is reimbursed as subsidy by the Government.

As per the proposed NBS, the concession payable/tonne of urea to the farmer is fixed by the Government on a percentage basis of import parity price while the farm gate price of urea is left open. The manufacturer can revise the selling price depending on market conditions.

In the NBS scheme, the subsidy is fixed and the farm gate price is variable, determined by market forces, whereas in the NPS, the farm gate price is fixed and the subsidy is variable.

Heterogeneous feedstocks

The urea industry being heterogeneous with different feedstock and vintage, energy consumption for a tonne of urea is widely different.

Even within the gas-based urea units, the present concession rates widely vary depending on the source and price of gas, i.e. APM gas, non-APM gas, LNG, and the prices range from $4.2/MMBTU to $9/MMBTU. Hence, uniform price across industry under NBS regime may not be practicable at this juncture.

The average cost of production of all gas-based units is approximately $192 a tonne against the current international price (import parity price) of urea at $400/tonne.

If the concession for urea is linked to IPP under NBS regime, there will be a windfall profit of more than $200/tonne for gas-based units at the cost of farmers.

Similarly, as for the production from liquid feedstock such as naphtha and furnace oil, , the difference between the subsidy and farm gate price cannot be borne by the farmer since it will be huge .

Therefore some other formula has to be found to sustain the operations of these units till gas connectivity is provided by the Government.

Introduction of NBS for urea at this stage may jeopardise the non-gas based units, which may result in large scale imports pushing up further the price of urea in the international market.

The government has already given certain commitments to the non-gas based units to enable them to convert to gas.

A road map has been made for conversion of the non-gas based units to gas-based units within the next two-three years. As an interim measure, the Department of Fertilisers (DoF) has already proposed a modified NPS scheme.

It is understood that Group of Ministers (GoM) decided to form a Committee of Secretaries (CoS) to study the pros and cons of NBS. In the interim, modified NPS as suggested by the Department of Fertilisers is the best solution to safeguard the domestic production capacity. There is a perception that implementation of NBS will benefit all the stakeholders namely farmers, the industry and the Government while in reality it is not so.

With the Government announcing the reduced subsidy applicable per nutrient with effect from April 1, 2011, prices of phosphatic and potassic fertilisers will further rise.

Even in the NBS regime, the farm gate price of urea depends on the concession to be given by Government and may as a result rise, in the process failing to achieve balanced fertiliser application. A classic example is the rising price of DAP. Ever since the implementation of NBS , DAP price has risen by Rs 1,800/tonne or nearly Rs 100 a bag.

May impact prices

If global prices of fertilisers rise, introduction of NBS would lead to an increase in farm gate price of all fertilisers. This may not bring in dramatic improvement in balanced use of fertilisers.

The NBS is also expected to bring new investments in the urea sector. Uncertainty over the availability of gas on a long-term basis for the existing and new investments is another major impediment for new entrants.

Gas allocation policy

The Government has to formulate a firm policy on allocation of gas for the existing as well as greenfield projects to attract new investments into the sector rather than hurriedly introduce NBS scheme.

Under the present policy regime, industry representatives have informed the Finance Minister on November 3, 2010 that the industry is ready with the investment proposal for 7-8 million tonnes of urea, if the gas allocation is given.

In the absence of pipeline connectivity for gas to naphtha-based units in South India, implementation of NBS will lead to the closure of naphtha-based units resulting in production loss of around 20 lakh tonnes.

NBS for the urea sector has to be implemented with lot of caution. It could be deferred at least until all the non-gas based units are converted to gas and industry becomes homogenous with respect to feedstock.

Implementation of modified NPS in the intervening period will help the country protect the existing domestic capacities and also ensure national food security.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




 "Write something beautiful about President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and we'll take care of you", said Azzidine, who identified himself as an adviser to the Tunisian President as he discreetly showed me an envelope full of $100 bills.

It was 2002 and I was reporting on the Arab League Summit in Beirut. We were not given access to Phoenicia Hotel, where the meetings were held, and were instead held at the nearby children's science fair, which was turned into a media centre.

Since the meetings were broadcast live on TV, the thousands of journalists at the centre had plenty of time to schmooze. But in Arab countries, wherever there are journalists, there are also government operatives trying to buy this journalist or threaten that reporter. I spent most of my time hiding from that Azzidine guy who was trying to hire me for the Tunisian dictator's propaganda. I was also running away from members of the Iraqi delegation who knew that I held an Iraqi passport and threatened to take it away unless I praised the wisdom of our own tyrant, Saddam Hussein.

As a resident of Lebanon, I was also trying to avoid Syrian and Lebanese intelligence agents. In 2002, Syria was in full control of Lebanon. The Syrians wanted to make sure that the Beirut summit was conducted on their terms. The Syrian autocrat, President Bashar al-Assad, was able to shutout a closed-circuit speech by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, under siege in Ramallah during Israel's Operation Defensive Shield, which was aimed at ending the second Intifada that had started two years earlier.

In Beirut in 2002, I was more preoccupied with hiding from the agents of the different Arab dictators than actually reporting on the summit. That explains why when America launched Operation Iraqi Freedom a year later I was among the very few to publicly support the war.

My family and I had been forced out of Iraq in 1982, and I knew best what it meant to live under Saddam's brutal regime. Therefore, I endorsed toppling him. It was unfortunate that in the years that followed, the US occupation of Iraq turned out to be a mess, and costly for many of us. I was in Baghdad when my uncle Jaafar was shot dead by looters.

In 2005, the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri unleashed popular fury in the streets of Beirut that forced an end to 30 years of Syrian occupation. But the dictator of Damascus and his allies in Hezbollah hit back. Two of my dear friends, the journalist Samir Kassir and Khaled Eido, were killed in separate politically motivated bombings.

Hezbollah later sowed more terror across Beirut. In May 2008, the militia's fighters burned down the Al Mustaqbal newspaper and Future TV, where dozens of my friends work. Shortly after, my good journalist friend Omar was beaten, almost to death, at the hands of Hezbollah's bandits.

But in 2009 the Lebanese showed even more defiance as they voted pro-democracy politicians into a parliamentary majority. In another place in the region, similar electoral surprises were making history when Iranians defied their regime both in the ballot boxes and in the streets, only to be brutally smashed.

Despite language and ethnic differences, I wrote in favour of the Green movement and Iran's democracy. I lamented Neda Soltan, who was shot dead on camera. I marked the one-year anniversary of her death, which coincided with the fifth anniversary of the death of my friend Samir Kassir, in June.

In 2011, less than a decade from the Beirut summit of 2002, two of the most repressive Arab regimes, in Iraq and Tunisia, are down. Two other regimes in Egypt and Yemen are scared of the scent of blossoming flowers of freedom.

It took Iraq a few bloody years and nine months to form a Cabinet, but Iraqis, like Tunisians, will improve in the ways of democracy. Only practice makes perfect. It is now time for the Syrians and Libyans to make a move. They've been the ones repressed the most, the longest.

Of course we understand that the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, met with Assad in Damascus, and that the West's interests lie with the Libyan autocrat Muammar al-Gaddafi and his country's oil reserves. But we are sure times will change. There is no tyrant in human history who survived forever.

I called Omar the other day to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl, Yasma. We discussed Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. He told me his neck still hurts from when the Hezbollah thugs beat him.

"But it was totally worth it", Omar said. "Yasma will live in a free West Asia", he added.

To my uncle Jaafar in Baghdad, to Samir and Khaled in Beirut, to Neda in Tehran, to Tunisians, Yemenis and Egyptians, your blood has not been lost in vain. Within a decade, two tyrants were removed; it will take less to topple the rest.






India is planning to replace the rules under the Environment Protection Act with a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai) Act. This will give genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) fast-track approvals and throw its critics into jail. The recently-appointed minister of science and technology, Ashwini Kumar, has announced that the Government of India is planning to introduce four bills in the upcoming Budget session — Brai Bill, DNA Profiling Bill, Regional Centre for Biotechnology Bill and the Public Funded R&D (Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property) Bill. The Prime Minister's Office has already written to various state governments suggesting partnerships with corporations in the seed sector. This rush to push genetically-modified and patented seeds ignores evidence that GMOs will not be able to provide food security. Genetically-engineered seeds are patented. Patents allow companies to collect royalties. This increases the price of seed. Patents also force the farmer to buy seed every year. This pushes up the price of seed and traps farmers in debt. Debt has already pushed 2,50,000 Indian farmers to suicide in the last 15 years. Citizens as consumers also pay a very high price. They are forced to eat food with toxic genes. Biodiversity is replaced with uniformity; Taste and quality are replaced with hazards; And freedom to choose is replaced with force feeding.

A serious issue related to GMOs is conflict of interest. In fact, WikiLeaks recently released a communication where the US ambassador in Paris, Craig Stapleton, a close friend and business partner of then President George Bush, is urging the White House to launch a military-style trade war against GM sceptics in Europe. "Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the European Union since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits", he wrote. America's science and technology adviser Nina Fedoroff was sent to India in February 2010 to try and prevent the moratorium on Bt brinjal. At the Biotechnology Industry Organisation's annual convention in May 2010, Jose Fernandez, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs, US, told several hundred attendees from around the world that the US state department will aggressively confront critics of agricultural biotechnology as the United States seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The US-based multinational seed giant Monsanto which has signed memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with six states, controls 95 per cent of all GM seeds sold in India.

In India, the same scientists who promote GMOs sit on regulatory bodies. When the environment minister asked six academies of science to provide their scientific inputs for the Bt brinjal moratorium, what they submitted was propaganda material lifted verbatim from industry literature. The situation is worse in the US where the biotechnology industry literally runs all government agencies. That is why the US government tried to sue Europe in World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the GMO bans in some countries. The WTO GMO campaign was started by Navdanya with a large coalition of groups worldwide. Navdanya had to organise a massive global campaign and submitted 60 million signatures to WTO at the Hong Kong ministerial to prevent the removal of the bans.

GMOs continue to be promoted as the only solution to hunger and food security. However, the tools of genetic engineering are merely tools of transferring genes across species boundaries. They are not tools of breeding. The breeding is still done through conventional methods. The yield of a crop is determined by conventional technologies, not by genetic engineering. Yield is a multi-genetic trait, and genetic engineering cannot deal with complex traits. The report "Failure to Yield" of the Union of Concerned Scientists — a non-profit science advocacy group based in the US — shows that in no crop has genetic engineering contributed to yield increase. The yield trait comes from the variety into which a GM trait is introduced. As Andrew Pollack of the New York Times observes: "The yield of a crop is mainly determined by the seed's intrinsic properties, not the inserted gene. An insect resistant protection gene will not make a poor variety a high yielder". The scientists' claim that GMOs will increase food security is therefore an unscientific myth. Over the 20 years of commercialisation of GMOs, two traits account for most genetic modification. These are crops into which a gene has been added to resist herbicides (herbicide-resistant crops) or a gene has been added to resist pests (Bt crops). The former are supposed to control weeds, the latter are supposed to control pests. However, herbicide-resistant crops have led to evolution of super weeds, and pest-resistant crops have led to creation of super pests. Monsanto introduced Round-up Ready Crops for herbicide resistance. When super weeds started to overtake crops, Monsanto introduced Round-Up Ready II. In 2010, it introduced smart stax with eight toxic genes — six for insecticides and two for herbicide resistance. Monsanto's strategy was to "create a captive customer base" through stacking eight toxic genes. The strategy was a failure. Monsanto lost 47 per cent of its shares, and is paying US farmers $12 per acre to deal with the problems created by its GMO seeds. If one toxic gene does not control pests and instead creates super pests, stacking six insecticidal genes will only accelerate the emergence of resistance. Monsanto and others who promote GMOs forget Einstein's observations that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result".

Another serious issue related to GMOs is the destruction of biodiversity, and the creation of monocultures and monopolies. India had 1,500 varieties of cotton. Today 95 per cent of cotton grown in India is Bt cotton. And most of the Bt cotton is owned and controlled by Monsanto through licensing arrangements. Monsanto charges `50 lakh as an initial licence fee and then royalty. When GM Bt cotton was introduced, prices of cotton seed jumped from `5 per kg to `1,600 per 450 gm of which the royalty was `725. If this extraction of super profits had continued, it translated into an annual transfer of `1,000 crore or `10 billion from poor Indian farmers to Monsanto. For the farmer this means debt. An anti-trust case against Monsanto filed by the government of Andhra Pradesh has forced the company to reduce the price of Bt cotton, but the introduction of Bollgard II has pushed the prices up again.

A failed and hazardous technology such as genetic engineering can only be pushed through dictatorial means. GMOs and democracy cannot co-exist. GMO-free food and agriculture is necessary for creating food security and defending food democracy.

- Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust





The government's qualified green signal to South Korean steel giant Posco's $12 billion steel mill and captive port in Orissa is a mixed bag: the true implications of the 60-odd conditions which Posco has to fulfil are still not clear. It is learnt there could be stumbling blocks such as the rehabilitation of around 10,000 cultivators and 471 families who till their own land in 11 villages. It is really surprising that it was left to the Orissa Chief Minister to ensure compliance — after all he is an interested party, in the sense that he was actively pushing the Posco project, perhaps to encourage further overseas investment in his state's development. Local residents and those likely to be affected by the project have for long complained that neither the Chief Minister, Mr Naveen Patnaik, nor his ministers, or indeed anyone from Posco, have ever bothered to interact with them, find out how their livelihood will be affected or to indeed ask what they wanted. This was always left to lower-level functionaries. They also note that minister of state for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, considered in many quarters as a "green" champion, had also never bothered to visit the affected areas though he has always personally interacted with industry bodies to hear grievances. The locals say while they have heard Posco has built a township to rehabilitate the affected people, this might not necessarily be what they want. The authorities' utter disregard towards ordinary Indians affected by development projects is both shocking and surprising — after all the analysis and soul-searching on how movements like those of the Naxalites has grown in India, has the government really learnt no lessons? In this 62nd year of the republic, New Delhi simply cannot act with a colonial mindset towards citizens who happen to be impoverished, unskilled and uneducated. It appears Mr Ramesh might have had to capitulate in the face of tremendous pressure brought on him from within and outside the country, and to counter the rising criticism in many quarters that he is "anti-development" and that he and his ministry are impeding the nation's growth. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, on a recent visit to Seoul for a G-20 summit, had in fact given an indication to his South Korean hosts that the Posco project would go through. One by one, Mr Ramesh has had to approve a number of projects he had put under the scanner — Vedanta Resources, Navi Mumbai airport, the nuclear power projects in Jaipura in Maharashtra and Lavasa near Pune — even if with some "conditions". The explanation is that these have a lot of "economic, technological and strategic" significance for the country. A South Korean minister had warned that the thousands of jobs could not be ignored. But what about the 10,000 or more people who will lose their livelihood? Nevertheless, it might be a tad unfair to call the minister of state for environment "Rollback Ramesh" like the NDA's onetime finance minister, Mr Yashwant Sinha, used to be called "Rollback Sinha", after capitulating on a series of proposals in his Budget.







 "But we haven't got a bed-post", said my husband captiously when I had shared a confidence between him, me and the bedpost. I left the room to turn down the stock on the gas stove.

With Charles Dickens, I have since discovered, or with Miss La Creevy, the miniature-painter in Nicholas Nickleby, it was "between you and me and the post". That was in 1839. Others have it as gatepost or lamp post. The unhearing, unspeaking reliability of posts is the point, the exception being a listening-post.

My real interest is with between. Some people don't like between to be applied to more than two things. But what of inserting a needle between the closed petals of a flower, an example given by the clever men at Oxford in their 20-volume English Dictionary? Indeed they become quite chatty on the subject. "In all senses, between has been, from its earliest appearance, extended to more than two", they note, even though we dare not do everything our Anglo-Saxon forefathers did. "It is still the only word available to express the relation of a thing to many surrounding things severally and individually, among expressing a relation to them collectively and vaguely: we should not say 'the space lying among the three points', or 'a treaty among three powers'".

That might be an end of it, were it not for hatred of another construction: between each (the notion being that, since each is a singularity, nothing can come between it). A good counter-example comes in a translation made in 1856 by John Williams of a Welsh grammar compiled 600 years earlier by Ederyn the Golden Tongued: "A syllable that terminates with four consonants, having the obscure pronunciation of the mutescent y between each is called confertisparsison". (That word is from Latin confertus "crowded", sparsus "sparse" and sonus "sound", and I look forward to being able to use it one distant day.)

The last hurdle for the correct use of between is "between you and I". Shakespeare uses it, but I wouldn't.

All this shows merely that grammar follows rules. Babies are the strictest grammarians, saying wented to abide by the rule they have observed that past forms end in — ed. Babyish failure to distinguish makes for foolish pedantry.






Most of your personality is created by you unconsciously; just a small part of it may be consciously created. When you create your personality, in one way it means that, you think that the Creator has not done a good enough job on you. If you think that there is something that needs improvement then definitely, according to you, the Creator hasn't done a good enough job with you.

So why do you feel that such a grand creation —something that is so fantastic, is not good enough? It is because of the simple process of self-preservation. This is a basic process which is built into every cell of our body; every worm, every insect, every animal has this. Human beings also have it. The problem is we don't know where to contain the process of self-preservation. It has spread itself everywhere and because of this you have created a small person of yourself who will defend himself/herself all the time.

The only thing that needs preservation is your physical body. Your personality does not need preservation; even if we maul it everyday, it should be okay, isn't it? You cannot live without a personality — you need one to exist here, to go about in the world, to do your work, to manage things; but if it is flexible, then you can put on the right kind of personality in different places as it is necessary for the situation — that would be fine. But right now it is like a rock. It sits on you all the time. It makes you suffer for everything that doesn't fit into its ambit.

Now, who drew this caricature that you call as "myself"? It was definitely drawn by you but you have been influenced by so many people around you. When you were 15 or 16 years old, after watching some movie that you really liked, unconsciously you tried to walk like the hero, isn't it? Sometimes maybe you did it consciously, but most of the time it happened unconsciously.

So this caricature came into existence because of all kinds of bits and pieces that you have gathered throughout your journey of life. But this caricature cannot exist even for a day without your support; you need to support it all the time. What meditation means is, in one way, you are just withdrawing the support for your personality, that's all. Suddenly it collapses. Only the presence is there, the person is no longer there.

With life you were offered an unbounded possibility, but by distorting yourself into this tiny possibility, you have committed an atrocity.

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominentspiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at [1]






The three major causalities of "2010 scams" that I intend to discuss here pertain to certain good practices and principles expected from the leaders of our democracy, but ones which have not been followed by them while taking decisions. They are:

* Erosion of the implicit trust of the people of India in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

* Serious damage to the credibility of telecom minister Kapil Sibal when he defended the decisions of his predecessor in office in the allocation of 2G spectrum; and

* Failure of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership at the national and the state level (in the case of Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa) to take mature political decisions keeping in view the larger interests of the state and the nation.

With regard to Dr Singh forfeiting the implicit trust of the people, I would like to go back to 21 June, 1989, when Prime Minister-designate P.V. Narasimha Rao wanted Dr Singh to join his Cabinet as finance minister.

When Dr Singh became the Prime Minister, it was clear that his style of working was very different from that of his predecessors. He had created the impression that he was reluctant to be harsh in pulling up his colleagues even when he found some of them crossing the line of Cabinet discipline. The most conspicuous example was when he issued a set of instructions to the minister of telecommunication on policies and procedures to be followed in the allocation of 2G spectrum. However, when the minister insisted on implementing the policies and procedures he considered best, Dr Singh, through his letter dated January 3, 2008, simply acknowledged the latter's letter dated December 26, 2007, and this left the minister free to do what he was bent on doing.

In doing this, Dr Singh was exposing his weakness to overrule the minister and refer the whole matter to the Cabinet for a discussion.

Now let's deal with the defence put up by Mr Sibal of the decisions taken by his predecessor A. Raja. During my tenure in the Rajya Sabha (2002-2008), I had watched and heard with admiration the persuasive arguments of Mr Sibal couched in very dignified language, both as a member of the Opposition as well as a minister in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. He came to Parliament with the reputation of a successful lawyer in the courts in New Delhi. But I saw an all together new Mr Sibal when I watched him in a very aggressive mood during a television interview. One was confused trying to figure out who was interviewing whom. At one stage, Mr Sibal even tried to expose the interviewer's alleged lack of grasp on the technicalities of the 2G spectrum affair.

My first question about Mr Sibal's overenthusiastic performance as a defender of Mr Raja is why a highly experienced lawyer like Mr Sibal intervened at this stage to defend Mr Raja when the Supreme Court itself was monitoring the investigation and a one-man committee was looking into the procedures and policies followed by the telecom department since 2001. And second, whether Mr Sibal had Dr Singh's permission to do so.

What has happened in Karnataka in the last few months after the revelation of the lack of discretion shown by Mr Yeddyurappa in the allotment of land is something about which the BJP leadership cannot feel happy. Its first reaction to the chief minister's indiscretion was to ask him to resign after returning all the land allotted to his close relatives.

Ever since his days in the Jan Sangh, Mr Yeddyurappa is considered one of the pillars of the BJP. And his prominence within the party rose significantly after he contributed substantially in bringing the BJP to power in Karnataka. If such a person cares more for the chief minister's chair than the good of his party and the state, we can form our own opinion about the quality of leaders in the country's main Opposition party. The state BJP is divided in factions, and Mr Yeddyurappa has been resorting to enticing people from rival camps to his side by giving them undeserved favours from the government, including allotment of land and conferring the title of ministers. It has been reported that in addition to the 30 members in the Cabinet, Mr Yeddyurappa has appointed 30 members with ministerial ranks. While the blame-game is going on between the BJP and the Congress, this unseemly controversy about who is more corrupt than the other is leading to the digging of graves of both the national parties in Karnataka. If the BJP high command still shows lack of will — or is it lack of courage in taking the risk of losing the government in Karnataka? — it may fall under the weight of its own misdeeds.

- P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra









IT is at best a face-saver for Orissa which has of late suffered serial setbacks on the investment front. It might be decidedly reassuring to the foreign investor, pre-eminently Posco, the South Korean steel giant, which is set to invest $12 billion for the 12-million tonne steel plant near Paradip, rated as the country's single largest foreign direct investment. Monday's clearance by the Union environment and forest ministry might take care of the investment stakes; equally does it place the onus on the administration in Bhubaneswar to address the critical issue of environment. In effect the Centre has tempered its approval with the introduction of as many as 60 conditions pertaining to the pollution factor and the captive minor port in the vicinity of the plant, an industrial facility that might go against the rules of a coastal regulation zone. The state will also have to contend with the pending court case relating to the iron ore mines and most crucially the people's agitation that was promptly renewed on Monday by the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. Minister Jairam Ramesh, often criticised for his "environmental evangelism", has quite plainly effected a delicate balancing act. His ministry has taken a year to acknowledge that "projects such as that of Posco have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country". That belated discovery of the import of FDI is addressed to Posco. So far, so reassuring. Not so, however, in the case of the Orissa government which has been advanced a terse message ~ "Laws on environment and forests must be implemented seriously."

Ergo, a huge responsibility devolves on the state if Posco's victory is to crystallise to a steel plant. Indeed, the Centre has kept on hold its final approval for the diversion of 1253 acres of forest land pending evidence to support the state's claim that the evicted are not entitled to compensation under the Forest Rights Act. For close to six years, this has been a major contentious issue with the state insisting that the villagers are not residents of the project area for the past 75 years ~ a mandatory clause that determines compensation under the FRA. It will not be easy for Orissa to substantiate its claim on the period of residence just as it will be virtually impossible for the villagers to prove their bona fides. The absence of an environmental assessment is bound to make the overall task still more intricate. Orissa has a duty towards Posco in ensuring a conducive investment climate; it has a social responsibility towards the villagers no less. On the face of it, the investor has reasons to be happy with the revival of the project; but there is little in the Centre's order that can enthuse the host. The onus is Orissa's whose spadework thus far has been less than thorough.



OBVIOUSLY the findings of probes must be awaited before verdict can be pronounced on the collision in the channel of Mumbai harbour that has caused such damage to INS Vindhyagiri, the indigenously built Leander Class frigate may have to be written off. However, even at this stage it is relevant to note that what are dubbed "accidents" are really the result of negligence, that blame-games and cover-ups thwart effective action, and that the loss (or near-loss) of a warship reflects poorly on the professionalism of the Navy. Sure there have been other collisions in that channel which suggest flaws in port management, but there can be no making light of this not being the first mishap the Navy has suffered recently. In any case the taxpayer is entitled to expect naval personnel to display a higher brand of seamanship than their counterparts in the mercantile marine. Did the Rs 400-crore frigate take due care when it was clear as daylight that the channel was congested? Or did the holiday mood on her decks (perfectly valid was the pleasure trip for naval families) infect the "bridge" and crew at large? The merchantman may have been "responsible" for the collision, was the damage containment effort adequate? A hull can easily be ruptured during hostilities: so warships are built to withstand some attack, their crew trained to deal with such problems. It is puzzling that the fire was not detected early, did false pride come in the way of seeking "outside" assistance? Equally puzzling is the contention that the insulating material threw up such dense smoke that fire-fighting was difficult ~ has similar material been used on other ships built at Mazdock, not far from where the frigate is foundering? Were no tests of conducted? Warships are expected to come "under fire".
Official statements, as is customary when things go wrong, are economic with detail, and landlubbers often fail to appreciate the distinction between "sinking", "resting on the seabed", "listing", "capsize" etc. So the Navy would do well to come up with a comprehensive presentation of facts. This is the most costly "peacetime" damage the Navy has sustained. Though funds now are not as constricted as when the Leander programme was being executed, and the ship was in the "retirement zone", the loss incurred is massive (even if the frigate is salvaged and re-conditioned). Loss not just in money terms, the reputation of the Navy has taken a battering: Andaman, Prahar, Vindhyagiri…



THE Union home minister's trial balloon appears to have been pricked above the snow-clad hills of Darjeeling. Mr P Chidambaram's plan for an interim set-up ~ pending whatever ~ has promptly been rejected by the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha. It was primarily intended to take the wind out of the morcha sails ~ even to mollify its leaders ~ ahead of the Assembly elections.  And in the process, to notch up a brownie point over the state government. The Centre's strategy has gone awry at the threshold. It appears to have floundered not least because the details regarding a "fresh proposal" were left delightfully vague. The Home ministry may even have tripped on the basics as neither the state government nor the morcha were taken into confidence regarding the interim arrangement. Will it entail devolution of certain functions? What exactly are the territorial parameters of the revised interim arrangement? What precisely is the formula short of statehood?  Both the Centre and the state are in favour of such a formula, but consider the issue much too sensitive for a thorough enunciation in the months before the elections. Which arguably explains the hedging on the part of Mr Chidambaram. He has stopped short of spelling out whether the interim set-up is a step towards Gorkhaland. Small wonder the morcha has refused even to give the proposal a try. There is no scope for a quick-fix formula, as Mamata Banerjee would like the Hills people to imagine. While the political stalemate may persist for sometime yet, the morcha has had the good sense to suspend the current strike in the Hills till 7 February. Unfortunately enough for Darjeeling, the agitation coincided with the first snowfall and considerable has been the loss to winter tourism. More than suspension, the strike needs to be called off if only to protect the primary revenue-earner. Interim or permanent, a way out will have to be found and the responsibility devolves equally on the Centre, the State, Parliament and no less crucially the morcha. Darjeeling has been in a state of suspended animation for the past 25 years.







TO enforce the law and maintain order is the prime responsibility of the police. The word "police" is derived from the Latin expression, politia, which means State as an entity of governance or administration. Police is the main entity through which the government preserves peace and order. The task is difficult, hazardous and can be incredibly thankless. The demand are far too many, the recompense relatively little. It calls for toughness as it is an almost relentless battle against the forces of lawlessness.

This stern message was conveyed to us when we were IPS probationers at the Central Police Training College in Mount Abu. We were told that the police service was not for the weak and faint-hearted and those with utopian ideas. The war against crime never ends; it can be waged only by the strong and the brave.
During my on-the-job training as Assistant Superintendent of Police, Cuttack, senior officers, including the SP, asked me to forget what had been taught in the training school and adjust myself to the stark ground realities. The dominant police view is that, "ends justify the means" and for ensuring that criminals get their just deserts, the police, if necessary, should bend rules and not hesitate to practise what is called "noble cause corruption". Effective policing is not possible by acting within the four corners of the law.

During that period, I had the opportunity to meet the then Chief Justice of Orissa High Court, RL Narasingham. He was a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS), but had opted for the judicial side. Short and gaunt with sparkling eyes and a smiling face, he was an unassuming person unaffected by the majesty of the service he belonged to. When I met him at the Cuttack Club, his first question was why I never turned up at the tennis court ~ a de rigeur for an assistant superintendent of police. He wouldn't accept any excuse.
Narasingham was a regular on the club's court.  I used to get calls from his Registrar to the effect that His Lordship wanted me to come to the club to play tennis, that too in proper kit. Thus, began my initiation. Pankaj, the club's tennis marker, guided me so well that I was able to pick up the game within a short spell.
Later, as Director of the National Police Academy, I enjoyed playing tennis with IPS probationers. This helped me to interact better.

After the game, Justice Narasingham would discuss contemporary matters with me. He had a sharp, analytical mind and his observations on Orissa politics were incisive. He would recount interesting anecdotes, including scandals, relating to some of the leading lights of the club. Because of his civil service background, he was quick in taking decisions, a quality that many in the judicial fraternity lacked.

I shall always remember one of his many memorable aphorisms which I subsequently repeated to  my junior colleagues and IPS probationers. He asked me to  remember that the role of the police is to maintain order through law; otherwise, dacoits could any day maintain better order than the police.

Over the years, I came to grasp the import of this observation. It is a profession in which one has to encounter the dregs of society and witness man's inhumanity to man. As the Berkeley criminologist, Gordon Misner, has observed: "Many policemen picture themselves as crime fighters standing against the Mongol hordes without the support of the public, politicians or courts". This misconceived zeal makes them imagine that the hardened criminals will not respond to normal methods of investigation and detection. And the police takes recourse to methods that are questionable and illegal. This is a perverted and wrong approach.

Crime is contagious, and there will be utter contempt for the law if the police become law-breakers. In any democratic society, the rule of law empowers the police to curb lawlessness. Yet there are provisions to ensure that these powers are not misused or abused to an extent that the citizens' freedom is endangered.
The mandate of the police to use force to curb violence raises a fundamental issue ~ the police themselves should not indulge in unnecessary or excessive use of force. A lawless police is an abomination in a free society.

It is mistakenly argued that to control the dreaded criminals or terrorists, tough policing involving violation of the law and rules is necessary, if not unavoidable. There is always the danger of police officers sliding down the slippery slope. Once a certain degree of force is permitted, the police are tempted to apply as much force they consider necessary to obtain the sought-after information. I have seen promising careers of young police officers coming to a sad end on account of transgressing the law and perpetrating illegalities. They were driven by the mistaken notion that ends justify the means. It must always be ascertained whether the ends are important enough to justify the means.

Conviction of a criminal is important, but more critical is the fact that in a liberal democracy, the police are expected to carry out their activities in a manner that enhances the value of a liberal society. Adoption of impermissible means may ultimately undermine the end. The Patten Commission of Police in Northern Ireland has aptly observed: "Bad application or promiscuous use of power to limit a person's human rights by such means as arrest, strip-and-search, house searches, can lead to bad police relations with the entire neighbourhood, thereby rendering in effect policing of those neighbourhoods impossible".

Adoption of unlawful means damages the standing of the police and as well as its effectiveness. To my mind, Narasingham's perceptive words sum up the essence of law enforcement and maintenance of order, indeed the core functions of the police.

(The writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences, former Director-General, National Human Rights Commission, and former Director, National Police Academy)





The report of  the one-man Mr Justice (retd) BK Somasekhara Commission, which probed a series of attacks on churches in Karnataka shortly after the BJP came to power in 2008, has, predictably stirred a hornet's nest, apart from creating needless confusion. More so, as it now emerges that the commission had indeed held the Bajrang Dal and a little-known outfit ~ Hindu Jagaran Vedike ~ responsible for the attacks in a few, if not all, cases. Even district officials, as also police officers, have been named for lapses and involvement in some instances.

Why all this was left out of the highlights made available to the media after the Somasekhara panel presented its report to the government, is something that remains a mystery. Commission sources maintain that this was neither deliberate nor mala fide but merely a slip-up. Yet, the manner in which the conclusions of the final report differ from the interim one presented to the Yeddyurappa government almost a year ago is inexplicable. Going purely by the highlights made available to the media, the BJP government under Mr Yeddyurappa, the Sangh Parivar and police, in that order, have been given a clean chit by the panel. In the process, it made itself vulnerable to charges of favouring the ruling party, in particular, and the Sangh Parivar, in general.
Admittedly, the Yeddyurappa government would have much to cheer about as the panel's conclusions would help prop up its sagging image, besieged as it is by charges of corruption. Even the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, the Shree Ram Sene as well as police are not hiding their glee. The controversial Sri Ram Sene chief, Mr Pramod Muthalik, welcomed the findings and said that it "has proved the Sene's innocence ...the report is a fitting reply to those who cast a slur on Hindu organisations". Legislator and general secretary of the BJP's Karnataka unit, Mr CT Ravi, echoed him when he pointed out that the panel hadn't indicted either the BJP and or the Sangh Parivar.

Yet, Mr Justice Somasekhara would be hard put to explain the sudden change in his views as reflected in the panel's final recommendations vis a vis its interim findings. The Opposition Congress, the JD-S and the heads of local churches have expressed acute disappointment, shock and even dismay at the conclusions that the panel has arrived at, at least those that have been made public. In the interim report, the retired judge had said: "A strong impression is created that members belonging to Bajrang Dal, Shree Rama Sene and the VHP are mainly responsible in attacking the churches or places of worship mainly in Mangalore and South Canara district spreading to other districts and, in particular, Udupi, Chickmagalur, Davanagere, Bellary, Dharwada, Ban-galore, Kolar and Chikkaballapur."

In the final report, the observation changes, though, as the panel concludes "in reality, such impressions are wrong". Similarly, the judge had noted in the interim report, which had considerably displeased the ruling party, that "an impression is given that top police officers and district administration and other authorities and panchayat heads, specially in South Canara, Bellary and Davanagere, colluded with the members of Bajrang Dal and Sree Rama Sene, directly or indirectly, in attacking the churches or places of worship". In a sudden and inexplicable turnaround, the final report appears to dismiss such impressions and allegations while concluding that those "have no merit". What overwhelming evidence persuaded the commission to change its views in just a matter of one year is something that will probably remain a mystery, especially since no information has been provided so far to justify the final conclusions. Perhaps the judge is aware of this and suggested as such that the final report "should be read as the continuation of the interim report… The final report is sure to and will project and satisfy umpteen expectations of the government, memorialists and several sections of society, especially religious and social groups".

Information available with The Statesman indicates that the panel did hold Hindu Jagaran Vedike and the Bajrang Dal in a few cases, if not all, responsible for the attacks on churches. At the same time, it does indicate that these were not mainstream Sangh Parivar affiliates. This perhaps explains its recommendation that organisations like the Bajrang Dal need registration of identification to facilitate legal control. While referring to the attack on the DHM Prarthana Mandira's prayer hall in Nittuvalli, for instance, the commission notes that it had been mounted "by angered Hindus in general and Hindu Jagarana Vedike workers". In case of the attack on Eternal Life Church, the panel identifies 15 members of Hindu Jagarana Vedike as perpetrators. As for attacks on the Jagadeeshware Devalaya, Kalasa, and the Carmel Mathe Davalaya at Kudremukh, the commission concludes: "The miscreants were not known but suspected to be workers of Bajrang Dal, led by Mahendra Kumar." In case of Life and Light Ministries Church, Shiroor, the panel notes "the involvement of workers of Bajrang Dal, led by its convenor, Mahendra Kumar, is probable and appears to be true".
It is also difficult to overlook the praise that Mr Justice Somasekhara heaped on the Yeddyurappa government while presenting the final report to the chief minister. The only thing that redeems him is the firmness with which he brushed aside the Karnataka government's suggestion to not make the recommendations public. The not-so-favourable interim report had obviously rattled the government which feared that the final recommendations, if made public, would embarrass it further. It could breathe easy once only the report's highlights were shared with the media.

State law minister Mr Suresh Kumar said the government is required to table the report in the Assembly. Commission sources indicated that the report ran into more than 400 pages with annexures adding to its volume. The government is also required to study the report before coming up with appropriate responses. For the record, the commission received 1,018 statements and affidavits even as it conducted on-the-spot inspection of 25 affected places of worship covering South Canara, Udupi, Kolar, Chikkabalapur, Davengere and Bangalore. It examined as many as 754 witnesses along with 2,437 exhibits that were taken on record in addition to 34 material objects.

Be that as it may, majority of the commission's findings or recommendations are bound to anger and upset the Christian community. For, the panel has noted that in a few instances, there were clear indications that the "so-called" attacks "were, in reality, self-inflection or collusion or (application of) make-believe methods to create evidence of attacks on churches". This has not gone down well with the Christian missionaries who have been unanimous in questioning Mr Justice Soma-sekhara's conclusions. Likewise, the report maintains that there were "clear indications of massive conversions to Christianity by some non-Catholic and self-styled or self-appointed pastors. Such conversions were only of faith and not of religion in the legal or technical sense". In the process, the commission concludes, these activities had damaged the reputation and image of genuine and true Christians such as Roman Catholics in addition to antagonising a section of the Hindus. Similarly, it noted that  another cause for provocation (leading to the attacks) was the manner in which a section of the Church "abused and denigrated or maligned the Hindu religion, its Gods, practices and traditions, verbally and through pamphlets".

The panel even suggested that some missionaries were using foreign funds for conducting conversions. This perhaps explains its decision to accept the recommendation of one of the advocates appearing before it for "a stringent financial check and audit on the activities of pastors". The Commission's conclusion that "true Hindus have not done it, nor will they ever commit such acts" while referring to the attacks on more than 57 churches across Karnataka in 2008, is intriguing, though. More so, given its finding that members of the Hindu Jagaran Vedike and the Bajrang Dal had been involved in some cases. Mr Justice Somasekhara offers a clarification ~ "the perpetrators may be Hindus by birth or identification but never be Hindus in the true sense of the term. They may not even constitute a fraction of the micro Vishwaroopa of that sacred religion".
But the judge is very clear that neither the state's BJP government, nor the members of the Sangh Parivar had been responsible for the attacks. The impression that these organisations were involved in the attacks was "created due to certain extreme fundamentalist miscreants in Hindu religion showing such a conduct by words and deeds in several ways and places without the authorisation of any responsible section of the community". Equally bewildering is the suggestion that the entire episode appeared to have been a political game to tarnish the image of the BJP government.

Perhaps the air will clear once the voluminous final report with all of its annexures is made public. Till then, the Somasekhara Commission's findings may well continue to appear ambivalent.

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





Apart from being the country's home minister, Mr P Chidambaram is also a distinguished lawyer. Due to the vagaries of pronunciation, we Punjabis when speaking in English, often blur the distinction between lawyers and liars. Could we without intention be reflecting some truth? Speaking to the media on the subject of the government's claim to the Supreme Court (SC) that the selection committee to decide the appointment of Central vigilance commissioner Mr PJ Thomas was unaware about his pending court case, Mr Chidambaram said: "We did discuss the names of the panel (of three short listed names for the post). In fact, the bulk of the time was regarding PJ Thomas and Palmolein case."

This acknowledgment rubbishes the attorney-general's claim to the SC that the government "was not informed" about Mr Tho-mas being accused in the Palmolein case. Now the government is trying to justify its claim of the selection committee "not being in-formed" by drawing a distinction between the Palmolein case being discussed by the selection committee and the papers related to it not being circulated among its members.
So, what should be made about the government's logic? Did the government indulge in a half truth, a cover up, or an outright lie by stating to the SC that the selection committee had "not been informed" about the Palmolein case? One must wait to see how the SC interprets the Attorney General's remarks. Mr Chidambaram is too astute not to have realised the implications of his unsolicited admission about the PJ Thomas affair. It will undoubtedly cheer those elements within the Congress that seek to weaken the Prime Minister amidst the silent inner war going on within the government. After all, the PM chaired the three-member selection committee!  
The PM is further weakened by the unusual alacrity with which former comptroller and auditor-general (CAG) Mr VK Shunglu, who heads the committee monitoring the Commonwealth Games scam, has submitted to the cabinet secretary and the PMO the interim report on just one segment of the corruption case. The interim report in question indicts former Prasar Bharati CEO Mr BS Lalli for alleged corruption. This will no doubt embarrass the PM whose family has very cordial relations with Mr Lalli. Should the PM be embarrassed into resigning from his post there is no dearth of aspirants within the Congress seeking to occupy it.

However all these warriors of the inner war of the UPA government could be making a grievous miscalculation. Some assume that if the PM quits the Congress would elect a new PM. Others plot that if the government falls there could be cross-party political realignment to further their individual ambitions. Both groups assume that in the event of change the nation's political future would be determined by members of the present parliament. In fact they underestimate public anger with the present corrupt regime. This anger would certainly encourage all non-UPA, and some UPA, sections of the government to welcome a mid-term poll that might improve their prospects. There is a mood spreading worldwide. The air in Tunisia and Egypt may prove infectious.    

The writer is a veteran journalist andcartoonist






A foreign minister under General Musharraf for five years and more, Mr Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri did some plainspeaking the other day in Chennai. It was all about Indo-Pakistan relations and how he wished the two countries would pick up bilateral dialogue from where it had been left off more than four years ago.
At that time, it seemed the two neighbours were on the verge of clinching a deal. Mr Kasuri spoke of the days when newly-independent Indonesia and Malaysia were at each other's throats with Jakarta thinking of taking over Malaysia. Fortunately for the region, it did not happen and instead, the two countries and their neighbours are now part of a homogeneous, regional alliance.


Mr Kasuri, an old diplomatic hand, had obviously put in much effort in clearing the way for a possible patch-up in Indo-Pak relations.  He was overwhelmed when recalling his disappointment at the adverse denouement and stressed how an amicable settlement had seemed so much within reach four years ago despite the insurmountable differences between New Delhi and Islama-bad. In fact, so much overcome by emotion Mr Kasuri had become, that he asked his old friend, the former diplomat and currently Congress MP, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to read out the rest of the text of the speech that he had prepared for the Chennai meeting.
It seems unlikely that Mr Kasuri's hopes for resumption of a meaningful dialogue will be realised as long as the current dispensation is in power in Islamabad. Ironi-cally, Pakistan's army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a Gen Pervez Musharraf appointee, is particularly opposed to taking forward "the Musharraf plan" vis-à-vis India.
In the past few years, Gen. Kayani has made it amply clear that he sees India as the principal threat to his country. His so-called crackdown on the Pakistani Taliban in the North-west Frontier Province was but a ruse to extract as much money and military hardware from the gullible Americans as possible. Even as I write, Pakistan appears to be having its way in Afghanistan. The foreign ministers of the two countries recently concluded lengthy discussions on forging a joint front.

While his Afghan counterpart agreed to joint talks with the Afghan Taliban (friends of Islamabad), the Pakistani foreign minister did not lose the opportunity to list his country's gains stemming from their friendship. The spin to Americans was that Islamabad was only seeking to build a stable Afghanistan so that President Obama can withdraw his troops from the war-torn country at the earliest. A friendly act, indeed! One that could earn Pakistan another few billion American dollars. Pakistan's total foreign exchange reserves stood at a measly US$ 1 billion in the year 2000. Since the Ameri-can intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan has received some US$ 20 billion in military aid, not to mention other handouts known only to its military.

So, coming back to Gen. Kayani, the agreement reached with the Karzai regime in Kabul seems more than a boon. With the Americans set to disengage themselves in Afghanistan and Kabul agreeing to talk to the Afghan Taliban with Pakistan moderating for everybody's benefit, Gen. Kayani could not have asked for a more satisfactory outcome. The foreign ministers of the two countries may have hailed it as a triumph for the region, but the Pakistanis do not see India as integral to the scheme of things. A succession of Pakistani leaders, mainly military, has always projected India as an interloper in Afghanistan.

New Delhi must understand that the civilian government of Pakistan is simply not capable of delivering on any promises it makes. It's utter failure to bring the killers of senior PPP leader and Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, to book tells more than a thousand words about the pusillanimity of the PPP-led government of the country.

Concurrently, its military is obsessed with Afghanis-tan, the Taliban and, evidently, India. So much so, that Gen. Kayani is not taking the domestic situation seriously. His worries may partly stem from the sympathy that the domestic Taliban are arousing and that's why he is more keen on attending to the Afghan end of the problem. But even then, the army must be rattled by the threat that spies of domestic jihadi outfits and the local Taliban are posing to Pakistan's security services.

But, it's unlikely that Gen. Kayani will concentrate on Pakistan's domestic problems once the Afghan question has been resolved. India absorbs him too much to allow his attention to get deflected from his obsession with the threat he perceives emanating from the country and its Army. Much as Pakistani civil society sees its role undermined because of the unholy nexus between the army and the judiciary, Gen. Kayani is not particularly interested in changing perceptions or remedying situations at the moment.

The Pakistani scene has changed drastically post  26/11. For one, its steadfast refusal to bring the culprits to book in Pakistan has made India ever more suspicious of its neighbour's intentions. It is clear that the political leadership there doesn't have the gall to stand up to the jihadists. And, it's no secret that the army is in cahoots with them.

And this makes Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's plea to India to not hold bilateral dialogue a hostage to 26/11 come across as disingenuous. The foreign minister of India has responded to Mr Gilani's exhortation by saying that steps to bring the Mumbai attackers to justice would help build trust and create conditions for purposeful resumption of the dialogue.

One hopes the Prime Minister's national security adviser, Mr Shiv Shankar Menon, speaks to the Obama administration when in Washington about growing radicalism in Pakistan. In all likelihood, the USA will urge India to resume talks with its neighbour but Mr Menon will be well within his rights to ask what exactly Wa-shington was going to do to create the right conditions for it. I don't see Zardari & Co being able to persuade Gen. Kayani, the ISI and the jihadists to listen to the Americans. By persuading Kabul to hold joint talks with the Taliban, Gen. Kayani has scored for the moment. And, no one knows that better than him.

The writer is a veteran journalist and former resident editor of The Statesman, New Delhi









Jairam Ramesh, the Union environment minister, is also known to be a keen China-watcher. He knows about the environmental costs China has had to pay for its rapid economic development. For all its amazing successes in economic growth, China is now a country whose big cities gasp for fresh air and which has 16 of the 20 most polluted rivers in the world. Whether it was the Posco or the Vedanta project in Orissa, the Lavasa township on a hill near Pune or the new airport in Mumbai, Mr Ramesh's concern was to avoid the Chinese disasters in India. His ministry's earlier objections and then its clearance to the $12 billion steel project of the South Korean firm, Posco, are part of that bigger story. Whether Posco fulfils the new conditions he has set for its project is a matter of minor significance. The big issue that Mr Ramesh has forced upon the development discourse is of far greater import. Scuttling any of the projects could not have been part of his — or the Manmohan Singh government's — agenda. But by repeatedly raising environmental issues and subjecting the projects to close scrutiny, he has changed the game in a big way. He has irreversibly put an end to the era when governments and entrepreneurs took environmental protection laws for granted.

True, the long delays over the Posco project or the cancellation of the Vedanta group's licence for mining iron ore dented investors' confidence regarding doing business in India. But Mr Ramesh's crusade may ultimately show India's development story as both responsible and sustainable. It is impossible for development planners today to ignore issues such as proper compensation to the displaced people and their rehabilitation, or adequate protection for farmland, air and water sources. It is no easy challenge, particularly for a country with scarce land and a population of over a billion. But creating and distributing wealth has always been at the centre of economic planning. India cannot even begin to achieve this economic goal without making up for lost time in industrialization and urbanization. For far too long, India has been an agricultural economy.

However, political discourses often cloud the issues instead of clarifying them. Industrial projects are often opposed in the name of the people who would be displaced. Forests and mineral deposits need to be put to economic uses. It cannot do the tribal people living in the forests any good if primitive livelihoods keep them forever poor. If farming ceases to generate enough income, agricultural land is better used for other purposes in order to generate wealth. A new industrial agenda with its environmental safeguards is the only way forward for India.






Clinging to any and every form of power seems to be becoming the identifying characteristic of Indians. It manifests itself in the most unexpected of places. The 48-member Central Council of Indian Medicine has at least 40 members who have clung to their chairs for more than the allotted five years, and 17 have kept their positions for 15 years or longer. Admittedly, the rules are a bit vague, saying that a member may hold office for five years or until a successor is elected. Vagueness of this kind has many advantages in a culture still haunted by covert feudalism. Predictably, members would not bother to resign of their own accord if an election is not held; they would not consider accountability or discipline part of their professional ethics. The funds allotted to traditional medicine are now considerable, and the popularity of courses in ayurveda or unani is matched by the Centre's support for the development, professionalization and legitimate practice of traditional medicine. Yet the Centre has failed to hold the elections it promised the Supreme Court in reply to a writ petition demanding a change in the council members. The petition sprang from the complaint that the present members are busier making demands rather than inspecting the educational institutions teaching the course — which is their job.

The culture of shamelessness that has overtaken Indian life cannot be erased by an election. But, it can be asked why the Centre, which presumably has numerous things on its plate, must hold the reins of every form of activity in the country. Public health is a state subject: surely the Centre, having formulated a policy or evolved a law, could ask the states to see to its implementation? The insistence on central bodies undermines the states' initiative and their understanding of their own needs and interests. Greater powers and keener competition would push each state towards self-improvement. Authority from the top, and one which is sloppy about its own ethical and professional standards, ends up sabotaging the purpose the Centre itself has defined and is paying for.






The year was 1995. P.V. Narasimha Rao was in Cairo on a whirlwind visit on his way to New York to take part in a commemorative session of the general assembly to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, who now finds himself with his back to the wall, told Rao that he had just cut off all telephone links with Pakistan.

Fifteen years ago, Internet and mobile phones were not what they are today: so cutting off conventional telecommunication links meant a near complete shutdown in contacts between Pakistan and Egypt. Mubarak's action, he told the Indian prime minister, came after the Egyptian customs discovered that a large shipping consignment from Karachi to Alexandria, which was described in its bill of lading as automobile spare parts, was actually made up of weapons for use by those who were being built up by Islamabad then as its proxies in a global terrorist web that is being acknowledged today as being a threat to everyone from Wellington to Washington.

Rao had been telling his fellow prime ministers as well as presidents and kings about how Pakistan was bleeding India through a low-intensity war exporting terrorism across the border, but no one really cared. His warnings that Pakistan would not stop with India or Afghanistan — where it had already prepared the Taliban for a takeover of Kabul a year later — and would facilitate the tentacles of a worldwide web of terror had fallen on deaf ears. Mubarak was the first leader of any significant international standing to sense this threat from Pakistan as far back as 1995 and act on it early on within his country.

This anecdote, which few people in India now remember in the rush to copy America in everything and in New Delhi's obsession with emerging as a "global power", is being recalled here not to praise Mubarak or to pass any judgment on the remarkable events in Cairo and Alexandria during the last 10 days in the context of how he did, indeed, turn around Indo-Egyptian relations after the coolness that set in during the presidency of his assassinated predecessor, Anwar Sadat.

However, as events unfold in Cairo, there seems to be very little appreciation in India that Mubarak's undoing was his ill-advised closeness to the United States of America and Israel, a slow descent from the once dizzy heights of his country's leadership of not only the Arab world, but also the process of decolonization in Africa until the legendary Gamal Abdel Nasser's death.

India has much to reflect about the reasons behind the current popular uprising in Egypt. Unfortunately, neither New Delhi's chattering classes nor the pundits on Indian television want to acknowledge that there is a lot in common between Indian and Egyptian societies. Both have a middle class which has done well on account of economic liberalization and the embrace of Western values by their respective leaders. Both have a highly skilled workforce which includes doctors, engineers and scientists. Both have an educated youth, whose full potential has not been realized, largely because of the wrong policies of their respective leaders. Just as in India, Egypt's population is bursting at the seams at slightly above 800 million because of a Green Revolution and rapid advances in medicine and health care locally.

Yet, Egypt is dwarfed in the consciousness of most Indians even as their own country looms large internationally because India has a population which is about 15 times that of Egypt. Its land area is less than a third of India's. The truth is that both in Egypt and India, prosperity flowing from the policies of their respective rulers is predominantly confined to five-star hotels in Cairo and in New Delhi.

Indians and Egyptians both respectively took charge of the destinies of their countries around the same time. Nothing illustrates the commonality of their present plight more than the grim reality that neither Cairo nor New Delhi can yet provide the basic development indices of running water or uninterrupted electric supply to their capitals' residents. If anything, Cairo's power supply was better than New Delhi's until last year.

Policies pursued by leaders in Cairo and New Delhi have seen the future of agriculture decline in both countries. Indian farmers, who silently commit suicide in their villages, are not much different from the boisterous demonstrators who spray graffiti on tanks on Cairo's streets and clamber on top of them urging Mubarak to call it a day. The bureaucracies in both countries are increasingly at the beck and call of multinational corporations and their respective power structures are more and more beholden to Washington. All this is not to say that the ongoing events in Egypt will be repeated in India by any stretch: India's democracy, no doubt, provides safety valves to avoid such explosions. But too much should not be made of the lack of democracy in Egypt. The current uprising, in fact, goes well beyond the simplistic issue of Mubarak's dictatorship.

There is no denying that policies of successive Indian governments and of Mubarak in Egypt have allowed the souls of their respective countries to be contaminated by evil influences, perhaps beyond repair in our lifetime. What, in reality, is the difference between the corruption of the extended Karunanidhi clan, J. Jayalalithaa and her cohorts, the civil servants and the army generals who cornered property in the Adarsh housing scam and in Sukhna on the one hand and the loot and plunder by the sons of Mubarak and his predecessor, Sadat, on the other? None.

What in reality is the difference between the security establishment in North Block, which wanted to use the Indian air force against the Maoists and Mubarak's vice president, Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence chief with blood on his hands, who was appointed last week, promising change? Very little. The idea of using the air force was nipped in the bud only because the United Progressive Alliance leadership outside the government knew very well that the defence minister, A.K. Antony, who has roots among the people, would resign if he was forced into allowing defence forces to kill fellow Indians.

What in reality is the difference between a government in New Delhi, which does not mind risking the stability of its oil supplies by fiddling with the Asian Clearing Union's system of payments for oil from Iran on Washington's orders, and Sadat's notoriously corrupt son, who secured a ban on the import of beef and lamb into Egypt when his father was president? None. The son had a business of chicken imports and the ban pushed up demand for poultry and chicken prices hit astronomical heights.

Like on Egypt, a lot has been written last month about the absence of democracy having forced the Tunisian strongman, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee Tunis as his regime crumbled in the face of a popular uprising. In fact, though, democracy played only a part in Tunisia's so-called jasmine revolution.

This columnist observed Tunisia's elections when two opposition candidates were allowed to run against Ben Ali for the first time. On the day the president won a sweeping victory, both those candidates held press conferences to announce that they too had actually voted for Ben Ali, notwithstanding their candidature, because they were convinced that Ben Ali's win was better for Tunisia than their own.

Tunisia is a small country which thrived on tourism from Europe and Australia for its spectacular beaches, balmy weather and the Jewish and Islamic centres in Djerba, a charming island off the coast. Tunisia's tolerance and cosmopolitanism, encouraged by Ben Ali and his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, the independence leader, ensured that it received about 5.5 million tourists annually. The global economic crisis crippled Tunisia's tourism industry in 2008 and has brought in its wake massive closures of businesses and unemployment.

The global crisis has also meant a big decline in Tunisia's exports: 75 per cent of Tunisia's exports traditionally went to Europe. Dubai's woes compounded Ben Ali's problems since the emirate was one of the largest investors in the country. In addition, rising commodity prices worldwide brought misery to Tunisians who rely heavily on food imports. They blamed Ben Ali for their misery and took to the streets when, in fact, he was not to blame for the rising cost of food, just as the UPA government should not be blamed solely for rising commodity prices in India.

Tunisia's government, like those in Iceland and several other European States, collapsed largely because of the crisis in world capitalism and because the close economic links between Tunis and the European Union made its economy extremely vulnerable to external factors. Until the global economic crisis, Tunisia was considered the most competitive economy in Africa with a population that enjoyed one of the highest gross domestic products in the Arab world. For a people who were used to such a standard of living, the fall was precipitous and unnerving, and in many ways Ben Ali became a scapegoat. The absence of democracy made it imperative that he should flee and not seek a mandate the way Manmohan Singh would have done.







You can do silly things with words. Awkward grammar appals a craftsman. But no, I'm not talking about grammar. Look at that second sentence again. The only vowel it uses is an A. And it's part of about the silliest use of words that I ever came across — in a public library, you may guess, not my own bookshelves.


It figures in Eunoia, a book by a Canadian writer called Christian Bök first published there ten years ago and in Britain in 2008. Eunoia, you'll notice, includes all five of the standard English vowels; it's the shortest English word that does. And so does the book, but in a bizarre way: each of its five chapters includes just one vowel, the letter Y being barred, not just from any chapter of its own but from all the others too. A short addendum of linguistic jollities is named after the French word for bird: Oiseau. Get it?


The first chapter describes itself: A law as hard as a fatwa bans all paragraphs that lack an A as a standard hallmark. The I-chapter assures one that Writing is inhibiting. Sighing I sit, scribbling in ink this pidgin script... The O-one adds that Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books.


You might think that U would have defeated even clever and painstaking Mr Bök. But no. The book isn't about writing, it tells various entertaining and mildly smutty stories. In its E-chapter, for example, the empress sheds her velvet dress; then she lets repellent men pet her tender flesh. And the hero of the U-chapter, Ubu, mulcts surplus funds (trust funds plus slush funds) and thereby usurps much usufruct.


And so on and so on and on. I won't claim (no, admit is the right word there) that I read the whole thing or even more than fractions of it. You can wonder why Mr Bök bothered to write it.


Not to become rich, I'm sure, though in the event it sold well in Canada and later in Britain: fools are easily parted from their money, and it wasn't, in fact, expensive by today's publishing standards. It seems that young Bök had admired an equally silly book entitled La Disparition — disappearance — by the (far from silly) French writer Georges Perec, written without a single letter E; and he set out to do even better, or worse, still.


And, for pity's sake, what is the point? Why not paint (some artist probably has) solely in shades of grey? Or sculpt in ice cream? Or fancy only women with four toes on each foot (like a long-ago girlfriend of mine, but happily my experience widened later). Well, according to two pages of puff in the London Times, its success made its author what he wanted to be, "a cult figure, in the literary avantgarde", while making his detractors "look obtuse".


At that modest cost, I'm happy to be one, and to bow to Mr Bök's judgment, from the I-chapter: I dismiss nitpicking criticism which flirts with philistinism. Me, I'd sooner be a philistine than the reviewer who ended the Times's two pages: "Orson Welles once said that the enemy of art was the absence of limitations; Bök shows that the excess of limitations can be art's greatest enabler and ally."


He shows nothing of the sort. Or, to offer him a schema for his next opus, that's erring rot, truly.



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




An unseemly controversy has erupted over the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje's alleged connections with the Chinese government. Foreign currency worth several crores of rupees has been found at the Karmapa's monastery in Dharamsala. The Karmapa is reported to have said that the money was received as donations for purchasing land for a monastery.

The discovery of such a large stash of money, that too in neatly packed bundles and including considerable Chinese currency has raised suspicion in India over the Karmapa's possible Chinese links. His arrival in India 11 years ago was rather dramatic. He had apparently escaped from his monastery in Lhasa and made his way to India through Nepal. Questions were raised back then over whether he was a 'Chinese plant' in India, an attempt by Beijing to sow discord among the Tibetan exile community, even put 'their man' in a position to succeed the Dalai Lama.

If the Karmapa is indeed a 'Chinese plant' it reveals serious lapses in India's intelligence gathering. The suspicious circumstances in which he arrived in India should have been probed thoroughly. However, more worrying is the way India is going about investigating the allegations now. Officials have gone public on their suspicions, even before conducting the probe.

The Karmapa is the third most important leader in the Tibetan-Buddhist hierarchy after the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. If the allegations against him cannot be substantiated, India will have antagonised not only him but the large Tibetan community. The aggressive media coverage of the controversy will have its repercussions on Sino-Indian ties too. It is not our contention that India must be passive on the matter, only that being discreet during the probe would have been prudent.

The Tibetan exile community is in a state of crisis. There is no clear successor to the 76-year-old Dalai Lama. The Karmapa, a potential successor, stands tarnished by the present controversy. The exile community is standing by him at the moment but the allegations are serious and will erode his standing and support. Whether or not the Karmapa is a Chinese 'agent' as some Indian officials fear, it is Beijing that will have the last laugh. The allegations have undermined not just the Karmapa's image but that of the Tibetan community. Rival claimants to the Karmapas' seat-in-exile at Rumtek near Gangtok have engaged in fist-fights in the past. This infighting is bound to grow further.





With the people of the southern part of Sudan overwhelmingly voting for independence, the stage is now set for the partition of the country. Though the outcome is yet to be officially announced, the conditions of 60 per cent voter turnout and peaceful polling, watched by international observers, having been met, the almost 100 per cent endorsement for independence should ensure that the new country is born in the next few months.

Sudan is Africa's largest country and the tenth largest in the world and therefore its division is an important event. The African Union, which has always opposed the division of the continent's countries, has accepted the need for Sudan's division because of special reasons. The most important is the terrible civil war which took a toll of over two million lives and caused displacement of much more numbers.

The war between the Arab and Muslim north and the animist, Christian and black south has raged for over 50 years since the country gained independence from Britain in 1956. Apart from race and religion, political and economic reasons also widened the gulf between the two parts. Power was wielded from the capital Khartoum in the north while the oil-rich south felt it was exploited. Both sides are equally poor and undeveloped, with the whole country having only about 100 km of asphalted roads, and absolutely no educational, health, development or law and order infrastructure.

The suppression of the south by the north, with the racial cleansing in Darfur as its most sordid expression, had invited international outrage and the president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for crimes against humanity. The referendum, which was decided on in 2005 to end the civil war, might now help both sides to go their separate ways.

But the road ahead is not easy either. The boundaries have to be marked, debts and assets have to be divided and there are likely to be disputes over the status of some oil-rich areas. China has made huge investments in oil. India too has some stakes. The international community should ensure that the troops amassed by both sides on the border do not clash on any provocation. A peaceful and orderly partition process is essential for the two sides and for countries which have economic interests there.






The alchemy between the regimes and popular upsurge varies from nation to nation and the transformation may take different forms.

The West Asian developments are a reminder that a good foreign policy ought to rest on principles rather than expediency so that diplomacy would have flexibility to co-relate them with national interests. Suffice to say, in the post-Cold War period and especially under the UPA regime, expediency has been the leitmotif of India's foreign policy. In West Asia, India often jettisoned principles and took recourse to expediency.

Therefore, the Indian reaction to the developments in Egypt becomes worrisome. Not only is it timid but it is rather naive to say the developments constitute Egypt's internal affairs. Once again, expediency seems to prevail. With one eye cast on Washington and the other on Tel Aviv, Delhi is calibrating its stance.

Quite obviously, the 1922 West Asia settlement — put together by Britain hastily against the backdrop of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Bolshevik revolution and with subsequent patchwork periodically by the West — has been dying for sometime. The 'unraveling' really began, as the shrewd Syrian president Bashar al-Assad points out in an interview by the 'Wall Street Journal', with the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the main impulses of which were nationalism, resistance to western domination (political, economic and cultural) and justice and fair-play. The Islamic banner accommodated the volcanic eruption.

India ought to be on the right side of history. As the unfolding events begin to engulf the autocratic regimes in the region and revolt manifests under the Islamic banner, Iran's influence will only increase. The degradation of India-Iran ties in the recent years becomes an impediment to crafting an effective regional policy. The need arises more than ever for the UPA government to muster the courage to resist American arm-twisting to atrophy India's relations with Iran. A prime ministerial visit to Iran is long overdue.

A second template that is going to impact Indian interests is the UPA's rapid expansion of ties with Israel in the recent decade. The emerging geopolitical reality is, as the Israeli daily Haartez commented, "The fading power of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's government leaves Israel in a state of distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in West Asia; last year saw its alliance with Turkey collapse. From now on it will be hard for Israel to trust an Egyptian government torn apart by internal strife."

The 'pro-West' Arab regimes chose to ignore India's strong security links with Israel. But the Arab street never quite understood why India should have thought of learning from Israel the ABC of 'riot control,' interrogation techniques, or counter-Intifada skills. Arabs are an extravagantly polite people and they may not agitate against Indian policies but in the hearts and minds of the leadership of the emergent forces in the region such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood — and indeed Iran — there is a sense of bewilderment and hurt.

Is it inevitable?

Our national security czars made serious mistakes — for instance, scheduling of the visit by the Israeli army chief to Jammu and Kashmir in 2008. Now, hard questions need to be asked. Is Israel an indispensable provider of security and intelligence? The South African regime, too, had terrific capabilities and yet we managed to survive without the apartheid regime.

Both principles and expediency combine to dictate that in deference to the overwhelming wishes of the friendly Arab people, India roll back its security tie-up with Israel until the Arab-Israeli problem is resolved. But the challenge seems to be two-fold: a) India's dependence on the Jewish lobby in the US for garnering influence in Washington's corridors of power; b) vested interests within our own establishment and among politicians, think tankers and arms merchants.

More fundamentally, make no mistake that it is no longer a question of whether or not the tumultuous events in West Asia herald change. The big question is how profound the changes are going to be. Quite obviously, the alchemy between the regimes and the popular upsurge varies from country to country and the transformation may take different forms. Therefore, as the ancien regimes give way, our challenge will be to establish affinities with the new emerging elites. This is where the Indian reaction to the events in Egypt appears by far inadequate.

There is no trace of 'anti-Americanism' so far in the street protests in Egypt. But new geopolitical realities are to be anticipated. Without doubt, there is a 'new awakening' in West Asia, which will transmute as a radical shift in the policies of regional states toward the US' seamless support of Israel.

The Arab-Israeli problem surges to the centre stage. Also, Washington's strategy to build a phalanx of 'pro-West' states to contain Iran has collapsed. Iran's rise has become virtually unstoppable. All this necessitates a fundamental rethink and reset in the US' regional policies.

Again, it is highly probable that the 'New West Asia' may assume Islamic character. However, to juxtapose Islamism with secularism will be futile. Equally, there could be voices within the establishment who stoke up Manichean fears that waves of radical pan-Islamism are going to sweep our neighbourhood, complicating India's difficult internal security situation. Such fears are completely unwarranted. Indira Gandhi was astute enough to comprehend the moorings of the Iranian revolution and to empathise with them and her instincts were proved right.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








I met CEOs of major corporations, whose decisions help shape our environment and affect workers' rights.
"Smothered in white mud", to quote South Africa's president Jacob Zuma, Davos is a long way from the Durban township where I grew up. It is as far from my comfort zone as I'm likely to get. Yet, this was the 10th time in 12 years that I found myself cloistered in the expensive and exclusive resort surrounded by the corporate world's aristocracy and a great many presidents and prime ministers.

My participation as a long-time activist has raised an eyebrow or two and has been the topic of an heated internal dialogue. I ask myself, as I hear news of anti-capitalism protesters, am I on the right side of the security fence? On the right side of the fortress that is Davos?

There are occasions where it makes sense to be on the inside, when it makes sense to 'suit up' and reach out to the captains of industry for some straight talk or, as we would say in Greenpeace, 'direct communication.' After all, there are occasions when we go to great lengths to get our message heard by company directors. In Davos I met over the last few days with no less than 15 CEOs of major corporations, whose decisions help shape our environment and affect workers' rights and ultimately what kind of world we pass on to our children and grandchildren.

Reaching decision makers

Davos for those who dismiss it as nothing more than an elitist executive speed-dating event was founded to "improve the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas".

In discussions with colleagues we estimate that just over 200 or so of the more than 2,000 Davos participants come from civil society, trade unions, and faith-based groups. That puts civil society representation just below that of women, which is a feeble 16 per cent. Davos is far from representative, but wealth and power are certainly present, and the chance to speak truth directly to power makes it worth the trip.

Two examples among many serve to highlight the value of  showing up: the first was a breakfast briefing with Unilever and some 150 of its customers. This was a golden opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of the company's sourcing policies, to talk about the impact of palm oil plantations on rainforests in Indonesia and on the wildlife, and on the small farmers and indigenous peoples who are often cleared along with the forest.

I was invited by the CEO, who in offering me a chance to address the audience spoke of the curious relationship his company enjoys with Greenpeace. He spoke of our debate over the need to protect the forest and of the time last year when Greenpeace activists descended from the roof of Nestle's annual general meeting to press home the point about palm oil and rainforest destruction.

The second example came when I was interviewed by Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook founder Mark. It was a great opportunity to tell Randi in person about our on-going campaign to convince FB to unfriend coal. For months we have been calling on FB to go green and announce a plan to quit using energy from coal-fired power stations to run its massive data centres.

Davos is not exactly a revival meeting for the socially or ecologically  aware, but there are many who are beginning to realise that social and ecological bottom lines are directly linked to their companies' bottom line. They know that more and more consumers are looking at the true cost of products and voting with their pockets to demand clean production and respect for the rights of workers and local people.

While all of the pressure on the outside has helped drive environmental issues up industrialist's agendas, it is clear after several days walking the corridors here, that all too few genuinely share the sense of urgency about tackling the climate threat.

Greenpeace has no permanent enemies or allies, and we seek to work in concert with all who share our desire for a green and peaceful future, I'd have hoped to find more of those in Davos. While we fiercely protect our independence by not accepting funding from corporations, that does not mean we will not work in common purpose.

For me Davos is a key opportunity to speak truth directly to power and to stress what connects us rather than what divides us. It is a chance to make a direct appeal to the captains of industry as parents, as grandparents, and fellow citizens on this finite fragile planet of ours.

(The writer is the executive director of Greenpeace International)IPS







I was wonderstruck by the fact that ours is indeed a small world.

When my daughter brought her friend home, I couldn't shake off the feeling that I had seen her somewhere. "She too lives in our locality, so you are very likely to have bumped into her somewhere ma", dismissed my daughter exasperated by my attempts at recollection. No, I didn't think it was just the familiarity of a frequently seen face. I

t was more. Was it the dimpled cheek or the deep voice or the demeanour? I felt I knew this girl. During her next visit, I quizzed her about the exact location of her house, her surname and then it clicked! Her mother and I had been classmates in high school and had shared some very pleasant times. The daughter bearing a striking resemblance to mother, had set off the feeling of familiarity. Since both of us have continued to live in the same locality, it was easier to trace the link.

I was thrilled at the coincidence and was once again wonderstruck by the fact that ours is indeed a small world. Through common geographic locations, languages, castes, professions and many such other alliances we keep discovering our interconnectedness.

I mentioned the above incidence to our friend and he told me about the 'Six degrees of separation' a social phenomenon wherein you can make contact with any other individual on this planet through an average of six connections. The idea was originally postulated by a Hungarian author Karinthy in 1929. He wrote a short story where the characters create a game of demonstrating this interconnectedness. Many believe that this story influenced early thoughts on social networks, the precursors of today's Facebook, Linkedin, etc.

I found it hard to believe that through only six people one of who is a personal acquaintance, I can reach anyone on this Earth. We tried to hypothetically reach Obama and discovered that we could! The network of "I know someone who knows someone" is indeed strong. We had an interesting ten minutes trying to connect with various people from an obscure villager to Shah Rukh Khan.

But where is all this interconnectedness taking us? While many are rejoicing at finding a classmate or even a lost parent (as papers report) through Facebook, others are withdrawing from the same medium, tired of being interconnected all the time. When I reconnected with this classmate not virtually but actually, she was no longer the bubbly person that I remembered. She didn't much care to reconnect with me either! Perhaps people are wishing for more than six degrees of separation now?






Manohar Parrikar had better watch out. If he doesn't look sharp, the Leader of the Opposition may well be outshone by a group of ruling party MLAs – comprising Aldona MLA Dayanand Narvekar, Deputy Speaker Mauvin Godinho, Calangute MLA Agnelo Fernandes and some others – who have shown that they do not mind calling a spade a spade.

On Monday, Mr Narvekar moved an amendment motion to the report of the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), urging the Legislative Assembly to extend its current short session by one week. It is the first time in living memory that a ruling party MLA has done something like this. He was finally persuaded by his colleagues not to press matters, but by then he had made his point.

Accusing his own government of restricting the sitting of the house to only 20 days a year "to hide from the people", he said that in the 1980s, the Legislative Assembly used to sit till midnight to discuss issues. Even in 2000, he said, the House sat for 37 days. He charged that ever since this government took over in 2007, the Legislative Assembly was being allowed to sit for only 20 days a year, when it actually should sit for at least 65 days.

It is easy to dismiss Mr Narvekar's outburst as arising out of frustration at being dropped from the cabinet. The point is, whether that is true or not, the fact is that he is right!

The Legislative Assembly is representative of the will of the people of Goa. Its members represent the 40 constituencies that cover the state's entire landmass and its electorate. Democracy in Goa operates through the Legislative Assembly, apart from local self government institutions like the Zilla Panchayats, the Village Panchayats, the Municipalities and its lone Municipal Corporation.

The government is answerable and accountable to the people through the Legislative Assembly. That is why it is all the more important that this body properly debates and decides all matters of importance. Curtailing the number of days of sitting of the Assembly is no more and no less than snubbing the electorate of the state. It curtails the right of the people to call the government to account.

As Leader of the Opposition Manohar Parrikar said, the Legislative Assembly should meet for at least 40 days in a year. It is only when each and every member has a right to ask all the questions (s)he wants, raise the concerns of the people in his or her constituency and properly debate each motion brought before the House that democracy can function unfettered. Curtailing the sessions to the point where questions remain unanswered and get carried over to the next session is – as Mr Narvekar said – subverting transparency.

Not the best

Kerala has been voted the top travel and tourism destination in India in a poll conducted by the prestigious 'Outlook Traveller' magazine. The awards were decided by a survey conducted by the reputed consumer research company Nielsen, among 4,000 of the magazine's readers, who responded to an eight-page questionnaire to decide which was the best destination.

Goa's Tourism Department should not take any consolation in the fact that this state won the 'Favourite Winter Destination' award. There were only four contenders for the latter, and 29 for the former. Instead, it's time we started finding out what's going wrong.






In today's Goa, it's a fashion to blame the politician for all our ills. If it rains too much in any year, then our political class is at fault. Remo Fernandes has a song about blaming politicians (or, one particular politician, in those times) for all our woes.

We do have a rather hard-working, rapacious figure called the politician, who knows gold when he strikes it, and is willing to go to any extent, to get it. But, I find it hard to believe that this animal is so intelligent, that his work can bring to nought the combined results of everyone else!

To me, politicians are a reflection of the society we have: greedy, uncaring, not bothered about tomorrow, selfish, and obsessed with self pleasure.

Have they changed drastically over the years? I'm not very sure that the politician today is significantly more despicable than the one from the times of the Parrikar era, the dissident-prone 1990s, the Rane regime, or the Tai or Bandodkar family-run businesses. Maybe the stakes have got higher, far higher. But the media has also become more competitive, more active, more aggressive and shrill. So the political class is getting exposed like never before. The Opposition also knows how to fuel public ire, in the hope of coming into power and getting a chance to play the very same games being played by the ruling guys (many of them, their old comrades).
For now, politicians are blamed for everything. They are behind our land rackets, corruption, communalism and have been building antagonisms between different sections. There are responsible for spread of drugs on the coast. There are also societal inefficiencies. The fact is that Goa is simply losing out in the competitive race.
To some extent, the politician does deserve the blame. But, by finding a convenient scapegoat, are we not trying to absolve ourselves of our responsibilities? Land-rackets feature in our newspapers, on a daily basis. We have seen land acquisition laws, that are used to threaten landowners who are unwilling to sell their land. There is also the pressure from people wanting fashionable second-homes in Goa, as prominent urban planner Charles Correia has noted. At another level, people owning fast money in the big cities —it's almost as if they have access to printing presses that churn out hard cash — are able to buy land and property at a phenomenal rate.
The solution, we are told, is some vaguely-defined "special status". I guess this would work as well as the "reservations for Goans" promised a decade ago, by politicians like Luizinho Faleiro. These "solutions" create a false sense of security, while continuing business as usual.

Politicians only sniff the suspicions, that sections of society have for each other, and use communalism as a means of garnering votes. This is when it suits them. Aren't they a reflection of, say, the communalism that goes unchecked in part of our media? Okay, our politicians fail in their duties. What about us? Are our so-called intellectuals, our bureaucracy, our industry, "civil society", and the other supposed pillars of society, doing their job? What about educationists and the religious? Even the media needs to be faulted, for going after the occasional sensational story, but has been putting in very little of consistent work to correct the long-term, systemic problems. For long, Goa has felt the lack of an independent think-tank, which can work out the real priorities and concerns of this small state. The alternative to this is allowing our agendas set by lobbies and vested interests. Or waiting for a long while, till it is apparent that something is going really wrong, and then blaming Mr Politician for it all.

We, as a society, are no less culpable. If you look at all the issues concerning us today, there are systemic societal failures at its very root. Okay, let's accept that the system is made for corruption. Some of our laws are such, that there is a huge gap between the returns for staying within the almost-impossible limits of honesty and the returns on breaking the law. So how do we manage to change the situation? Are we going to wait for our enlightened to wake up to the situation, and debate it in the assembly (which meets for only a very few days each year, regardless of who is in power)?

The other day, the legal advice given in a real-estate magazine surprised me. All plots are termed as agriculture property in Goa. Foreigners cannot purchase a plot, and any such purchase would be illegal. What does this mean for a society which has such a large section of its population out of the State, and may technically be foreign nationals? Is it that we just disinherit them?

The laws on "renovation" of existing houses can be twisted in an equally bizarre manner. Groups like the GBA - whatever its limitations -have been discussing issues about planning and real estate. But, when this happens, the intense politicking among different groups and king-sized egos ensure that their efforts are dragged to the ground.

Viewed in another angle, corruption is the fallout of the deliberate lack of transparency, the artificial bottlenecks deliberately created, and the great hurry we have to "get the job done". But while we blame the DNA of the political class, few have used the Right to Information Act, for instance.

If police recruitments are done based on dubious criteria, can we expect efficient policing? If the grassroots (panchayats and district administrations) are allowed to run in questionable ways, with only the facade of democracy and transparency in place, can we expect anything better?

Sometimes, I even feel sorry for the politician. He is treated like a condom, to be used and discarded. Politicians do the dirty work of the lobbies that run our society. The lobbies get away unnoticed, except in the rare Radia case. Politicians take the blame, get disgraced sometimes, and fade away into obscurity or occasional notoriety.
Needless to say, the political "masks" are rewarded for the services rendered, while ruling the roost. But to hold them accountable for all the ills in our society is grossly missing the point.

I came across voices from the industry expressing dismay about the manner in which Goa is now being projected by a section of the national media (which was earlier rewarding it 'best State' prizes). But while industry is upset with the "image", is anyone willing to cut down on greed, reduce profits, build social capital and invest in the future generation, in a way, that makes a difference? We don't see business leaders of the calibre of an Azim Premji yet in Goa.

It is lobbies, and the intense rivalries within Goa, that blocks the possibility of a national university coming up here. Ditto is the case for all the political toppling which we saw in the 1990s (has anyone spared a thought of where these have vanished too, after 1999?) Our politicians are merely aligning their selfish interests with the protective cover that a Congress, or a BJP being in power in New Delhi, can offer them. And, making the most while the sun shines. To notice their doings, but ignore wider social fissures and failings, is self-delusionary. Take this description of Goa: "Of this land I can tell you that it is the mother of despicable villains, and stepmother of honest men. Because those who are here to get rich, always float on water..."
This is Luis de Camoens, the national poet of Portugal, speaking of Goa in the sixteenth century! He spent years here, and should know.  Even if our politicians had to completely vanish tomorrow, there would still be issues to deal with. Many!







Save me, save me," Ram woke up shouting from his sleep."What's the matter Ram, why are you so frightened?" Shyam asked him. "In my dream I saw someone dousing me with kerosene, he wanted to burn me," Ram replied.


"You are an ordinary mortal, I don't think that anyone will have animosity against you so that he would go to the extent of killing you like the way Additional Collector Yeshwant Sonawane of Nashik was killed by oil mafias since he objected to pilfer­age of kerosene," Shyam advised him.

"No, but a few days back I had a quarrel with a ration shop owner when he denied me my monthly quota of kerosene. He had threatened me with dire consequences. These traders, black marketers all fall in the same boat," Ram replied in a worrying tone. "Don't worry so much, the guilty will be punished," Shyam tried to console him.

"Yes, rules exist but due to connivance of politicians with black marketers, honest government officers and activists fall prey to the sinister designs of the mafias. For your information, in Maharashtra's Ahmednagar, there have been five dastardly attacks on tehsildars by oil and sand mafias in the recent past in which 4 were grievously injured and a tehsildar of Nevasa was eventually killed. In fact, he was gunned down right in his office. In one case, the attack was organised by a son of the former NCP M P Tukaram Gadakh, since the adulteration activities on his petrol pump were unearthed by the said tehsildar", Ram explained.
"Very tragic" Shyam nodded. "You may probably remember that a 27 year old activist, Manjunath, was killed in a similar manner, by a petrol pump owner in Lakhimpur Jheri in Uttar Pradesh, on November 2005. The pump owner Pawan Mittal was awarded the death penalty by the court. However, since his appeal is pending, he is yet to be hanged," Ram said.

"It's true that in our liberal democratic country, the offenders find it very easy to escape the noose," Shyam admitted, but asked how the oil rackets flourish?

"Look, international fuel prices are going up and the number of vehicles are ever increasing. The Central government supplies 95 lakh ton kerosene to states and also gives a subsidy of Rs19 per litre, so that the kerosene reaches the households of the poor. But instead, the kerosene falls in the hands of oil mafias. On an average, 38 per cent kerosene is used for either adulterating petrol or diesel, or for resale. The pilferage takes place once the tankers are out of the oil companies," Ram continued."But are the laws not strong enough to deal with the offenders?" Shyam asked,

"Instead of giving more teeth to the law, the attempts are made by the government to give more concession to the trading community. For example, as per Marketing Discipline Guidelines 1998, a fine of Rs1 lakh was imposed on a dealer involved in adulteration. Besides, his license for sale and supply of fuel was suspended for 45 days. However, in 2001, the penalty was reduced to Rs30,000 and duration of suspending the license was brought down to 30 days," Ram explained. "Besides I don't think that there is any quality control over the petrol," Shyam said.

"The Central Government had begun using a chemical marker in kerosene, to check its diversion for adulteration in 2007. But that system was stopped in 2009 due to some unexplainable reasons," Ram replied.
"By the way, what is the progress made by the Maharashtra government in nabbing the culprits responsible for the death of Addl Collector, Yeshwant Sonawane? Shyam asked. "The main accused Popat Shinde is dead. By now, over 200 raids on oil mafias have been carried out," Ram said.

"That means cops arrive after the goons get away, a string of measures are announced after duty abiding officers lose their lives. When this will end? Shyam wondered aloud.

"In our liberal democracy, it is hard to expect a quick solution but if there is a will to end corruption, there will always be a way," Ram assured him confidently.








All mature democracies have an obligation to create an agency within the administration that is entrusted with the conduct of free and fair elections. After all, the mandate of the majority can be secured solely through elections. With this objective in view, democratic governments have the responsibility of giving full and unfettered powers to the agency entrusted with the task of conducting elections. In India, that agency is the Election Commission (EC) of India. Article 324 of the Indian Constitution gives sweeping powers to the Election Commission in the matter of superintendence, direction and control of elections. Article 326 stipulates that every person who is a citizen of India and who is not less than 18 years of age shall be "entitled to be registered as a voter" unless the individual concerned is disqualified due to non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime or corrupt or illegal practice. One wishes that Article 326 had clearly stated that anyone who is not an Indian citizen shall not vote in an Indian election, but even without being quite so specific and unambiguous the Constitution does manage to convey the stipulation that only Indian citizens shall vote in Indian elections. And this is how it is for all democratic countries.

Unfortunately, the Election Commission of India has failed the republic in three distinct ways. First, the EC has not managed to convince the Government of India even 61 years after the formation of the republic that the first-past-the-post mode of elections is really no election of the representatives of the people at all. In our system, if a candidate is able to prevent a large enough section of the voters from voting with the use of muscle power or money and enable only the family and friends of the candidate to vote, success at the elections can be guaranteed. An extreme example of this aberration was seen in the Lok Sabha elections of 1983 (the year the people of Assam boycotted the elections) when the late Biswa Narayan Shastri was able to become an MP and a lawmaker on just one vote (his own) because others did not vote. How did his election on one vote make him the representative of the people when even the proposer of his nomination did not vote for him? He was no more than his own representative. The system of proportional representation might not work too well in India because it is complicated. However, there is no reason why we cannot have a system of two rounds of election as they do in France and Russia? At the first round, all contestants but the two with the highest number of votes polled are eliminated. The second round is the election between the two top contestants. But there is yet another stipulation. The victorious candidate must poll a minimum of 40 per cent of the votes in the second round to be declared elected. We need a two-round system of elections to reduce the impact of money and muscle power at elections. With a two-round system, the premium on reducing the number of voters with force disappears.

The second area of failure of the EC is its inability to keep criminal elements or people with court cases filed against them out of the Legislature. With all the much-touted efforts to ensure free and fair elections, the number of candidates with criminal records who manage to win elections to the Lok Sabha and to the State Assemblies has increased. According to reports, the number of MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly with criminal records exceeds 55 per cent of the total strength after the last general elections. We thus have the ironical situation of law-breakers turning lawmakers.

The major failure of the EC has been its inability to prevent non-Indians from voting at Indian elections. This failure of the EC has brought States like Assam and West Bengal to a situation where they can be annexed by Bangladesh in just a few years. A quick look at the demographic change in Assam should be an eye-opener to anyone. But the EC seems determined not to see what Mr Shakdher and Mr Seshan had seen and what is visible to everyone. The population of Assam was 3.29 million in 1901 but kept rising alarmingly with each census even though States like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya were carved out of Assam. By 1971, Assam's population was 14.625 million — representing an increase of 343.77 per cent over the population of 1901. During the same span of 70 years, the population of India increased only by 150 per cent. And between 1971 and 2001 (just 30 years), Assam's population has risen by 182.26 per cent to 26.656 million. This bizarre population growth has been due entirely to illegal migration from Bangladesh actively encouraged by the Assam Government. The growth in the number of voters has been even more startling. Between 1957 and 1962 (five years), the number of voters increased from 4.493 million to 4.943 million (10 per cent). In the next four years, the number of voters increased by 13 per cent to 5.585 million. Between 1970 and 1971, the number of voters increased from 5.702 million to 6.296 million — an increase of 10.42 per cent in just one year. During the last two years, the increase in the number of voters has been even more startling.

The Election Commission must make up its mind on how it wants to function and what kind of image it wants to project. Does it want to ensure free, fair and legal elections to the people of India or does it want to be an agency that is content to safeguard the electoral interests of the ruling party?  How can elections in Assam be free and fair if they are held before the National Register of Citizens is updated and before the names of the foreign nationals are removed from the electoral roll?







T he Aligarh Muslim University Vice-Chancellor has written to the government to provide protection for his campus. He was reacting to the emergence of a group of Hindu terrorists who have reportedly made Aligarh University as one of their targets. Not long ago, Home Minister P Chidambaram admitted that the ''saffron terrorism'' was a fact on the Indian scene and that it should be faced squarely.

Initial reaction to Hindu terrorism in the country was that of disbelief as if such a thing could not take place in India. The BJP alleged that the talk of Hindu terrorism was meant to deflect the discussion from the scams of corruption that the Congress was facing. The RSS even went to the extent of saying that "a Hindu cannot be a terrorist".

Yet the confession by Swami Aseemanand before the magistrate has changed the tone of even the RSS which says that "radical must quit RSS," an admission of the presence of ultras in their midst. The BJP condemns selective leaks by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on bomb blasts allegedly committed by "Hindu terrorists". But the confession of the Swami leaves no room for any doubt or denial of terrorism — a stand which Pakistan took for years before the Frankenstein of terrorism stalked the land.

The Swami, who first alleged that he was being framed in a government conspiracy, has now spilled the beans. He confessed his involvement in the court under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code to make the evidence legally binding. No amount of pressure has worked on him to withdraw his statement. The Swami named Indresh, a RSS leader, as the brain behind the Hindu terror module that executed terrorist blasts in Ajmer, Hyderabad, Samjhauta Express and twice in Malegaon.

Funds were provided by Joshi, another RSS activist, who was introduced to the Swami some six years ago. Two other RSS hands, Sandeep Danga and Ramji Kalsangree, joined them to avenge the "bomb attacks on Hindu temples". Both are on the run. The government has announced a prize of Rs 10 lakh each for information on them.

In May 2008, the group of extremists after several meetings prepared the road map for the terrorist attack on Hyderabad, Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif and Aligarh University. The Swami has said in a 26-page confessional statement: "I suggested that the first bomb should be placed at Malegaon as it is closer to our location and also has 80 per cent Muslim population. I also said that since at time of independence the Nizam of Hyderabad wanted to go with Pakistan, Hyderabad should be taught a lesson and hence a bomb should be placed there."

After the 2006 Malegaon blast which killed 30 people, the Swami has said that Joshi told him that "his men have executed the plot". The Swami has admitted that he chose Ajmer Sharief "where Hindus go in big numbers… so that Hindus are scared of going there". He has also said that a bomb should also be placed in AMU because many Muslim youths study there. "My suggestions were accepted by everyone," said Swami.

The Swami has referred to the two Muslims boys whom Joshi brought along when arranging a blast at Ajmer Sharif. "I told him," said the Swami, "he (Joshi) would be murdered" because of the fear of other accomplices that the Muslim boys might tell about the happening one day. Joshi was, indeed, shot dead. The Swami said the blasts were in retaliation against Muslims after the attacks by jihadi terrorists on the Akshardam temple in Ahmedabad in 2002 and in the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi in 2006.

The cloak and dagger story in which even a former intelligence officer was involved is not about a few persons from the RSS. The plot goes deeper. That the CBI is trying to unravel it is not adequate. The government has to devise means to fight against Hindutva philosophy of the RSS. For a secular country, any fundamentalist thought is an attack at its very roots of its foundation. Fundamentalism spread in Pakistan — and it is  spreading in Bangladesh — neither the government nor the liberal elements thought of it much in the beginning. Only when the blasts were many and the number of killings mounted did Pakistan wake up. India has to take the menace seriously. The reopening of the Malegaon blasts is a step in the right direction. The Swami has confessed that it was his organization's handiwork.

On December 22, 2006, Maharashtra had filed a 2,200-page charge-sheet against 13 men in the special court. However, following pressure from political parties, then Maharashtra deputy chief minister RR Patil announced the transfer of the case to the CBI for a fresh probe. The CBI said that it had no fresh evidence in the case. The new material should give the agency to pursue the case vigorously. It must be an act of providence how the Swami's conscience came to be pricked. He was detained at jail in Chandigarh where a Muslim was serving the sentence on the charge of blasts at Malegaon. The Swami was touched by the care the Muslim prisoner took during his illness. The prisoner bore no rancour or remorse. The Swami decided to make clear breast of his involvement and that of the RSS men. "The Muslim boy Kaleem pierced my conscience. I understood that love between two human beings is more powerful than the hatred between two communities," said Swami. He has reportedly written to the President of India and the President of Pakistan, admitting his crimes and seeking penance.

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

Kuldip Nayar 








The unrest that toppled the autocracy of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia is threatening to do more of the same in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt. Literally overnight, one of our few diplomatic assets in the Middle East – the cold but stable peace with Cairo – is now dangerously fragile. Will the domino effect spread? Will Jordan, the only other neighboring Arab country with whom we have signed a peace treaty (in October 1994), soon be engulfed in its own popular uprising?

Skeptics doubt it. True, on the past few Fridays since the Jasmine Revolution ousted Ben Ali, thousands of Jordan's mosque-goers have taken to the streets after prayers in protest of high prices and other economic grievances, while security forces have basically stood by, watching without attempting to disperse them. Nevertheless, unlike Egypt, where Mubarak has been singled out for ousting, frustration in Jordan has been vented primarily against the government.

Even though it is widely known that King Abdullah II and a small group of his advisers make the real decisions, disgruntled Jordanians have been allowed to blow off steam in a semblance of free speech and assembly while refraining from directly criticizing the king, an act punishable by law.

Also, Abdullah has been sagaciously responsive. On Tuesday, the king moved to defuse the potentially explosive situation by sacking Prime Minister Samir Rifai. Rifai was sworn into office just over a month ago after last year's controversial November 9 election. A paltry 53-percent voter turnout was attributed to a boycott by the Islamic Action Front – Jordan's powerful Islamist party, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood – and general apathy.

DESPITE HOPE of change when the Western-educated Abdullah, 49, became king in 1999 after his father's passing, gerrymandering and favoritism continue to give disproportionate representation to sparsely populated rural areas, to the detriment of cities, where most of Jordan's approximately six million people live. The setup favors tribal candidates, who generally support government policies, over liberal and Islamic opposition politicians concentrated in urban areas. A vote cast in Amman, for instance, carries only a fourth of the weight of one cast in the dusty, rural town of Ma'an.

Now, the king, reluctantly persuaded by the scenes in Tunisia and Egypt, seems serious about reform. He told Marouf Bakhit, a former ambassador to Israel tapped by the king to replace Rifai as prime minister, that his main task would be to "take quick, concrete and practical steps to launch a genuine political reform process."

The move also seemed to represent partial acquiescence to a demand made earlier this week by the Islamic Action Front that the present government resign and that an electoral law be amended to facilitate a democratically elected prime minister. The Front's secretary-general Hamzeh Mansur made it clear during a meeting with the government that "there is no comparison between Egypt and Jordan. The people there demand a regime change, but here we ask for political reforms and an elected government."

Abdullah is now faced with tough choices. Instituting true electoral reforms would pit him against his political allies, reluctant to give up their privileged status. It would also risk bringing Islamists to power, just as the 2006 Palestinian elections brought Hamas to power on the other side of the Jordan River.


If, on the other hand, Abdullah attempts to present lofty-sounding reforms with no real content, he might soon face the type of turmoil currently rocking Egypt. Jordanians, like their Egyptian and Tunisian brothers, are fed up with the corruption that seems to pervade those close to Abdullah's regime. Al-Jazeera, on the offensive against autocratic Arab leaders like Abdullah, is helping to fan the flames of dissent. Meanwhile, the disenfranchised masses of Palestinians, including hundreds of thousands living in Jordanian refugee camps, have so far remained quiet on the whole. If they were to mobilize against Abdullah, it would have grave consequences.

There are a lot of wild cards in Abdullah's deck. The Egyptian precedent, which surprised the world – experts no less than everyone else – is a lesson in humility about guessing the future in the Middle East.








Heavy-handed rule will lighten somewhat in Egypt and elsewhere, but the militaries will remain the ultimate power brokers.

As Egypt's much-anticipated moment of crisis arrived and popular rebellions shook governments across the Middle East, Iran stands as never before at the center of the region. Its Islamist rulers are within sight of dominating the region. But revolutions are hard to pull off, and I predict Islamists will not achieve a Middle East-wide breakthrough. Teheran will not emerge as the key power broker.

Some thoughts behind this conclusion:

An echo of the Iranian revolution: On reaching power in 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sought to spread Islamist insurrection to other countries but failed almost everywhere. Three decades had to go by, it appears, before the self-immolation of a vendor in an obscure Tunisian town could light the conflagration that Khomeini aspired to and Iranian authorities still seek.

Part of a Middle Eastern cold war: The Middle East has for years been divided into two large blocs engaged in a cold war for influence. The Iranian-led Resistance Bloc includes Turkey, Syria, Gaza and Qatar. The Saudi-led Status Quo Bloc includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, the West Bank, Jordan, Yemen and the Persian Gulf emirates. Note that Lebanon these days is moving to Resistance from Status Quo, and that unrest is taking place only in Status Quo places.

Israel's peculiar situation: Israeli leaders are staying mum, and its near-irrelevance underlines Iranian centrality. While Israel has much to fear from Iranian gains, recent events highlight the Jewish state as an island of stability and the West's only reliable ally in the Middle East.

Lack of ideology: The sloganeering and conspiracy theories that dominate Middle Eastern discourse are largely absent from crowds gathered outside government installations demanding an end to stagnation, arbitrariness, corruption, tyranny and torture.

Military vs. mosque: Recent events confirm that the same two powers – the armed forces and the Islamists – dominate some 20 Middle Eastern countries.

The military deploys raw power and the Islamists offer a vision. Exceptions exist – a vibrant Left in Turkey, ethnic factions in Lebanon and Iraq, democracy in Israel, Islamist control in Iran – but this pattern widely holds.

Iraq: The most volatile country of the region, Iraq has been conspicuously without demonstrations because its population is not facing a decades-old autocracy.

A military putsch? Islamists wish to repeat their success in Iran by exploiting popular unrest. Tunisia's experience bears close examination for a pattern that may be repeated elsewhere. The military leadership there apparently concluded that its strongman, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had become too high-maintenance – especially with his wife's family's flamboyant corruption – to keep in power, so it ousted him and, for good measure, put out an international arrest warrant for him and his family.

That done, nearly the entire remaining old guard remains in power, with the top military man, Chief of Staff Rachid Ammar, apparently having replaced Ben Ali as the country's power broker. The old guard hopes that tweaking the system by granting more civil and political rights will allow it to hold on to power. If this gambit succeeds, the seeming revolution of mid-January will end up as a mere coup d'état.

THIS SCENARIO could be repeated elsewhere, especially in Egypt, where soldiers have dominated the government since 1952 and intend to maintain their power against the Muslim Brotherhood which they have suppressed since 1954. Strongman Hosni Mubarak's appointment of Omar Suleiman as vice president terminates the Mubarak family's dynastic pretensions, and raises the prospect of Mubarak resigning in favor of direct military rule.

More broadly, I bet on the more-continuity- than-change model that has emerged so far in Tunisia. Heavy-handed rule will lighten somewhat in Egypt and elsewhere, but the militaries will remain the ultimate power brokers.

US policy: The US government has a vital role in helping Middle Eastern states move from tyranny to political participation without Islamists hijacking the process.
George W. Bush had the right idea in 2003 in calling for democracy, but he ruined this effort by demanding instant results. Barack Obama initially reverted to the failed policy of making nice with tyrants; now he is myopically siding with the Islamists against Mubarak. He should emulate Bush but do a better job, understanding that democratization is a decades-long process that requires the inculcation of counterintuitive ideas about elections, freedom of speech and the rule of law.








American Jewry has many troubles; why bother crossing denominational lines, gathering funds to attack Fox News and Glenn Beck?

American Jewry has many headaches. Jewish education is increasingly expensive while often losing relevance and popularity. In the Orthodox world, an obsession with petty ritualism often obscures larger ethical concerns, while permitting an untrammeled materialism. Among the non-Orthodox, the lures of leisure blot out a commitment to community, tradition, modesty, Jewish learning and Jewish living. Every year, thousands of Jews drift away from Judaism – apathetic, lazy, bored. Beyond the Jewish world's dwindling synagogues, dying organizations, declining schools and decaying communities, Israel is enduring a vicious assault so systematic that many Jews internalize it, assuming it must be guilty of at least some of the crimes people attribute to it.

BUT NEVER fear. Amid this trouble, 400 American rabbis united, and spent $100,000 taking a stand – against Fox News and Glenn Beck, while defending
George Soros.

I don't get it. There are so many pressing issues for 400 rabbis "of diverse political views" to tackle. There are so many fabulous ways to spend those anonymously donated, non-transparent 100,000 holy dollars – because every charity dollar is sacred.

Moral leadership requires courage, yet too many rabbis today seem afraid of their congregants. It's easier to bash Fox News than question congregants' cushy lifestyles, lazy worldviews or phoned-in phony Judaism. It's safer to target Glenn Beck's obnoxious references to the Holocaust than to challenge congregants to change their lives, recalibrate their values and revive their Jewish commitments.

Predictably, 400 rabbis taking out a $100,000 ad to defend George Soros against Glenn Beck's ranting fed more rants on MSNBC and elsewhere. In fairness, many of the signing rabbis were sincere, even if it looked like they sought cheap notoriety by hitting an easy target.

Seeing that two of my closest rabbinical friends were listed at the top, I asked them why they signed the ad, which the Jewish Funds for Justice addressed to Rupert Murdoch and placed in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, is offended by Beck's constant, sloppy, histrionic invoking of the Holocaust to demonize those he dislikes, including controversial financier Soros.

"It is worth paying attention to the way people use language around the Shoah – that's a lesson I took from my classes with Professor Elie Wiesel years ago at Boston University," Ehrenkrantz explained. "The Shoah is already poorly understood. And it's even more difficult for the Holocaust to have meaning in people's minds if the language surrounding it is cheapened."

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, vice president of the American Jewish University's Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, also reacted to Beck's polarizing demagoguery. "What I intended to sign was a strong statement that abusing the Holocaust to impugn politics with which one disagrees cheapens the memory of the Shoah and makes real conversation across the aisle impossible. It is abused on the Left and on the Right, and it must stop," said Artson.

"Hence, I signed. I would have signed a similar statement against impugning president [George W.] Bush or any other public servant. Differ with the policies, but references to the Shoah are destructive to the democratic process."

I share my friends' distaste for Holocaust-fueled histrionics.

But they and their 398 colleagues missed repeated opportunities to denounce the sloppy invoking of the Holocaust when Bush was president. Soros himself did to Bush what Beck does to Soros. Saying he believed the White House was guided by a "supremacist ideology," Soros said in late 2003: "When I hear Bush say, 'You're either with us or against us,' it reminds me of the Germans...My experiences under Nazi and Soviet rule have sensitized me."

Moreover, too many of Soros's fellow anti-Zionists frequently deploy the offensive, inaccurate Nazi analogy to bash Israel.

YET WITH most American Jews placing their liberalism before their Judaism, it doesn't take much courage for their rabbis to take on Fox News. Liberal rabbis attacking Beck is like a stand-up comic mocking the bald guy in the front row. The laughs are cheap, easy, predictable but forgettable.

Moreover – and I say the same thing about Israel's National Religious camp – theologians should be wary of confusing the clear lines of faith and morality with the messy compromises of politics and governance.

When drafting a call for civility regarding Israel, defining blue-and-white lines to affirm and red lines not to cross (, I learned the Zen of such declarations. If too bland, they lack punch; if too biased, they backfire. In these polarized times, finger-pointing in one direction when championing centrism is like Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol preaching abstinence while pregnant.

Predictably, the ad fueled the flames of partisanship.

Artson reported that the responses he received to his signing were "skewed along political lines... conservatives deplored the signing as hypocrisy and liberals celebrated it as courage." He asks: "Is there no one left who thinks, across the board, that using Nazi labeling is illegitimate whether it comes from left, center or right? Is there a way to say that and for people across the spectrum to chastise their own when that line is crossed?" This is where the rabbis' collective wisdom failed them.

In today's polarized community, big-tent civility must be nurtured, cultivated, taught. An ad featuring 400 rabbis complaining about loudmouths from both sides sloppily invoking the Holocaust would have worked; this ad, singling out only one manifestation of the broader problem, politicizes complaints about the Holocaust. An ad with 400 rabbis calling for a more respectful tone in politics, acknowledging abuses from both sides, would have worked; this one-sided ad risks reducing a call for civility to a partisan battering ram, which we certainly don't need.

The writer is a professor of history at McGill University and a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today, and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.







Democracy will give Egyptian people a voice, and their voice may demand that peace accord be broken.

Egypt's democracy protests across the board spell bad news for Israel, which is more democratic than most countries in the Middle East, but not democratic enough.


Tens of thousands of protestors have filled the streets in Egypt's major cities demanding the resignation of its presidentfor- life Hosni Mubarak and the backlash has impacted the monarchy in Jordan and the dictatorship in Syria.

Mubarak is not the worst Arab tyrant in the Middle East, but he is viewed as a puppet of the
United States which currently finds itself in a curious position. Does the US back democracy in Egypt as it has in other countries or does it try to help Egypt make a transition from a dictatorship to a more open dictatorship?


Why are Americans even balking at calling for an end to the dictatorial rule in Egypt? Because Egypt is the cornerstone of American and Israeli foreign policy in the Middle East.

Without Egypt supporting the status quo, Israel especially has much to lose.

The average Egyptian does not support the peace accord that signed by Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat on Sept.17, 1978. Sadat tried to argue that peace between Egypt and Israel would usher in peace with the Palestinians, Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. Save for Jordan, that peace is still elusive.

After Sadat's assassination, Mubarak, one of his generals became president. Not known for his diplomatic talents, he became the caretaker of the unpopular peace with Israel.

Though he is a dictator, Egyptians have enjoyed more freedoms than most citizens in other Arab countries.

Israel's main benefit from its peace accord with Egypt was not only the hope of establishing normal relations, but also clearing away the threat of wars, lead by Egypt until then.

Once it signed an agreement with Israel, the threat of a regional war vanished, replaced by proxy wars like those fought against the vanguards of radical Islam, Hamas and Hizbullah, agents of Iran, also a nation of tyrants and dictators.

On the surface, Egypt's turn to democracy sounds good, although it has put America and Israel in awkward positions: sure they want democracy, but not if that democracy undermines the peace accords with Israel.

Peace with Israel under its present terms can only be enforced by a dictator like Mubarak. Democracy will give the people a voice and their voice clearly demands that the peace accord be broken.

If Egypt falls, that chorus of anti-Israel sentiment will grow across the Arab world, possibly even sparking new regional wars. Already, protestors in Jordan have taken to the streets and Syrian dictator Bashir al- Assad is moving fast to prevent similar protests in his country.

Israel may then find itself regionally back in time to the 1960s, isolated by the Arab world and constantly fearing more wars.

THE ARAB world may be under the foot of dictators, friend and foe to the West and Israel, but the Arab people are smart enough to see through the years of false promises and bad deals on Israel's part.

If democracy revails in Egypt and the people take control, Israel will face a pivotal moment: to either continue its current course of rejecting peace or taking negotiations with the Palestinians more seriously as a first step towards becoming a real member of the Middle East community.

Democracy is good, but it carries with it a real price that will disrupt the conveniences of the status quo.

The biggest losers will be the dictators, Western foreign policy and, likely, Israel.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.







What we should learn from all this is that we know nothing of what truly happens in non-democratic regimes.

The revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt descended on the "international community" like a lightening bolt. The two unpopular regimes, although undemocratic, were not notorious for their brutal repression. On the contrary, Tunisia was known as a mildly pro-Western regime in which both polygamy and the veil were outlawed. Egypt was similarly regarded as a mild autocracy, and President Hosni Mubarak was considered a moderate, peace-seeking pro- Western stalwart. True, there were complaints from human rights NGOs, but in comparison with the permanent anti-Israeli barrage, these were mere twitterings.

Both Tunisia and Egypt were elected members of that circus known as the UN Human Rights Commission. In its reports, along with mild criticism, the commission complimented both regimes: Tunisia was praised for building "a legal and constitutional framework for the promotion and protection of human rights," and Egypt was lauded for initiatives "taken in recent years as regards human rights, in particular the creation of human rights divisions within the ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs." (Reading these excerpts, one may be forgiven for thinking that the true demonstration should take place in Geneva, seat of the Human Rights Commission.)

And, needless to say, nothing we have read or seen in the world media prepared us for the horrific street scenes and anti-regime accusations which burst out of our TV screens; the idea that Mubarak is a dictator came as a shock to Western audiences.

What we should learn from all this is that we know nothing of what truly happens in non-democratic regimes. Just as in the 1930s, Western journalists touring the Ukraine did not see the massive death by forced starvation around them, so contemporary media do not fathom what truly lies under an ostensibly mild non-democracy.

THE WORLD of news and NGO reports is slanted. It has a tendency to find fault with open societies and is misled by repressive regimes in which there are no free media or independent courts. Thus a paradox is established: The more democratic and open a country is, the more exposed it will be to allegations of human rights abuses.

This is true of both Egypt and Tunisia. The regimes there were not more repressive than other Middle Eastern regimes: Certainly their abuses were mild in comparison with Iranian and Syrian brutality.

Indeed, because both countries were subject to Western influence and pressure, they could not resort to the unbridled brutality with which the Teheran regime met its pro-democracy opponents in 2009.

The truth is even harder to digest: There is no substitute for democracy, even when flawed. But in the Middle East, free elections – an essential part of democracy – may lead to an Islamic Iranian-type regime which will stifle any sign of true democracy.


We'll have to wait a long time before we see a reversal of this trend.








In our process we were told of so-called benefits of 'constructive ambiguity,' but, its disadvantages far outweighed advantages.

Excerpted from a speech last week at the House of Commons by North Belfast DUP MP Nigel Dodds to a major lobby of Parliament by the Christian Friends of Israel, attended by Northern Ireland Friends of Israel as well as hundreds of people from across the UK.

Since its foundation, Israel has been a flame of light in a region of despotic darkness. It is a flame of freedom, of democracy and of human rights. In a region plagued by dictatorship, nepotism and corruption, such light is sorely needed.

Israel's nurturing of this flame has been a startling achievement. Throughout its existence, the State of Israel has lived under a relentless, genocidal threat. It would have been easy to justify divergence from the path of democracy in such circumstances, but it has held true.

It is the duty of Western democracies to ensure that this flame is not diminished but rather shines brighter than ever before. It is our duty to ensure a future for Israel free from threat. It is our duty to ensure that Israel achieves a right and deserved peace. Regrettably, too many in the West fail to accept these responsibilities, and so it falls to us to fight to change that.

While we fight this battle for hearts and minds, Israel is trying once again to make a peace. It does so under the most difficult of circumstances. Some Palestinian leaders continue to endorse the use of terrorism including its most vile form – the suicide bomber. Israel is asked to negotiate with Palestinians whose authority to do so is extremely dubious, and whose ability (and willingness) to deliver is fundamentally questionable. In the background it is faced by interfering Arab regimes who mouth peace while paying for, sustaining and justifying terror. The naivety of American foreign policy under Barack Obama exacerbates the situation.

It would be easy to despair, and not try, but the goal of a right, proper and deserved peace for Israel is worth striving for regardless. Despair is understandable when one considers the abject failure of those who should know better yet who acquiesce in, or give support to, the blatant anti-Semitism of extreme Islamists. The media and the chattering classes are silent when Hamas,
Hizbullah and preachers of hate mouth their poisonous diatribes calling for Israel to be wiped from the face of the earth. But these same people are quick to single out Israel for disproportionately unfair criticism on a continual basis.

But we must not succumb to despair.

AS ONE who has been through the tortuous process of lengthy and intense negotiations – in my case relating to Northern Ireland – I offer the following word of advice:

Focus. Israel must clearly identify what its needs are, and throughout the process maintain an unfaltering focus upon this. What are the threats to maintaining this focus?

Moral equivalence. Palestinians, Arab regimes and various NGOs have become experts at making false claims or exaggerating minor imperfections about Israel into scandals. Arab regimes that don't even try to subscribe to the most basic of democratic standards. This demonization is not only driven to create a false moral equivalence. It also aims to disrupt and distract Israel.

Do not let it.

Generation exhaustion. Israel is like the guards on the walls of a besieged city. They have stood on that wall day after day. The desire to protect the city drives them on in the face of repeated attacks, but with each day the desire for respite grows. After a siege of 54 years, the desire for it to end can overwhelm the goal of permanent security. Do not let it.

Then there are the international players, and you will be very familiar with the cast. As key actors in the Northern Ireland political process, we are all too familiar with the ways and wiles of the Tony Blairs, Bill Clintons and George Mitchells of this world. While good will and friendship should never be rejected, it should always be remembered that it is Israel and its people that will have to live with the day-to-day consequences of any agreement. A deal that wins Nobel Prizes but fails helps no one. International actors will always be driven more by a desire that the process achieves an outcome rather than by what that outcome is.

Do not let it.

The focus must be on an agreement that is comprehensive and detailed, leaving little to later interpretation or vagueness. In our process we were told of the so-called benefits of "constructive ambiguity."


The disadvantages far outweighed the advantages. I am also of a political party that has been often associated with the word no.


We must always be ready to say yes when the terms are right, but equally if what is offered to Israel does not secure the right, proper and deserved peace, remember that sometimes it's right to say no.








What is happening in the region will eventually enable the Hashemite kingdom to emerge stronger – bringing the king and country together like never before.

Talkbacks (7)

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).











Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein effectively put an end yesterday to the chapter of Yoav Galant's chief of staff appointment. Even though his language was cautious, leaving room for the cabinet to reexamine the matter, its ministers should pick another general for the job. The roiling Middle East cannot wait.

Even were the cabinet to insist on showing tolerance for the flaws in Galant's civilian conduct on account of his military capabilities, and even were the High Court of Justice to be persuaded on this matter, Galant would be unable to command the Israel Defense Forces effectively. He sees himself as the victim of an outrageous injustice, but as an old warhorse he has to know that the collective mission is supposed to be above any individual, even the highest-ranking commander. No one could possibly give the IDF the kind of leadership that it and the state deserve after traveling the rocky road still faced by Galant on his way to the chief of staff's office.

It is the cabinet, and above all Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who should pay the public price for their hasty, haphazard gamble in choosing Galant.

Barak paid lip service last summer to considering possible candidates for chief of staff, but from the get-go he wanted Galant, who is considered an ideological partner of Barak and Netanyahu in that he leans toward a military operation against Iran. Barak misused his authority as a representative of the political leadership. He did not bother to examine the accusations regarding Galant's conduct, and he got the cabinet and the advisory committee on senior civil service appointments, led by retired Justice Jacob Turkel, to sign off on the appointment - leaving the vetting to the High Court, the state comptroller and the attorney general. In so doing, Barak created an unprecedented crisis just days before the end of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's term.

The judgment of Barak, who acts impulsively and aggressively, can no longer be trusted. A defense minister must resign after such a major blow. If Barak cannot face up to this, then the cabinet must deny him the authority to recommend the next chief of staff and instruct a ministerial committee to conduct a sober and considered search for the best candidate. Until that happens - quickly, we hope - Ashkenazi should be asked to stay on.







CAIRO - The late Arab-American scholar Edward Said appears to have been right. We're all suffering from Orientalism, not to say racism, if the sight of an entire people throwing off the yoke of tyranny and courageously demanding free elections fills us with fear rather than uplifting us, just because they're Arabs. Even the knights of the left and the leaders of the peace camp are issuing declarations of loyalty, continuing to repay Hosni Mubarak for his welcome in the presidential palace even after the entire Egyptian nation has shown him the door.

Are we afraid that we won't be able to bask in the title of "the only democracy in the Middle East"? Doesn't Egypt deserve democracy too?

People are scaring us with talk of an Isalmist takeover of our big neighbor. The Muslim Brotherhood will certainly play an important role in any political democratic structure that emerges in Egypt, and that has to be dealt with. But then, we also have religious fundamentalists in the government. That is the price of a parliamentary democracy. And the previous U.S. administration was intimately linked to fundamentalists, but that's okay too, because evangelical Christians love Israel.

And what about the peace treaty? Hundred of Egyptians who were asked about that this week on the streets of Cairo said that they support continued diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt. Even among supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, it was difficult to find someone calling for the Israeli Embassy to get out of the country, though there were a few.

The 1978 Camp David Accords survived the assassination of Anwar Sadat, who was not exactly a great democrat himself, and there is no reason to believe they will not survive even after Mubarak steps down from the presidency. Israeli journalists looked through some of the tens of thousands of pictures coming from Cairo, searching for protesters carrying a poster of Mubarak with a Star of David. In the end they found a single one. And among the thousands of Egyptians who called on Mubarak to "Go to Saudi Arabia," there were indeed two or three who shouted, "Go to Tel Aviv."

But even if it is difficult for us to accept it, Israel was simply not a factor in the whole Egyptian saga of the past week. And there is no reason that it should be. True, they don't like us, and why should they? They are Arabs and Muslims, and rightfully or not, they see Israel as an occupying country, and they want an Egyptian government to do more to right the wrong. Been to Europe lately? They don't like us much there either, for precisely the same reasons - but the Europeans apparently deserve democracy more than Egypt. After all, we were happy when the Berlin Wall fell.

Experts will say a positive attitude is naive. After all, the 1979 revolution against the shah in Iran began as a popular and democratic movement, and in the end we got Khomeini. It's a fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quick to congratulate the Egyptian demonstrators. Undoubtedly, the leaders of Iran are happy to see Mubarak's misfortune, but they're also shaking when they see the broadcasts from Cairo's Tahrir Square. They know that the original inspiration for the demonstrations was not the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia but the Iranian citizens who took to the streets of Tehran half a year ago.

The Revolutionary Guards managed to suppress the unrest at the time, but the Egyptian protests are proving that the deterrent effect of a police state, even one that has been in effect for decades, can completely disappear in a matter of hours. Iranian citizens will be encouraged by this and try again, and perhaps the next time it will be much more difficult for the government to defeat them.

Maybe our real fear is quite similar to that of the ruling classes of our neighboring states. What if the next Arab nation that rises up to the same extent will not be the Jordanians or the Yemenis, but the Palestinians? How will the Israel Defense Forces respond when thousands march with bare hands toward the fences of the settlements, and demand a free country of their own?







Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was right in warning that peace agreements will be at risk if the governments that signed them become unhinged and lose power. He was right in his assessment that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was a crucial ally of Israel, and in his concerns of what would happen to Egypt in a post-Mubarak era. Netanyahu was also right to insist on paying more attention to securing Israel's southern border. The thousands of immigrants who came to Israel from Africa, through Egypt, highlighted Cairo's growing difficulty in imposing its will and sovereignty on the Sinai peninsula.

But coming up with analyses and predictions isn't enough; now the prime minister has to deal with the implications of his accurate assessments. He has no luck: Mubarak essentially collapsed on his watch. Of all the world leaders, the Egyptian president was the one who was closest to Netanyahu, and the two often met. Only four weeks ago they met at Sharm el-Sheikh. Now all that's left is nostalgia and the pressing need to formulate a new policy.

The upheaval in Egypt has already led Netanyahu to make a dramatic decision: allowing two Egyptian army battalions to go into Sharm el-Sheikh, for the first time since Israel withdrew from Sinai. Netanyahu has argued for years that Israel needs stringent security arrangements as an insurance policy backing up the peace agreements. And he was the one who had to decide what was more important: adhering to the principle of demilitarization, regardless of what happens, or helping Egyptian authorities put down Bedouin unrest in Sinai.

The Egyptians view the restrictions to their sovereignty in Sinai that were established in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty as a painful blow to their national pride. Now they have taken advantage of the situation and redeployed their army in the demilitarized peninsula. No future government in Cairo will return this force to the other side of Suez. The ideologue in Netanyahu would certainly have advocated holding steadfast to the letter of the treaty and condemned the "soft" Israeli government that gave in to Egypt. But Netanyahu the statesman opted to sideline the demilitarization arrangements, fearing what would happen if angry masses took over the Straits of Tiran and were in a position to threaten Israel's freedom of navigation to Eilat.

If Netanyahu's gloomy predictions come true and Egypt becomes a new Iran, Israel will be faced with a much more difficult dilemma: Should it go back to the strategic situation that prevailed before the peace agreement? Should it prepare for confrontation on all fronts, expand the ground forces and increase defense expenditures accordingly? Or should it make peace in the east and the north and concentrate its force against a new enemy in the south?

The instinctive reaction to the sight of the enormous demonstrations in Cairo is to barricade ourselves behind a tower-and-stockade mentality, behind a belief that the Arabs can never be trusted. But such a policy comes at a price: budgetary deficits, depressed growth, higher taxes and more military service. Is Israeli society ready to pay such a cost and give up on the dream of a Western economy? And who exactly will be serving in this expanded army - the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, who are more or less exempt from conscription? Or maybe the immigrants from Eritrea and Sudan, who already know the lay of the land?

The peace treaties are not an expression of leftist messianism, as argued by the right wing. Diplomacy is an alternative to force. Peace with Egypt saved Israel enormous resources that had previously been invested in deterrence and wars, granting Israel economic well-being and enabling it to tighten its hold on the West Bank and focus militarily on Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Menachem Begin understood this, and gave up Sinai to establish 100 settlements in the territories. If an Islamic republic takes hold in Egypt, Netanyahu will face a reverse situation and will be forced to decide whether to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights in an effort to stabilize the eastern front and concentrate a deterrent force on the southern front.

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has been exploring the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough with the Palestinians and the Syrians that would reverse Israel's diplomatic isolation. His silence over the revelations by Al Jazeera and Ehud Olmert on the negotiations that the Kadima government conducted with the Palestinians signals that Netanyahu is ready to be flexible. The events in Egypt have caused him to stop and think anew, but he will not be able to hesitate forever. If Mubarak falls, Netanyahu will have to decide between holing up in a citadel and signing peace accords.







There is a miraculous moment in popular uprisings, when fear of the machinery of repression no longer deters people in their masses and that machinery begins to unravel into its component parts - who are also people. They stop obeying and begin thinking.

Where is that moment for us? A group of Palestinian businesspeople had discussed the possibility of joining the popular struggle in the villages near Ramallah against the separation fence. That was before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. The conclusion, a participant told me, was that they cannot allow themselves to take part in those activities because the very next day "Beit El" (the nickname for the Civil Administration, whose base is located near the eponymous settlement ) will revoke all the special passes that allow their businesses to exist. The experiences of others in similar circumstances (for example, senior Fatah officials who deigned to take part in a demonstration or two and had their VIP passes revoked ) are enough to create the fear.

A machinery of repression depends not only on guns and torture in cellars. As the Soviet-bloc regimes proved, bureaucracy is central to the system. The same is true with us: Far from the barriers of transparency of a proper democratic society, Israel has created a complex and invisible bureaucracy that completely controls Palestinian freedom of movement, and hence freedom of employment, livelihood and studies, the freedom to fall in love and establish a family, to organize and other basic liberties.

Any regime that does not respect these liberties is automatically categorized as "tyrannical." We have escaped this categorization because in our case it is a collective tyranny of Israeli-Jews (those who profit from the system ) over the Palestinians. The representatives of this collective tyranny, which systematically harms the sanctity of ownership of the other and discriminates against the other, are admired army officers, well-spoken Defense Ministry officials, architects, contractors and others. But the freedoms do not care about categories; an entire people is still denied them.

The Israeli-made machinery of repression has learned how to manufacture a protective net in the form of the Palestinian Authority. It does all it can not to upset the order of things, so no match will be lit that blows up the mirage of economic prosperity and the construction of national institutions.

The picket line organized through Facebook in front of the Egyptian representative office in Ramallah on Sunday was broken up by the PA's security forces. The young man who initiated it was tracked down and detained for prolonged questioning. The Hamas regime is also afraid of matches. Some 25 people who organized through Facebook came on Monday to Gaza's Unknown Soldier Square to express support for the Egyptian people. They, too, were set upon by enthusiastic security people. Six women were arrested.

Sooner or later, the protective nets the Israeli tyranny has excelled at creating will tear. Will the masses flood the streets then, will they break through the barriers and roadblocks, march to Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Psagot, as my colleagues Akiva Eldar and Aluf Benn have predicted?

Let us not delude ourselves. There will be no confusion here. Precise instructions, clear and immediate, will be given to the Israeli soldiers. The IDF of Operation Cast Lead will not give up its heritage. Even if it is a march of 200,000 unarmed civilians - the order will be to shoot. There will not be 10 dead, because the army of Cast Lead will want to outdo itself. We have not yet reached the stage in which the machinery of Israeli repression breaks up into its component parts - the people - who instead of obeying, begin to think.







The president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Prof. Rivka Carmi, complained last week that the number of female doctors is increasing. Although they constitute only 35 percent of all doctors in Israel, they comprise more than half of all specialists up to age 45. Carmi believes that it is not good to tip the balance between the sexes, which contributes to "the quality of the treatment, effectiveness and satisfaction."

It is hard to believe that an educated person like Carmi, a physician herself, is responsible for this strange diagnosis, but the rest of her analysis is even stranger. In a column on the Israeli lifestyle website Onlife, she wrote that she is concerned that a plethora of women will lead to a "feminization of the medical profession," and will thus cause it to deteriorate - like other professions, such as caregiving and teaching.

But the ultimate is her advice to young women. Women, she asserts, should give up on seeking a convenient and flexible workplace. There should be fewer female pediatricians and general practitioners, and more researchers, surgeons and managers. Carmi wants to see more female managers, but she doesn't specify who is responsible for their limited numbers. She is interested in "encouraging" women to take management roles, but she also assigns blame to the women themselves.

A similar dynamic emerges in her own life. Carmi discloses that she gave up on "hobbies that I had as a young woman" and that she has "only one daughter." This was no concession, she says, but her own free choice, motivated by the "will to develop a career, to develop personally and professionally, to maximize abilities and to have an influence."

Belying the words, both the style and the content reflect a regretted missed opportunity. It seems that Carmi has a confused understanding of reality, and her problematic position stems from this.

One element of her lack of comprehension is that she sees the feminization of professions as damaging to the professions themselves. It is interesting that Carmi neglected to cite the legal profession. Yehoshua Resnick, an attorney, is one of several who have attacked the "female hegemony" in the State Prosecutor's Office, an argument that has lately been on the rise. Carmi also neglected to mention journalism and literature (see Haim Nagid's warning in Maariv in the early 1990s that an abundance of women in literature leads to a decline in its quality ).

The feminization of these professions stems not only from the fact that they are relatively convenient for young mothers because of the flexible hours (that's problematic for someone who calls herself a feminist, because young fathers also rightfully want a flexible workday ), but also, and primarily, from the fact that men have labeled them as less attractive, largely because of the shrinking wages.

The second element that Carmi misses is an additional cause of the decreased prestige of certain professions - all of which are forms of civil service or, like journalism and literature, have a significant public aspect. All branches of the civil service have in recent years been deliberately dried up and depleted as a direct result of government policy, and the destructive results are evident today.

This feeds into the final element of Carmi's lack of comprehension. She talks about "career" and "free choice," but most young college-educated people in Israel - men and women - are thinking about work and survival. Their job security is going down and their existential insecurity is on the rise; the tax burden is heavy and the government is shirking its responsibility to give its citizens free education, housing, day care, a long school day with a hot meal, and more. The right to have children and raise them is not supposed to be at odds with the right to make a living and move up at work.

Like Carmi, many who have reached the top refuse to understand the dissonance between their personal achievements and the socioeconomic reality in Israel. It would be better if they were to speak less about the prestige of the professions, and instead had the courage to acknowledge the resounding economic and political failure that weakens the people practicing those professions and robs them of their rights and dignity.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



The announcement from President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt that he would not run for re-election was welcome, if he means it, but it was unlikely to be enough. It is up to the Egyptian people to decide. But as a proud nationalist, Mr. Mubarak can best contribute to Egypt's stability and future by stepping aside and letting an interim government take over until truly free elections can be held.

Mr. Mubarak spoke after President Obama's special envoy urged him not to run again. On Tuesday evening, Mr. Obama said that he had told the Egyptian leader that "an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now." That should be a clear warning to Mr. Mubarak that his time has passed.

On Tuesday, the eighth day of demonstrations, hundreds of thousands went to Liberation Square in Cairo to demand Mr. Mubarak's ouster. The protests were the largest and most diverse so far.

The demonstration was peaceful. The army had announced that it would not use force, a decision Mr. Obama praised on Tuesday night. Egyptians have expressed their gratitude, but the generals should not misread that enthusiasm. Egypt needs a real democracy, not another strongman. Washington, which provides $1.5 billion in military aid annually, should be sending that message to the army's leaders.

Presidential elections are scheduled for September. We are skeptical they can be credible with Mr. Mubarak even nominally in charge. Whatever happens in coming days, the Egyptian government and the opposition will need to work together to create conditions for a fair vote.

The government must start by lifting the blackout on Internet and cellphone service. The 30-year-old state of emergency that has allowed it to detain and censor all critics must end. Egypt will need a truly independent electoral commission and international monitors to ensure an honest vote. All participants will have to agree to abide by the final results.

This is made far more complicated by the fact that Egypt has few opposition groups — the result of Mr. Mubarak's 30 years of authoritarian rule. The best organized is the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former top nuclear inspector for the United Nations and a Nobel laureate, is eager to lead.

Those with political ambitions must quickly explain their vision for Egypt — beyond ousting Mr. Mubarak. What rights would they guarantee in law? Will the Coptic Christian minority be protected and have a voice in their country? Will there be freedom of access to the Suez Canal? Will the government abide by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel?

Critics here and in Egypt have complained that President Obama has been too slow to cut his ties with Mr. Mubarak. Balancing national security concerns against moral responsibilities is never pretty. The United States has an important role in encouraging a swift and peaceful transition. President Obama is right to take pains to avoid any impression that Washington is orchestrating events.

The Iranian revolution is seared in our memories. There are no guarantees that Egypt's next government will be as friendly to Washington as this one. And no guarantee that it will treat its own people any better. But Mr. Mubarak's efforts to hold on to power, at all costs, will lead to more instability and fury. If Egypt devolves into chaos, it will feed extremism throughout the region.





A ruling by a Federal District Court judge in Florida that the entire health care reform law is unconstitutional was a breathtaking example of judicial activism and overreach.

It is hard not to believe this decision was driven at least in part by ideology. At one point the judge, Roger Vinson, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, gives a gratuitous bow to Tea Party conservatives by citing the original Boston Tea Party in a discussion of opposition to unlimited governmental powers.

Judge Vinson is way out on a limb in attempting to throw out the whole law, a primary goal of the Republican Party. Two federal district judges nominated by Democratic presidents have concluded that the individual mandate requiring people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty is constitutional. Two judges nominated by Republican presidents, including Judge Vinson, have found the mandate unconstitutional. But the other Republican-nominated judge, Henry Hudson, acted with restraint in a case in Virginia. Although Virginia's attorney general asked him to invalidate the entire law, he invalidated only the mandate because of a tradition that courts eliminate only problematic parts of a law, not the entire law.

Judge Vinson acknowledged that he was deviating from this practice, but he argued that this is an atypical case in which the individual mandate is so "inextricably bound" to the remaining provisions that it cannot be severed. He may well be right that the mandate is essential to guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing conditions because it will force healthy people into the insurance pools and thus keep premiums down. But his argument seems stretched past the breaking point.

He reads too much significance into the fact that the Democrats failed to include a "severability clause" to ensure that if any provisions were found to be invalid then the rest of the law would be unaffected. He believes this shows that Congress recognized the act wouldn't work without the mandate. It seems much more likely that it was an error in the closing Congressional struggle.

Judge Vinson also seems wildly off-base when he speculates that Congress would not have passed the act if the individual mandate were not included. Judge Hudson said he was unable to reach that conclusion. The mandate is one of the least popular provisions of the law.

The core of these cases is whether Congress has the power to require people to buy health insurance. We believe it can do so under its power to regulate interstate commerce, to impose taxes and to pass laws that are necessary and proper to carry out its intentions.

There are principled arguments on both sides, and the issue will likely be decided by the Supreme Court. We hope the court upholds the individual mandate. But if it rules the mandate unconstitutional, we urge the justices to show modesty and leave the rest of the law intact.





There is no reason that Nassau County, one of the wealthiest counties in the United States and home to some of the highest property taxes and richest residents anywhere, should be in such a dire state — its budget $176 million out of whack and its finances now subject to a humiliating takeover by a state control board.

Nassau needs a county executive capable of setting its affairs in order. Edward Mangano, who was elected a year ago to fix things, has instead made things worse.

A state oversight board has been monitoring Nassau's finances for a decade — since the last time the county government drove itself into a ditch. After reviewing its 2011 budget, the board voted 6 to 0 to take control. It said that the budget was unbalanced, full of bogus savings and unsupportable revenue estimates.

Mr. Mangano insists things aren't that bad and blames his predecessor, Tom Suozzi, for the troubles. It's true that union contracts passed on Mr. Suozzi's watch (and with the vote of Mr. Mangano, a longtime legislator) were overly generous — with no-layoff guarantees, strange perks like paid time off for giving blood and six-figure salaries for police officers. When the recession hit the county hard in 2008, Mr. Suozzi made real efforts to manage the problem, including pushing through an unpopular tax on home-heating fuel.

Much more needed to be done to deal with Nassau's long-term budget crisis. So what did Mr. Mangano do on his first day in office? He repealed the fuel tax, opening a $40 million budget hole. Even then he kept insisting that his 2011 budget is balanced — citing things like $60 million in imaginary union givebacks and phantom sales-tax revenue. No wonder the board stepped in.

The board has given Mr. Mangano until Feb. 15 to rewrite his budget, with the speciousness taken out. He has responded with a lawsuit. The county's bond rating has suffered; a respected top aide, Patrick Foye, has resigned. As bad as things are, Mr. Mangano has apparently not yet decided to be part of the solution.






The Department of Justice's inspector general, Glenn Fine, stepped down on Friday after a decade of pushing to clean up and depoliticize a hyperpoliticized department. He will be missed.

Mr. Fine's best-known efforts came in 2008 when he documented the George W. Bush administration's politically driven firings of four United States attorneys and its politically driven hirings (breaking the civil service law) of scores of civil servants at the Civil Rights Division. Last year, he continued to detail the F.B.I.'s widespread misuse since 2001 of "exigent letters" to get phone records and the "failure" by "the most senior" F.B.I. officials to resolve the problem.

The inspector general reports to Congress and the attorney general and can be fired only by the president. But the job's purview of detecting and deterring waste, fraud, abuse and misconduct is oddly limited. It doesn't include power to investigate alleged misconduct by the department's lawyers in their legal work.

That is left to the Office of Professional Responsibility, which has no independence and can be far too easily overridden as it was in its investigation of the Bush administration's appalling memos authorizing the drowning technique known as waterboarding and other torture of detainees. While the office urged that the lawyers who wrote the memos should be penalized for professional misconduct, a lawyer working for the deputy attorney general rejected that counsel.

If the inspector general had done the investigation and made the same recommendation, a midlevel official could not have rejected it. And the attorney general would have had to take it far more seriously.

Congress should expand the power of the inspector general to investigate lawyers and give him or her the power to compel testimony from former Justice Department employees and not just current employees, to enable more comprehensive accounts. President Obama should appoint a vigilant successor to Mr. Fine, one who will continue to expose the department's shortcomings and their costs.







If only W. had waited for Twitter.

And Facebook. And WikiLeaks.

Revolutionary tools all, like the fax machine in the Soviet Union.

The ire in Tahrir Square is full of ironies, not the least of which is the American president who inspired such hope in the Middle East with his Cairo speech calling around this week to leaders in the region to stanch the uncontrolled surge of democracy in the Arab world.

Egyptians rose up at the greatest irony of all: Cleopatra's Egypt was modern in ancient times and Mubarak's was ancient in modern times. The cradle of civilization yearned for some civilization.

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in the Middle East and end the awful hypocrisy of America coddling autocratic rulers.

But the way he went about it was naïve and wrong. "In many ways, you can argue that the Iraq war set back the cause of democracy in the Middle East," Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations who worked at the State Department during Bush's first term, told me. "It's more legitimate in Arab eyes when it happens from within than when it's externally driven."

You can't push a morally muscular foreign policy by subverting morality. And you can't occupy a country only to trade one corrupt regime for another.

In his second inaugural, President Bush pledged a goal of "ending tyranny in our world." But he only managed to get rid of one tyrant (a weakened one he had a grudge against). He learned that trying to micromanage the future course of the internal politics of another country is very difficult.

As Haass wrote at the time in an op-ed piece: "Immature democracies — those that hold elections but lack many of the checks and balances characteristic of a true democracy — are particularly vulnerable to being hijacked by popular passions."

Just so, Haass now says of Egypt's political eruption: "This could go off the rails. The end of Mubarak is like the second inning."

He said that Mubarak's "royalist, monarchist pretensions, his plan to install his son Gamal as his successor, truly offended a lot Egyptians, who found it humiliating. Humiliation is a powerful motivator in the Middle East."

In 2005, Secretary of State Condi Rice chided the Egyptians to be more democratic, but Mubarak continued to stifle his country's vitality.

W. associated his "freedom agenda" with war.

In another irony, one of the reasons Bush decided he needed to do something about the Arab dictatorships was his belief that they were spawning terrorists. But to try to fulfill his grandiose promise to defeat "every terrorist group of global reach," he needed the cooperation of the same dictators the U.S. had always supported. And he fell back to relying on the help of dictatorships to try to shut down dictatorships. Instead, he shut down the democratization process in 2006 after he and Rice were blindsided by Hamas winning the Palestinian elections.

"We were overly spooked by the victory of Hamas," said Robert Kagan, a senior Brookings fellow, neocon and Iraq war advocate who co-founded the prescient Working Group on Egypt, a bipartisan group of Middle East experts who wanted to get the administration to press Mubarak to be more democratic.

"The great fear that people have with Islamist parties is that, if they take part in an election, that will be the last election," he continued. "But we overlearned that lesson and we need to get beyond that panicky response. There's no way for us to go through the long evolution of history without allowing Islamists to participate in democratic society.

"What are we going to do — support dictators for the rest of eternity because we don't want Islamists taking their share of some political system in the Middle East? We've got to put our money where our mouth is.

"Obviously, Islam needs to make its peace with modernity and democracy. But the only way this is going to happen is when people speaking for Islam take part in the system. It's incumbent on Islamists who are elected democratically to behave democratically."

Members of Kagan's group met with members of the White House national security team on Monday. He does not think, as some critics do, that President Obama has been too slow to embrace the Egyptian protesters. "It's tricky," he said. "Any administration is extremely reluctant to push out a longtime ally."

But he believes that the administration "really made a mistake not preparing for this a year ago." He thinks that Mubarak's health problems emboldened restive Egyptians.

And he advises President Obama — who went on TV Tuesday night to assure Egyptians that they will determine their own destiny, but maybe not just yet — not to count on a long goodbye for Mubarak.

"The notion of trying to figure out a Mubarak option," he said, of a leisurely transition, "should be dropped."








I'm meeting a retired Israeli general at a Tel Aviv hotel. As I take my seat, he begins the conversation with: "Well, everything we thought for the last 30 years is no longer relevant."

That pretty much sums up the disorienting sense of shock and awe that the popular uprising in Egypt has inflicted on the psyche of Israel's establishment. The peace treaty with a stable Egypt was the unspoken foundation for every geopolitical and economic policy in Israel for the last 35 years, and now it's gone. It's as if Americans suddenly woke up and found both Mexico and Canada plunged into turmoil on the same day.

"Everything that once anchored our world is now unmoored," remarked Mark Heller, a Tel Aviv University strategist. "And it is happening right at a moment when nuclearization of the region hangs in the air."

This is a perilous time for Israel, and its anxiety is understandable. But I fear Israel could make its situation even more perilous if it succumbs to the argument one hears from a number of senior Israeli officials today that the events in Egypt prove that Israel can't make a lasting peace with the Palestinians. It's wrong and dangerous.

To be sure, Hosni Mubarak, Israel's longtime ally, deserves all the wrath being directed at him. The best time to make any big, hard decision is when you are at your maximum strength. You'll always think and act more clearly. For the last 20 years, President Mubarak has had all the leverage he could ever want to truly reform Egypt's economy and build a moderate, legitimate political center to fill the void between his authoritarian state and the Muslim Brotherhood. But Mubarak deliberately maintained the political vacuum between himself and the Islamists so that he could always tell the world, "It's either me or them." Now he is trying to reform in a panic with no leverage. Too late.

But Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel is in danger of becoming the Mubarak of the peace process. Israel has never had more leverage vis-à-vis the Palestinians and never had more responsible Palestinian partners. But Netanyahu has found every excuse for not putting a peace plan on the table. The Americans know it. And thanks to the nasty job that Qatar's Al Jazeera TV just did in releasing out of context all the Palestinian concessions — to embarrass the Palestinian leadership — it's now obvious to all how far the Palestinians have come.

No, I do not know if this Palestinian leadership has the fortitude to close a deal. But I do know this: Israel has an overwhelming interest in going the extra mile to test them.

Why? With the leaders of both Egypt and Jordan scrambling to shuffle their governments in an effort to stay ahead of the street, two things can be said for sure: Whatever happens in the only two Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, the moderate secularists who had a monopoly of power will be weaker and the previously confined Muslim Brotherhood will be stronger. How much remains to be seen.

As such, it is virtually certain that the next Egyptian government will not have the patience or room that Mubarak did to maneuver with Israel. Same with the new Jordanian cabinet. Make no mistake: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has nothing to do with sparking the demonstrations in Egypt and Jordan, but Israeli-Palestinian relations will be impacted by the events in both countries.

If Israel does not make a concerted effort to strike a deal with the Palestinians, the next Egyptian government will "have to distance itself from Israel because it will not have the stake in maintaining the close relationship that Mubarak had," said Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster. With the big political changes in the region, "if Israel remains paranoid and messianic and greedy it will lose all its Arab friends."

To put it bluntly, if Israelis tell themselves that Egypt's unrest proves why Israel cannot make peace with the Palestinian Authority, then they will be talking themselves into becoming an apartheid state — they will be talking themselves into permanently absorbing the West Bank and thereby laying the seeds for an Arab majority ruled by a Jewish minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

What the turmoil in Egypt also demonstrates is how much Israel is surrounded by a huge population of young Arabs and Muslims who have been living outside of history — insulated by oil and autocracy from the great global trends. But that's over.

"Today your legitimacy has to be based on what you deliver," the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, explained to me in his Ramallah office. "Gone are the days when you can say, 'Deal with me because the other guys are worse.' "

I had given up on Netanyahu's cabinet and urged the U.S. to walk away. But that was B.E. — Before Egypt. Today, I believe President Obama should put his own peace plan on the table, bridging the Israeli and Palestinian positions, and demand that the two sides negotiate on it without any preconditions. It is vital for Israel's future — at a time when there is already a global campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state — that it disentangle itself from the Arabs' story as much as possible. There is a huge storm coming, Israel. Get out of the way.







ISRAELIS want to rejoice over the outbreak of protests in Egypt's city squares. They want to believe that this is the Arab world's 1989 moment. Perhaps, they say, the poisonous reflex of blaming the Jewish state for the Middle East's ills will be replaced by an honest self-assessment.

But few Israelis really believe in that hopeful outcome. Instead, the grim assumption is that it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation.

Either result would be the end of Israel's most important relationship in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has long stated its opposition to peace with Israel and has pledged to revoke the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty if it comes into power. Given the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas's control of Gaza and the unraveling of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, an Islamist Egypt could produce the ultimate Israeli nightmare: living in a country surrounded by Iran's allies or proxies.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the icon of the Egyptian protesters, and many Western analysts say that the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood has forsworn violence in favor of soup kitchens and medical clinics. Even if that is true, it is small comfort to Israelis, who fear that the Brotherhood's nonviolence has been a tactical maneuver and know that its worldview is rooted in crude anti-Semitism.

The Brotherhood and its offshoots have been the main purveyors of the Muslim world's widespread conspiracy theories about the Jews, from blaming the Israeli intelligence service for 9/11 to accusing Zionists of inventing the Holocaust to blackmail the West.

Others argue that the responsibilities of governance would moderate the Brotherhood, but here that is dismissed as Western naïveté: the same prediction, after all, was made about the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The fear of an Islamist encirclement has reminded Israelis of their predicament in the Middle East. In its relationship with the Palestinians, Israel is Goliath. But in its relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds, Israel remains David.

Since its founding, Israel has tried to break through the military and diplomatic siege imposed by its neighbors. In the absence of acceptance from the Arab world, it found allies on the periphery of the Middle East, Iran and Turkey. Peace with Israel's immediate neighbors would wait.

That doctrine began to be reversed in 1979, when the Israeli-Iranian alliance collapsed and was in effect replaced by the Egyptian-Israeli treaty that same year. The removal of Egypt from the anti-Israeli front left the Arab world without a credible military option; indeed, the last conventional war fought by Arab nations against Israel was the 1973 joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur.

Since then all of Israel's military conflicts — from the first Lebanon war in 1982 to the Gaza war of 2009 — have been asymmetrical confrontations against terrorists. While those conflicts have presented Israel with strategic, diplomatic and moral problems, it no longer faced an existential threat from the Arab world.

For Israel, then, peace with Egypt has been not only strategically but also psychologically essential. Israelis understand that the end of their conflict with the Arab world depends in large part on the durability of the peace with Egypt — for all its limitations, it is the only successful model of a land-for-peace agreement.

Above all, though, Israeli optimism has been sustained by the memory of the improbable partnership between President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin. Only four years before flying to Tel Aviv on his peace mission, Sadat had attacked Israel on its holiest day. Begin, Israel's most hawkish prime minister until that time, withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, an area more than three times the size of Israel.

Though Egypt failed to deliver the normalization in relations Israelis craved, the thousands of Israeli tourists who have filled the beaches of the Sinai coast experienced something of the promise of real peace. At least in one corner of the Arab Middle East, they felt welcomed. A demilitarized Sinai proved that Israel could forfeit strategic depth and still feel reasonably secure.

The Sinai boundary is the only one of Israel's borders that hasn't been fenced off. Israelis now worry that this fragile opening to the Arab world is about to close.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a contributing editor to The New Republic.







ISRAELIS want to rejoice over the outbreak of protests in Egypt's city squares. They want to believe that this is the Arab world's 1989 moment. Perhaps, they say, the poisonous reflex of blaming the Jewish state for the Middle East's ills will be replaced by an honest self-assessment.

But few Israelis really believe in that hopeful outcome. Instead, the grim assumption is that it is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation.

Either result would be the end of Israel's most important relationship in the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has long stated its opposition to peace with Israel and has pledged to revoke the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty if it comes into power. Given the strengthening of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas's control of Gaza and the unraveling of the Turkish-Israeli alliance, an Islamist Egypt could produce the ultimate Israeli nightmare: living in a country surrounded by Iran's allies or proxies.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the icon of the Egyptian protesters, and many Western analysts say that the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood has forsworn violence in favor of soup kitchens and medical clinics. Even if that is true, it is small comfort to Israelis, who fear that the Brotherhood's nonviolence has been a tactical maneuver and know that its worldview is rooted in crude anti-Semitism.

The Brotherhood and its offshoots have been the main purveyors of the Muslim world's widespread conspiracy theories about the Jews, from blaming the Israeli intelligence service for 9/11 to accusing Zionists of inventing the Holocaust to blackmail the West.

Others argue that the responsibilities of governance would moderate the Brotherhood, but here that is dismissed as Western naïveté: the same prediction, after all, was made about the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The fear of an Islamist encirclement has reminded Israelis of their predicament in the Middle East. In its relationship with the Palestinians, Israel is Goliath. But in its relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds, Israel remains David.

Since its founding, Israel has tried to break through the military and diplomatic siege imposed by its neighbors. In the absence of acceptance from the Arab world, it found allies on the periphery of the Middle East, Iran and Turkey. Peace with Israel's immediate neighbors would wait.

That doctrine began to be reversed in 1979, when the Israeli-Iranian alliance collapsed and was in effect replaced by the Egyptian-Israeli treaty that same year. The removal of Egypt from the anti-Israeli front left the Arab world without a credible military option; indeed, the last conventional war fought by Arab nations against Israel was the 1973 joint Egyptian-Syrian attack on Yom Kippur.

Since then all of Israel's military conflicts — from the first Lebanon war in 1982 to the Gaza war of 2009 — have been asymmetrical confrontations against terrorists. While those conflicts have presented Israel with strategic, diplomatic and moral problems, it no longer faced an existential threat from the Arab world.

For Israel, then, peace with Egypt has been not only strategically but also psychologically essential. Israelis understand that the end of their conflict with the Arab world depends in large part on the durability of the peace with Egypt — for all its limitations, it is the only successful model of a land-for-peace agreement.

Above all, though, Israeli optimism has been sustained by the memory of the improbable partnership between President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin. Only four years before flying to Tel Aviv on his peace mission, Sadat had attacked Israel on its holiest day. Begin, Israel's most hawkish prime minister until that time, withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula, an area more than three times the size of Israel.

Though Egypt failed to deliver the normalization in relations Israelis craved, the thousands of Israeli tourists who have filled the beaches of the Sinai coast experienced something of the promise of real peace. At least in one corner of the Arab Middle East, they felt welcomed. A demilitarized Sinai proved that Israel could forfeit strategic depth and still feel reasonably secure.

The Sinai boundary is the only one of Israel's borders that hasn't been fenced off. Israelis now worry that this fragile opening to the Arab world is about to close.

Yossi Klein Halevi is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute and a contributing editor to The New Republic.








Even by the Volunteer State's high standards, residents of the Chattanooga area have a sterling reputation for their willingness to roll up their sleeves for a good cause.


That was on display recently when it was reported that nearly 1,900 area residents had volunteered to help build a home for an as-yet-unnamed needy family. The work will be filmed for the ABC TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The construction is expected to take just seven days, and it is slated to begin on Feb. 13.


Among the many who are offering to help are scores of skilled contractors. Lots of people are also donating supplies for the home construction.


The area's strong willingness to pitch in surprised Beth Johnson, a spokeswoman for the project.


"It's beyond expectations, really," she told the Times Free Press. "We're worried that we're not going to have enough for everybody to do."


This latest project is just one more reason why Chattanooga is recognized for its benevolence toward those in need and for its strong volunteer spirit.







In the enumeration of governmental powers in the Constitution of the United States, there is absolutely no provision allowing the federal government to force American citizens to buy anything!


Read the Constitution, section by section, and that will be evident.


So all Americans should understand that it is unconstitutional for Congress and President Barack Obama to use the recently enacted ObamaCare legislation to force the American people to buy government-approved medical insurance.


That's why 26 states jointly filed a legal challenge to ObamaCare. And that's why U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson, in Pensacola, Fla., has ruled against the law.


Vinson ruled correctly that Obama-Care's provisions are simply not permissible under our Constitution.


The Obama administration responded predictably, claiming the District Court ruling is a "case of judicial overreaching." But the fact is, it is not the federal judge but Obama and the congressional Democrats who approved ObamaCare who were guilty of grossly "overreaching" the powers delegated by the Constitution.


There is no constitutional basis, nor is there any valid legal precedent, on which American citizens may be forced by the federal government to "buy something" -- anything -- or be fined for not doing so!


To illustrate his point, the judge used this analogy of what would be improper congressional action:


"Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals. Not only because the required purchases will positively impact interstate commerce, but also because people who eat healthier tend to be healthier and thus are more productive and put less of a strain on the health care system."


By using the patent absurdity of government requiring the eating of broccoli, Vinson made the constitutional point very clearly.


He further correctly observed:


"It is difficult to imagine that a nation that began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place."


Then Vinson, a former Navy pilot, summed up:


"If Congress can penalize a passive individual for failing to engage in commerce, the enumeration of powers in the Constitution would have been in vain for it would be 'difficult to perceive any limitation on federal power,' ... and we would have a Constitution in name only."


While the judge is constitutionally correct, the administration plans to appeal his ruling. Other federal courts have issued mixed rulings on ObamaCare, so the question almost certainly will end up in the Supreme Court.


Unfortunately, we cannot predict with assurance that the Supreme Court will rule constitutionally, as Vinson did.







It's great fun for elected officials -- and citizens -- to see some government spending for desirable programs and projects. But it's painful to pay for them in taxes. That reality is what Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee legislators and all the rest of us Tennesseans are having to face in this time of economic crisis and falling revenue.


There is little support in Tennessee for higher taxes. So Haslam, in discussions on the 2011-12 Tennessee budget, says there are painful decisions ahead.


The federal government unfortunately does not have to face economic realities immediately. So with our huge national debt exceeding $14 trillion, Congress and the president have not only been taxing too much, but are spending much more, ignoring the prospect of $1.5 trillion in red ink in the coming year.


Tennessee, fortunately, can't do that. Tennessee has to balance its budgets.


Haslam points out that some of the cuts technically were made last year, "on paper," but have not actually been implemented yet.


States have been temporarily insulated somewhat by "free federal money" from Washington -- so-called "stimulus" funds. But Washington didn't have that money in hand; it had to borrow it. Now the money is drying up, meaning that delayed state budget realities must be faced.


Education is obviously a top state responsibility. So Haslam correctly says Tennessee has committed to fund the state's Basic Education Program. But of course that means that some other programs must be squeezed. Departments in the state are being called upon to cut their planned spending by 1 percent to 3 percent, after having made some cuts last year.


It's fun to spend and hard to cut, but cutting state spending is painfully necessary now. And responsible officials must do it.







It's nostalgic to look back on the days when a fellow who wanted to go to Congress could run by making lots of speeches, buying gasoline for his car and printing a few pamphlets and cards. That approach is certainly no longer realistic.


These days, political campaigns require massive spending.


Candidates hope their supporters will contribute, but many hopefuls put in a lot of their own money. It would be better for all of us as citizens -- not to mention for the candidates -- if aspirants could get their messages to voters without spending so much.


In Tennessee's 3rd District, we are very fortunate that local voters had the good judgment in November to elect Republican Chuck Fleischmann to be our member of the U.S. House of Representatives. We believe he'll be a good one. But we are sorry that Fleischmann, an attorney, reportedly had to spend about $1.4 million in his successful campaign -- about half of it his own money.


His primary and general election challengers spent considerably less.


We are confident that the conservative congressman will prove to be a capable lawmaker, for Tennessee and our whole country. And when he proves himself, we hope that he won't have to spend so much money to run successfully for re-election in 2012.







Internet age, information age, technology age: Promises for democracy for many, a tool for misinformation to be abused for some, and a source of fear for others. However you prefer to name and define it, instant communication faces the risk of becoming no more so instant depending on the current course of things. In the Middle East and beyond, particularly with its reflection – or lack of proper confrontation.

In yesterday's paper, Marietje Schaake, who is a member of the European Parliament with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and focuses on EU foreign policy and Europe's digital agenda, elaborates in her article titled "Can bytes win over bullets?" another kind of projection of the protests as "new technologies have provided both opportunities and threats to people." She refers to the role of the Internet for the uprisings in the region as well as the government's surveillance and switching off communication channels.

Although on the surface, securing the lives and bread for the people demonstrating on the streets appears to be a more blood-and-bone approach to the matter, securing access to information of any kind remains a pre-condition for this in our era.

"One reason why Europe has not spoken out against Egypt's switch-off might be the fact that many Western governments are seeking increased control over the Internet themselves," Schaake says in her article, stressing a crucial point about a worldview that is supposed to be a role-model for Turkey: the European Union standards.

Particularly considering the impact of the Internet and social media in terms of political discourse and how it is shaped, this role gains another momentum. It is sufficient to have a look at newspapers and TV screens any day to see social media tools are almost substituting the regular platforms of people from political landscape in Turkey, which is famous for its Internet bans and its lagging behind in freedom of expression and press. We even hear about those giving a bonus to their civil servants when they open a Twitter account. Well, we cannot be sure about the intentions, but we can at least promote the need for the existence of a tool that we use for our own interests during relatively peaceful times. Otherwise it will be pure hypocrisy when some hands are granted the utmost authority to ban and shut things down the way it happens in Turkey.

It seems we are after all chasing a Leviathan, one that actually swallows its own tail. The governments try to control the media tools that they apparently see as a threat to their omnipotent rule. And in return, they need to know that they are subjected to face even a bigger "threat", their own Leviathan. It seems we have a long way to go before we see how the battle will end. Are those who are granted the authority to control our communication channels becoming the real Leviathan?






It's wonderful news! Islamist Turks have finally discovered the vices of the autocratic/kleptocratic regimes of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. But why do they hate Mr. Ben Ali, whose name they had not heard of until a fortnight ago, or Mr. Mubarak, whose undemocratic credentials are well older than a week?

In the Maghreb case, the Islamist Turks have just learned that the distant country with "a flag similar to our" was not run by just a dictator, but by a secular dictator. They also learned that that shameless dictator had sent into exile a man whose name they cannot remember – but anyway – that good Muslim now talks about taking the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, as a role model for democracy. Mr. Ben Ali could not have been allowed to oppress the Tunisians. In the future, Rashed Ghannoushi can because he will be "our" dictator.

And in the case of "Pharaoh" as the Turkish protestors refer to Mr. Mubarak, Islamist Turks are angry not because he has undemocratically ruled Egypt for 30 years, but because the largest Muslim nation in the region has been at peace with Israel, not at war.

It was not a coincidence that at the weekend's anti-Mubarak demonstrations in Istanbul and Ankara, protestors carried Mr. Mubarak picture with the Star of David superimposed over it. The usual gathering of "Islamic" NGOs (this time joined by a leftist one, too) protested him for "not having flown Egyptian fighter jets to defend Gaza." Ahmet Faruk Ünsal, secretary-general of Mazlum-Der, an "Islamic" human rights organization (how bizarre of a mission, "Islamic" human rights…) voiced a rich menu of pleasantries about Egypt's possibly departing leader because "he guarded Israel by shutting the gates of Gaza."

But some of the protest language was encouraging. Demonstrators in front of the Egyptian Consulate in Istanbul shouted that "they were standing for resistance against dictatorship."

Abdurrahman Dilipak, a prominent Islamic intellectual and writer, generously talked about "our Muslim brothers who live under oppression…" The rare non-Israeli-related language at the protests gave us hope for democracy – the one that does not come with a faith-based adjective.

Now we can cultivate further hope that the Turkish Islamists may in the future rise up against all oppressive regimes – the regimes that oppress their fellow Muslims to begin with.

How about starting with our next-door neighbors, Syria and Iran? For sure, Turkish democrats should be protesting Bashar al-Assad's regime, which he inherited by blood rather than winning at the ballot box. How about showing some solidarity when President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's guards systematically kill dissidents including, most recently, Zahra Bahrami, who was arrested after taking part in anti-government protests and was hanged for "drug possession and smuggling." Beware, Iranian diplomatic missions, next time Mazlum-Der and Mr. Dilipak may show up in front of your buildings to protest your government's anti-democratic behavior!

What about protesting in front of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Ankara? Do our Saudi brothers not deserve democracy and free elections? Are we not going to "stand for our oppressed brothers"? Are we not going to "stand for resistance against dictatorships"?

The awakening Turkish soul is bad news for Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, too. Sooner or later, Islamist Turks should start protesting Mr. al-Bashir, wanted by an international court for genocide and crimes against humanity. Surely the Turks will stand for their Muslim Sudanese brothers mass-murdered by Mr. al-Bashir's vigilantes. 

In the meantime, the Democratic Turkish Resistance Solidarity Movement should turn its angry looks on the kings, emirs, sheiks and sultans of the Middle East… only to help liberate their fellow Muslims from dictatorships of all possible tags. Bad news for the kings, emirs, sheiks and sultans… 

I am not the one to teach the Islamists Islam. All the same, the Tunisia/Egypt protestors should better refresh their knowledge with one verse: "O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be [against] rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts [of your hearts], lest you swerve, and if you distort [justice] or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do." (Quran, 4:135)







It began in Tunis, with the unexpected fall of the country's 25-year dictator. Then, in a perfect domino effect, came Egypt. The country's oppressed masses raided the streets, protesting Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. That "pharoah" is still in office, but he probably won't be able to hold onto power for much longer.

These unexpected regime changes seem to herald a new era in the Middle East. The Arab countries that make up the bulk of this part of the world have never experienced something like modern democracy, leading to mistaken presumptions about their potential. Some argued that Arabs inherently love "strong men," so they will never aspire for political freedom. Others argued those "strong men" were very much needed for they protected "stability" – a very tricky term which can simply mean "our interests" or " suppression of people we don't like."

A farewell to 'stability'

Yet it seems that "stability" by dictators is not going to last long in the Middle East. First the Tunisians and now the Egyptians are showing that there is something called "people power" in this part of the world as well. That power now has resources (such as Facebook or Twitter) to organize itself and has the confidence to raise its flag. The Arab Spring, if you will, seems to have begun.

If you are a believer in democracy and freedom, this might come as good news to you. But not everybody is that idealistic. The key word here is again "stability" and the political actors that used to benefit from it are skeptical these days, if not worried.

Washington, for its part, seems to oscillate between these two views. President Obama raised the idealist view when he declared that the United States will "stand up for" the freedoms of the Egyptian people. Yet, meanwhile, Vice President Biden was busy explaining why Mubarak is "not a dictator."

That confusion is probably not an accident, for the United States is indeed uncertain about the outcomes of democratization in the Middle East. Most of the region's authoritarian regimes are Washington's good friends and have served "vital U.S. interests." So, on the one hand, the U.S. feels obliged to defend the very political values she cherishes for herself. But, on the other hand, she feels concerned about how these values might unfold in the Middle East. "Democratization," after all, does not mean "pro-Americanization."

As for Turkey, I was disappointed with Ankara's near-silence on what is happening in its region, until Prime Minister Erdoğan made a helpful speech yesterday in Parliament. Up to that moment, despite the fact that the crumbling regimes resemble Turkey's secularist Ancien Regime, and that the Arab opposition takes its inspiration partly from the incumbent AKP, the latter had remained unnecessarily cautious. This might be because of Ankara's old-time "we-don't-mess-with-internal-affairs" obsession and its effect on this government as well. However, yesterday, Erdoğan said what he should have said. He supported the Egyptian people's aspiration for freedom, and called on Mubarak to respect that yearning humbly and modestly. I can't agree more.

Finally, let's come to Israel, which seems to be the unhappiest country these days with regards to people power. In fact, it is no secret that Israelis never liked the calls for a more democratic Middle East, for they knew that Arab masses are not among their great fans. That's why they preferred secular dictators such as Mubarak who can make or maintain deals with the Jewish state and crack down on anti-Israeli radicals (such as the Islamists) at home.

From within that perspective, the Arab Spring is an Israeli nightmare indeed. For a more democratic Middle East might well turn out to be less of an Israel-friendly one.

Why they hate you

But wait a minute. Why should Israel presume that she will be hated forever by Arab societies? Why can't she hope that a more democratic Middle East will be politically "moderate" as well?

Over the years I have discussed these questions with various Israelis. Many of them (not all, to be fair) seemed to be very skeptical of the Arab societies' potential to live peacefully with Israel and do this willingly without dictators. They all referred to how anti-Semitic the Arab media is, and how much appeal the anti-Israeli sentiment has.

What was painfully lacking in all these evaluations was the acknowledgement of what Israel herself has done to the Arabs, with her decades-long occupation and countless instances of intimidation and war crimes.

"Well, if you bomb the streets of Gaza or south Lebanon and kill hundreds of children, they won't like you," I once said to a friend from Tel Aviv. "What were you expecting?"

The more democratic the Middle East becomes, the more relevant this question will be.

My over-optimistic hope is that this might lead the Israeli society to think more seriously, and humbly, about peace – a peace not just with the rulers, but also the peoples of the region.

The less inspiring scenario is that Israel might become even more isolated, paranoid and aggressive as she loses her dictator friends – and become a real Jewish Sparta. That would be bad for all of us, for it would turn the Arab Spring into a very, very hot summer.






The moral standing of the European Union in its Mediterranean neighborhood is taking a serious blow. Events in Tunisia – and now Egypt – have caught its leadership by surprise. The overthrow by a popular uprising of a corrupt and authoritarian leader supported for years by European leaders showed that "ethical Europe" has no clothes. The moment is opportune for a liberated Tunisia to reset its relationship with the EU.

To those who believe in freedom and democracy, the revolution unfolding in Tunisia has been heart-warming news. How it was received in Brussels is anybody's guess. Suddenly, the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali regime, the "example for the region," the "important and reliable partner of Europe" – to quote Stefan Fule, the Czech commissioner for enlargement and neighborhood policy – was being challenged. "Jasmine" revolutionaries were pouring onto Tunisian – but also European streets – to demand freedom and democracy.

The shambles of conditionality

The bloc must face up to the fact that until the revolution, its policies in Tunisia had hardly been the "force for good" bureaucrats like to trumpet about. Rather, as human rights activists have often stated, they had helped maintain the status quo. Brussels' decision last year to pursue "advanced status" talks even emboldened the regime to suppress dissent further. Direct contacts between local NGOs and European institutions were criminalized. European leaders' "business as usual" attitude with the man most Tunisians called a "dictator" made a mockery of EU human rights rhetoric and conditionality.

Development aid and trade agreements are theoretically conditional to the fulfillment of "political and economic conditions." So-called "conditionality clauses" are included in all agreements with third parties. But why bother? Studies have shown that conditionality is irrelevant in both countries that with existing strong democratic constituencies and in autocratically-ruled states. Be it in Tunisia or in Egypt – or for that matter in Europe – most politicians have only paid lip-service to it. For oppressed peoples of the continent, it has been a bad joke.

Illiberal EU and France

If the response of the "Lisbon-ized" EU was meek – a knee-jerk reaction of aid for elections – the initial silence of Paris was deafening. For days after the popular uprising, the French executive remained embarrassingly mute. In the National Assembly, Foreign Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie was asked to account for the incoherence of the government's foreign policy in Africa. How could the country ask for the respect of democracy in Ivory Coast while simultaneously supporting the dictatorship of President Ben Ali. Indeed that is the question, and also the answer why the EU could never really have any coherence of its own.

When it comes to EU-Africa relations, the common foreign policy is more often than not "steered" behind Brussels' "closed doors" by former colonial powers. Powerful administrations with privileged contacts with local politicians ensure the continuation of their prevalent role in policy-making. With enlargement to 27 states, decision-making has become overly complicated and its tell-tale of the lowest common denominator seems to have sunk lower. On sensitive topics, tension quickly flares. In the case of Tunisia, leaked U.S. diplomatic cables revealed the deep division between member states. While Germany and the United Kingdom favored a tougher approach, other key states (France) were reluctant to criticize the regime. But in the end, no pressure was applied.

Appeasement does not foster stability

Since Sept. 11, 2001, keeping political stability in the region has been the linchpin of Europe's security policy, whatever the cost to democratization. In the light of recent dramatic developments, it is clear that its "soft" engagement with "model autocrats" has failed. Rethinking relations with its southern neighborhood is urgent.

For France that will not be easy. Emmanuel Martin, a researcher at the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, argues that the root of the problem is deep. Behind the discourse of "de rigueur" liberty and fraternity, the French political class has remained highly suspicious of individual liberties and profoundly anti-liberal. "La Françafrique," a mafia-like system of economic and political cooperation based on state monopolies, economic dirigisme and statism, has fed on this reality. The promise made by Nicolas Sarkozy that the country would be on the side of the peoples of Africa has yet to be fulfilled. Last September, the French ambassador to Senegal resigned in protest.

Europe and Tunisia are bonded together by history and geography and need each other. But right now, Tunisians could do without hot "eurocratic" air. The foreign policy chief's declaration affirming the "solidarity of the EU with the Tunisian people" was just that. Unfortunately, with a protectionist union struggling with a democratic deficit, a disunited foreign policy, institutional turf wars, economic recession and an unresolved debt crisis, change anyone can believe in is misguided hope.

Tunisians have now the opportunity to take ownership of their country's political and economic reforms. Hard times lie ahead but, "yes, they can" walk the bumpy democratization road with their heads held high. We, the freer peoples of Europe, can be thankful for the lesson in courage and dignity given.

*Sophie Quintin Adali is an analyst for, a French classical liberal think-tank.






The Turkish economy is progressively growing and becoming stronger. It has a stable political order. It has a democratic and secular lifestyle nowhere else present in the region (Middle East, Caucasus, and Balkans).

Also, for the first time in many years, it has been accepted as one of the most effective players in the region. The possibility has arisen to channel developments and create an economic and political penetration field. However, this is not going to be possible through convincing skill (soft power). If Turkey wants to exert its authority in the region it needs a strong Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, that entirely rids itself from internal politics and that does not fight with the administration.

Soft power does not suffice in the region

The way it is right now does not work. Maybe for some time they'll laugh at us since we are new in the picture but when it becomes serious, everybody will do whatever the strong one says. Until now there was no mention of Turkey in the Middle East, Caucasus or Balkans.

Turkey for many years was perceived as being on standby, "It would prepare for take off with its engines running only to return to its starting line to restart preparations for take off."

For the first time Turkey obtained a historical opportunity. Its economic power is progressively growing. The private sector went beyond itself and is now requesting new markets. No matter what anyone says, a stable performance is being exhibited in respect to economy and politics for a long time.

And as a result, Turkey broke its outer shell in external politics. With its geographic advantage, history, culture, religious factor and economic weight, it has started to search for a place in the region.  

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutuoğlu started out by attracting attention in the region.

Following the famous "One Minute" incident at Davos Summit followed by the Mavi Marmara incident, Turkey cut all traditional ties with Israel and went to the other camp. Even if Arab capitals are not pleased with the new guest, Turkey is embraced and applauded by the people out on the street.

Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have dealt with all disagreements in the region. Turkey previously used to search only for solutions to its own issues like Cyprus and the Aegean, whereas it now, for the first time, has started to deal with issues of regional countries trying to help them.

The underlying approach here is that Turkey is trying to create political and economic penetration in the region. The method used to realize this approach is "soft power" like eliminating visas in order to eliminate borders, encouraging investments, increasing visits and spending conciliation efforts.

But does soft power in the long run provide the expected results?

No, it does not suffice.

Now we need a stronger TSK

Davutoğlu in almost all of his speeches talks about Turkey using soft power. This is a correct approach for not reviving any, still existing, unfortunate images remaining from the Ottoman Empire.

But it does not accord with the truth.

The requirement for a solution in Palestine, the Unites States leaving Iraq in a chaos, Iran's nuclear endeavor: all of these will contribute to balancing the Middle East again.

Turkey will fit in as well – if Turkey's growing show of economic power is not temporary.

If Turkey in the Middle East, Balkans and Caucasus is aiming at creating a political and economical place in the region it can only do so by taking specific risks.

Without taking risk and only using its ability to convince or leaning its back on culture, religion and trade, Turkey won't find its place in this region in which battles and revolts are for sure.

The depth of economic power and the country's stability is as important as the stick in our hands.

If the armed forces are not strong, soft power can only take you up to a certain point.

The TSK in its present shape is weak, hurt.

It fights with its own administration and heals its own wounds. It does internal accounting as to whether or not to accept the new order.

Regarding weapons it is not able to conduct application of the scenario in respect to the region.

If Turkey wants to make its politics last in the region, it needs to open a new page with the TSK.

There is need, more then ever, for a TSK that is on good terms with the administration, has done its internal accounting well, is withdrawn from politics, has set its strategies in accordance with its priorities and has come up with new politics regarding its rearmament.

Without losing further time, the TSK needs to be embraced, leaving its past behind and turning the page in respect to relations between civilians and the military






Not because he is the "most democrat" or "only democrat" leader around but more so because of the fact that he is the prime minister of Turkey, a country which for the past 200 years has been trying to establish a democratic culture in a predominantly Muslim culture, how the Turkish leader perceives developments in the oppressive Arab neighborhood appears to be of great interest for the leaders of the Western world.

That was why U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and listened to his evaluation of the developments that have taken place in Tunisia and are still unfolding in Egypt. Naturally I would not expect the U.S. president or any other Western leader to be totally alien to the gradual evolution of governance in Turkey toward a more oppressive and authoritarian absolute rule of Erdoğan. Yet despite all such grave developments and potential existential threats to Turkish democracy, it is as well a fact that Turkey is a totally different league compared to the Muslim neighborhood.

The message Erdoğan delivered to Egypt's embattled President Hosni Mubarak was a rather clear one: Amigo, it's high time to pack up and escape to oblivion.

As clear as that…

Erdoğan did not play with words. He did not try to be gentle. He just said everyone should trust communal wisdom and Turkey expected transformation in Egypt to be achieved in a manner satisfying the Egyptian people's strong expectation for change. "We are all mortal," Erdoğan said, adding that people will be remembered for what they have left behind. Thus, he indeed warned Mubarak not only to stay away from taking stronger and more violent measures against demonstrators, but also indeed to heed their calls and step down "in peace" before it is too late.

For the past several days, anyhow, top Turkish officials, one after the other, thanks to the Association of Diplomatic Correspondents that organized events, have been briefing diplomacy writers and correspondents on how Turkey is viewing developments unfolding in the Arab neighborhood.

As one top Turkish official has said, at least the current Turkish government believes that "democracy should not be defined like a sock that fits all feet." Every region, culture or country has its own cultural evolution and the democratic governance style of each and every country should somehow reflect the cultural accumulation of that country. This understanding appears to be objectionable or deficient for many people, including to this writer, who believe that though there might be some differences between democracies, all democracies must have in common some basic norms, values and institutions, in the absence of which there cannot be democracy.

That is, contrary to Erdoğan's wise phrase that everyone should respect the "communal wisdom" and accept the demands of the masses because "societies don't make wrong decisions," what is put by the majority in a country might not necessarily reflect what is right, democratic or indeed wise at all.

The understanding that the prime minister was apparently subscribing to was no different than the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, deputies resigning from a key parliamentary commission on grounds that they suspect the AKP government was trying to "capture" the high judiciary and inciting people to engage in "civilian actions" for the defense of the republic and republican democratic values street by street.

Of course it is a little bit contradictory to see Turkey, which was so silent on the post-election demonstrations in Iran and didn't at all describe protests in the streets of Shiite Iran as outpourings of communal wisdom have been so happy to see developments in Tunisia and Egypt and even signaling that like the 1989 collapse of the eastern Soviet bloc, the totalitarian, nationalist-obsessive and oppressive regimes of the Muslim neighborhood have started to be replaced with a "participationist" governance, even the outcome might not be described to be a democracy at Western standards.

Whatever, is it obvious that after the Tunisian one-man regime, the Baathist presidential dictatorship of Egypt is collapsing while all through the oppressive Arab region leaders have started to shiver with the reality that they might have two options soon: Cut themselves a new role enabling themselves accommodate to the new political climate of the region or the new political climate will brush them off into the dustbin of history.

Thus, even though like a broken clock, Erdoğan was perfectly right in his "friendly" and "sincere" advice to Mubarak: Time to go, my friend.






Developments in Egypt have taken many, and possibly everyone by surprise both inside and outside the country. As such, governments and institutions around the world now find themselves playing catch-up, having to react to a particularly dynamic and unusual set of events.

For a week now, Egypt has witnessed a series of protests that are unprecedented in scope and scale. Citizens from all walks of life have marched in the street demanding change. In the process, a populace often characterized as passive and docile is driving domestic and global agendas, running well ahead of political leaders as it attempts to impose its collective will on outcomes.

The government, led by President Hosni Mubarak, has reacted with a set of measures that would have been deemed improbable, if not unthinkable, just a week ago. A new prime minister is now in place, the Cabinet has been replaced and, for the first time since 1981, Egypt has a vice president. Yet none of this has served to calm sentiment in the street, fueling concerns about even greater instability in the country and region.

How Egypt evolves in the next few days and weeks matters a great deal – and not just for Egyptians but also for the world economy. It matters in ways that are unusual and, for many, unfamiliar.

Unlike China, Egypt is not a major source of global demand nor is it a major exporter. Unlike commodity-rich countries, Egypt does not directly influence world prices. But Egypt is a critical enabler and, as such, indirectly touches many other nations.

Role in region

With its control over the Suez Canal, Egypt is a major gatekeeper of global trade. Even more important, its role and standing in the Middle East makes it a critical participant in promoting geo-political stability in an area prone to volatility.

Where the country goes from here will have an impact on the well-being of the global economy and stability of the world's financial markets. In analyzing this, there are four things to remember.

First, the concept of so-called managed change, or what some people in Washington are calling orderly transition, is critical. Everyone, including the Egyptian government and opposition movements, agrees that the country cannot simply reset to where it was seven days ago; and all wish to avoid chaos. But they differ widely in the meaning of change, and the associated journey. As such, Egypt needs a mechanism to reconcile very different views of managed change.

Next step

Second, it matters how the opposition evolves from here. Their vocal protests must now be channeled into an actionable and detailed, forward-looking agenda. This is critical not only for Egypt's internal stability. It is also essential to counter concerns outside Egypt that what is unquestionably a secular movement could be hijacked by theocrats.

Third, Egypt is not helpless. It has solid economic foundations, large international reserves and minimal external debt. More importantly, the armed forces are respected and liked by most citizens. The military understands what is at stake. In contrast to many other developing countries, the armed forces, if asked, can help facilitate economic and political reforms, including free and fair elections.

Finally, while the instability in Egypt is being driven mainly by internal factors, it would be foolish to ignore external contributors. Egyptians are feeling the pain of surging commodity prices and food inflation. This problem will become more acute as some other governments around the world boost their stockpiling of foodstuff to guard against social unrest.

No one can predict what will happen in Egypt. The situation is unprecedented, and there are many moving pieces and legacy issues in play. My gut tells me that, over the next days and weeks, the country will find a way to manage change. And whether my gut is right or not, governments around the world would be well advised to draw lessons from these historic events.

*Mohamed A. El-Erian is Pimco's chief executive officer and co-chief investment officer, as well as the author of the book 'When Markets Collide.' This piece originally appeared on Bloomberg.









Sometimes it takes a third party to drive home the obvious to those involved. The visiting president of the International Federation of the Red Cross has warned that if food prices continue to spiral in flood-hit areas and food insecurity caused by submerged agricultural lands is not checked, Pakistan could be looking at a situation similar to that seen last month in Tunisia where spiralling food prices played a part in triggering massive riots which finally forced President Zine El Abedine Ben Ali to flee. Mr Tadateru Konoe tells us that President Zardari is extremely worried by the situation. So he should be. But we wonder why the president or members of the government have chosen not to share their concerns with the people of the nation. Indeed, we have had little word about the disaster and its terrible aftermath for months. This attitude does not suggest a great deal of concern for the over 150,000 people still based in camps according to UN agencies, or for those who have returned home to ravaged farmlands and destroyed houses, and who now wonder how to rebuild lives. The help they have received has been limited.

Mr Konoe also made it plain that the international community, which is dealing with many other international disasters, lacked the resources to give more for flood relief. Pakistan will then need to tuck its shiny begging bowl away under its robes and think of means to stand on its own feet. The aftermath of flood remains a dismal one; much needs to be done, ways have to be found to raise resources, and a sustainable long-term strategy needs to be adopted. From most parts of the flood zone, the waters may have receded, but the suffering of people has not. Human misery can still be seen in many places, notably in Sindh, where abject poverty makes matters worse. There seems to have been only limited discussion at the government level on what should be done to tackle the situation. Tightening official belts could be one way. It is tragic this has not happened already. Other sources too, like Pakistanis based abroad, need to be tapped. Mr Konoe's words of warning must lead to action. As he has said, the threat of anarchy is very real and must be warded off at all costs. People so far have demonstrated immense patience and great fortitude. This cannot last forever. Rage may lie not far around the corner.







The orders issued by the Lahore High Court, which was acting on a private petition, not to hand Raymond Davis back to the US may act to take some pressure off the government which has conceded it is facing just such pressure, with President Zardari informing US congressmen who called on him to seek Davis' release that the court's decision should be awaited. One problem in the whole affair is that no one seems ready to tell the truth; or at least, we, the people of Pakistan, have not heard it. Aside from the contradictory versions that continue to come in about whether or not Davis is a diplomat, it is a fact – confirmed by a State Department spokesman – that Raymond Davis is not the real name of the armed American who killed two young men in Lahore on Jan 27. Again, although Washington maintains that "Davis" holds a diplomatic passport, there is doubt even about this claim. Mention of Davis' being with a private security firm have been made in the media – which has also come up with many varying accounts of how the two young motorcyclists shot by him were actually killed, and whether they had really been planning a crime: Davis, who has taken the plea of self-defence, insists they were going to rob him.

The real issue centres around the degree of mistrust between Pakistan and the US. The people of Pakistan are quite evidently not ready to believe what Washington is claiming. We can hardly blame Pakistanis for that. There is a long history that lies behind such suspicion; for which Washington cannot deny its responsibility. For the sake of both countries it is important that the suspicion be swept away. Telling the whole truth in the bizarre case of the putative Raymond Davis, and the alleged diplomat's ace-shooting, may help lead us in that direction. Otherwise we will face even bigger problems in the future. For now, though, the court order has to be obeyed to the letter.







There is little good that is written about our police forces, which are widely and often correctly seen as corrupt and untrustworthy. This may be true, but it is only a part of the picture, and on Monday in Peshawar there was a grim reminder of one of the unpleasant realities connected to the job of policing – policemen are a target for those who seek to destabilise the state. In two separate explosions six people were killed and another 15 injured, and in both cases the primary target was the police. There are reports that the Tehrik-i-Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Scarcely a week goes by without a report of the police being the terrorists' targets somewhere in the country. The attacks on police are usually tightly targeted, accurate, intelligence-driven and, from the terrorists perspective, highly effective. For the expenditure of a single suicide bomber they may be able to kill several of those who would otherwise hunt them. There is no shortage of recruits to the ranks of the bombers, and as long as there are jobs to be had in the police force there will be men – and women – willing to fill them for the chance of a secure position. As indicated by the Monday bombings, the terrorists' intelligence is often good. They know where their targets are going to be and what car they are being carried in. There are occasions when one is led to wonder that with intelligence that good, could there be terrorist sympathizers within who might be providing it? The killing of Salmaan Taseer is an indicator that the agencies of law and order are not exactly immune to extremist influence and there is no reason to think that the problem in limited to those who guard VIPs. Similarly, there is no suggestion of a similar scenario in yesterday's bombings in Peshawar, but it would be appropriate for all police forces countrywide to look closely at their ranks; and perhaps in the process reduce the likelihood of themselves becoming terrorists' targets and victims.









You only have to read the three press releases issued by the US embassy on the shooting to death last week of two Pakistanis by an American employee of their consulate at Lahore to see through the sheer flimsiness of the claim of his diplomatic immunity.

The first press release described the perpetrator as "a staff member of the US consulate general in Lahore". Crowley, the spokesman of the US State Department, also designated him as "an employee at the US consulate in Lahore." The killer himself told the Lahore police and the magistrate's court that he works as a technical adviser at the consulate. (Since Crowley denied categorically that the person in question was named Raymond Davis and since US officials refuse to divulge his true name, we will call him the first killer, to distinguish him from the second killer, unnamed and unidentified, who knocked down and crushed a Pakistani motorcyclist to death the same day, while trying to reach the first killer.

The second press release, issued a day later, had a different story. It described the first killer as a "diplomat assigned to the US Embassy in Islamabad". Overnight and without any explanation, a member of the staff at the Lahore consulate became a diplomat at the Islamabad embassy.

A third press release then made another change - or refinement. It describes the first killer not as a diplomat but as a member of the "technical and administrative staff" of the embassy.

This is also not correct. A person does not become a member of the "technical and administrative staff" of an embassy just because the embassy claims that status for him; or because he holds a diplomatic passport; or because a visa, even an official visa, has been issued to him on such a passport. He becomes a member of the staff of an embassy only if it notifies to foreign ministry of the receiving state (ie the host country), in accordance with Article 10 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, that he has been assigned that position. There is no mention in any of the press releases that such a notification was issued.

The reason why a consular employee mutated overnight into a member of the embassy's staff is obvious: A member of the technical and administrative staff of the embassy enjoys full immunity from local criminal jurisdiction under Article 38 of the Convention on Diplomatic Relations and cannot be lawfully arrested or detained, while a consular employee enjoys no such privilege under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which governs consular missions. As regards liability to criminal jurisdiction, he is in the same position as a citizen of Pakistan and can be proceeded against, tried and punished for criminal acts in the same way as a Pakistani.

The claim made by the US embassy on his behalf that that he acted in self-defence is also of dubious validity. It is not enough, as the embassy states in its press release, that there were armed men who he had every reason to believe "meant him bodily harm". It will have to be established that they were targeting him, that he was in grave danger and that the shooting was not an excessive response. The burden of proving all this will rest on him.

So far, at least as far as public statements are concerned, the Pakistan government has refused to bow to the US demand for giving immunity to the killer. But our past record, and not simply that of the present government, is not reassuring. One example is the surrender to the Americans of Aimal Kasi by Nawaz Sharif in 1997 during his second term as prime minister without fulfilling the legal requirements, simply upon a phone call from the then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Rehman Malik said in the National Assembly: "This is Pakistan... The law will take its course." That is precisely the problem. Our leaders say one thing for public consumption in Pakistan and quite another thing privately to the Americans. And then they do as promised to the Americans. Gilani's famous conversation with the US Ambassador in 2009 on drone attacks is just one example.

True to his record, Gilani once again has been trying to run away from his responsibility in this matter. He told a press conference that since the matter was in the court and the Punjab government was conducting an inquiry into it, he would not comment on it. Gilani is right that the investigations have to be conducted by the Punjab Government and that the courts have to take a decision on the criminal liability of Davis. But it is for the foreign ministry (ie the federal government) to make a determination whether the killer is a member of staff of the embassy or of the Lahore consulate, the central issue upon which his immunity depends.

Clearly, heavy pressure is being exerted on Pakistan to let him go scot-free. It may be the US is not concerned only about the welfare of one of its nationals but, more important, it fears that a trial of the killers might bring into public knowledge some unsavoury facts about the activities of US security companies and US officials (spies?) in Pakistan. The first killer was certainly no diplomat in the conventional sense. According to the ABC News and The Huffington Post, he was an employee of a fly-by-night private security company, a small-bore version of the more famous Blackwater. He certainly acted in a cold-blooded manner. After he had shot his victims in the back, he pumped some more bullets into their bodies as they lay on the ground.

Even more outrageous than the misrepresentation of the first killer's status is the complete silence of the US embassy on the motorcyclist who was crushed to death by the second killer. It was not just an accident or a hit-and-run offense but an act of recklessness showing complete disregard for the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. Anyone who breaks a road barrier and drives in the wrong direction on a one-way street bears full responsibility for the consequences and if a death results he is as culpable as a person who shoots his victim dead.

The US embassy has not offered even one word of regret or sympathy for this killing. They have even refused so far to identify the killer despite the repeated requests of the police. It is to be suspected that an attempt will be made to whisk him away, if he has not left the country already.

Pakistan must make a demarche immediately that if that happens all those members of the embassy and the Lahore consulate who are complicit will be asked to pack up and leave the country.

What happened in Lahore last Thursday was not an accident. It was a disaster waiting to happen, given the impunity with which we have allowed US diplomats and "security guards" to violate our laws. They behave as if they have a license to kill. We have given them tacit permission to carry unauthorised weapons, travel in vehicles with darkened windows and false number plates and even to threaten our police when they ask them to submit to security checks. There are killers on the loose on the streets of Pakistan masquerading as diplomats. They will become even bolder if we fail to bring the Lahore killers to justice.

The writer is a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: asif








Strangely, the more we get to know about the case of Raymond Davis, the less we seem to know. Even more strangely, the fact that the entire incident happened in broad daylight and in front of dozens of witnesses seems to confuse the facts further. The reason for this maybe because no one seems to want to get much clarity; although different parties may want different parts of the story to 'disappear', everyone seems keen that the story goes away. However, we may all live to regret it, if it actually does.

Here is what one does know about Raymond Davis. He is a staff member of the US consulate in Lahore, shot dead two Pakistani men last Thursday in a crowded part of Lahore (Mozang Chowk); according to him in self-defence. A vehicle of the US consulate rushed to Mr Davis' 'rescue' ran over a third person, who also died. A murder case was registered against Raymond Davis, who was handed into police custody. A case has also been registered against the driver of the US consulate vehicle that ran over a third person, but the driver has yet to be apprehended.

After a fair deal of scrambling by both US and Pakistani officials on what to do or say, their positions have now started becoming clear and they have taken the stance that is usually taken in such cases: the US is asking that Raymond Davis, as a diplomatic functionary, should be handed back to them; Pakistan seems to be responding that the matter is sub judice and that the law should take its course.

Beyond that, there are more questions than answers. For most part, these questions fall into three categories: (1) Who is Raymond Davis? (2) What exactly happened at Mozang, Lahore? (3) What should happen now?

The answer to the first question is: the earliest reports suggested that Raymond Davis was a "technical adviser" and a "consular" official. More recently, US Embassy officials have described him as a "functionary" of the Embassy assigned to the US consulate in Lahore and carrying a US Diplomatic passport. Reportedly he was hired at the US consulate in Lahore as a security contractor from a Florida-based firm Hyperion Protective Consultants.

All of this has material relevance to whether he is entitled to diplomatic immunity or not, but even more because of the apprehensions of many Pakistanis that he could be linked to the CIA or to the infamous firm Blackwater (later renamed XE Services).

And that leads squarely to the second question: what exactly was happening at Mozang? In line with the immediate knee-jerk reaction of many Pakistanis, an early commentary by Jeff Stein in The Washington Post seemed to suggest rather fancifully that the shootout could have been a "Spy rendezvous gone bad"? That could be a conspiracy theory, but not an entirely implausible one. Mozang is not a part of town that you would expect too many foreigners, let alone a US official, visiting; and certainly not in what was reportedly a rented private vehicle. And while Pakistan today is clearly an unsafe place, the question of just why an embassy official was carrying a firearm be wished away.

On the other hand, however, Mr Davis claims that he shot in self-defence as the two men on the motorcycle were trying to rob him at gun point. Anyone who knows Pakistan knows all too well that this, too, is entirely possible. TV footage and reports coming immediately after the incident showed one of the young men lying dead with a revolver and wearing an ammunition belt. And certainly, the question of why at least one of the two young men on the motorcycle was carrying a loaded firearm cannot be wished away just because of enmity

Indeed, serious questions need to be asked about just who the two young men on the motorcycle were, just as they need to be asked about who Raymond Davis is. There just seems to be too many unnecessary weapons in too much proximity in this story. All of the many explanations that are floating around are very disturbing, but also very plausible. This is exactly why this story is even more dangerous if left unresolved.

Finally, the third question – which is now getting the most attention – about what should happen now. Much is being made – maybe too much – about the Vienna Convention and its implications for diplomatic immunity. Familiar diplomatic games about the minutia of vocabulary are being played and will in most likelihood result in all too familiar results. That is exactly what one would expect in any such situation anywhere.

But this is not 'any' situation'; and this is not 'anywhere'. This is about US-Pakistan relations: A relationship that is so jaundiced that there is just about nothing that the US can say or do which Pakistanis are likely to believe, and there is just about nothing that Pakistan can say or do which Amer