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Thursday, February 3, 2011

EDITORIAL 03.02.11

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  media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month february 03, edition 000746 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
































1.      JUST DUES

















































5.      OLD GOLD - BY K.K. PAUL










1.      OUT OF ORDER











3.      GOOD SHOW






















































































































































Now that his position as Chief Vigilance Commissioner is threatened, Mr PJ Thomas has resorted to desperate measures to cling to his post. For one, he has claimed at the Supreme Court hearing against his appointment that all nine candidates (including him) who were shortlisted by the Union Government in 2008 had complaints pending against them. While what he has said may not be false — bureaucrats do face all sorts of allegations in the course of discharging their duties and it is for the courts to decide if Mr Thomas is a victim of such machination — it does not, in any manner, justify his appointment. Moreover, it is one thing to have allegations flung at you and quite another to be charge-sheeted and named an accused in a criminal case that is being tried in court. Mr Thomas is still an accused in the palmolein scam, especially since his 2008 clearance is also now under the scanner. How could an accused in a criminal case have been given a clean chit for selection as a Union Government officer? But this is not to ignore Mr Thomas' observation about tainted candidates who were shortlisted. Indeed, in his desire to project his innocence, Mr Thomas has exposed the dubiousness of the entire selection process.

It is ironical that he should have hit out at the system from which he has himself benefitted but perhaps the belligerence is because he feels betrayed by the UPA regime that is now secretly hoping he will just step down and save it from further shame. But Mr Thomas seems to be in no hurry to oblige his now embarrassed sponsors. If what the CVC has said is true, it cannot be entirely coincidental that all the nine officers had complaints pending against them. Some of the instances that he has cited in his affidavit before the apex court are indeed damning, and deserve a revisit, because they are not cases of mere complaints but those where the CBI recommended action against the empanelled official. If such names were cleared it is obviously with the help of political patronage. The empanelment system must be fine-tuned to ensure that tainted officers — and certainly those who are accused or named in cases of impropriety — do not pass muster. On this issue, the UPA has a lot of answering to do. The Government has bungled again in the selection of the CVC. It brushed aside the reservations of senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj — who along with the Prime Minister and the Home Minister comprised the selection panel — on Mr Thomas's suitability for the post. In fact, it went a step further, with Mr P Chidambaram reportedly stating that Mr Thomas had been cleared in the palmolein case. One can only assume two things from this: Either the Government was not in possession of all the facts or that it deliberately tried to bluff its way through.







Even if Egypt's embattled President manages to cling to power, his country will never be the same. While it's difficult to say definitively what a new Egypt will be like, we can be sure the Army will remain important and be a voice of caution. It will also unsettle a region where peace is at best fragile and possibly lead to new equations and new strategic arrangements

Early in 1982, then-Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon tasked the Israel Defence Forces' special Devil's Advocate intelligence branch to do an intelligence estimate for him and Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The Devil's Advocate, a unique unit that does sensitive out-of-the box analysis only, was asked how Egypt would react if Israel invaded its northern neighbour Lebanon to destroy Yasir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation and install a Christian warlord as the new ruler of Lebanon.

The Devil's team concluded that Egypt's new ruler, Mr Hosni Mubarak, who had just come to power in a hail of bullets as his predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated on October 6, 1981, would do little or nothing. The IDF knew Mr Mubarak well. He had been trained as a bomber pilot in Russia and risen to command of the Egyptian Air Force before the 1973 October war. His manner was always cautious and conservative; he preferred stability to change. He never sent the Air Force to do bold and risky missions. The IDF estimate said he would at most withdraw the Egyptian Ambassador to Tel Aviv in protest but not break diplomatic ties and certainly not tear up the peace treaty Sadat had signed with Begin only a couple of years before.

As a footnote, the Devil's team said Sadat would have been far more unpredictable and prone to drastic action. He would have been terribly humiliated by an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. But he was gone and Mr Mubarak would be quiet. Mr Sharon invaded Lebanon that summer. Mr Mubarak whined but did nothing.

For 30 years, decision makers in Jerusalem, Washington, Amman and other capitals have counted on Mr Mubarak to bring stability and predictability to Egypt. The Devil's Advocate judgement has passed the test of time well. After 30 years of tumult in Egypt, first under Gamal Abdel Nasser and then Anwar Sadat, Cairo became a known quantity. Egypt would keep its peace with Israel, albeit cold as ice, and its alliance with America. It might be critical of Israeli or American policies, even harsh in private, but not shake its alliances. Mubarak would be careful, even plodding, never a risk-taker.


Now that is over. Egypt is back in the game. Even if Mr Mubarak or his new Vice President Omar Suleiman, the longtime spymaster of Egypt, survive in power somehow, the old predictability of Egypt's position in the region is gone. If Mr Mubarak and Mr Suleiman are swept from power and a new more representative Government is established that includes members of the opposition including the Muslim Brotherhood, it will be even more of a sea change in the regional geopolitics.

Mr Mubarak has relied for decades on his secret police chief, Mr Suleiman, 74, to keep order and maintain control. Mr Suleiman is a ruthless counterterrorist fighter well known in Western capitals and highly respected by intelligence services around the world. He has often been Mr Mubarak's go-to political operative handling delicate negotiations such as dealing with Hamas in Gaza. Mr Mubarak credits him (rightly) with saving his life in Ethiopia in 1995 when Islamic jihad almost killed him; Mr Suleiman had insisted on taking a heavily armored car, which saved Mr Mubarak.

At best he may be an interim figure for a transition to a different Egypt, however, as the genie is out of the box in Egypt now. History has moved beyond Mr Mubarak even if he tries to resist it.

A more representative Government drawn from the diversity of Egypt's political opposition will be much more inclined to criticise American and Israeli policies. The Egyptian street may accept the strategic logic of peace with Israel and alliance with America, but it bristles at the humiliation of being a de facto silent partner in the siege of Gaza, Israel's wars against Hamas and Hizbullah and America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which rely on transit via the Suez canal and Egyptian airspace).

No conceivable Egyptian Government will lightly rip up the peace treaty Sadat signed with Begin. The memory of the costs, both human and material, of Egypt's four wars with Israel remains vivid for Egyptians. But in the event of another Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza or Hizbullah in Lebanon — both very possible scenarios — a more democratic Egyptian Government will have to listen to the voices of the street, both the left and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Diplomatic ties could be broken, trade suspended and demands raised for renegotiating parts of the treaty like the demilitarisation of the Sinai Peninsula. A new question mark will be raised about the cost of military options in the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem in place of the certitude of the last three decades.

Similarly no Egyptian Government will want to cut ties with America lightly. American assistance runs close to $2 billion a year, Egypt's Army is equipped with American gear (including the tanks and the tear gas used this weekend). But democracies have to pay attention to their people. Mr Mubarak could criticise Mr George Bush's Iraq War and still allow the US Navy and Air Force to use the canal and Cairo west airport to supply it. That may no longer be the case.

Egypt can also be much more active in international forums in criticising Israeli and American actions. Mr Mubarak's Government pressed hard for the world to condemn Israel's nuclear weapons programme with little success. Mohamed ElBaradei, a former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and Nobel Peace Prize winner, will almost certainly redouble the effort to put the Israeli arsenal on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

A new Egypt will still be the enemy of Al Qaeda and a rival to Persian Shia Iran. It will still want Western tourists and investment and it will behave as a responsible member of the world community. The Army will be a voice of caution still. But it won't be your father's Egypt any more. In every capital around the world, and especially in the Middle East/West Asia, it will be a new game, more unpredictable than just a week ago.

Bruce Riedel, a former long-time CIA officer, is a senior fellow in the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. At Obama's request, he chaired the strategic review of policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009. He is author of the new book Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of the Global Jihad and The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology and Future. Courtesy: The Daily Beast.)









Former Telecom Minister A Raja is at last where he should have been long ago — behind bars. With the CBI arresting him and his key aides on Wednesday in connection with the 2G Spectrum scam, the first chapter of the scandal that saw the national exchequer being deprived of Rs 1.76 lakh crore comes to an end. There never was any doubt that Raja manipulated the sale of precious 2G Spectrum at throwaway prices to benefit his cronies who then raked in huge profits. The scandal was exposed in great detail by this newspaper which broke the story of the Great 2G Spectrum Robbery; subsequently, the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report confirmed the massive scale of the loot and put a figure to the loss to the nation. Yet, stalwarts of the UPA Government and the Congress, as also of the DMK to which Raja owes political allegiance, have been unrestrained in their defence of the tainted former Minister and repudiating charges of wrong-doing. While the Prime Minister has sought to disown responsibility — and accountability — by pathetically pleading he was unaware of what was happening right under his nose, Raja's successor in the Ministry, Mr Kapil Sibal, has gone to extraordinary length in not only defending his predecessor's shameful misdeed but asserting, to the amazement of an outraged nation, that no wrong had been committed, that there was no scam at all! Had that been true, the CBI, which today cravenly functions with caution and only with political approval, would not have felt compelled to arrest Raja and his aides. Obviously, the evidence is so overwhelmingly stacked against Raja that the CBI cannot afford to offend the Supreme Court which is monitoring investigations into the case.

However, arresting Raja and sending him to jail is by itself not enough. The investigation should be conducted scrupulously and concluded in a manner that prosecution leads to successful indictment of the guilty men involved in the 2G Spectrum scam. That should be followed by exemplary punishment which Raja and his cronies justly deserve and which will serve the purpose of deterring other greedy politicians and venal babus from following in their footsteps. Corruption cannot be fought and uprooted from our system and society only with the help of pious declarations of 'zero tolerance' and by setting up a Group of Ministers. Visible punitive action is needed against corrupt politicians and bureaucrats as well as those who facilitate this corruption. It is in this context that it would be in order to suggest that the CBI should also move against Ms Niira Radia who brokered deals with Raja on behalf of operators. She must be punished too or else others who do not feel morally repulsed by the idea of subverting the system of governance by greasing the right palms in the corridors of power will continue to peddle influence, secure in the belief that nobody can touch them, that they are above the law of the land. A last point that merits mention: While it is true that the Prime Minister is not directly responsible for a Minister given to thievery, surely we haven't discarded the concept of collective responsibility. For too long the Prime Minister has taken refuge in feigned ignorance rather than own up responsibility for his Government's follies. There's nothing either honest or honourable about this.








In 1989 the collapse of the old order started in the 'satellite' countries, not in the Russian heart of the Soviet Empire, just as the current revolt against the Arab status quo began in Tunisia and is now inching towards the centre

It was the Egyptian Army's statement that brought it all back: "To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people... have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people." In other words, go ahead and overthrow President Hosni Mubarak. It's all right with us.

It reminded me of the day of the first big anti-Communist demonstration in Moscow in mid-1989. There had already been non-violent demos in other Communist-ruled countries like Poland and Hungary, but this was Russia. The enormous crowd filling the broad Garden Ring Road was visibly nervous, and I was staying near the edge of the crowd so I could dodge into a doorway if the shooting started.

Then I noticed that there were Soviet Army officers, in full uniform, among the protesters. It was going to be all right: The military wanted change just as much as everybody else. Tahrir Square in Cairo today is the same: The Army is with the people. The Army statement in Cairo rang the death knell for Mr Mubarak's regime, even if he still insists that he will stay in the presidential palace until the election scheduled for September. That won't happen. A transitional Government led by other people will organise the election. But the echoes of an earlier revolution set me to wondering: Is this the Arab world's 1989?

In 1989 the collapse of the old order started in the "satellite" countries, not in the Russian heart of the empire, just as the current revolt against the Arab status quo began in Tunisia, a relatively small and marginal Arab country. The Eastern European landslide only started to sweep everything before it in November, 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall. So is Mr Mubarak the Berlin Wall of the Arab world?

He certainly could be, for Egypt is the most populous Arab country, and the tactics and goals of the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples closely resemble those of the peaceful revolutionaries of Eastern Europe in 1989. The Arabs, too, are successfully using non-violent tactics to bring irresistible moral pressure on tyrannical and corrupt regimes, and they are demanding just the same things: Democracy, justice and prosperity.

The non-violent formula worked in two to three weeks in Tunisia, and it looks like it will take about the same time in Egypt. At first the President is defiant and sends police thugs out into the streets to attack the protesters, but he cannot use massive violence because he knows that the Army would not obey a shoot-to-kill order. Much like in Eastern Europe in 1989.

Then begins the retreat. First, the President promises reforms. Then, when that doesn't work, he fires the entire Government and creates a new Cabinet (but it's still full of hated regime cronies). Then he promises to leave power at the next election, but argues that he must stay for the transition period to guarantee "stability." And finally, he gets on the plane and leaves.

Tunisia has travelled that entire route since mid-December, and Egypt is passing through the next-to-last stage. Other Arab countries may be on the same road: The demos began in Algeria and Yemen in December. They're only three weeks old in Jordan, but the king has just fired the entire Government and appointed a new Cabinet with orders to carry out "true political reforms".

There are hold-outs like Syria, whose President Bashar Assad boasted last week that his regime is secure because it has a "cause": Confrontation with Israel. More to the point, the Syrian Army probably would open fire on protesters, for it is dominated by the ethnic minority to which Mr Assad himself belongs.

Iraq is so paralysed by ethnic divisions after the American occupation that no popular mass movement is possible. Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states almost certainly face no risk of popular revolution, for their people enjoy great prosperity because of their oil. Nevertheless, the pressure for change is palpable in most Arab countries.

Fully half the population of the Arab world might be living under different, more democratic regimes a year or two from now. The European 1989 delivered precisely that in just two years; why can't the Arabs do the same?

They can, of course, but the period after 1989 in Eastern Europe was not entirely happy. The immediate result, in most countries, was a fall in living standards, not a rise. One major country, former Yugoslavia, was torn apart by war. There were various smaller wars along the ethnically fractured southern borders of the former Soviet Union, and Russia ended up back under a gentler sort of authoritarian rule.

The risks for the Arab world are comparable: Short-term economic decline, civil war, and the rise of new authoritarian regimes, probably fuelled by Islamist ideas. Nothing's perfect. But what we are now witnessing in Tunisia and Egypt, and may also see elsewhere, is a great liberation not just from dictatorship, but from decades of corruption and despair. That's worth a lot.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.







Photography has often been identified with exact reproduction of a scene untampered by distorting human intervention. Contrary to this belief, it transcends the immediate and visible and brings the unperceived to the fore as the artist sees it in all its aspects

Looking at Lohash Sood's photographs at the India Habitat Centre the other day, I found myself asking a question I often have: Is photography reality as art? Sood's horses are anatomically immaculate albeit hazy figures constituting exhibits of visual arts on their own, independent of the background. His exhibits related to light show the latter's various components, broken up and shinning alone. He has played around with filters, focus and exposures to produce luminous, impressionistic creations straddling the territory between selective projection of reality as well as the latter's abstraction.

Hence, my question, which begets another aged-old one: What is reality? Innumerable metaphysical tomes have been written on the subject from the time of the Vedas and Upanishads, which view the world as maya or illusion, to that of post-modernism and deconstruction dwelling on the oppositions and contradictions on which texts, philosophical or otherwise, are founded, and questioning metaphysics' dominant presence in philosophy.

It is a seductive discourse which can engage one endlessly. When photography is its focus, one must start with the camera as a machine and its role — just as one considers television both as a technological product and its use as a medium of art, information and entertainment while talking about its role. In the early days of the camera, often even now, photography is identified in popular mind with exact reproduction of a scene untampered by distorting human intervention. Hence the expression: The camera cannot lie. Gradually, however, people came to take a more multi-dimensional view of the matter as the camera came to be used to discharge a wide range of functions from storage and transmission of information to recording of events and documents and the creation of art.

Though frayed at the edges with over use, the expression that art imitates life retains its sizeable kernel of truth. Depiction of a scene or an object with the requisite aesthetic attributes — the snows of Kanchanjangha shimmering in silvery moonlight or a diamond in sparkling sunlight — can be art. Questions arise when the issue is not straightforward physical beauty but whether beauty alone is the touchstone of the quality of visual or plastic art. Should art merely mirror what is pleasing to look at or also project the grim reality of the darker side of life? By now, the consensus is that the latter more than qualifies as art — much more than the pretty, pretty pictures of carefully manicured gardens and regulation, calendar photographs of snow-clad mountain peaks. Who can forget Robert Capa's haunting photograph of a Republic soldier in the throes of dying in the Spanish Civil War? Or Associate Press's Vietnamese photographer Nick Ut's snapshot of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, an eight-year-old Vietnamese girl running away from a napalm attack after throwing off her burning clothes?

The context is a dominant presence in the case of photography. A person watching the photograph of a mansion's burning model may think that the mansion itself is on fire unless a caption clearly indicates otherwise. The photograph of an object removed from its context may not, therefore, reflect the reality at all. On the other hand, seen in its context, a photograph may draw attention to things people had not noticed earlier because these never stood out.

It will be interesting to recall here the observation by Walter Benjamin, a philosopher and critic of the Frankfurt School, that photography was the technology of the "optical unconscious". Benjamin had in mind psychoanalysis which ferreted out the murky reality of the unconscious mind. Photography sometimes confronts us with images of grim reality — a woman bent with age and arthritis with a face with deeply-etched lines of suffering — which we do not notice because the sight is so common and, also, because we do not want to.

Reality, however, transcends the apparent to the zone of significance, subtexts and metaphysics. Abstract art tries to bring the unperceived to the fore as the artist sees it in all its aspects. Lohash Sood's photography has two streams — one constitutes an "an ode to light" as he puts it; the other is capturing the "ethereal beauty and playfulness of horses". In pursuing both, he traverses the territory where reality ranges beyond the tangible and the visible.







THE arrest of former telecom minister A Raja by the Central Bureau of Investigation ( CBI) in connection with the 2G Spectrum scam appears nothing but a face- saving exercise by the United Progressive Alliance government.


Though the original FIR filed in the case mentioned ' unknown persons', the needle of suspicion was always on Mr Raja, as was made evident with the Supreme Court issuing a notice to him. Therefore the arrest of the tainted former minister and his associates R K Chandolia, who was his personal secretary, and Siddharth Behuria, who was the telecom secretary, was a foregone conclusion.


In fact, the arrest has come rather late in the day, much like Mr Raja's removal from the Cabinet and the raids conducted against him.


The timing of the CBI's action is also significant.


It comes days after the Justice Shivraj Patil panel constituted by telecom minister Kapil Sibal to probe the sale of 2G Spectrum submitted its report which has reportedly indicted Mr Raja and his associates.


Moreover, the CBI is to file a status report on the case before the Supreme Court on February 10. The court had earlier asked the CBI why Mr Raja hadn't been arrested.


It is also perhaps no coincidence that the arrests have taken place a few weeks before the Budget session of Parliament where Opposition demands for a JPC probe into the scam have led to a deadlock. Moreover, with assembly elections in Tamil Nadu drawing close, the Congress- DMK alliance is likely to use Mr Raja's arrest to neutralise the charges of corruption levelled by the opposition.


Given the nature of the 2G scam, it is important to keep in mind the fact that making Mr Raja alone the fall guy is not sufficient to brush the scandal under the carpet.



THE gunning down of two sisters, Arifa and Akhtara Dar, by unknown militants tells us a great deal about the situation in Kashmir today. Despite the dramatic reduction in violence, the possibility of violent and sudden death still abounds. What is telling, however, is the palpable fear that prevents the victims' family and neighbours from openly accusing the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba of killing them.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has rightly criticised those who refused to openly condemn this wanton act of violence. This prodded both the factions of the Hurriyat Conference— the one led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and that led by the Mir Waiz Umar Farooq to condemn the act.


Sajjad Lone, head of his faction of the People's Conference, too, has condemned it as have other prominent Kashmiri separatists.


This is a good augury. There can be no differentiation when it comes to murder and rape and whosoever is the perpetrator must be unreservedly condemned and punished.


Even so, the kind of uproar that was created in the Shopian rape and murder case of 2009, is absent. While in that instance, the event— whose authors remain unknown— was used as a means of political mobilisation by various parties, the killing of the sisters seems more of an embarrassment because it is clear that those involved were militants.



THE Shunglu panel probing irregularities in the allotment of broadcasting rights during the Commonwealth Games deserves to be commended for being prompt in the submission of its interim report and the sharpness of its observations. By clearly blaming the suspended Chief Executive Officer of Prasar Bharti, BS Lalli and the then Doordarshan chief, Aruna Sharma for causing a loss of Rs 135 crore to the exchequer, the panel should have made the government's job easy.

It is evident from the report that the Lalli- Sharma duo breached norms and used subterfuge to favour the inflated bid of a UK based contractor, which promptly sub- let the job to an Indian firm for a vastly reduced sum.


The onus is now on the Union government to charge and arrest the two officials, besides the others indicted by the Shunglu panel.


Lalli's case is also a comment on the flawed screening process that allowed an IAS official like him — now under suspension for financial irregularities committed as Prasar Bharti chief — to rise to such professional heights.








THE events in Tunisia and Egypt have brought out starkly the difference between an autocracy and a democracy. You can never predict the way things will unfold in an autocracy. Democracies are quite predictable. Take India. You may not be able to predict which party will be leading the government in 2020, or who the prime minister will be, but you can be sure that things will be, more or less, a variation of what they are today. Doesn't sound very exciting, but that's the way it is.


Things work differently with authoritarian states. Seemingly unshakeable regimes suddenly find the ground beneath their feet shifting. The events in Egypt and Tunisia are actually a pale replay of what happened in Iran in 1979 or in Eastern Europe and Russia a decade later.




Usually empires, kingdoms and governments come apart following a defeat in a war, a financial crisis or a military coup.


But in modern autocracies, with their well- developed systems of secret police, press censorship and repression, the faultlines develop and extend themselves silently. The collapse is usually swift and often triggered by a trivial set of events.


Many explanations have been offered for the collapse of the Shah of Iran, or the Soviet Union. But only in hindsight.


Prospectively no one predicted the events.

Looked at through this prism, two countries of great importance to India stand out— Pakistan and China. On paper, Pakistan is a democracy, but just on paper. It has its elections, change of governments, a somewhat free media. But then there is the Army, whose role as a guardian of the nation goes beyond what is expected in a democratic polity. The edifice of formal government in Pakistan, too, is a shaky one.


The ground rules keep shifting somewhat dramatically year on year. It was just last year that the Prime Minister regained his primacy as the head of government. His powers had been usurped by the military dictator Pervez Musharraf and his civilian successor, Asif Ali Zardari was not too keen to shed them and they had to be reluctantly pried from his hands by a united Pakistani political establishment, aided by the Army.


The case of China is more straightforward.


The Communist Party of China makes no bones about running an authoritarian system, so effective that it has even been able to police the usually ungovernable world wide web. So remarkable have been the economic achievements of the country, that people talk of the Beijing Consensus where an authoritarian government with a market economy is being spoken of as a model for third world countries. Rather than go the route of Russia which became a democracy prior to restructuring its economy, the CPC has adjusted itself to provide the booming market- based Chinese economy an effective system of authoritarian political stewardship. This system is based on a vast bureaucracy which has evolved a system of internal rules which ensure that the excesses of the Maoist period are contained.


It limits the term of party and government leaders, much in the same way as many democracies do, but the key decisions on who will be the leaders is decided on in an opaque manner. Deng Xiaoping, who was himself the core of the second generation leadership set in place a system that has seen the third generation— Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji— successfully take the nation to great heights and hand over command to the fourth generation— Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao in 2002- 3.


We are now on the eve of another leadership shift in China, as the fifth generation comes to the fore. It's now clear that in 2012, Xi Jinping will succeed Hu as the General Secretary of the party and the President of China. Li Keqiang's attendance at the World Economic Forum meet in Davos last week seems to have cemented his candidature for the prime ministership in succession to Wen Jiabao.


This is where the uncertainties begin. The stability of the Chinese leadership has been a function of the enormous expansion of the Chinese economy, the great skill of the politicians in command, and the consensus within the CPC on the need to play by the internal rules, whatever they are. But, the Chinese economy cannot grow at this blistering pace for the next decade as well.


As it is, faultlines are becoming visible between the town and countryside, and the east and the west. A measure of the fragility of the Chinese system is evident from the haste with which Hu abandoned the G- 8 Summit in Italy and returned home in the wake of the disturbances in Xinjiang in July 2009.




While China's great economic progress is a tribute to its astute leaders and hardworking and hugely gifted people, the order and control that you see in modern China is based on an authoritarian system.


Its cities do not feel the kind of pressure their Indian counterparts are subjected to because you need a special passport to live and work there. The population has been kept in check by methods that would never work in India, as became evident during the Emergency of 1975- 1977. The legal system in China is virtually non- existent.


Land is sequestered at will and uprisings crushed ruthlessly.


Unlike India where instances of social and political disorder are often limited by ethnic, religious and linguistic boundaries, in China such movements grow to dangerous levels, sometimes developing an all- China character, resulting in regime change. In the mid- 19th century, the Taiping rebellion spread across southern China and led to the loss of millions of lives.


The Wuchang uprising that preceded the 1911 Revolution that overthrew the Qing empire, is another case in point. Though it was initiated by the central authority, the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s also falls into the pattern of civil disturbances that begin in one part of China, spreading quickly to its length and breadth. The Tienanmen uprising of 1989 occurred because the authorities refused to permit the people to mourn the passing of the reformist Hu Yaobang. It shook the Communist rule as nothing else has done in recent times.


In the ensuing years, the potential for a cataclysmic all- China uprising has grown.


For one, Mandarin has effectively established itself as the dominant Chinese dialect. For another, the internet has provided the people a limited mode of selfexpression which was hitherto prohibited.



This is not to say that China will go the way of the Soviet Union or Egypt. The Chinese have a clever and competent leadership and they are undoubtedly aware of the structural time bomb they are sitting on. There are indications that the issue of more political freedom is the subject of intense debate within the Chinese Communist Party. Given China's importance to the world economy, a cataclysmic change is highly undesireable.


The Chinese have reacted to the Egyptian developments with prudence. They have, for one thing, gotten some of the portals to censor " Egypt"- related searches. The state controlled TV and newspapers have steered the discussion on events in Egypt carefully, highlighting the perils of disorder and chaos. A million men marching, demanding more personal liberties in Cairo may not threaten the rulers in Beijing right now, but there is always tomorrow.


The events in Egypt have given the lie to the belief that if your economy is doing well and governance tough, you don't really need the constant renewals of the consent of the governed through free and fair elections.


The events in the Arab world do sound like the tolling of the bell against the so- called Beijing Consensus.









When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's speech promising that he would step down in September was played in Liberation Square, thousands of protesters erupted into cries calling for his immediate removal. The message is clear. Mubarak's time is up. Opposition leaders like Mohamed ElBaradei and Ayman Nour seem well aware that a mass movement such as the current one cannot sustain momentum beyond a point. Equally, many among Mubarak's opponents are suspicious of his intentions. They believe that by promising to step aside in September, he is attempting to buy time to arrange his son Gamal's succession. Emboldened by the military's declaration that it will not fire on its own people, they are unlikely to allow Mubarak an extension.

A point that Mubarak raised in his speech, however - the need for an orderly transition to democracy - is a pertinent one. Democracy is not created merely by holding elections. Civil institutions and infrastructure to support it are necessary. The caretaker administration - however it is arranged - and all other political stakeholders must work together to create conditions for free and fair elections in September. Democratic states in the international community must aid them by offering to broker a transition to democracy, as well as resources and personnel that may be necessary to set up institutions such as an independent electoral commission.

By doing so, the US can hope to rectify the damage to its image among the Egyptian people caused by less than enthusiastic support in the uprising's initial days. US President Barack Obama has taken the first step by now fully throwing his weight behind the people and cutting Mubarak loose, making it clear that he must go. There is a larger lesson here for the US and the international community in general. Iran's 1979 revolution cannot continue to dictate foreign policy vis-a-vis the Arab world. Supporting the Arab people's aspirations minimises the risk of anti-authoritarian dissent being channelled in an Islamist direction. Backing authoritarian regimes, on the other hand, forces the inevitable opposition to them into Islamist channels.

In Jordan, the king has sacked the prime minister in response to burgeoning protests. In Algeria, Yemen and Syria, protests are brewing as well. After decades of coupling oil money with authoritarian policies to keep their people at a remove from modern political trends, rulers across the Arab world are finding that a demographic bulge and lack of economic opportunities have eaten away at the foundations of their power. What Tunisia and Egypt started could alter the face of the Arab world. Washington, New Delhi and other watchers need to be on the right side of history.







Following extensive interrogation of A Raja and his associates regarding procedural irregularities in the allotment of 2G licences, as well as the filing of the Shivraj Patil report understood to have blamed the former telecom minister and some of his aides for the irregularities, the CBI has moved to arrest Raja along with key aides Siddharth Behuria and R K Chandolia. The government appears at last to be walking the talk on corruption. The arrests should go some way towards correcting the impression that those with high political connections will always be protected against corruption charges, no matter how serious. The current political logjam - with opposition parties having stymied the functioning of Parliament - offers, in fact, the perfect opportunity to launch a clean-up. The DMK can't afford to part ways with the Congress at this point, with assembly elections coming up in Tamil Nadu.

Both parties, as part of the UPA and the government, need to re-establish their credibility. In order to do so, similar follow-up action is required in the wake of the Shunglu panel report on the irregularities in awarding broadcast rights for the Commonwealth Games, and the CBI FIR in Mumbai's Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam. Headway must also be made in netting those responsible for the other scams associated with the games. If the government takes serious action on these scams, the opposition, on its part, must be prepared to reconsider its boycott of parliamentary proceedings. With the budget session coming up, opposition parties shouldn't view the scams merely as an opportunity to throw muck at the government.









Celebrate uniqueness, Rituparno Ghosh says through Just Another Love Story ( Arekti Premer Galpo), which won the jury's award at IFFI. But first, let's be clear that JALS is not by the director who gave us films like Abahoman, Sab Charitra Kalpanik, Dosar, Dahan and Unishe April. Nor is it his autobiography. Although there's a distinct imprint of his sensibility in this Kaushik Ganguly film, Rituparno's only an actor here. He plays Roop, a director shooting a documentary on Chapal Bhaduri, the state award winner who ruled the jatra world from the 1950s to 1970s and now lives in penury. Chapal Bhaduri, aged 75, plays himself.

Like Sawai Gandharva in Maharashtra, Chapal entered a 'natta company' (theatre company) when men routinely played women until their voice changed at the onset of puberty. This nephew of legendary Sisir Bhaduri, better known as Chapal Rani, was celebrated by Naveen Kishore in his documentary, 'Performing the Goddess: The Chapal Bhaduri Story'. But in JALS, as with other films-within-films, reality merges with illusion to drive home a contemporary truth: despite the Delhi high court judgment decriminalising consensual homosexuality, we're mostly unwilling to accept that humans don't always fit into the masculine and feminine gender roles assigned by society.

In JALS, director Roop and Basu, his cinematographer, are in Kolkata to shoot a film for a foreign channel. Firmly established in a same-sex relationship, despite Basu being happily married and a prospective father, Roop and Basu echo young Chapal and his 'gentleman' lover Kumar, also married and with kids. Some things never change, it becomes transparent.

Why Chapal? When working for Biswaroopa or Minerva theatre in the 1950s, Chapal fit the bill to play Razia Sultana, Chand Bibi, Kaikeyi. His soft feminine voice never acquired a masculine tenor. ENT specialists could not help: to this day, when he speaks, a female voice emerges from the male body. No practised falsetto can match the typically feminine pitch of his legendary monologue as Sitala. His femininity became his psychic and (part) physical reality to such an extent that he survived a kidnapping, an attempted rape, became a victim of the casting couch and was deserted by his lover for a younger woman!

Yet Chapal couldn't don a woman's attire in public. He wore religious marks, the chandan tilak and tulsi beads, but no ear studs. Unsurprisingly, he felt like a woman trapped in a man's body. Not so Rituparno as Roop: he wears lipstick, paints his nails, flaunts a feminine hairdo, and behaves outrageously like a woman only to make a statement, he's neither man nor woman, belonging to the third sex - a fact underscored when he cuts off his hair. In keeping with the ambiguity central to his sexuality, Roop never wears a woman's dress but asexual tunics, stoles and dhoti draped like a lungi. Rather than clothes, his androgyny comes out through his body language, heightened by the abdominoplasty Rituparno underwent to reduce his waistline for the role.

"Is Roop an autobiographical character?" Rituparno has been repeatedly asked. Regardless of his answer, one can say it has several shades of reality. No doubt Rituparno has proved his mettle as an actor by making Roop so lifelike, but he did take on the role because "few actors would believe in it or portray it with honesty and sincerity". Roop would end up as a caricature, he'd feared since he had "a sense of belonging" to it.

An actor's sexual orientation need not have any bearing on a character he plays. But then, Rituparno has always challenged popular notions of masculinity and femininity. Like Roop, he'd rejected the masculine dress code for embroidered kurtas and flowing uttariyas (a scarf-like piece of clothing), kajal and lipgloss, ear studs and necklaces. His 'effeminate' dressing raised eyebrows and was spoofed by many, including humorist-anchor Mir. Rituparno objected by taking him on in his chat show, Ghosh and Co. The way Mir "projected the sexual minority", by highlighting their stereotyped effete ways, showed them in a poor light, he argued.

But viewers uncharitably wrote, "It's normal to have fun at the expense of such characters." Undaunted, Rituparno walked the ramp in Kolkata Fashion Week 2009 in jodhpurs and jacket teamed with necklaces, ear studs, caps and dark glasses. "Who needs wardrobe malfunction when Rituparno is around!" critics jeered.

That was Rituparno's first declaration of androgyny. He reiterated it through JALS and furthers it through Tagore's Chitrangada, his next film for which he's learning Odissi. But why does he repeatedly assert his credo? Perhaps because our society shuns discussions on sexual orientation, preferences and choices despite mythological references to Chitrangada, Shikhandi and Chaitanya.

To accept alternative sexuality, we must educate ourselves about the reality of eunuchs. Only then will prejudices and phobias cease to flourish, believes Amol Palekar, who addressed the issue through Daayra (1996), Anaahat (2003) and Thaang/Quest (2006). Long before the Delhi high court order, those films provoked viewers to think of transgender existence, woman's sexuality and gay bonding. Now JALS compels us to gracefully accept that gender and sex are two different realities.

Such changed perspectives can have ripple effects. This equality in treatment of androgynous humans can lead to non-discrimination in employment, availability of loans and insurance, even changed definitions of family for adoption laws for the much-maligned hijras. That certainly wouldn't be just another love story.






The family that plays together stays together! So suggests a study which says video games can positively influence teenage girls when their parents play with them. That's not surprising. As technology-driven society changes, children's interests change. It's not just important for moms and dads to be clued in to what their kids do, they should also participate in the latter's lives and activities. Much of the reason adolescents feel alienated - the effect of the proverbial generation gap - is because parents play 'grown-ups' rather than friends on equal terms. The more quality time and the interactive relationship they share - in short, the more fun they have together - the closer family members across age groups become.

Video games enthuse all teenagers. Researchers at Brigham Young University's School of Family Life in the US say girls turn out better behaved, become mentally hardier and feel greater familial bonds if their parents join in. That makes sense. Recreating real-life situations in dramatic ways and posing tough problems to be solved, video games can be mentally stimulating. Playing with or against a parent can't but make a young girl strive to rise to the challenge.

Many criticise video games as a harmful distraction, whose often inappropriate and violent content negatively impacts impressionable minds. For one thing, this is so only if the games played aren't age-appropriate. For another, today's teenagers risk exposure to unsuitable content everywhere, be it TV, internet, music - think of rap lyrics - or cinema. Rather than become hard disciplinarians in a futile and unnatural attempt to insulate youngsters from the world around, parents should actively share their interests. Concerning video games specifically, that'll be a way to monitor content and prevent gaming from becoming an asocial, addictive preoccupation. Finally, any game or activity can be a two-way learning experience for both the youngsters and parents bonding through it.







Joining your daughter to play video games is faddism gone mad. The point is not that adolescent girls play 'age-appropriate' video games but that these are harmful and there are far better ways for girls to bond with parents. The advantage of other routes to bonding is that they maintain the very important parental role. Regardless of geography and cultural predilections, the model for good parenting is the same. Parents are expected to care for and help their children learn, develop and finally become at one with society. In short socialise children, rather than join them in an activity which, let's face it, does very little apart from waste time.

Plonking girls in front of a video game is bad enough. Joining them at it may lead to bonding but at parenting's expense. Children should be encouraged to be out playing or exploring with their parents, thereby both bonding and learning about their immediate environment and how to interact with them. If that sounds too prescriptive, then children should at least be doing something creative at home. Whatever happened to art classes or dance? Parents can participate in those activities as well to bond with their daughters.

All these activities are far more appropriate for families especially since numerous studies have confirmed the harmful effects of video games on the young. Video games are often violent, can become addictive and may produce psychological disorders such as depression. Kids glued to video games also miss out on crucial childhood lessons, which help them mature into well-adjusted adults. Ensuring this does happen requires that parents not cave in to fads or children's demands, but maintain parental responsibilities.






The Indo-Pak veggie war: tamatar makes a noisy shor-ba and dopyaza becomes no-pyaza

At the Wagah border jingoistic crowds from both sides gather every evening to cheer/boo the belligerent posturing of the Indian and Pakistani security forces as the respective flags are lowered for the night. Now a real battle is in progress there, with the maidan-e-jung soaked in blood-red tomato juice and onion-induced tears.

And to think that it started as a gracious, neighbourly gesture. Seeing their Indian brothers reeling under a skyrocket attack of onion prices, the Pakistanis rushed nearly 500 tonnes of emergency supplies to India and the relief of grateful housewives. Aman ki Asha was alive, well and spreading  its comforting aromas.But then came a diktat from Islamabad's  Commerce Ministry. Citing the likelihood of onion prices 'shooting up to over Rs 100 a kg in Pakistan' as a result of exports, it decreed that no onions could be sent to India via the land route, which is the most economical one.

This flashpoint was no flash in the pan. The very next day, the Indian side retaliated. Some 50 Amritsari traders announced that they would stop the export of tomatoes and chillis across the border. Rolling their sleeves and their eyes, they hoisted Pakistan by its own padwal, saying that prices of these vegetables in India might skyrocket too if such exports continued. Then, putting their muscle where their mouth was, they stopped some 150 fully loaded trucks from crossing over.

It is not known if a slugfest began, using the rotting tomatoes and chillis, but one thing is certain. An eye for an eye will not only make the whole world blind, but could leave it broke – and hungry—too.  Since capsicum is also a major item of export from India, this eye-bulb to eye-bulb confrontation on the border will hopefully end with a Shimla Mirch Agreement.On the other hand, trenchant positions on both sides could Agra-vate the conflict.

If butter sense prevails, we could see a new version of the dinner diplomacy now used to stop war by more palatable means. It began with Nixon's audacious bid to thaw Sino-US ties. Mao's supporters had condemned him as a 'gangster who wielded a butcher's knife', and a stunned Kissinger had reportedly spluttered to General Haig, 'Al, this fellow Nixon wants to open relations with China. I think he has lost control of his senses." Yet there was Tricky Dick knocking back mai-tais with Zhou Enlai in Beijing in May 1972.

Hu knows how much things have changed. The Chinese President's first engagement in Washington this January was a White House dinner. And, when President Obama visited us, Manmohan Singh showed that he could be as adept as a Delhi socialite when it came to using a fine table to turn the global pecking order to one's own advantage.   

Actual eatable, excretable food is also a serious ingredient of bilateral relations, even of superpower-dom. Witness the hegemony of US agricultural exports. We had our own PL 480 dependency in the early decades of independence. In the 1970s, the Nixon administration was embarrassed by the 'great grain robbery' when the American people unwittingly ended up subsidizing wheat exports to the USSR. In the '80s, Reagan banned these to punish Russia for its invasion of Afghanistan.      

To return to the veggie war at Wagah, as always, the fraternal ties between the two peoples have not been fried; the conflict remains only official. As an Amritsari sabzi saudagar said, "We are not against Pakistani traders, only against their government's position."

Nevertheless, as Shri Kauliflower and Janaab Auberjinnah dig in their roots, you can be sure that no visiting cultural troupes are crooning 'Jab pyaz diya toh darna kya'.











A business magazine recently called environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh a Kung Fu master because of the ease with which he tackles opposing camps in the environment versus development debate.

 But now after the judgement on the Pohang Iron and Steel Company (Posco)'s plant in Orissa, he could probably be called a trapeze master, swinging from one bar to another but settling where his bosses want him to. On Monday, the minister cleared the Rs 54,000 crore steel project with 60 conditions that the company needs to follow.

Recently, facing criticism that his ministry was blocking development, Mr Ramesh said he did not want to be known as 'Dr No'. Post-Posco, he should harbour no such fear.

There are no doubts that the upcoming plant is not in tune with the stringent green norms. Two panels set up by the ministry had said so. Civil society reports like the Iron and Steal: The POSCO-India Story also concluded that there was 'wild exaggeration' of benefits and a 'deliberate' overlooking of infrastructural and ecological costs.

It seems that the plant's only selling point, and the government has been harping on it relentlessly, is that it is the largest foreign direct investment (FDI) in India and any refusal would hurt investor confidence. Is that a good enough reason? Well, many would argue not.

Orissa's MoU with Posco proposes an annual export of 400 million tonnes of iron ore to its plants in South Korea. It will pay the government R27 per tonne when the prices in the international market is between R3,000 to 7,000 a tonne. Isn't it but natural that the 'largest FDI' tag will be questioned in the face of such figures? Recently, Mr Ramesh cleared controversial projects like the Jaitapur nuclear power project, Lavasa Hill City Project and the Navi Mumbai airport with conditions but stopped Vedanta's bauxite mining project and asked for the demolition of the Adarsh Housing Society because they violated green laws. So how were they more wrong than the others?

By introducing an element of subjectivity, the minister is only weakening the ministry and its preeminent position in such matters. He also seems to have excessive confidence in the states for keeping an eye on violators. Going by experience, it is too much to expect from them. And minus strict monitoring, safeguards/conditions will have no meaning.

The minister is known as someone who engages with civil society often. There's no doubt that his tenure has put the environment back on the government agenda, yet it is very wrong if he cites different rules for different violators. Even this will send out the wrong signals to the investors and also leave the impression that the green stick is being used to settle political scores more than anything else.

If violations can be offset by 'conditions', then why deny other violators the go-ahead with their projects? After all, a couple of 'conditions' can set a wrong right.








Something is clearly black in the entils in Karnataka, and it appears to be black magic. Chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has discerned a plot by his enemies using the powers of black magic to eliminate him. Now if you thought all this hocus pocus was for public consumption, let us assure you that many southern politicians are under the spell of the dark arts when it comes to both protecting themselves and trying to be one up on their detractors.


We wonder why Mr Yeddyurappa is so worried about someone trying to do him in by reading the entrails of a chicken or some such thing. He has survived greater challenges. Last year, he summoned a protective cloak around himself through a host of rituals when he learnt that rebel MLAs had undertaken a donkey sacrifice in a Kerala temple that is known to bring one's enemies to their knees. But apart from the fate of the hapless donkey no great harm seems to have been unleashed by this.

Former prime minister HD Deve Gowda, also from Karnataka, is leaving no pooja unturned to ensure that he gets back his chair.

Of course, if black magic isn't your thing, there are a host of godmen and women who will guard you from corporeal and temporal ills. And all this comes for a hefty price.


All this dependence on superstition gives us an idea. We edit writers spend the larger part of our lives predicting developments, albeit in a somewhat more scientific manner than nobbling a donkey. Why don't our politicos consult us on crucial matters? We will come at reasonable rates and with far less messy rituals. Don't delay things, the future could be yours to see.








A sudden spike in headaches at a Delhi hospital made insurance companies and government officials suspicious. It wasn't hard to spot. Every afternoon, hospital data streamed into their computers. A physical check confirmed a fraud: the hospital, accredited to the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), or the National Health Insurance Scheme, was making insurance claims to treat non-existent headaches.

Seven months ago, I wrote how an innovative, hyperactive labour ministry bureaucrat had exceeded his brief to deliver cashless, paperless healthcare to poor Indians for a one-time payment of Rs 30. For that sum, five of a family listed as poor can be insured for a range of medical procedures up to Rs 30,000. With nearly 85 million enrolled (as of yesterday, thanks again to their robust data), RSBY is the largest such system in the world, spreading to 25 states within 33 months.

RSBY has many firsts. It is the first time India's technology prowess has been used to run a national social-security programme. It's India's first social-security scheme with a profit motive, involving insurance companies, hospitals, state governments and the Centre. The states are enthusiastic because the Centre foots 75% of the premium, which is roughly Rs 450 per person every year. It costs about Rs 4,500 crore a year to fund RSBY; there is no cheaper national social-security scheme.

Such thrift, efficiency and innovation are sorely needed to implement the most-ambitious law of this UPA government: the Right to Food Bill. It won't be easy or cheap to make food a constitutional right. As the National Advisory Council (NAC), which is drafting the law, and the government wrangle over the scope and cost of the seminal legislation, a senior finance ministry official tells me it could cost anywhere from Rs 14,000 crore to Rs 40,000 crore — in addition to the R55,578 crore India now spends on delivering subsidised food through the flawed 54-year-old Version 1.0 of the public distribution system (PDS).

The leaks in the PDS are documented. The latest study — by economists Shikha Jha and Bharat Ramaswami — released in December 2010 estimates 55% of subsidised food never reaches the poor. At a time of rising food prices and efforts to rein in spending, India will fence with fiscal disaster if a new flood of food passes through the leaky old PDS.

Can food delivery be plugged into a health-insurance system to create PDS Version 2.0?

I put the question to RSBY's creator, Anil Swarup, whose official title is director general for labour welfare (a job that would have given him his next promotion, even if he never created RSBY). "There are huge problems in the [RSBY] system," says Swarup, candid enough to acknowledge that he doesn't have a magic wand. "But fundamentally, it's a platform that has by and large worked nationally." This is an important point. India has seen many governments issue smart-cards. Most have failed because — in typical Indian fashion — no one could finish what someone else started. Only RSBY works nationally, and Swarup's aim is to make the system self-sustaining so he can become redundant ("Transfer, like death," he says, "is inevitable").

Let's list RSBY's problems. First, beneficiaries are often unsure of the benefits delivered by their smart- card. Second, it's a struggle to find professionals (smart-card providers, hospital personnel, data analysts, field workers) and train them. Third, maintaining quality of healthcare at accredited hospitals. Fourth, an unceasing stream of frauds. But many are caught and punished: 55 hospitals were knocked off the RSBY system over the last five months.

This capacity to quickly uncover fraud and deliver cheap, basic healthcare to the poor anywhere in India can potentially transform the PDS.

RSBY and the PDS use the same basic data and benefit largely the same set of people — those who officially live below the poverty line. The difference is that the RSBY's hybrid computer network allows the poor to use accredited hospitals nationwide. These hospitals don't need always on, real-time connections. Every afternoon, or whenever connectivity is available, hospital data travels to a central computer.

Save for Chhattisgarh, the PDS is a no-tech mess. As this paper has often documented in its 'Tracking Hunger' series, the poor lose access to subsidised food once they migrate; of the million-plus fair price shops nationwide, they can only use one — where they are registered.

If the value of a beneficiary's food entitlements (presently, wheat, rice, sugar, kerosene and coal) is transferred to a smart-card, she can use it anywhere. The PDS can also be greatly expanded to regular, retail shops. This will allow better access (only about 57% of BPL households can reach PDS shops) and pare fiscal losses from various subsidies dramatically (losses on kerosene subsidies exceed Rs 24,000 crore annually). An RSBY platform is capable of catching much more than imaginary headaches.

What happens when the unique identification (UID) number spreads? More poor can be enrolled; where available, RSBY is starting to add UID data to its chip. Swarup estimates a one-time equipment cost of Rs 15,000 for each food outlet, dropping as volumes go up. Given the thousands of crores it can save, this is small change for the government.

Powered by batteries if needed, smart-card-readers can be linked through mobile phones to district, state or national data-clearing houses tracking grain offtake. If it chooses to, Swarup suggests, the government can stop supplying grain (most corruption is in the supply chain) to shops and let them buy it from the market. The financial entitlements of beneficiaries can be electronically debited or credited as grain is withdrawn across India.

All this will need the creation of a back-end system, including a national data-clearing house for grain. How quickly could this be implemented? "Six months," says Swarup. That's serious thought for food.





If Air India wants to reclaim its past glory, its nagging problems must be addressed

E v e very time a new incumbent is appointed ither as minister of civil aviation or chairman and managing director of Air India (AI), a statement one gets to hear is, "I will restore the past glory of Air India". Even after over two decades, the reality is that all incumbents have left the national carrier in a state worse than before they assumed office.

How else can one explain the perennial and consistent decline in AI's fortunes, both financially and in terms of its market standing?

Even the infusion of funds and induction of new aircraft have failed to arrest the declining trend. As the quest to regain the past glory remained elusive, it would be pragmatic if the new incumbent, Vayalar Ravi, first strives to ensure that AI's fortunes don't plummet any further. A mere expression of intent to regain the past glory, howsoever noble, can't work.

The fundamentals -political-free environment, sense of commitment, work culture, to name a few -that helped AI achieve its glorious status in the 60s and 70s don't exist today.

To translate the intent, one must know what has gone wrong with AI and what needs to be done to cure it of the malaise.

The ad hocism practised by the previous incumbent, Praful Patel, and his predecessors has failed to work. All of Patel's successes in other fields of civil aviation stand negated due to his failure to control AI's slip. His decisions to appoint an expat chief operating officer at an annual salary of more than R3 crore and nominating stalwarts from the private sector as independent directors of the board also failed the airline. Last year, with these individuals at the helm, AI slipped to the fourth spot in the domestic skies. Since the slide didn't come about in a day and one could see it coming, the question is: what measures were taken by all those associated with running the airline to stem the decline?

Somebody should be held accountable.

As Ravi assumes the charge of the ministry of civil aviation at a time when the national carrier is going through troubled times, time is of the utmost essence. As AI operates in a high profile sector, the media will always be generous while highlighting his statements, no matter how innocuous they are.

As someone who had been associated with the national carrier for more than two decades and held key management positions besides being the spokesperson, I believe that the agenda that the minister must pursue should include revisiting the composition of the existing board and senior management. Have they delivered, individually or collectively? If not, why? In their pursuit to steer the airline out of turbulence, are they on the right track?

AI can't be allowed to become a laboratory for experimentation based on advisors with little or no knowledge of the airline. While one has heard a lot about the attempts to trim costs, little has been made known about the plans to boost revenues. AI's load factor (number of seats occupied in an aircraft), aircraft utilisation and the yield (measured in terms of earning per kilometre flown) are among the lowest in the industry. Unless this trend is reversed, its finances will remain in a pitiable state. Ravi will therefore do well if he asks the ministry officials to monitor progress on these three key performance parameters, as they emanate from one single factor -passengers' preference for an airline. As passengers will opt for AI in a competitive era only if it becomes an airline of choice, the management needs to spell out as to what it has done to improve the product quality, which should be deemed synonymous with service.

This is where the human element comes in.

Employees, who should not be confused with unions and associations, have for long felt uncertain about the company's future. The prime minister's statement that AI will remain the nation's pride has failed to instil the confidence that is needed for employees to consider the airline's future -to which is also linked their own -as secure. Any intention of restoring the past glory will remain a distant dream till basic issues are addressed with sincerity and commitment at all levels.

Jitender Bhargava is former executive director, Air India The views expressed by the author are personal





Is this US diplomat Juliet Wurr for real? She thinks that tagging devices are trendy.

Oh, don't get into such a flap. She is right, what is good eno-ugh for Lindsay Lohan should be good enough for our students.


That is an alcohol-monitoring bracelet, you twit, which Lindsay has to wear so that the judges who let her out know when the lass has a drop too much. Why should Wurr belittle the plight of our students?


What I do feel is that the dear lady should show the way, perhaps she could accessorise the bracelet and make it a brace which she could sport around her neck. That way, we would know if she strays into harm's way and it would also set a new fashion trend.


You might have something there. She also said that the alternative was jump suits in prison.


Clearly, here is a woman who is on top of fashion. We think that it would send out the right signal if the US embassy were to wear jump suits to work on Saturday, you know, casual chic.


I think this monitoring is a gross invasion of privacy.


Yes, but then we don't want them wandering into the arms of some other shifty educational institution in the US. But then again, perhaps education providers could also wear anklets so that the ever vigilant US authorities can keep a track of them.


Do say: We are right on track


Don't say: Should we go for Gucci or Chanel anklets?










The question of former telecom minister A. Raja's gigantic swindle has been hanging over the UPA since 2008. There is unanimous agreement that his unorthodox methods of allocating spectrum, clearly in favour of friendly companies, cost the country tremendously — the debate is only over exactly how many thousands of crores. He has now been arrested, along with his former personal secretary R.K. Chandolia and former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behura, by the CBI, for allegedly abusing their official position and manipulating tendering procedures to skew the field for the benefit of some telecom companies. If indeed the 2G spectrum scam is a blatant case of corruption at the highest levels of government, this arrest would seem like the only logical next step, and a satisfying sign of forward movement in the case.

We need to know the extent of Raja's wrongdoing, whether it was a matter of just poor policy choices or whether there was a conspiratorial component, whether the minister and the two civil servants benefited from the spectrum allocation, and if so, to what extent. Resolving that question is within the CBI's remit, and it has questioned Raja in four sessions over two months, and confronted him with several documents seized from his premises. The CBI and the Enforcement Directorate have been asked to submit status reports to the Supreme Court by February 10. The cynical view would, of course, be that the arrests have been executed to show the court, which has been expressing impatience with the pace of the investigation, some progress. Yet, the very fact of the arrests could give the investigation a momentum of its own.

Certainly, given the magnitude of Raja's alleged crimes, it is a pity that this turn of events took so long coming. Even now, it appears as though it has been wrenched out of the system, after many months of inaction and denial. Raja clung on to his ministry until last November, dodging charges and loftily telling the world that the prime minister was "kept fully informed of all decisions". For an unforgivably long period, the UPA refused to look the country in the eye as far as Raja's extractive policies were concerned, until it became clear that they could not duck the consequences any further. And surprisingly, even now UPA leaders continue to dodge the big debates and level in public on the specifics of the issues raised in the aftermath of Raja's exit from the Union cabinet.






The bare facts tell a sad, familiar story. Over one lakh young people turned up for 416 government jobs, in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police or ITBP. The ITBP had asked jobseekers from 11 states to come to Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh; but there were, reportedly, not enough tables for the number of applicants. Those who felt they'd been denied a fair shot began to riot. And then, as they crowded onto the roofs and footboards and doorways of the trains that would take them back home, tragedy struck: as the Jammu Tawi Express passed an overbridge, 20 of them on the roof were hit. At least 18 of them have now died. That this was not an isolated incident becomes even more worryingly clear when it is learnt that another young man fell off the roof of the Triveni Express in Hardoi. He too was killed.

It is not just that various agencies are passing the buck to shirk responsibility for the incident. What is worrying is that no state agency — neither the police, nor the paramilitary force, nor the government — seems to be able to learn from the distressing frequency with which such incidents occur. We are simply unable to create space. It appears likely that the numbers that turned up were not a surprise; but the infrastructure to receive them, and to safely convey them back and forth, simply was not in place. This goes beyond the particular responsibility in this case — when do we plan for such crowds, even when they are expected, whether for a job fair, or for a religious festival?

Creating space for our aspirational young people is a continual problem. We do not seem to be able to gauge the breadth of aspiration sufficiently to anticipate that lakhs of applicants could turn up for a few hundred government jobs. And, equivalently, we do not seem to care enough to make processes more convenient for probable aspirants, so that even a slight prospect of a stable job invites a virtual stampede.






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.








In the death of K. Subrahmanyam at age 82, India has lost its premier and pioneering analyst of strategy and national security, who was a national asset in every sense of the term. As George K. Tanham said in his famous 1992 monograph, Indian Strategic Thought, this is one area in which this country has been conspicuously deficient. (Indeed, this is what KS — Subbu to friends — had told him when Tanham was researching his subject.)

Only after the traumatic border war with China in the high Himalayas did the Indian establishment wake up to the need for strategic studies, until then considered superfluous. KS played a stellar role in filling this glaring and disastrous gap. Even today the bulk of the Indian strategic community consists of those who learnt the craft from him. He has, no wonder, often been called the Bhisham Pitamah of Indian strategic studies.

By the time the first think tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses or IDSA, was established, with a retired major-general as its director, KS was a deputy secretary in the defence ministry. Some time earlier, the founder-director of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Alastair Buchan, had come to this country to look for Indians who might learn something at his organisation. His choice fell on KS and the late Sisir Gupta, who died at a relatively young age. In 1968 Subrahmanyam, an IAS officer of the 1951 batch, was appointed director of IDSA; and since then neither he nor the institute looked back. What he made of the IDSA in seven years won national and international kudos.

In 1975, Indira Gandhi, who appreciated his good work, told him that for the sake of his career he must spend some time in his state, Tamil Nadu, previously called the state of Madras. He arrived there on the day the Karunanidhi ministry was dismissed during the Emergency and president's rule was imposed. He was appointed home secretary. In this critically important position he absolutely refused to be a party to any of the Emergency's excesses. For this, a senior Congress MP, O.V. Alagesan, sharply criticised him in Parliament.

In 1978, when he returned to the Union government, Indira Gandhi was out of power and the Janata was ruling. He was appointed chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and additional secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat. In that capacity he endorsed the finding of the Research and Analysis Wing, the foreign intelligence agency, that Pakistan's nuclear programme was no longer peaceful. But he firmly disputed the agency's belief that our western neighbour had adopted the plutonium route.

As became obvious, KS was right in thinking that Islamabad was using centrifuge technology for uranium enrichment. He also saw to it that a five-year defence estimate was prepared by the JIC and considered by the cabinet. That was the first and the only time that such a thing happened.

When Indira Gandhi was back in power in 1980, KS was defence production secretary and was also presiding over a committee to select the submarine to be introduced in the Indian navy. The new government, for its own reasons, wanted to remove him from this job. He was offered a post, director of the Indian Institute of Public Administration, that did not suit him. Luckily, the prime minister realised that Subbu's encyclopaedic knowledge of high strategy and matters military could be best used by sending him back to the IDSA as director with the rank of secretary to the Government of India.

To appreciate Subbu's yeoman services to India, one has to go back to March 1971, when the Bangladesh crisis exploded with the force of the cyclones that abound in that country. At first there was an outcry for immediate military intervention. Then the mood changed and the establishment believed that the Mukti Bahini would liberate Bangladesh, and India need not do anything.

It was KS who fought against this complacent assumption. In a confidential paper, that inevitably leaked, he argued that there was an "opportunity of a lifetime to cut Pakistan to size" that must not be missed. When top officials at the defence ministry objected to such writings, he told them that as head of a research institute he had to be frank and open, and if they felt that officials should not do it, he was prepared to resign from the IAS.

In UN committees and elsewhere, KS defended the

Indian position on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and made no secret of his belief that India must go nuclear. Those in the know are privy to his contribution to the weaponisation of the nuclear programme.

Subbu headed the Kargil Review Committee, whose excellent report has been implemented only partially. Later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited him to chair a task force to formulate Indian policy in the context of the current world order. Sadly, that valuable report, submitted several years ago, remains classified.

Needless to add, Subbu was a prolific writer almost to the very end, and the books he wrote or edited, the papers he presented to national and international gatherings and almost endless newspaper articles penned by him would fill several shelves of a commodious library. He was blessed with a phenomenal memory and an equally prodigious capacity for work. Whenever in doubt about any fact, I rang him up and, as a kind and gracious friend, he gave me the information I needed in a jiffy.

Born in a family with modest means at Tiruchirapalli on January 24, 1929, Subbu studied chemistry at Madras, now Chennai, before joining the IAS. His first years were spent in the panchayati raj department in the state; but from his school and college days his interest in matters military was acute. He is survived by his wife, Salochana, three sons and a daughter. One of his sons, Jaishankar, is India's ambassador to China; the second, Vijay, is a secretary in the Union government; and the third, Sanjay, is a professor at UCLA. Evidently, genes do travel.

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








The single-minded determination of the BJP leadership, to march to Srinagar and hoist the national flag at Lal Chowk, turned out to be futile. It is unfortunate that the BJP leaders did not realise that much has changed in Kashmir since the tragic visit of Jan Sangh leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee in 1953.

Lal Chowk is, in particular, an extremely sensitive spot with its own history going back to when Jawaharlal Nehru hoisted the Tricolour there in the company of Sheikh Abdullah and declared that the views of the people of Kashmir would be taken into consideration before deciding its future status.

The Omar Abdullah government took effective measures by stopping the BJP leaders at the Jammu airport, and later arresting them and transporting them to Kathua. What did the BJP leadership expect to gain out of this march? What point were they trying to make to the people of Kashmir, or to the country as a whole through this futile exercise?

Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj called the steps taken by the J&K government unconstitutional and illegal. Surely, though, the Omar Abdullah government could take these steps as a simple application of Section 151 of the CrPC, as a preventive measure for the maintenance of law and order in the sensitive state.

Kashmir is expected to figure prominently in discussions between the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers at the SAARC summit in Bhutan soon. Moreover, the three interlocutors sent by the prime minister to Kashmir are yet to complete their work. Even the Hurriyat leaders are now willing to meet them and discuss. After the final report from the interlocutors, the Centre has to take up the issues involved with political leaders in J&K for an eventual solution.

As the major opposition party to the UPA government, the BJP had taken up important issues like inflation, corruption and so on for an agitational programme all over the country. These are substantive issues and they should concentrate on them to try to reach the public at all levels. They should be aware, meanwhile, that the days of the Rath Yatra, which sparked an emotional upsurge leading to the BJP coming to power cannot be repeated or replicated.

Is the BJP leadership upset over Swami Aseemanand's confession and the activities of RSS pracharaks like Indresh Kumar, Sunil Joshi and so on? Has it occurred to the BJP leadership that they should take up the matter with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, and discuss the dangerous implications of all these activities and the need to firmly put an end to them?

Bhagwat's bland assertion that the RSS has no place for extremists does not mean anything unless he specifically condemns the activities of all the pracharaks involved. The BJP's affiliation to the RSS is so intimate that the party will have to bear the consequences of any RSS pracharak's activities.

It is tragic that, after so many years in politics, and with the next general elections due in about three years, the BJP leaders should not realise what is important and relevant for the people of this country — and for their own party's good and future.

Let us consider the manner in which the party's leadership has handled the issue of allegations against their B.S. Yeddyurappa-led government in Karnataka. Yeddyurappa was almost being given marching orders by the BJP leadership some time back when he was summoned and questioned about the various allegations against him. However, he was eventually allowed to continue. The BJP leaders believed that the removal of Yeddyurappa, a major Lingayat leader, might lead to the BJP losing the state of Karnataka for ever.

The governor of Karnataka has given his consent for two or three lawyers to file cases against Yeddyurappa for his allocation of land to his close relatives which is a grossly irregular act. The BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari. had a strange observation to make. He said that the act may be immoral but not illegal. A spokesman of the Congress rightly asked whether the BJP leadership was prepared to live with immorality as an acceptable factor.

If the BJP leaders had directed Yeddyurappa to step down and allow another BJP leader to take over, it could have added to its credibility. Instead, the BJP leaders are indulging in futile exercises like marching to Rashtrapati Bhavan to demand the withdrawal of Governor H.R. Bhardwaj from Karnataka. BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley should know that the cabinet resolution asking the governor not to give his consent for the prosecution of the CM was not binding on the governor since the CM himself was the concerned person, and the governor had his constitutional powers to give his sanction. This issue was decided many years back when Maharashtra governor Idris Latif gave his consent for the prosecution of then chief minister A.R. Antulay.

The writer is a former IB chief and governor of Sikkim, West Bengal and UP







Capital flows have fluctuated quite a bit in recent months. We have swung from fears of too much money coming in to fears of too little. The change in inflows depends on factors ranging from conditions in global financial markets, to domestic land policies. India's approach to capital flows lies in policy changes to encourage diversified flows, and in financial development. More diversified flows will reduce the volatility of capital flows; more liquid financial markets will make the economy resilient to fluctuations in capital inflows.

In July 2010 we saw that $11 billion came into India as foreign investment. This dropped to zero in the following month. In September and October, $13 billion and $30 billion came in respectively. Then in November, $18 billion left the country. This sudden rise and then reversal was related to the IPO of Coal India.

In recent weeks, there is considerable gloom about the outlook for capital flows, especially FDI inflows. On the one hand, when there is global geopolitical risk, global capital tends to retreat into safe havens with political stability, mainly the OECD countries. In addition, the outlook in India has become considerably darker, with the government grappling with corruption and inflation; it is an environment when little effort is spent on long-term policy change or reform. These two factors have come together to exert a certain negative effect on capital flows into India.

There are two areas where foreigners are clearly keen to invest in India and that investment would equally clearly be beneficial for India. The first is FDI in sectors such as retail. The second is foreign portfolio investment into rupee-denominated debt. In both these areas, efforts to remove restrictions will ease bottlenecks, and produce a flow of capital into the country.

At the same time, considerable uncertainty about the outlook for the world economy remains. In coming months, political risk in the Middle East, and a potential second round of crises in the European periphery, could play out. These could easily involve fairly dramatic events. Capital flow fluctuations of 1 to 2 per cent of GDP cannot be ruled out.

How best can India deal with this? We are now in a phase of ever-deepening integration into the world economy. Particularly with the large-scale operations of MNCs in India — both domestic and foreign — the effectiveness of capital account restrictions has greatly diminished. The top 500 Indian companies are turning themselves into MNCs with global treasuries. Their financial activities overseas are immune to India's capital controls.

Having signed up for the globalisation project, our focus should now be on better absorbing shocks. What are the key shock absorbers? The three critical ones are: a flexible exchange rate, a liquid currency market and a liquid equity market.

What happens if $10 billion flows into the country within a week by way of FII flows on the equity market? The first source of damage can be currency policy. If the RBI tries to buy dollars so as to prevent a rupee appreciation, this would lead to a distortion of monetary policy. With an inflation crisis on its hands, the RBI needs to raise rates. But if the RBI buys $10 billion on the currency market, it has to pay for this by creating Rs 45,000 crore within a week, which adds to reserve money. This would yield a monetary policy distortion, and help fuel inflation. In order to avoid this problem, the RBI needs to stay on course with the strategy of not trading on the currency market.

Assuming the RBI does not interfere in the market process, $10 billion would hit the foreign exchange market. Here, what India needs is a deep and liquid currency market so that when a large order comes along, the price does not move. Data from the Bank of International Settlements shows that the rupee has a roughly $20 billion/day market in India and $20 billion/day market abroad, adding up to $40 billion/day. Today $2 billion/day for a week may affect the price, but as this market grows bigger, the impact of large dollar inflows or outflows on the exchange rate will be smaller.

From a policy perspective, it is important to move forward with financial development to achieve a more liquid market. The Percy Mistry and Raghuram Rajan reports discuss how to achieve a bond-currency-derivatives nexus. This would give us a greater ability to absorb shocks on both the currency market and the bond market.

The third leg of the story lies in the equity market. Here, globally, trading in Indian equities works out to roughly $45 billion a day. Of this, roughly $35 billion a day happens at the National Stock Exchange, $1 billion a day happens at the Bombay Stock Exchange and (a rough estimate of) $10 billion a day happens abroad. The offshore venues include Singapore, New York and London. Here also, orders of $2 billion a day for a week would affect the price.

Today India is open to portfolio investment from foreign institutional investors. Individuals are not allowed to invest easily. Yet, from the point of view of incentives, decision-making, knowledge about Indian markets and thus behaviour in the equity (and hence foreign exchange) markets, this reduces diversity. Allowing retail investors, some of whom may be pensioners while others may be speculating on the rupee, will give us less of the herding behaviour that sometimes characterises institutional investors, who could tend to move in and out together. Greater diversity of opinion and behaviour would reduce fluctuations, and more trading would increase liquidity, in these markets.

In summary, nervousness about capital inflows requires a multi-pronged response: the reduction of capital controls that interfere with FDI and rupee-denominated debt; a continuation of the RBI approach of not interfering with the market exchange rate; and financial reforms that will yield more liquid currency and equity markets. With these, India will achieve bigger capital inflows in a difficult time. In addition, the financial markets will become better able to buffer the inevitable fluctuations of capital flows.

The writer is professor at National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi







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 is 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 nuclearisation 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 centre 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 manoeuvre 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.

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.

I had given up on Netanyahu's cabinet and urged the US 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 delegitimise 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.

The New York Times







"The game is up for Mubarak... it is time for Obama to make one phone call." Thus Time magazine's Fareed Zakaria summed up a moment of history in the making (Face the Nation, CNN-IBN). Perched upon the camera-person's shoulder above Tahrir Square, we had a panoramic bird's eye view of the people's revolution in Cairo. As we descended to ground zero we heard Egyptians chant the same message Zakaria had spelled out: Mubarak must go.

In times of international turbulence, we turn to CNN and BBC. Mostly, Indian TV news channels don't retain foreign correspondents; if they do, they're stationed outside the White House, Big Ben or with snowflakes falling on their heads at Davos. NDTV and Times Now did have reporters leaving on a jet plane for Cairo as soon as it became clear, last weekend, that the Egyptian revolt was more than a protest — they were good for soundbytes. Frankly, they should venture out more often. If we are an emerging global superpower, a member of the UN Security Council with economic and political interests beyond our boundaries, we need our own perspectives abroad.

In this instance, Al Jazeera's coverage, some of which was thoughtfully provided by Times Now and CNN-IBN, proved to be most evocative of a country on the verge of a breakdown. The Egypt story was a visual spectacle — just to witness the thousands on the streets, to see army officers embrace the protesters like long-lost relatives, to watch Tahrir Square embroidered into a human carpet — that was what quickened the heartbeat. And Al Jazeera's visuals were the clearest, the ones that enscapsulated the drama — BBC and CNN had grainy satellite shots.

Its reporters also sounded the most authoritative on the ebb and flow of the "revolution" on the streets; CNN and BBC did too but they often seemed more preoccupied with "what did Obama think" and "what will America do", or "what are American concerns". That's all very interesting and vital but for now, this was an on-the-spot reporter's story and Al Jazeera gave us a narrative, not from an American or Western perspective, but one from the region. All the more reason DTH providers such as Tata Sky should be offering the news channel to subscribers, along with others from the Middle East and the subcontinent. Why don't they?

And why doesn't Shah Rukh Khan become a radio cricket commentator? He'd be fabulous — not because he owns Kolkata Knight Riders and knows a thing or two about the game — but because he can provide such splendid running commentary about balls. During the first episode of his latest TV show, Zor Ka Jhatka (Imagine), every second over, sorry sentence, of his was peppered with balls as he described an obstacle course race somewhere out in Argentina (see how far our national interest is taking us!). And he is clearly enjoying the double entendre: as one of contestants, Natasha Suri, fell into a mud bath, he remarked gleefully, "I like dirty girls — now big balls are waiting for her — oh, she's been clean bowled on the first ball!" Or this for Raja Chaudhary (the former other half of Shweta Tiwari who recently won Bigg Boss. They might have little else left in common but the ex-husband and wife sure like reality shows): "he has big balls waiting for him'.

To understand what he is referring to, watch the show. This desi version of Wipeout (AXN) invites unemployed "celebrities" like Vindu Dara Singh, wrestler Manoj Kumar, former Miss Indias Simran Mundi and Natasha, plus a host of others well known for nothing special, to jump from one obstacle to another and meet with a watery fate when they fail. Why this play-pool is in Argentina and SRK on his lonesome in a plush studio providing us recorded commentary of the contest, we don't know. SRK is, nevertheless, lively, and entertaining as only SRK can be but after 20-odd minutes you are tired by the contestants' physical antics and his verbal ones.

A suggestion: Zor Ka Jhatka is the kind of show that should be scheduled after midnight for insomnia. That's when you'd really enjoy it.







No easy havens

A front-page article by BJP leader Balbir Punj in the RSS official voice, Organiser, questions the government's decision not to reveal the names of those who operate bank accounts in tax havens abroad. He says in the light of the Supreme Court's observations and the possible WikiLeaks expose, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should be prepared for the worst.

"The names will burst out of his secret chest. And there is enough indication that the list will include some top Congress functionaries and their foreign friends including the notorious Italian businessman Quattrocchi himself," he says. The article is in the context of the BJP's stepped-up attack on the UPA on the black money issue.

Evidence, he says, "has mounted in the last several years that the crux of the government's eagerness to hide the names is because among the culprits is the Congress party itself, more especially the party's present and previous presidents and prime ministers."

"It is not 'Q' alone who has been a family friend of the Gandhis, whose involvement in the salting out of Indian funds abroad would hurt the Congress. If the exposures so far of the Gandhis themselves in various kickbacks that are funneled into Swiss accounts are any guide, the rot goes deep into the heart of the ruling party and its sole leader itself," he says. Punj says that "one is entitled to ask Dr Singh and his party boss, how does this list compare with their assurance to the electorate in 2009 before the general election that Congress would bring back the national wealth secreted abroad."

Backing BSY

An article in the Organiser strongly backs B.S. Yeddyurappa — the embattled Karnataka chief minister — in the context of Governor H.R. Bhardwaj's grant of sanction to prosecute him. It endorses the BJP's criticism of the governor and points out that party-led governments should improve the functioning of their information departments to keep the public abreast of the facts. The article repeats the BJP's assertion that Yeddyurappa's predecessors had also allocated lands under their discretionary powers and the governor never took action against them. Bhardwaj became the governor of Karnataka in 2009, a year after BSY came to power.

Questioning the sanction for prosecution given by Bhardwaj on the basis of private complaints against the chief minister, the article draws a parallel between a similar petition filed by Subramanian Swamy against the former telecom minister, A. Raja.

In the case of Swamy, it says that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not give permission for a year and accepted the plea that the request for sanctioning prosecution was premature, saying that he was waiting for a report from the CBI. The article says the PM had also argued that the stage for considering such sanction would come only after a magistrate took cognisance of the crime and asked for sanction.

The article stands by the BJP's view that BSY need not quit because of Raj Bhavan's politically motivated action, which, it argues, violates the principles of natural justice and could be set aside by a court of law.

Gandhi vs Congress

Interestingly, an article in Panchjanya invokes Mahatma Gandhi several times to target the culture of greed and corruption in the Congress. Tracing the history of the Congress from its inception in 1885, the article says that the party had, in its early years, started the trend of bogus membership drives mainly to attract people from the minority community.

The article extensively quotes "Gandhiji" — whose assassination was initially blamed on the RSS — to make the point that corruption had deeply pervaded the Congress party even in the short duration that it exercised power in the provinces after the 1937 elections. The article cites Gandhi's writing in Harijan newspaper on August 7 in that year to back its argument, but it laments the fact that Gandhi refused to intervene in the matter.

It claims that Gandhi was extremely disturbed by the increasing tendency in the Congress to resort to violence to settle issues within the party. "Now the Congress doesn't belong to people who believe in non-violence and creative programmes... whenever Congressmen gain access to power there is an unhealthy competition to share the spoils," the article quotes from Gandhi's writings.

In short, the piece implies that Gandhi had repeatedly blamed the Congress for allowing bogus membership, siphoning funds, and the bribery that dominated the elections of the various party committees. The writer claims that Gandhi was disillusioned with the indiscipline, greed for posts, selfishness and violence that had started creeping into the Congress.







On its fifth anniversary, is India's rural jobs guarantee scheme anywhere near China's famous iron rice bowl? The scheme, to be fair to it, was never meant to be so ambitious, and at best, its ambition was to provide jobs for just 100 days a year, and at a wage which is lower than the minimum wage—indeed, the big tussle between the government and the proponents of the scheme like Aruna Roy and Jean Drèze is that the MGNREGA wage levels be hiked to equal minimum wages across the country. With Rs 1.1 lakh crore already spent on the scheme in the last 5 years, how effective has it been? Certainly it has been one of the most successfully-run schemes, with just 180 complaints of corruption received in the last 3 years—both Drèze and Roy are complaining about how the scheme is not being expanded fast enough, how the wages are low; the complaints of fake muster rolls are minimal. This is because the scheme's design allows you to see, on the Internet thanks to NIC and TCS, the work done in each district, the payments made, the wages and so on—you can, if you like, take this data and then go to each district to see if the well has been dug, the wages paid to each person and so on.

Critics point to how MGNREGA has raised wage rates, caused a huge shortage of labour—tractor manufacturers are on the record talking of how their sales have improved post-MGNREGA. Some think-tanks even give out data to show food inflation is much higher in MGNREGA districts. With 5.3 crore households employed under MGNREGA in 2009-10 and getting 54 days of employment in a year, that's 286 crore man-days of employment or 2.86 crore man-years of employment, assuming a person has to be employed for 100 days a year to qualify as employed under the Usual Status method. That's around 6.5% of India's work force—large enough to help rural distress and likely to have caused the kind of impact the scheme's critics have been alleging it has had on overall employment. To the extent it has driven up wages, the solution lies in raising farm productivity. Without this, both India's agriculture and overall growth story are certain to be compromised.





Since the government has repeatedly argued, including in affidavits before the Supreme Court in the CVC and A Raja cases, that the CAG does not have the jurisdiction to examine 'policy decisions', and the issue is going to keep coming up, we need some clarity on the matter. From the Supreme Court if need be. If, to take an example, the government gives out land worth Rs 100 crore for Rs 1 crore (roughly the kind of crime BS Yeddyurappa is accused of), can the CAG bring it up, or is it a 'policy decision'? The CAG seems to think it has the power to do so, but the government is of a different view. Since the CAG is increasingly asking questions on 'policy decisions', it is important to resolve the issue of jurisdiction—the last thing we want is a repeat of the government-CAG standoff on the 2G scam.

In the past few weeks, for instance, newspapers have carried news stories on the questions the CAG has asked the aviation ministry on its purchase of 111 planes for Air India for Rs 50,000 crore. The CAG is also auditing the expenses by Reliance Industries Limited on its KG-D6 gas fields. So if the government is later going to say the CAG has no right to examine these costs, why are we even going ahead with the process? The questions the CAG is posing are certainly relevant and need to be asked. In the case of Air India, for instance, there is still no clear justification for the expenditure. Was it just to save the jobs of 30,000-odd persons who work for Air India? After all, there are enough airlines out there for the flying public to not even notice if the airline went out of business. It is also true that even if Air India was as efficient as the best in the world, it cannot service the debt burden without Rs 10,000-odd crore of fresh equity from the government and an equally large concession on debt—so how did the government justify this? In a similar situation, when BSNL wanted to order mobile phone equipment, the government turned it down, saying its falling market share didn't warrant a big order—like Air India, BSNL also argued it was the capacity constraint that was responsible for its falling market share.

The government will argue that the only body that can ask such questions is Parliament. While there is no automatic mechanism for executive decisions as the Air India one, which was cleared by a Group of Ministers, to go to Parliament, the fact is the CAG is an arm of Parliament—its reports are submitted to Parliament's Public Accounts Committee, which decides to accept or reject the findings. So if the CAG reports to Parliament, surely the CAG is entitled to ask questions on its behalf? Can we have some clarity on this?






After dragging on for more than three years, events in the A Raja telecom scam are now moving at a dramatic pace and have acquired a momentum of their own. A momentum that has ensured any decision not taken is already irrelevant. So the BJP's demand for a JPC on Raja became largely irrelevant the day Raja's successor Kapil Sibal announced he was moving on cancelling 85 of Raja's 157 licences, the day Sibal said all spectrum would be auctioned in future and that no more free spectrum would be given to Raja's licensees. Sibal's one-man committee headed by former judge, Shivraj Patil, has gone into procedural lapses since 2001 but its report has been rendered largely irrelevant with Raja's arrest.

Indeed, with the arrest of both Raja's former aide RK Chandolia and former telecom secretary S Behura, you can possibly expect a few more arrests in the weeks to come. And Sibal's comments that no loss was caused to the exchequer, largely a political response to diffuse the scam's impact, has little relevance now with Raja's arrest. Indeed, it just makes the government look foolish, and in denial over what has probably been the biggest scam independent India has seen. Whether the BJP caused the original problem, certain to figure in the Justice Patil report, is largely scoring political points and doesn't take away from the enormity of the Raja scam.

While most associate the CAG report on the Raja scam with the Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss figure, a figure Sibal has been at pains to debunk, even Sibal accepted the CAG's other finding, that of huge procedural lapses. These include, according to the CAG, giving licences to 85 firms that did not even qualify for getting a licence—it was based on this that Sibal issued his cancellation notices; giving 35 licences to 'dual technology' firms; favours to many firms; and so on.

Though the CBI FIR has only been about the 122 licences Raja issued to various new telecom firms, the Supreme Court had asked the CBI to look into all telecom procedures right from 2001—this includes the 'dual technology' licences. The CAG report also speaks of how, in 2003, the Trai chief (Pradip Baijal) had issued a side letter even though Trai had recommended that all licences issued in future would only take place through auctions and after the government had issued guidelines based on them—this, my colleague Rishi Raj reported in FE earlier, is what allowed the government to issue licences to firms at the 2001 rates even though by then the law was that this could be done only through auctions.

Indeed, the key date here is not February 2, the day Raja was arrested, but February 10, the day on which the CBI has to inform the Supreme Court of its progress. As part of this report, it has to tell the Court who are the unnamed officials of private telcos that Raja conspired with, it has to deal with the issues raised in the Tata plaint and in the CAG report on dual-technology firm licences, it has to deal with how the 2003 policy of auctions was converted into a distorted first-come first-served policy that Raja used to perpetuate his scam. The fact that the Court is monitoring the investigations directly, given the scorn it has poured on the CVC who is supposed to supervise the CBI in ordinary circumstances, will make the CBI that much more anxious to play it straight.

Behura's arrest is also likely to have an impact on the CVC case, though it is difficult to tell how it will play out. So far, the government's view on PJ Thomas has been that the palmolein case is irrelevant—the Kerala government first wanted to prosecute him and then changed its mind, and then did another U-turn. The larger issue, though, was always whether, as a former telecom secretary, Thomas had helped Raja cover-up his scam—and how he could oversee an investigation which would go into his tenure as well. As secretary, Thomas processed a file to tell the CAG it had no locus standi in examining 'policy decisions'—no CAG report, as is obvious, would have ensured the Raja scam would never have blown up in the manner it has. As secretary, he also failed to recommend cancelling licences of telcos who, after getting the cheap spectrum, never even rolled out their networks. The government defended the CAG letter by saying Thomas was merely processing a request made by the minister. Well, that's Behura's argument as well, isn't it? That he was merely signing on the proposals to grant individual firms their licences based on a decision that had been taken by Raja's ministry before he joined as secretary—by then the decision had been taken to issue licences in 2008 at the 2001 prices and using a distorted version of the first-come first-served policy.

To make the government look even more flat-footed in the Raja matter is the affidavit filed by it in the Supreme Court. An affidavit that defends the no-loss-was-caused argument made by Sibal and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia; an affidavit that contradicts itself in successive paragraphs (see Innocent of the law, November 20, for details, Worst of all, the affidavit avers a principle to which the government still subscribes, that the CAG has no right to examine 'policy issues'—no CAG, no scam! The government's official view is that only Parliament can examine 'policy issues' and it is unimpressed with the argument that the CAG is actually Parliament's eyes and ears, its way of knowing about the government's acts of both commission and omission.

Keep your eyes glued to the Supreme Court. The fun has only just begun.






The return of European sovereign debt problems in late 2010, culminating in the bailout of Ireland, highlighted the deep seated, perhaps intractable problems, of over-indebted European nations.

European policymakers' confidence in their ability to stabilise the deal with the problems is touchingly reminiscent of a man who jumps off a 50-storey building and thinks that everything is fine after passing the 40th floor.

At Davos, there is little acknowledgement that there is no easy way out. The IMF austerity route has seen Ireland and Greece cut government spending and raise taxes to reduce budget deficits, miring both economies in recession. Even with reductions in budget deficit, debt in Greece is forecast to increase from 140% of GDP in 2010 to 165% in 2015. Over the same period, Ireland will see an increase from 97% to 125%, Portugal from 83% to 100% and Spain from 64% to 85%. The peripheral economies, such as Ireland and Greece, as well as Portugal and probably Spain, will be unable to shrink themselves to solvency.

The EU and IMF are hoping that the bailouts of Greece and Ireland will restore market confidence, which combined with stronger growth, greater fiscal discipline and domestic structural reforms will reduce the fear of default or restructuring. The chances of this script playing out are minimal. The design of each new bailout package is informed by writer Samuel Beckett's observation: "Next time, I will fail better."

As stronger countries move to support the weaker ones, financing the bailouts affects their own credit quality and ability to raise funds. Europe increasingly resembles a group of mountaineers roped together. As the members fall one by one, the survival of the stronger ones is increasingly threatened. The only realistic option is greater economic integration of the EU—unlikely, expansion of existing arrangements—possible but unlikely to work, or allowing indebted countries to fail—most likely. In December 2010, at a special EU meeting, the Germans rejected any attempt to increase the scope and amount of the existing bailout facilities, although by late January they were sounding a little more conciliatory.

The EU agreed to formalise the bailout fund, to be available under highly restrictive conditions and only as a last resort. A key element was the requirement for "collective action clauses", effectively forcing lenders to bear losses. The provision, which must be included in all European government bonds after June 2013, would require the payment period to be extended in case of a crisis. If the solvency problems persisted, then further extension of maturity, reductions in interest rates and a write-off in the principal would occur.

The stronger members of the EU, led by Germany, appear to have decided to limit future liability in bailouts. As membership of the Euro prevents large devaluation of the currency, economic adjustment will require reduction of the budget deficit and deflation. As Greece and Ireland demonstrate, more rigorous deficit cutting may not return the countries to solvency. The EU proposals implicitly recognise that over-indebted countries cannot sustain currency debt levels. The reduction of the debt burden will have to come through restructuring or default, with creditors taking losses.

In January 2011, Portugal and Spain managed to issue debt successfully, giving investors confidence—temporarily—that the problems are manageable. In Portugal's case, the debt carried a yield of 6.7%. Portugal's 10-year bonds briefly reached 7% earlier in January and returned there late in the month. This level is generally regarded as unsustainable and is above the rates investors demanded from Greece and Ireland shortly before both countries finally capitulated and accepted bailout packages. Large volumes of maturing debt mean that the test is likely to come sooner than later. The heavily indebted European sovereign states face $2.85 trillion of maturing debt in the period to 2013. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain have bond maturities of $502 billion in 2011.

European problems now threaten global recovery. China, which contributed around 80% of total global growth in 2010, has expressed growing concern about the problems in Europe. Trade between China and the EU, its largest export market, totals around $470 billion annually, contributing a trade surplus of 122 billion euros for China in the first nine months of 2010. Any slowdown in Europe would affect Chinese growth. A continuation of the European debt problems, especially restructuring or default of sovereign debt, would also severely disrupt financial markets. India is unlikely to avoid collateral damage.

The capacity and will for further support is increasingly diminishing. Given the toxic conjunction of high cost of funding, low growth and high starting level of debt, it may be now near impossible for many European countries to contain the spiral to a restructuring of their debt or default.

As Jyrki Katainen, the Finnish finance minister, explained with uncharacteristic common sense: "There's no miracle which we should wait for. If you have more expenditures than income, then you have to adjust it."

The author has published 'Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives'






The arrest of former Telecommunications Minister A. Raja by the Central Bureau of Investigation is a significant milestone in the ongoing criminal investigation into the trillion-rupee 2G spectrum allocation scam. After several rounds of questioning, and searches at his residences and at business firms where he was suspected to have investment interests, the CBI seems closer to filing charges and beginning prosecution. But coming as it did three years after the scandalous transactions, the arrest raises the question what and who prevented India's premier criminal investigation agency from doing what it is required to do under the law of the land. Although the CBI searched the offices of the Department of Telecommunications in October 2009 after the Central Vigilance Commission asked it to probe irregularities in the grant of telecom licences, no headway was made in the so-called preliminary enquiry until the Supreme Court began monitoring the case. For more than a year, the CBI was content to let sleeping dogs lie, keeping up a pretence of investigation. That the agency was taking its cue from ruling politicians was clear, what with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaking up for Mr. Raja at every available opportunity. As is evident from the 2007-2008 correspondence between him and Mr. Raja (see 'Resources' at, Dr. Singh was fully in the picture when the then Telecommunications Minister decided not to go for auction of a highly valued scarce resource and do all that happened under cover of the 'first-come, first-served' policy. In fact, the record shows that the Prime Minister first raised doubts about this course but went along with the decision-making.

As opposition leaders have argued, the issues go well beyond Mr. Raja. In the first place, a proper investigation must identify the many beneficiaries in independent India's biggest corruption scandal and bring them to justice. Secondly, with the latest development in the case, the opposition's demand for a joint parliamentary committee to look into wider aspects of the scam — including the Prime Minister's accountability for the actions of a Cabinet colleague that he knew about and did little to stop — has gathered force. The arrest, which signifies the CBI's progress, however slow in its investigation, has come as a huge embarrassment to the current Telecommunications Minister, Kapil Sibal — who only recently went out of his way to defend the indefensible, asserting among other things that there was no loss to the government exchequer from the 2G spectrum allocation. Is the arrest of Mr. Raja an indication that the CBI has at last broken free from political tutelage in the 2G spectrum case? The answer to this question might be available in the next stage in the investigation.





Archaeological evidence in the form of stone tools discovered from Jebel Faya, a site close to Sharjah in United Arab Emirates and about 50 km from the Persian Gulf, suggests that modern humans migrated out of Africa 100,000 to 125,000 years ago. The tools include small hand axes and two-sided blades. The conclusions of a paper published online in Science ("The Southern Route 'Out of Africa': Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia" by Simon J. Armitage et al., January 28, 2011) are contrary to the generally accepted view on two counts — the time and the route. It turns out that the migration of modern humans out of Africa took place about 55,000 years earlier than used to be believed. Secondly, they took a southern route to reach Arabia from east Africa, not a northern route to reach the Mediterranean region. The hostile desert conditions of Arabia, the Red Sea, and the Straits of Hormuz were previously regarded as the three natural barriers that prevented migration into this region. But the interglacial period that started about 130,000 years ago would probably have transformed Arabia from an arid region into a more hospitable, wetter region with savannah grass, lakes, and rivers. Crossing the narrower and shallower Red Sea would have been possible at the start of the interglacial period; water locked up in ice sheets during the preceding glacial period was yet to melt and raise the local sea level.

Evidence of human inhabitation about 50,000 years ago has been discovered in Australia. Artefacts and bones of anatomically modern humans dating back between 30,000 and 40,000 years have been discovered at sites along the Don River, about 400 km south of Moscow. Modern humans reaching such faraway places can be explained only if an earlier wave of modern humans migrating out of Africa had taken place more than 60,000 years ago. Stone tools become a reliable source for studying the inhabitation of modern humans for a period that goes back more than 100,000 years; the preservation of human fossils from that time is quite unlikely. The sophisticated stone tools recovered from Jebel Faya bear a strong resemblance to the tools used by people in east Africa. Although the possibility of other hominins traversing Arabia and occupying the site of discovery during the interglacial period cannot be completely ruled out, it becomes more than a coincidence that they and modern humans in east Africa used nearly identical tools. There is a need to find similar tools from more sites at or near Jebel Faya to confirm an earlier exodus of our species.








As India's — and by some reckoning the world's — largest rights-based rural safety net programme completes five years, here is a reality check. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) has become the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). But in a monumental affront to the father of the nation, the UPA government has confirmed that it will not be paying minimum wages to MGNREGS workers.

On January 1, 2009, the government froze the (then) NREGS daily wages at Rs.100 and delinked it from the sacrosanct Minimum Wages Act, 1948. The poor had always been underpaid in the Indian labour market. But now, by a single diktat, they were officially condemned to subhuman status, fit not even to earn subsistence-level wages.

Had the Mahatma been living today, he would have been infinitely saddened by the use of his name to sanctify this blatant illegality. In the event, the greatest ever champion of justice for the poor is now the brand name for a programme that denies the lowest legally permissible wages to this section. But such is life and such are governments — in 2003, thanks to a predecessor regime, the Mahatma faced the ignominy of sharing space in Parliament's Central Hall with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, once accused in his assassination.

In the current case, the hypocrisy is compounded by the paeans sung to the rural wage programme by the Congress and the UPA government in the sunshine aftermath of their May 2009 re-election. The victory was phenomenal by every yardstick. The Manmohan Singh government was the first since 1984 to have returned to office after a full first term. More amazingly, it had hit the bull's eye beating the odds brought about by crippling worldwide recession and spiralling prices. The only explanation that suggested itself was that the voting classes, made up overwhelmingly of the poorer sections, had derived at least marginal benefits from the government's welfare measures, patchy and half-hearted as the latter were. For politicians, the situation offered something to chew on: If half measures could achieve this, what would be the political dividend from a more focussed and better implemented social sector agenda? Indeed, the Mahatma Gandhi prefix to the NREGS was widely read as a thanksgiving to the aam aadmi from a grateful party and government.

The surest way of rewarding the aam aadmi and respecting the Mahatma's ideals in letter and spirit would have been for the government to withdraw the January 1, 2009 order and realign the MGNREGS to the Minimum Wages Act. Instead, in the 20 months since its victory, the government has done all it could to derail the programme. Perhaps the bigger dishonesty is the outward impression it has given of making a superhuman effort to sustain the programme — against mounting fiscal pressures and criticism that the MGNREGS had become a wasteful behemoth.

On December 31, 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wrote to National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi, rejecting the NAC's plea for payment of statutory minimum wages to MGNREGS workers. However, he proposed a compromise: To protect MGNREGS workers from inflation, the government would index the wages to the Consumer Price Index for agricultural labour. This clever sleight of hand was intended to serve two purposes — push the NAC and its supporters to the backfoot and divert attention from the core issue of minimum wages. Overnight, the demand for minimum wages started to look ridiculous and overstated. The debate was pitched in terms of reasonable governance versus fundamentalist social activism. Here was a government exerting its utmost for the poor, going out on a limb to bear the extra burden of indexing wages to inflation. Yet the "NAC and its cohorts" were insisting on a maximalist position on minimum wages. Maximalist position on minimum wages? The irony didn't strike those hyperventilating against the wage programme.

The question before the government was of constitutional propriety: can a duly elected government refuse to implement its own law, more so a government that swore by the aam aadmi for whom the 1948 law was designed in the first place? But rather than accept the obvious answer, the government cosmetically tinkered with the wage programme, passing it off as largesse to MGNREGS workers.

But the illegality does not end here. The UPA government is currently in contempt of the Andhra Pradesh High Court which, in July 2009, suspended the Rs. 100 wage freeze ordered on January 1, 2009 by the Union Rural Development Ministry. But the Central government took no note of the order, resulting in labour groups — which had first moved the court — filing contempt petitions against it.

At a recent seminar on MGNREGS wages, Planning Commission Vice-chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia dismissed the issue with the off-hand remark that the Centre would enforce minimum wages for MGNREGS workers if the courts so decreed. He was unaware that the Centre was already in contempt on this issue! When this was pointed out to Mr. Ahluwalia, he amended his position: If the minimum wage in a State was in excess of Rs. 100, the State government would pay the balance. However, for this to happen, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act would have to be first amended, of which there is far from being any sign.

In reality, the Andhra Pradesh High Court was only taking forward a position made over and over by the Supreme Court. As former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court A.P. Shah pointed out at the wages seminar, the Supreme Court, through a series of judgments, had elevated the right to minimum wages "from a statutory to Constitutional status." The Supreme Court ruled that any remuneration which was less than the minimum wage was "forced labour" or what is commonly understood as bonded labour. The court explained why: "… the first principle is that there is a minimum wage which, in any event must be paid, irrespective of the extent of profits, the financial condition of the establishment or the availability of workmen in lower wages. The minimum wage is independent of the kind of industry and applies to all alike, big or small. It sets the lowest limit below which wages cannot be allowed to sink in all humanity ..."

Clearly, it is inhuman and degrading even to argue against minimum wages — doubly so in a country where 92 per cent of the working population is in the unorganised sector, where exploitation of labour and poor enforcement of laws are a given. According to a report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), in 2004-05, 90.7 per cent of agricultural labourers, 64.5 per cent of rural workers and 52.3 per cent of casual non-agricultural workers received wages below the daily national minimum wage of Rs. 66 designated by the Central government.

It is to rectify this dismal situation that Parliament, in 2008, passed The Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Bill. The law set minimum conditions of work, including an eight-hour work day and payment of statutory minimum wages. But what use is any law if the government wilfully flouts it? In a recent paper, Jayati Ghosh and C.P. Chandrashekhar have shown that even with patchy implementation, the MGNREGS had pushed up wages, especially for women, who form over half of the MGNREGS workforce. One has only to look at the transformative social impact of the mid-day meal scheme in Tamil Nadu to appreciate the long-term effect of this kind of female empowerment on rural families.

Talking to journalists ahead of the 2009 general election, Rahul Gandhi had proudly noted the effect of the rural wage scheme in elevating wage levels across the country. Mr. Gandhi is not a social activist; if anything he has a market vision. So he typically understood the wage scheme from a market perspective: Increased rural spending had to be good for growth.

Tragically, this very factor has today become a reason to fight the programme. The newest argument against the MGNREGS is that rising rural wages is causing inflation and raising the costs of cultivation, rendering the economy uncompetitive. Ms Ghosh and Mr. Chandrashekhar have strongly disputed this argument in their paper. In any case, this is a viciously circular argument coming from a growth-obsessed government. Economic growth is necessary to uplift the poor. But when the poor get just a little money to spend, the economy starts hurting.

In successive budgets, this government has handed huge concessions to corporates. Between 2007 and 2009, tax revenue foregone on account of exemptions under corporate income tax amounted to over Rs.1,31, 000 crore (Venkatesh Athreya, Frontline). Experts have placed the size of the Black Money Economy at anything between 40 per cent and 50 per cent of the GDP. The 2G scam alone has very conservatively cost the exchequer Rs. 50,000 crore. By contrast the 2009-2010 budget allocated Rs. 39,000 crore or about 0.66 per cent of the GDP to MGNREGS. That the government is quibbling over the payment of minimum wages to the poorest of the poor is a shame.








Intellectual progenitor of the Indian nuclear weapons programme and by far the most influential strategic thinker of his own and subsequent generations, K. Subrahmanyam's enduring contribution was the coherent intellectual framework he helped provide for the country's foreign and security policies in a world buffeted by uncertainty and changing power equations.

He died in New Delhi on Wednesday after a courageous battle against cancer. He was 82.

In a long and distinguished career that began with his entry into the Indian Administrative Service in 1951, Subrahmanyam straddled the fields of administration, defence policy, academic research and journalism with an unparalleled felicity. His prolific writings — contained in thousands of newspaper articles (including in The Hindu), book chapters and speeches over four decades — touched upon a broad range of global and regional strategic issues and invariably generated fierce debate in India and abroad. But it was his early — and even controversial — advocacy of India exercising the option to produce nuclear weapons that made governments and scholars around the world sit up and take notice of his views.

Subrahmanyam's first formal involvement with the Indian nuclear establishment began in 1966 when, as a relatively junior bureaucrat in the Defence Ministry, he was asked to join an informal committee tasked by the Prime Minister's Office with studying the strategic, technical and financial implications of a nuclear weapons programme. Soon thereafter, he was made director of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), a post he held from 1968 to 1975. He was one of the first analysts to sense a strategic opportunity for India in the emerging crisis in East Pakistan and his public articulation of this well before the 1971 war led Pakistani officials to see him eventually as a Chanakya-like figure who managed to contrive their country's dismemberment.

Born in Tiruchi on January 19, 1929, Subrahmanyam returned to his home state of Tamil Nadu to serve as Home Secretary during the period of the Emergency. An honest and upright administrator, he considered the Constitution and the liberties it embodied to be of higher value than the political directives of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the Congress party. At a time when his counterparts elsewhere in the country became willing accomplices to the suspension of civil liberties, Subrahmanyam used his powers to shield those being targeted. Many years later, during the Gujarat carnage of 2002, he was one of the few members of the strategic community to write about how the country would pay a heavy price if it failed to uphold the rule of law and the right to life of all its citizens.

He returned to Delhi in the late 1970s and ended up working as Secretary, Defence Production during Indira Gandhi's second tenure as Prime Minister. Differing again with the government on an issue of principle, Subrahmanyam was eased out of the Ministry of Defence and returned to the IDSA as director. Though intended as a punishment posting, he took to his new assignment as a duck to water. Through his efforts, the institute emerged as India's premier think-tank with a large number of scholars, many on secondment from the armed forces, conducting research on defence and foreign policy issues.


After retiring from the government in 1987, Subrahmanyam continued to write on security matters, eventually joining the Times of India as a consulting editor. Journalism was in many ways his true calling. Affectionately known by his colleagues as "Bomb Mama", in reality Subrahmanyam was far from being a nuclear hawk. He wrote on a range of issues, including on spiritual and religious matters and loved nothing more than to discuss national and global issues with his younger colleagues.

He was in favour of India acquiring nuclear weapons and argued forcefully during the international negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty against India's accession. At a seminar in Washington at the time, he famously denounced American critics of India's stand as the 'Ayatollahs of Nonproliferation'.

And yet, he did not believe it was absolutely essential for the country to conduct an actual weapons test. When Pokhran-II came finally in May 1998, Subrahmanyam was taken by surprise but accepted that the government's hand had been forced by the manner in which the United States had tried to foreclose the country's nuclear option. At the same time, he said that India should immediately announce that it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, a position the Vajpayee government accepted.

After the Kargil war, he headed the Kargil Review Committee which was tasked with recommending an overhaul of the Indian national security and intelligence apparatus whose failings had allowed Pakistani soldiers to occupy high altitude posts in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides a host of systemic reforms, Subrahmanyam argued in favour of India establishing a National Security Council but was disappointed by the structure of the institution that the National Democratic Alliance regime created. He nevertheless agreed to head the first National Security Advisory Board and was also instrumental in the NSAB's formulation of India's Draft Nuclear Doctrine.

A realist in his strategic thinking, Subrahmanyam was one of the first to understand and discuss what the emergence of a multipolar world order – his preferred term was "polycentric" — meant for Indian foreign policy. He argued that India had the capacity to improve its relations with all global power centres. At the same time, he sought to leverage American interest in India's rise by pressing for the removal of restrictions on nuclear and high-tech commerce.

He also believed the emergence of an economically interdependent world meant the era of military conflict between the great powers was a thing of the past and that economic growth and internal strength would be far more important determinants of national power than mere military might.

For one who worked in government for many years, Subrahmanyam prized his independence which he saw as the key to his integrity. I have had three careers, he once said when asked why he had turned down the offer of a Padma Vibhushan — as a civil servant, a strategic analyst and a journalist. "The awards should be given by the concerned groups, not the Government. If there is an award for sports, it should be given by sportspersons, and if it's for an artists, by artists". The state, he believed, was not qualified to judge different aspects of human endeavour.

Subrahmanyam, of course, excelled in all his endeavours. True to form, his most creative period as an analyst came after he was diagnosed with cancer. In his death, India has lost one of its most perceptive strategic minds. The void will be impossible to fill.

He is survived by his wife, Sulochana, his daughter Sudha and his three sons, Vijay Kumar, Jaishankar and Sanjay.








Nineteenth century Europe considered China and Japan the Far East. But for South Block today, the particular region beyond Japan, comprising the small countries in the Pacific Ocean, should be viewed as the Far East. During a recent weeklong sojourn in the area, I found the region to be of considerable potential significance for India, an aspiring great power. Our global view encompassing the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa should also include the Pacific island countries. Even a small increase in investments there could yield rich dividends.

The Pacific region

Our academic community can make a useful contribution by undertaking a study of conditions and challenges facing the Pacific region, particularly its small island states. Countries such as Kiribati, Palau and Tuvalu are not well-known names even amongst foreign affairs experts, but they should be. Why? First, because it is a large and diverse group going through a development experience similar to ours. Second, because the evolving power dynamics, marked by competition between the two Chinas and the dominant role played by Australia and New Zealand, call for India to become more aware and active. Our old connections with Fiji, growing ties with Australia, and the logic of our 'Look East' policy seem to direct us towards a qualitative increase in development cooperation with the island countries.

The region is stamped by asymmetry. Excluding Australia and New Zealand, the region has its big power and hub — Fiji, having a population of 8,50,000, whereas Nauru is blessed with a total of 14,000 people, equal to those living in a small segment of Noida, just outside Delhi. The total land area of Australia — 7.6 million — stands in contrast to the 26 of Tuvalu.

The per capita income of New Zealand is about $29,000 but Samoa has to be content with $5,800. A country such as the Cook Islands is not even a sovereign state; it is a self-governing territory functioning in voluntary association with New Zealand.

Pacific Islands Forum

Given the distance from India and the peculiar topography of the region where island states are scattered far and wide, it is not surprising that we have only two resident diplomatic missions — in Suva, Fiji, and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Other countries are covered through concurrent accreditation of our envoys based in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Fiji. Hence, a regional institution can be used better.

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is an active political grouping of 16 independent and self-governing states, representing about 32 million people. Its motto is 'Excelling Together for the People of the Pacific.' Its leaders believe that the Pacific region "can, should and will be" a region of peace, harmony, security and economic prosperity so that its people can lead free and worthwhile lives. These states treasure the diversity, especially of cultures, traditions and religious beliefs. They aim to provide good governance and sustainable development, seeking partnerships "with neighbours and beyond" in order to develop their knowledge, improve communications and ensure a sustainable economic existence.

Key challenges

With seven founding members, the forum was established in 1971 as the South Pacific Forum. In 2000, its name was changed to the PIF. It has 16 members now, with New Caledonia and French Polynesia as associate members. The forum's observers, or special observers, include Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, and Timor Leste. The PIF Secretariat is located in the capital Fiji, although the host country stands suspended from the forum at present. It serves to ensure implementation of the leaders' decisions and coordinate work of other regional organisations.

Island countries face similar challenges of socio-economic development as developing countries elsewhere, but their priorities seem to be different. During a training programme conducted by a colleague and I at Nadi in Fiji for diplomats of eight countries of the region, climate change, power supply, connectivity for travel and communication, maritime security and human resource development figured among the concerns. However, issues such as international terrorism, rivalries among the great powers, and corruption triggered yawns.

From a small island in the middle of the world's largest ocean, the sea seems an unlimited treasure but also an unfathomable threat. Storms and tsunamis define daily lives. Hence climate change has been a real concern. Rising sea levels threaten the inundation of states like Tuvalu and Kiribati. A recent PIF communiqué highlights climate change as "the greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific." In calling upon the world to sign a post-Kyoto agreement, it pleads that the problem should be seen "in the longer term sustainability of economies, societies and peoples the world over."

Energy is a key priority as these islands are located far from known sources of oil and gas. They are unable to contemplate the use of nuclear energy. One of them, the Marshall Islands, is yet to recover from the adverse effects of radioactivity caused by U.S. atomic tests during 1946-62. The real choice, therefore, revolves around the renewables — solar and wind energy, for which they need more assistance. Development of small industry, telephony, and better use of information technology can speed up development and reduce marginalisation.

The Indian angle

Of late, New Delhi seems to be paying a little more attention to the region. Ms Preneet Kaur, Minister of State for External Affairs, made pertinent observations during participation in the Post Pacific Forum Dialogue in Vanuatu last August. She reiterated India's commitment to the economic development of region and "its greater integration with the Indian economy"; stressed that India's "Regional Assistance Initiative" was based on priorities identified by regional leaders; and expressed appreciation for "the steady progress" made by them towards regional integration. She also announced India's decision to increase grants to $1,25,000 for each island country.

However, India can and should do more. It needs to craft a comprehensive long-term strategy on development cooperation with the region, keeping in view the geo-political trends. Further, it should show greater generosity. Emulating the model devised for cooperation with Africa, a respectable sum, say $50 million, should be set aside for development projects in the Pacific region. A composite study mission could be sent to the area to develop a blueprint and to recommend an allocation of resources after examining felt needs and the absorption capacity of the countries concerned.

Interaction needs to be intensified through all channels — bilateral, regional and multilateral. In particular, India's relations with the PIF Secretariat could be expanded, with India's High Commissioner in Fiji designated as our point man for this purpose. Our Permanent Mission in New York should be encouraged to take more initiatives to nurture ties with the Pacific countries. Our relations with Fiji should be diversified. The situation in the Pacific should be given greater prominence on the agenda for our dialogue with Australia and New Zealand.

The region is important to us not only in the context of the United Nations, but also in terms of China. Beijing has been active in several Indian Ocean countries closer to our shores. New Delhi has little reason to be shy in using the same currency. It must expand its horizons and become assertive in promoting the Pacific region's interests as well as its own.

( The author is a former Indian ambassador who visited Fiji recently.)








A vast majority of Egypt's museums and archaeological sites are secure and have not been looted, Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief antiquities official, said in a telephone interview on February 1. He also rejected comparisons between the current situation in Egypt and scenes of chaos and discord that resulted in the destruction of artefacts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"People are asking me, 'Do you think Egypt will be like Afghanistan?'" he said. "And I say, 'No, Egyptians are different — they love me because I protect antiquities.'"

Mr. Hawass, who has never been shy about promoting his work, described two episodes of looting that he said took place on January 28 night.

The instances

At the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, thieves looking for gold broke 70 objects, including two sculptures of Tutankhamen, and took two skulls from a research lab before being stopped as they were leaving the museum. Mr. Hawass said that they had first been caught by civilians, who fought the thieves until soldiers arrived and detained them. He said that the damaged objects could all be restored.

In the second episode, he said, armed Bedouins looted a storage site on the Sinai Peninsula, where objects were being stored for a future museum, and took six boxes. But Mr. Hawass said that after he made statements on television and radio demanding the objects' return and warning the thieves that they would not be able to sell them, 288 objects were left in the street on February 1 morning and recovered by the police. He said he would not know until a review was completed how many objects in all had been taken.

In Saqqara, site of the oldest pyramid in Egypt and a number of important tombs, padlocks on the tombs were broken but nothing was taken, Mr. Hawass said. He said that other sites, including the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the pyramids of Giza, and all of Egypt's other museums were safe, and credited not only the army but also average Egyptians, who he said had helped guards protect cultural sites.

"They stood with sticks" along with guards and antiquities inspectors, he said. "They stood in front of outlaws, and they stopped any theft."

As Egypt's chief archaeologist, Mr. Hawass has made the return of Egypt's cultural patrimony his priority. He has called on Germany, for instance, to return the bust of Nefertiti that is in the Neues Museum in Berlin, and on Britain to return the Rosetta Stone.

Mr. Hawass, whose previous title was chairman of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, was promoted on January 1 to a position in the cabinet of President Hosni Mubarak as Minister of Antiquities. He said that the government had responded to protesters' demands and that now people should be patient.

"They should give us the opportunity to change things, and if nothing happens they can march again," he said. "But you can't bring in a new President now, in this time. We need Mubarak to stay and make the transition."

© New York Times News Service





Somali pirates are systematically torturing hostages and using them as human shields, the top commander of the European Union Naval Force said on February 1.

Pirates have recently tied hostages upside down and dragged them in the sea, locked them in freezers, beaten them and used plastic ties around body parts, Maj. Gen. Buster Howes said.

"There have been regular manifestations of systematic torture," he said. If warships approached a pirated ship too closely, the pirates would drag hostages on deck and beat them in front of naval officers until the warship went away, Howes said.

"A few years go, they were very constrained and much more respectful" to hostages, he said, but now "they've shown a willingness to use violence much more quickly."

Howes' account of the worsening treatment of hostages was based on hostage debriefings, naval intelligence and liaison with commercial shipping companies.

There could be several reasons for the change in tactics. As ransoms have risen, the Somali fishermen who began first taking ships have been edged out by more ruthless and well organised gangs. More warships and better-prepared crews mean pirates have to use more violence to stop ships — for example, hitting a vessel with several rocket-propelled grenades — and sometimes even more violence to get to crews that have locked themselves in a safe room or "citadel."

Citadels, hidden behind reinforced doors, are typically supplied with food and drink, two-way communications and a means of controlling the ship's engines. Crew members should be able to wait there safely while their ship drifts and help from a nearby warship arrives. Howes said there had been 21 incidents in recent months when pirates boarded, found the crew locked in a citadel, and had to abandon ship.

"They know the cavalry is coming," he said.

In one instance, a ship owner told a confused pirate over the telephone that his crew had gone on vacation while they hid in a safe room below.

But as more ships use citadels, the pirates have become more determined to break them open. They've fired rocket propelled grenades at the doors at close range, used plastic explosives, and even set three ships on fire while terrified crews huddled below decks, said Howes.

Pirates are also using more violence because they have become more aware of the value other nations place on the lives of hostages, said Howes. The realisation that the hostages have value — and not just the ship and its cargo — means that pirates are also more frequently using hijacked ships to launch attacks.

They are currently holding 31 ships and more than 700 sailors hostage, he said.








The arrest of erstwhile communications minister A. Raja is, in the end, a technicality. It will be instructive to see how quickly the CBI can proceed even when the case is being monitored by the Supreme Court. Much would depend on the availability, and collation, of quality evidence against the DMK politician who continues to protest his innocence and maintain that all he did was follow the previous NDA government's policy on spectrum allocation. The political fallout of the affair is naturally important — for both the DMK and the Congress, especially since Assembly elections are due in five states (including Tamil Nadu) in three months and in Uttar Pradesh not long after. In a wider sense, however, there could be a sense of relief in the country if such a high-profile case could be brought to a speedy conclusion. If this does not happen, and the idea gains ground that powerful people — in politics, government and business interests associated with telecom licences — are going to drag out the matter, the morale of ordinary citizens is likely to be negatively impacted. A good deal devolves on the supervision of the case by the Supreme Court.

There was never any doubt that someone charged with "criminal conspiracy" would be pulled in at some stage of the investigation preceding trial. The arrest of Mr Raja and two of his officials — including former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behuria — who are under investigation is bound to appear dramatic, given the sheer scale of misappropriation that came to be talked about since the report of the comptroller and auditor-general cast doubts on the method adopted for the award of 2G spectrum licences. Also, the pushing out and then the arrest of a Cabinet minister is not a daily occurrence. Politically, it can work both ways. People may be disturbed at the thought of such a person being kept in high office for so long. Another view is that the system did, after all, act decisively in the end. The minister was made to resign before the CAG report was tabled in Parliament. The CBI inquiry had indeed begun earlier although it gained purposefulness after the Supreme Court entered the picture. These considerations are likely to come into play on account of the clutch of elections around the corner. However, it would be premature to condemn Mr Raja and his associates even before charges have been framed and the trial begun. There appears to be some popular interest on the question of Mr Raja and his associates securing bail. That is a purely legal matter and should be decided in the light of the charges framed.
It is not yet clear if the 2G spectrum case investigations and the trial that follows will produce material that might incriminate other public figures. If top DMK leaders come into the ambit of suspicion, the impact of this on Congress-DMK relations is hardly likely to be salutary. Just two days ago the two parties announced that their alliance would continue. The parties seemed confident going public about this as the decision flowed from a meeting in New Delhi between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi. But if the progress of investigations throws a spanner in the works, the UPA-2 government could well face a political crisis it had not bargained for. With the Opposition's demand for a JPC probe into the 2G affair boosted following Mr Raja's arrest, it is hard to see how the crucial Budget Session of Parliament — to begin later this month — can proceed smoothly. This can only feed into any crisis that might ensue if more high-fliers from the DMK stable come under the needle of suspicion in the 2G affair.





Autocratically-ruled China combines eye-popping infrastructure and rocketing economic growth rate fueled, in part, by institutionalised corruption. Democratic India is overwhelmed by corruption with the leviathan state becoming a liability, habituated to providing rank bad governance, fourth-rate infrastructure, crumbling cities, even worse countryside, and facing a people surviving with the barest necessities of civic life haphazardly delivered by decrepit and slovenly state agencies.

Corruption in China is based on a unique system of graft and progress. Its "one window" payment mode works in parallel with local officials whose advancement is based on how many industrial units are created. Town, county, and provincial level governments, therefore, compete with each other to attract investors and industries, carving out special economic zones and industrial and software parks, and building world-class four and six-lane highways, hinterland dry ports, swanky airports, advanced rail links and communications networks at breakneck speed.

The enabling officials help themselves to 30 per cent of the project costs informally reserved as their take — a figure that is added to the realistic cost estimates of projects. Occasionally, excessive greed results in "tofu" constructions that collapse or the officials' indiscretions become too public to ignore, whereupon, summary justice is meted out with shots to the heads of the guilty officials. Of course, corruption exacts costs; by one estimate some $360 billion has been channelled into foreign bank accounts, except China has gained superb infrastructure and all the wherewithal of a modern state.

Corruption is in the Indian DNA and the over-regulated Indian state would appear to be fertile ground to adapt the Chinese model. Except here, elected politicians and bureaucrats are not held accountable nor judged by their performance in properly implementing official plans and programmes. They are free to exploit their discretionary powers for self-aggrandisement. The ex-chief of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Tarun Das, identified United Progressive Alliance minister Kamal Nath (courtesy Niira Radia tapes) as claiming "15 per cent" of the value, presumably, of all contracts as perquisite. But this ministerial perk did not fetch India much. By Mr Nath's own admission, his surface transport ministry could build only a fraction (four miles) of the meager 20 miles per day of national highways of unknown quality he had promised. Generally, malfeasance and under-performance fetches politicians only a change in portfolio and bureaucrats a transfer as service rules afford them virtual immunity.

With 15 per cent as ministerial booty, savvy foreign and home-grown companies, suppliers and contractors reportedly set aside another 15 to 20 per cent to ease deals through layer upon turgid layer of central, state and local government bureaucracy. That brings the total to around the Chinese 30 per cent mark. The trouble with the Indian system geared to the lowest tender is that this percentage is subtracted from the lowest bid. Imperatives of profit-making and diminished resources mean slip-shod work, use of sub-standard materials, and absence of streamlined designs and smooth finishing, eventuating in infrastructure that is embarrassing even by Third World standards.

To get an idea of the payoffs: 30 per cent of the reported $8 billion deal for the French 1,600 MW nuclear reactor supplied by Areva company may generate distributable "commissions" in the $2.4 billion range. The tremendous enthusiasm for any and all capital imports — nuclear reactors, high-value military hardware, telecommunications equipment, etc. — in government and ruling party circles is, therefore, understandable.
Direct cash transfers to the poor through individual bank accounts and activated by biometric sensors — a doable solution that experts regard as the most efficient way to eliminate hunger and poverty — has been mooted. But because it will minimise corrupt practices and render redundant the manpower-heavy welfare delivery and food distribution departments — 60 per cent plus of government expenditure goes into upkeeping the government apparatus itself — such schemes are ignored. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee instead offered investigation of secret account holders in Lichtenstein banks. But, pray, since when has the Central Bureau of Investigation, the income tax department, or the enforcement directorate investigated any case independently? Influenced by ministerial diktat and direction, they'll likely end up gunning for those whom the ruling party deems expendable, safe or politic to pursue. Indeed, environment minister and Congress party gadfly Jairam Ramesh mocked the reality of a graft-swamped government system by blithely shifting the blame for bribes to the giver: "I can control the demand for corruption but someone has to control the supply of corruption too which I cannot stop".

In the aftermath of the 2G and other scams, the so-called "captains of industry" have been riding the moral high horse and publicly wringing their hands in despair. None of these worthies, however, has taken Mr Ramesh on by speaking the plain truth, conveying the factual state of affairs to the people, namely, that without bribes being paid to political parties, politicians and bureaucrats gumming up the works at every turn, all commerce, trade, and industry in the country would grind to a halt.

If, as the saying goes, fish starts rotting from the head then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's role in sustaining a deeply corrupt system of government that is slowly sucking the oxygen out of the Indian entrepreneurial spirit and economy cannot be overlooked. Dr Singh is intimately familiar with the extant system of institutionalised loot in the country, starting from when he first joined government in the mid-1960s as adviser to minister for foreign trade, the redoubtable Lalit Narayan Mishra — Indira Gandhi's chief fund collector. The issue is less about Dr Singh's personal integrity — though there is beginning to be talk about that too — than his culpability in ignoring persistent wrongdoing over the years by his Cabinet colleagues and civil servants. A senior retired IAS officer says aptly of Dr Singh that "he has the proven ability to look the other way". "Looking the other way" is obviously Dr Singh's survival technique, the secret of his success, and explains his indispensability to the political powers that be, first as technocrat, then finance minister, and now as an unelected Prime Minister.

Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi






A Raja, the former telecom minister accused of short-changing the nation by Rs17,60,00,00,00,000, and Ashok Chavan, former Maharashtra chief minister accused of facilitating his relatives' getting flats meant for war widows, can both take comfort in the fact that in India, there has historically been a big difference between being an accused and being imprisoned. Raja has been arrested only for interrogation, and there is reason to be sceptical.


The Congress party is probably using this as a bargaining chip for seat-sharing negotiations with alliance partner DMK ahead of the Tamil Nadu polls in April-May; and Raja remembers former Sanchar Bhawan occupant Sukh Ram, whose conviction took 17 years and who has still avoided jail time. Chavan need only recall other CMs named in major scams — Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa and Arjun Singh — and ask: What, me worry?


The CBI's newfound diligence may give the ruling UPA succour at a time when even prime minister Manmohan Singh's image has been sullied. It might even answer the open letter on "governance deficit" recently signed by top industrialists. Yet one cannot help but worry that at the end of the tortuous legal process, both Raja and Chavan may have the last laugh. There is a need to guard against this outcome. The CBI's work has actually only just begun.


It needs to ensure that its case leaves the court no choice but to hold each high official guilty and punish them. There have been infuriating delays but thanks to the Supreme Court, the CBI has stuck to its task. Seeing it through will be a step towards restoring in some measure people's faith in governance.







The will of the people, said Thomas Jefferson, is the only legitimate form of government, which is something Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, is finding hard to come to terms with. Suddenly Egypt has erupted all around him and would he have ever imagined that the tremor which started in unimportant Tunisia would bring this mighty nation to its knees?


For over a week now protesters have poured into the streets demanding Mubarak's ouster, emboldened certainly by the way in which Tunisia's president ran away overnight — perhaps with his 1.5 tonnes of gold but certainly without dignity and with a severe puncture to his self-esteem. The million who gathered in Cairo on Tuesday were unwilling to accept any of Mubarak's compromise offers. They just wanted him out.


There's certainly a comforting feeling when the power of the people erupts and brings governments to their knees. There comes a moment in every society's history when decades of oppression reaches a tipping point and the oppressor finds himself knocked off the pedestal. And when that pedestal is self-appointed, then the fall is even sweeter as far as the oppressed are concerned.


From far away it looks like this is the beginning of the end for oppressive regimes and dictators in Africa and the Middle East and that these rumblings may well shift tectonic plates across other governments which depend on subjugation for survival.


However, this jubilation will be premature. What we have here is the first stage of a revolution where the ongoing regime has to go and the people make their displeasure felt. It goes without saying that this is an effective method when there is no democratic system in place.


It is the next steps which are tricky. The thrill of toppling a despot is substantially lessened when a foreign crane brings the statue down — as the US did with Saddam Hussein in Iraq. If Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and whoever else is looking for change, they have to do it themselves and from within.


The next stage will be chaos — some of which we are already seeing. Looting, anarchy, breakdown of systems — how else will a society rebuild itself. Imagine living through the French Revolution even if you were not an aristo and there was little chance of being packed off in a tumbrel to meet Monsieur Guillotine? It still would have been horrifying and neither bread nor Marie Antoinette's cake would have been available.


But out of that movement was the chance for, well, Nikolas Sarkozy to become president of France and marry a supermodel and for Paris to turn its nose up at everyone else — in spite of having no aristocrats. Or more seriously, for Europe to understand the strength of democracy and the will of the people — together with the United States of America, France provided a template for the world.


The rest of Jefferson's quote says, "…and to protect its free expression should be our first object". The will of the people therefore is supreme only when a supporting structure is in place.


For Egypt not to go the way of Iran after its revolution — started by Communists and overtaken by religious fundamentalists — the people will need to be nudged towards systems.


Unfortunately for democracy, it is the democratic nations of the Western world which have supported despots and dictators when it suited their own selfish needs. The challenge is for the will of people to overcome all these obstacles and adopt a workable government of their choice. If they succeed in any measure, then oppressive regimes everywhere need to tremble in fear.







The scenes on television showing the ongoing unrest in Tunisia and Egypt are dramatic. The map showing the median age of the world's population is no less dramatic.


From Algeria in the west to Pakistan in the east, more than half the population is less than 25 years old. They call this the youth bulge.


According to Population Action International, 80% of civil conflicts during 1970-99 occurred in countries where more than 60% of the population was under the age of 30.


Of course, it's not youth alone that is responsible. Other factors play a role too. Poverty though, might not be one of them. Gunnar Heinsohn, a German scholar, argues that "...young men will not pose any danger if they are hungry or lack education. To be dangerous they must be in good physical and mental shape." However, when there is a youth bulge, "even if these young men are well nourished and have good housing and education, their numbers grow much faster than the economy can provide them with career opportunities...When so many young men compete for the few places available, they become frustrated, angry, and violent. They are enlisted quite easily into radical groups and terror organisations."


So demographics might partly explain why the Middle East is unstable, but why should it concern us? Well, because youth bulge might put at serious risk India's ability to benefit from the celebrated "demographic dividend". If reasonably healthy and educated young people do not find enough opportunities, then India has an abundance of grievances available to agitate them. While the 15-24 population of India as a whole will peak this year, the age structure in many parts of the country indicates a risk of youth bulge unrest.


A study of 27 Indian states over the period 1956-2002 by Henrik Urdal, a Norwegian researcher, revealed that "youth bulges appear to increase the risk of (political violence), especially in states with great male surpluses. Youth bulges, when coinciding with high levels of urban inequality, are the only form of demographic pressure to...increase the risk of Hindu-Muslim rioting."


Dilip Rao, a blogger at Law and Other Things, found a Freakonomics-like correlation between birth rates and terrorism in some states. He notes that a spurt in birth rates in the early 1970s in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir meant that there was a youth bulge available in the 1980s to answer the separatists' call. We can trace back the rise of terrorist violence in these states to Operation Blue Star or the rigged 1987 state election, we can prove that Pakistan used these conflicts to conduct proxy war, but Heinsohn goes to the extreme to argue that the cause itself is immaterial - if there is a youth bulge, it will be accompanied by violence.


While these studies do not indicate or claim a definitive causal link, the data are sufficient for us to regard youth bulge violence as a long-term risk to national security. Going by the National Commission on Population's projections to the year 2026, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi will experience a net increase in young people. The 15-24 cohort will grow in Bihar, Assam, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and Gujarat. States that cannot both reduce grievances and create enough opportunities are likely to get into trouble.


The best way to minimise grievances is not by pandering to them individually, but by delivering overall good governance. The politics of entitlement that the UPA government seeks to make respectable under the veneer of "inclusive growth" breeds more grievances for every entitlement. These are already expressed through the idiom of competitive intolerance and coercive violence. While they must be rolled back, those politically opposed to the Congress must do so without themselves creating and appealing to grievances.


The good politics of inclusion suggests the creation of more, and equal opportunities. If young people have something to lose they will be less inclined to engage in risky behaviour. That's why we need the second-generation reforms that Manmohan Singh made India forget about. Inclusion is also about thinking nationally. Regional bulges can be relieved if people can easily move to other parts of the country.


If we do nothing today, the youth bulge will work itself out in the longer term. But what future will that be?







Forget about the highly questionable technology for the proposed 1,650 megawatt nuclear power plant at Jaitapur in Ratnagiri district from the French power major Areva, or even the objections of the Finnish environmental watchdog body STUK for the Olkiluoto plant, which is being replicated at Jaitapur.


The fact is that nothing can prevent time overruns and, therefore, cost escalation. To date, no nuclear power project has been implemented on schedule.


The last US nuclear plant, the Watts Bar-1 reactor, took 24 years for completion, 17 years behind schedule. Even China, with the ability to implement projects before schedule, had a two-year time overrun before commercial production commenced at its latest nuclear plant in 2007. That was too an Areva reactor. Gaps in quality of implementation were detected in the welds of the steel liner of it.


About the experience of infamous cost and time lags in the Indian nuclear power industry, the less said the better. And it is well-known that although India began atomic energy planning synergistically with France, nuclear power production has a share of 3% of total electricity generation.


The Jaitapur technology - a European pressurised reactor (EPR) — is an abandoned Finnish venture, whose original cost was estimated at €5.4 billion (Rs32,000 crore).


The time horizon was extended by over two years, due to a faulty foundation with flawed welds for the reactor's steel liner, causing a cost escalation €1.5 billion, meaning 50% of the original production cost. Moreover, STUK recorded more than 3,000 safety and quality deficiencies at the construction of the Olkiluoto plant and pointed out that Areva chose cheap and incompetent subcontractors and overlooked safety-related problems.


The EPR design is yet to be tested and a joint letter from the French, Finnish, and United Kingdom nuclear regulators identified major design deficiencies pertaining to control and safety systems of the EPR.


Here in India, any increase in interest during construction is passed on to the consumers as per electricity laws. Remember the time and cost lags of the 500mw Budge Budge Thermal Power Plant in West Bengal, set up by CESC Ltd, the flagship of the Rama Prasad Goenka group of companies. The initial cost projection was Rs1,600 crore, but a time lag of nearly a decade pushed it up to Rs2,600 crore. By contrast, the 500 MW Bakreswar thermal power plant, taken up several years after Budge Budge, was completed earlier and took less than Rs1,900 crores. Moreover, the Goenkas used to sell power at 30% more than the rate of Bakreswar.


Dr Sankar Sen, a power minister in West Bengal during the 1990s, scathingly criticised CESC for its inefficient project implementation and the resulting effect on power tariff. Dr Sen, a top power technology exponent and academic (he was a former vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University) played a key role in transforming West Bengal from a power-deficit to a power-surplus state. But Dr Sen was made to quit by the then chief minister Jyoti Basu for his pungent remarks against CESC, which were divulged by a Congress legislator, Abdul Mannan. This happened even though the minister's concern was to prevent a rise in power tariff, which in turn pushes up the cost of production in every other sphere — a normal techno-commercial expectation.


Delhi Science Forum chief Prabir Purakayastha points out that construction-cost per MW of an Indian designed pressurised heavy water reactor is Rs8-9 core/MW against Rs20 crore in the abandoned Olkiluoto plant. Indigenous nuclear reactors would save us Rs1.1 lakh crore, taking into account the six EPR projects in the pipeline. However, Purakayastha skips the time overrun factor, one reason why investors in OECD countries are disinterested in nuclear power projects.


Much has been said about the choice of location, against which the local people have agitated with a solid rationale. A few months back, some 1,500 of them courted arrest to protest against the government ignoring their objections at the public hearing for the environmental impact assessment (EIA). The pity is that EIA for various projects have been more on commercial concerns rather than environmental. Jaitapur is no exception.


The deal between the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) and Areva reflects a bonhomie between Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the cost of Indian people and the economy. Dr Singh actually came to the rescue of the problem-stricken French nuclear industry. Apart from the tariff structure, which is a very contentious issue, silence about the safety-related expenditure aggravates the suspicion.Transparency is, historically, a casualty in the nuclear energy arena.


The writer is a veteran journalist & commentator, specialising in left politics and environment.









Kidnapping and killing two teenaged sisters in the town of Sopor indicates return of barbarism and bestiality through which Kashmir has been passing for last two decades. This is not the much hyped fake and fabricated encounter killing that whips up public anger: it is broad day cannibalism in a society that would call itself humanistic. Myopic commentators will call it an isolated and chance happening or event. But the fact is that barbarism has not as of yet left Kashmir. Those who do not think normalcy has returned to Kashmir are not wronged. This is a message to the government also that it cannot make false claims of return of normalcy and then begin to believe in its own lies. There are many who have been lionizing the kidnappers and murderers during past two decades in the name of jihadis fighting for freedom. How are they going to legitimise this dastardly killing n Sopor? The conscience of honest and religion abiding people should speak on this tragic event and not chose complacency. Staunch believers in human rights who usually and rightly raise voices against human rights violation, especially the destruction of human life, have moral responsibility to speak for protection of human rights without discrimination of space and time. Kashmir watchers will be reminded that this is not a lone case of brutality and vengeance let lose against innocent civilians by the gun wielders in Kashmir. Such crimes have been committed against thousands of innocent civilians in the valley and the rights activists have closed their eyes to them.


From this event the people of Sopor and of the valley in general will unmistakably understand that culture of violence has made deep inroads into Kashmirian civil society, and that is something of much serious consequences. Kashmir was known for its safety and humanism and a case of murder would shake the entire valley. But now, the people are afraid to speak openly on murders, kidnappings, hostage taking, rapes and other atrocities. A hind-sight will show that militants never desisted from taking recourse to criminality and brutality from the very onset of the so-called freedom movement. In the initial days, minority community members in Kashmir became the targets of the bullets of externally sponsored and internally abetted militants. But later on, the so-called freedom fighters expanded their agenda and started targeting first the nationalist and humanist elements among the majority community, and then unleashed personal vendetta under the allegation of "informers of state agencies". A few weeks ago, no less a person than the former President of APHC (U), Professor Abdul Ghani Bhat publicly said that Maulavi Muhammad Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone and his own brother were killed by the gun-wielders of his own group. He did not keep the count of others who fell victims to the bullets of the militants but the kith and kin of the dead know it well who were the assassins. Many of those assassins got killed in encounters with the security forces and their bodies were buried in the graveyards of the "martyrs". Thus the murderers attained the status of martyrdom and their graves are being visited regularly and bedecked with flowers. How ironical that the killer and the killed both find their bodies buried in martyr's graveyard and shown equal respect by the living. Who can make distinction between the grave of a murderer and that of a martyr? Previously, there have been occasions when some innocent people got killed and the people raised the finger of accusation towards the security personnel. They made issue out of such events, taking out mammoth rallies, chanting threatening slogans and vowing to take revenge. More often than not the government instituted enquiry commissions. In most of the cases, the inquiry showed that the deceased were the victims of the bullets and highhanded acts of local insurgents or their external cronies. Out of sentimentality the protesting public would not believe in such dispassionate judicial pronouncements thereby lending covert support to militancy at home. The massacre of two innocent teen-aged girls in Sopor should be an eye opener to those who still would not believe that indoctrination and criminalization in Kashmir has spread their tentacles to such an extent. It is in cases like the one under discussion that public opinion counts. No socially responsible person would like the murder case of two sisters in Kashmir go unnoticed and unaccounted. Public protest is more than justified in such cases and no protests exposes the fake rights activists. Silence of separatist leadership on this issue exposes them fully and erodes their credibility with the masses sharply.







Our political class takes refuge behind Gandhiji's image to dole out sermons of virtuous deeds and pontificate spirituality. Any occasion related to any major event in the life of the Father of the Nation, serves stimulant to our politicos to project themselves as divines and super humans and the rest of the mortals as misguided and forlorn lot. One of them has gone to the length of demanding the UN to declare his martyrdom day, meaning 30 January, as world anti-violence day. This is nice rhetoric and all music to ear. Before the UN decides to declare it anti-violence day, it will surely desire to ascertain that Gandhiji's nation has really become anti-violence. Any impartial and true Gandhian will say that the world today including India is more violent than it was when Gandhiji sermonized over non-violence. This makes us think whether Gandhiji's philosophy of non-violence is or is not practicable in present day conditions or that the world has really degenerated into bestiality where humanism and human values no more mean anything to anybody. What we see happening in different parts of the country today is a clear testimony to degeneration of our character and moral value system. By dragging Gandhiji's name for sermonizing but without translating his words into deeds is doing disrespect to him. Let us first make ourselves entitled to be called the nation of Gandhi ji then alone will our mentioning of him as the great humanist and universalistic make sense.








Road rage has claimed many lives in our country, not only in the National Capital, but all over. It is simply the aggressive or angry behaviour by a driver of an automobile or other motor vehicle. Such bahaviour might include rude gestures, verbal insults, deliberately driving in an unsafe or threatening manner, or making threats, or even going to the extent of murdering by smashing a vehicle or physically assaulting the other driver.
Road rage happens because people are on a short fuse and feel that the other driver has behaved in an abominable way, just to spite them. In the latest incident, a pilot, killed the manager of a restaurant in Delhi, because the car of one grazed, that of the other, on 11th January, 2011. The accused was promptly granted bail, on the ground, that it is a bailable offence.

The following figures are revealing of the murders and killings due to road rage in the National Capital.

Year Total Caused by murders suddenroad rage

2006 462 74

2007 467 65

2008 518 88

2009 519 77

2010 523 78

So in the past five years, of the 2,489 murders in Delhi 382 were by people, who could not control their anger and let it explode into a situation in which someone ended up dying.

A killing is a killing of a murder, whether committed by using a vehicle or a knife or a gun. But our laws make a fine distinction between the murder by rash and negligent driving or a planned murder or a murder by a sudden or grave provocation.

The statistics for the year 2007 show that India had 4,18,657 road accidents with 1,14,590 fatalities- an increase of 8.4 per cent over 1,05,725 deaths in 2006.

We, Indians continue to be reckless on roads. The number of deaths in road accidents has increased from 84, 430 in 2003-04 to 1.14 lakh in 2007. According to one assessment, most of these deaths occurred due to bad road designs and lack of proper traffic management systems to separate different streams of traffic.
The big question, which arises as to what the Government is doing to tackle this menace and whether it is really doing anything at all. The Government had decided to start three digit helpline, 911 (just like 100 for police and 101 for fire service). But it remains only on paper.

The law itself, does not have, any definition of a road rage, or any specific provision for it. Depending upon the FIR registering officials, several IPC sections are used to register cases. In some cases, it is that of hurt or grievous hurt (Section 325).

In other cases, a traffic killing is registered under Section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and even 304(A) (death due to rash and negligent driving), along with murder (302) and attempt to murder (307).
This kind of ambiguity in law, can lead not only to the corruption, but also the diluting the cases against high and mighty and lackadaisical investigation. It depends upon the investigating officer to turn a minor incident into a serious one and vice versa.

The legal procedure, is too long drawn, to punish the traffic offenders.

If a drive were to be started to check the authenticity of the driving licenses, chances are, that more than 25 percent, would turn out to be fakes. There is no institutionalised arrangement for the driver's training. Indeed some called private driving training schools are nothing more than a front for purchasing either fake driving licenses or getting the same from the transport department.

Most advanced countries prescribe written tests as well as practical. None of its exists in our country and if it does in some places, it is only on paper. Delhi High Court observed on 13th January, 2010 that bus operators were not the only ones to be blamed for the increase in accidents at the Government was also lax in ensuring that only trained drivers get licence to drive. "The problem would not have arisen if you ensured trained drivers were given licences…. The power to give licences is with them (Government). Bus operators cannot produce drivers."

According to Transparency International's survey, the Global Curruption Barometer 2010, 74 per cent Indians feel that corruption has increased over the last three years. Indians believe that political parties are the most corrupt, followed by the police, civil servants as well as officials in the fields of education business, judiciary, NGOs, media, religious bodies, and military. Some media men have described the policemen, as turning, robbers on Indian road.

A truck industry operator says that "Harassment at the hands of police and Road Transport Office staff results in rash and negligent driving to make up the time lost…… The indifferent attitude of the Transport Department is the main reason for approaching middlemen or touts."

According to Transparency India, truckers pay brives at every phase of their business, starting from getting their vehicles registered with the Road Transport Office and obtaining road-worthiness certificates and paperwork to obtain and renew interstate national permits.

All that before handing over cash at police checkpoints set up for various reasons, such as to curb smuggling or as an anti-terrorism measure. It also estimates that truckers pay annually US$5 billion, or roughly Rs. 22500 crores in bribes.

Other ready-make excuses for harassment include paying tolls, taxes for bringing goods, into an area and sales tax. Also other problems, affecting the traffic, are drunken driving, absence of a Centralised data of rash and negligent driving, on the roads and the grossly disproportionate punishment for traffic violations.
Government does not seem to be waking up despite over 313.94 death per day or 13 death per hour or a murder on the road every five minutes. The serious problem, has not even evoked, a debate in Parliament.
It is said that a nightingale dies of shame if a bird sings better than it. Obviously our Government does not feel any responsibility for this state of affairs and it not ashamed of it. Indeed the shame is ashamed of reminding it to the Government or sitting on its brow.

The Government should remember, what once Alexander Pope rightly said; Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part, there all the honour lies. It is upto the Government to set the traffic house in order by changing laws and by being ruthless in dealing with the corruption. (PTI)








How true is the conventional wisdom that Pakistan's disintegration is the worst thing that can happen to India? The standard belief is that our neighbour's descent into chaos will lead to anarchy in India as well. However, leaving aside the question of nuclear weapons till later, it may be worthwhile to consider what will happen if Pakistan's civil structure does fall part.

In fact, the process of crumbling seems to have already started. As well-known author Ahmed Rashid has said, the situation in Pakistan is "dire" because the radicalization of society after Salman Taseer's murder has become "hugely disruptive". Yet, the government appears helpless before the fanaticism, which has now infected large sections of the middle class, while the army remains "hypnotically obsessed" with India, as foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has noted.

As the extremists become bolder with the government's retreat and the marginalization of the liberals, their first interest will be to take control of Pakistan first before spreading their jehad outside its borders. By the time the army wakes up to the grimness of the situation, it may be too late in the sense that much of its energies will be spent in checking the militants. It will not find it easy, however, to do the job with any degree of efficiency.
The reason is that, first, it will be hamstrung by its long association with anti-Indian terrorist outfits and, secondly, by the possibility that the jehadi orientation in the military's own ranks will hinder an all-out offensive against the bigots.

To quote Rashid again, the army is currently "deeply concerned" about the Taliban's "increasing power", especially because of the fear that sympathy for the militants "are penetrating the security services".
What the resultant volatility will imply is that neither the terrorists nor the army will have much time for India. They will both be too preoccupied with filling the vacuum caused by the government's decline to carry out another 26/11.

Their preoccupations will not only be with India, but also with the changing scenario in Afghanistan, where the scaling down of the American ground presence will make them pay greater attention to formulating their future strategies. Again, as a result, India may experience a period of respite, however brief and filled with tension.
Pakistan's breakdown will mean that China will have to reassess its policy for the region. It will have to rethink its present line of militarily and psychologically boosting its all-weather friend and needling India.
If Pakistan starts to fall off the map, Beijing will realize that not only will its six decades of using it as a counter-weight to India come to naught, the chances of the terrorists infiltrating Xinjiang to join their Muslim Uighur brothers in their uprising will increase. And if China is forced to crack down on the Uighurs in its usual brutal fashion, its relations with the terrorist-friendly Pakistan Army will come under strain.

The latter, too, will have to reconsider its options. For a start, Pakistan's decline may lead to even greater strikes inside the country by the American drones than at present. With the growing clout of the terrorists and marginalization of the liberals, Washington will be less worried about anti-American sentiments being spread by the air raids. This will mean that the Pakistan army will no longer be able to contemplate any act of adventurism vis-à-vis India a la Pervez Musharraf's Kargil incursion or a wider conflict.
The main concern in such a situation where Pakistan will become another Somalia is the fate of its nukes. But it is fair bet that the Americans will take them out before the conditions deteriorate beyond repair. Israel, too, may play a surreptitious part in such an operation.

Notwithstanding the inevitable turbulence, Harold Gould of the Center for South Asian Studies in Virginia University, has said, "let the holocaust happen", but only keep its effects confined to Pakistan. For India, a state of lawlessness in the neighbourhood will be an unsettling experience, not least because there is bound to be a refugee influx because of the turmoil, as from East Pakistan before the creation of Bangladesh.
But, as in 1971, New Delhi can facilitate the process of another partition of Pakistan along the lines suggested by a former US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill. His idea was that the US should focus on reviving the Northern Alliance of the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, which was once a powerful force under Ahmed Shah Massoud before he was killed by the Al Qaeda in 2001, and let the Pashtuns control the areas in the south on both sides of the Durand line. The only problem is that the violent upheaval will mean the destruction of Mohenjodaro and other ancient sites of the Indus valley civilization, which marked the dawn of Indian civilization. (IPA)








What does the upcoming Budget hold for the aam adami? Any tax relief? Perhaps some like a further increase in the tax exemption base up to Rs. 2 lakhs since the Direct Tax Code is not getting off the ground for a year more in view of the missing agreement with the States. The Centre is trying to create a fund to compensate the State for presumed losses from the code to compensate the State and get the code going? There could be small adjustments in Customs and excise duty regime for crude and petroleum product imports in view of the ever rising price of energy barrels and the volatile situation in West Asia which may push the cost of crude to $100 or more in the near future.

However, the immediate concern of the UPA coalition Government or rather the Congress is that the Budget Session should not be as stormy as the winter session, which was washed by daily demand for the Joint Parliamentary Committee to look into the second generation spectrum or 2G and the doings of the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja. Will the BJP hold back its protest for the Budget Session or for many days of it. But even the leftists have promised not to be spoilsport, will the likes of Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav refuse not to step into the well of the House because they have been kept out of the loaves and fishes of offices even though having offered support to the Government from the outside initially and still willing to do so, if they can have their pound of flesh? The Government is keeping its fingers crossed.

But what does the Budget promise the man in the street? Maybe there are a few things in the works. But for starters, there could be a voluntary disclose scheme of hidden money in view of the uproar over black money stashed in banks overseas in a score or more tax havens and even a number of countries, besides hawala and local unaccounted money in billions—a ground reality of all times, past, present and future. In 1997, a voluntary disclosure of untaxed money brought out Rs.10,000 crores. This time around, with the size of the economy having enlarged considerably, even Rs.1 lakh crore would not satisfy the Government or the people. Perhaps, Rs. 1 lakh crore of tax collection from people at all levels would be something and that might require five to ten times the hidden income.

The Government has already given the names of people who have kept undisclosed accounts in a German bank and left it to the court to disclose them if it wishes so that the Government is not accused of having violated the clauses of the double taxation avoidance treaty with that country. But Germany says that if there is a criminal case brought before a court in India and its assistance is available within the bounds of tax treaties.
Another possibility is imposing wealth tax on assets, including shares and possibly mutual funds and cash in bank accounts, of Rs. 1 crore. This appears to be too radical measure, but populist nonetheless, to please the aam adami. An announcement like this would raise a hue and cry from upper middle class, and it could either be dropped during the debate and Finance Minister's preliminary reply before vote on account, but as a tax collecting measure even from the chattering classes, the wealth limit could be raised to the threshold of Rs. 5 or even 10 crores with a number of loopholes built in or already available all the time.

The planned wealth tax of one per cent may not be too much, but would be unwelcome to billionaires and there are thousands of them around nowadays. The loopholes are at least one home owned by every taxpayer even if living under one roof but officially having another address. Then properties could be owned by companies as guest houses in many cities for exclusive use of the rich and famous plus properties and trusts set up by companies and individuals in huge complexes of colleges, schools, non-governmental organizations, temples, charities, but all for the benefits of owners and as builders of clout and influence to extend favours to those in authority and power.

The usual reliefs for some industries and interests and taxes on those who have already enjoyed benefits for a long time and can stand on their feet are being calibrated and fine-tuned all the time as the Budget Day is just three but less than four weeks away. There will be a lot of talk of achievements in the bygone year and current five year plan and also talk about some measures not having yielded results and being dropped. That is the usual Budget jargon and jingles, but not jingoism. [NPA]










IN a landmark judgement the Supreme Court has declared as illegal the state orders allotting village common land to private persons or commercial enterprises. There is a nexus of politicians, officials, builders, property dealers and criminals that grabs public land wherever available in cities, towns and villages. Representatives of panchayats and municipalities too sometimes share the loot. The opponents are silenced by "orders from above" since the land mafia enjoys political patronage.


The rules are bent or changed as the guardians of public property turn robbers of public trust. Precious pieces of land are passed on to private persons on token payments. In such a scenario the judiciary is the only institution that can stop the proliferation of gangsters. In the given case it is the illegal occupants of a village pond who had the temerity to approach the apex court for "justice". They had challenged the move to evict them from the village common land. The court also took note of the role of the Patiala Collector, who instead of helping the village get back its land, directed the panchayat to recover the cost of the land based on the Collector's rates.


This is just one small example of land grab in Punjab. If a survey is done by a competent authority, there would hardly be a village, town or city in Punjab where the land mafia has not captured or encroached upon public land. NRIs are an easy target. Though the Bench comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra has directed the Chief Secretaries to ensure speedy eviction of all illegal occupants, the bureaucrats' efforts might be scuttled by their political bosses. The court will have to monitor such cases regularly — a formidable challenge in itself — and launch contempt proceedings, where necessary. Otherwise, the land-grab issue would meet the fate of police reforms, which states like Punjab have failed to implement despite instructions from the Supreme Court.









THE way two innocent sisters in their teens were forcibly taken out of their house and then gunned down by suspected members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba on Monday evening in Sopore town, near Srinagar, shows that terrorists continue to pose a serious threat to the lives and liberty of people in the Valley. Painting a rosy picture with officially provided figures will not do. Surprisingly, the horrifying incident occurred despite a large presence of the security forces in the state. The killings deserve to be condemned in strongest terms by one and all. Contrary to this, there is only "muted condemnation" by some people. Most people, including those who are always in search of some pretext to blame the security forces for any incident of violence, have preferred to keep quiet. This is really "unfortunate", as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah pointed out on Tuesday.


The Chief Minister is right when he says that had there been even the slightest allegation against the security forces, the entire Valley would have risen in revolt. Remember what happened when a teenager, Tufail Ahmed, died in a stone throwing incident in June last year. The police and paramilitary forces had a very tough time controlling the agitators who indulged in stone throwing in Srinagar and many other towns. Where are the so-called leaders who claim to be the "real" representatives of the people in Kashmir? Monday's incident has exposed their double standards. These elements prefer to raise their voice against any incident or development that suits their separatist agenda. That is why they are not protesting against the killing of the two innocent sisters at the hands of LeT terrorists.


It is time people saw through the designs of the separatist elements and refused to support them on any issue. The separatists and extremists are the enemies of Kashmiris and deserve to be rejected. For them human lives have no value. They are interested in only creating chaos and misguiding people so that their narrow interests are served.









ONE does not require a special warning that one must not travel on the roof of a train. The activity is suicidal, period. Yet, hundreds of youth desperate to get a job in the ITBP did exactly that on Tuesday and at least 19 paid with their lives. They fell to their death from Himgiri Express and Triveni Express while returning from the ITBP recruitment camp in Bareilly. Many others received serious injuries. As if that was not tragic enough, other job aspirants took out their anger by running amok at Shahjahanpur station of Uttar Pradesh, assaulting the driver of Himgiri Express and torching two bogies of another train. In fact, they had gone on the rampage earlier also at the recruitment venue in Bareilly, setting on fire several vehicles after they failed to submit their forms due to alleged mismanagement of the authorities.


Travelling atop trains is banned, but is a common sight all over the country. This tendency becomes all the more pronounced when a large number of people have to converge on a certain place, for a test or interview by a large organisation like the ITBP or the Railways. That only shows the extent of unemployment in the country. The least that happens at such places is a law and order problem. Yet, no one has cared to take any remedial measures.


True to form, a blame game is now on. The Uttar Pradesh government says that although around 1.5 lakh job aspirants were called from 11 states by the ITBP authorities, they did not coordinate with the local administration. On the other hand, Home Minister P. Chidambaram insists that the state police was informed well in advance and yet it provided minimum security. Yet, even he is silent on whether there should be special travel arrangements for lakhs of job seekers. Anyway, who is right and who is not is of no consequence to those who have died. Such loss should at least wake up the country to ensure that anything similar does not happen again.

















TWO facts stand out in the unprecedented turmoil in Egypt: the days of President Hosni Mubarak are numbered and a new wave of change has been set in motion by the Tunisian upsurge which forced its president of 23 years to flee his country and seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. In geopolitical terms, Tunisia was on the periphery of the Middle East and North Africa —West Asia for us — but Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab world.


The region's oil wealth and Western interest in it, combined with American nurturing and protection of Israel, helped to freeze the Middle East into an authoritarian mould in which the West, led by Washington, cultivated a cosy relationship with a succession of autocrats. Egypt was the first Arab state to enter into a peace treaty with Israel, followed by Jordan, and has been receiving an annual aid kitty of $1.3 billion, the second highest after Israel. The whole structure and ability of Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land and blockade of Gaza was built around Egypt's acquiescence.


After Nine Eleven — the terrorist strikes against high profile targets in the US in 2001 — the traditional coddling of Arab rulers took on a new dimension, together with maintaining an Arab coalition against Iran in its incarnation as a theocracy. President George W. Bush unfurled the banner of democracy for West Asia but blotted his copybook by invading Iraq; with consequences his country is still living with, including the enhancement of Iran's regional influence by creating a second Shia-majority state. Thus for the US, the protection of Israel was folded into support for autocrats.


The Tunisian upsurge started with the suicide of a vegetable seller in an obscure town after local police confiscated his unlicensed vegetable kiosk and, according to one account, slapped him. It lit a match to the tinder of frustrations among a largely young population, many of them unemployed and with poor prospects of finding a job. A further provocation was the President's family, in particular his wife and her relations, sequestering much wealth and often flaunting ostentatious living.


Outside the oil- and gas-rich Gulf monarchies, which can insulate their small populations with generous subsidies, the predominant young of the Arab world live in strictly censored military-supported states with elites cornering much of the wealth and the people enjoying little freedom. The Tunisian example was infectious because, contrary to the usual Arab script, the young made secular demands of freedom and dignity using modern technology of Facebook and Twitter to gather support and succeeded in forcing the long-time ruler to flee.


The ripples of the so-called jasmine revolution spread across the Arab world. Masses of unemployed youth were inspired to think the unthinkable: if the Tunisians could do it, why couldn't they? Circumstances, of course, vary from state to state. Tunisia has a small, largely literate population and although the youth bulge is common, levels of literacy are not always high. In Egypt's case, its traditional primacy in the Arab world has lately taken a beating. But it has a population of nearly 83 million and apart from having the strongest Arab army, it retains its soft power. What happens in Egypt, therefore, matters.


President Mubarak has sought to confront the problem, his severest since he came to power 30 years ago, by using the traditional police and security apparatus leading to many deaths. When his opponents refused to give up, he brought the army in, but contrary to other countries, the army is held in high esteem. Although military tanks rolled on to the Tahrir Square in central Cairo and in adjacent areas, they did not use force against the people, despite curfews being violated. And last Monday it declared on television that it would not use force against civilians.


President Mubarak sought to diffuse the crisis by appointing a vice-president — his security chief — for the first time in 30 years and reshuffling his Cabinet under a new prime minister, removing a hated interior minister. These actions failed to pacify the people and the momentum kept on growing, with one cry repeated a thousand times, "Mubarak Go". The United States is left with the embarrassing position of having to dance on a pin, seeking "an orderly transition" on the one hand and trying to shore up Israel's interests on the other.


Americans are hoping against hope that the situation will allow President Mubarak to stay on till the scheduled presidential election in September after the recent parliamentary election was widely pronounced as having been rigged. At the very least, the US and Israel will be hoping that if Mubarak has to go soon, his chosen vice-president will take over. Neither of these outcomes seems likely. Given this background, what will future look like?


The amazing aspect of the Egyptian uprising and the preceding Tunisian tsunami is that these are spontaneous movements with no designated leaders. While an interim arrangement is holding the fort in Tunisia with elections promised in six months, Mr ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been brought in as the agreed interim leader, being blessed by the Islamic Brotherhood, among others. In fact, the last, the most organised of the opposition parties, has been playing catch-up with the movement as have other opposition parties.


Events in Egypt are sending shock waves to other Arab rulers, but it is surely ironical that the greatest supporter of President Mubarak is Israel, which is afraid of democracy breaking out there. A more democratic dispensation in the Arab world would be less obliging in protecting Israeli interests and more muscular in promoting Palestinian nationhood. At present, Egypt polices the Gaza Strip, blockaded by Israel on land, in the sea and over the air. Will a democratic government do so in future? And what happens to America's grand architecture? These are portentous questions.








IT was a pleasant surprise indeed to see Waheeda Rehman figure in the list of Republic Day honours this year. This Padma Bhushan, coming after a really long 39 years of her Padma Shri, in 1972, may be a way of recognising her lifetime achievements and contribution to the world of art and cinema.


At the time of her earlier Padma award in 1972, she was almost at the pinnacle of her career, fresh from her 1971 National Award of 'Reshma aur Shera' and the earlier two best actress awards for 'Guide' (1966) and 'Neel Kamal' (1968).


Filmfare had honoured her with a lifetime achievement award in 1994, and thereafter usually one is supposed to retire honourably, but after the death of her husband, Waheeda picked up the threads from where she had left, with influencing perforamces in 'Rang De Basanti', 'Delhi-6' etc.


Unless one is a fan of classics, the present generation may not be able to fully appreciate the depth of talent and strength of Waheeda Rehman. In her very first film, 'CID' (1956) where she was given the difficult role of a vamp, she was able to leave an indelible impact.


As you name Waheeda, the first image that comes to mind is that of Rosie Marco, of 'Guide', and then comes Kamini of 'CID', and her play of eyes with a hide and seek game of light and shade in 'kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana'. Guru Dutt often used to say that an actor has to act 80 per cent with eyes, and Waheeda followed her mentor to a tee. Gulab of 'Pyassa' (1957) does not open her mouth, but the intensity of expression in her eyes is most eloquent.


The picturisation of "Aaj Sajan Mohe Ang Laga Lo" says it all, where Gulab emotes and expresses her love, longing and helplessness all through her eyes. The same extraordinary mobility of her face and eyes is visible when she does not speak a word but is seen to invite Vijay (Guru Dutt) of 'Pyassa' (Jane kya Tune kahi Jane kya mene suni).


As is well known, Guru Dutt and Dev Anand were close chums from Prabhat Studio of Pune (1948), and, may be, this was the reason that despite being a find of Guru Dutt, Waheeda did almost all of her initial films either with Dev Anand or Guru Dutt e.g. 'CID', 'Pyassa' , 'Solva Saal', 'Kala Bazar', 'Roop ki Rani Choron ka Raja', '12 'O' Clock', 'Baat Ek Raat ki', 'Kagaz ke Phool', 'Chaudhvi ka Chand' and 'Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam'.


It is a fact that she came to Guru Dutt's notice through the success of her dances in Telugu Film 'Rojulu Marayi' (1955), but as a true connoisseur, he never gave prominence to her dancing talent, instead concentrating on the romanticism of her eyes. It was left to Dev Anand to truly measure her dancing potential in 'Guide' (1966) and 'Prem Pujari' (1970).










ITS three decades since Pakistan has been fermenting trouble in India. It started with Punjab and later in Jammu and Kashmir, followed by sporadic terrorist attacks in rest of India. While it is a cheap option for Pakistan, it has cost India thousands of lives and has been a heavy burden on the exchequer. India has failed to deter Pakistan from pursuing this nefarious activity. Pakistan's policy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts has never been suitably addressed by us. There have been somewhat feeble and ill-conceived attempts, both military and diplomatic, to make Pakistan desist from is activities, but to no avail.


If the aim of Operation Parakam, launched after the terrorist attack on the Parliament in 2001, was to coerce Pakistan and deter it from sponsoring terrorist attacks, then the manner of implementation of this operation conveyed a different message. Civil rail and road traffic was not to be disrupted and consequently it took rather long to concentrate troops at their battle locations. Since there was no urgency, it gave the impression that India was not serious and was merely saber-rattling. At the same time, Pakistani intelligence had that much more time to gather information on the movement and forward locations of these formations.


Later, some on this side opined that India missed a "window of opportunity", though no one defined this "window". Even under the best conditions for mobilisation, when the highest priority over road and rail traffic is accorded to the military in India, Pakistan is still able to mobilise in about half that time because of shorter distances and the advantage of operating on interior lines in that country. So, per se, Pakistan will leave no "window" open for India to exploit. Nor was there any such "window" during Op Parakaram. The term "window of opportunity" was brought into use to cover up certain other failings.


In the Indo-Pak context, a "window" will have to be created by holding back strike formations at locations from where multiple options for offensives are available. This will keep the enemy guessing and, in fact, bring in uncertainty and put him on the horns of a dilemma. Thereafter, through surprise and deception, create that "window" in the enemy's defences and then with rapid movement of troops and competent generalship fully exploit the developing situation. Gen J.N. Chaudhuri did this in the 1965 war against Pakistan.


Concurrently, some defence experts and perhaps those at Army HQs and the Training Command propagated another concept, "Cold Start". Reference to this recently surfaced in the Wikileaks expose, where the US ambassador to India talked about India adopting the Cold Start concept, and that was the excuse Pakistan advanced for not shifting more troops from its eastern front against India to the AF-Pak border for anti-Taliban operations.


Cold start implies that offensives can be launched "at a moment's notice". This would require either pre-positioning of offensive formations well forward or their components grouped with defensive elements for a quick but limited offensive. In both cases the enemy can acquire information regarding their presence and take adequate counter-measures. Further there will be no surprise in such type of operations. Splitting resources of strike formations and locating these with defensive elements have their own implications. Be that as it may, the Army Chief has stated that the army does not subscribe to such a concept.


Some other armchair experts have been propagating that a number of battle-groups should be launched over a wide front. Perhaps they are ignorant of the time-honoured principal of concentration of forces and the prospects of defeat in detail. Defensive formations would merely unbalance themselves were they to undertake any offensives, even a limited strike, on their own.


Indian defence experts have been seeking solutions to problems and scenarios of their own making but missing out on the core issue of factors inhibiting military response to continuing Pakistani mischief. India's option for punitive military action is completely overshadowed by Pakistan's threat of retaliation by nuclear weapons. Pakistan is well aware that threat of nuclear strike frightens India. This deterrence works well on India, because we have some how convinced ourselves, that Pakistan will be rash enough to press the nuclear button, as soon as an Indian offensive takes off. Equally, some in Delhi feel that it is the Pakistani military that controls the nuclear button and would act on its own.


Some experts have been talking of air strikes on terrorist training camps. In this case the Indian intelligence is more likely to have incomplete information on their exact location, number under training, routine at these camps or the best time for an air strike. These camps have hardly any infrastructure and what air strikes may eventually achieve is, knocking out some rudimentary obstacle course or result in civilian casualties. In any case, even punitive action in the way of air strikes or limited ground action is stymied by the apparition of a nuclear retaliation. A Catch-22 situation of our own making!


Kargil presented a great opportunity to put an end the repeated needling by Pakistan once for all, but unfortunately the weak politico-military leadership proved quite incapable of grasping it. In fact, the leadership showed extreme pusillanimity. It was left to a brigadier from the Pakistan army to spell out in the Dawn newspaper, an appropriate Indian response and the great opportunity India missed - to settle the Siachen problem and gain control over the Northern Areas.


This would have forestalled Chinese troops moving into this area and casting an altogether new dimension to

the Kashmir problem. Failure to deal appropriately with Pakistan at Kargil led to more terrorist attacks, in J&K and elsewhere. It also resulted in deploying additional troops by India in an area of no strategic importance and the consequent heavy financial burden. It reconfirmed that Pakistan's nuclear deterrence works well and it can continue terrorist attacks on India.


India has mainly relied on feeble diplomatic moves and half-hearted military posturing to make Pakistan desist from terrorism. These efforts have had little or no perceptible effect on a recalcitrant and hostile Pakistan. Though, that country itself has become the target of the same set of terrorists, Pakistan finds them a useful tool to keep targeting India. Therefore, if India is serious in putting an end to terrorist attacks by Pakistan inspired elements, it must call off this nuclear bluff by Pakistan. It must be made clear to Pakistan, in unequivocal language, that in the event of a nuclear strike against India, we will retaliate immediately and massively, which would reduce Pakistan into a wasteland. Further any terrorist attack on India, sponsored or emanating from Pakistan, will surely invite Indian military reaction. Sooner than later, India will have to bite the bullet and bring to end this continuing perfidy by Pakistan.


The writer is a former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff

Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism

Pakistan has been accused by Bangladesh, India, Iran, Afghanistan and other nations (including the US and Britain) of its involvement in terrorism in India and Afghanistan. Satellite imagery from the FBI and data produced by India's Research and Analysis Wing suggest the existence of several terrorist camps in Pakistan. The JKLF, a militant outfit considered a terrorist group by India, has admitted to having more than 3,000 of its militants trained in Pakistan.

Many non-partisan sources believe that officials within Pakistan's military and the Inter-Services Intelligence sympathise with and aid Islamic terrorists, saying that the "ISI has provided covert but well-documented support to terrorist groups in Kashmir, including the al-Qaeda affiliate Jaish-e-Mohammed". Though Pakistan had denied involvement in terrorist activities, its president Asif Ali Zardari admitted in July 2010 that terrorist outfits had been "deliberately created and nurtured" by past governments "as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives". In October 2010, former Pakistan president and its former army chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf revealed that Pakistani armed forces trained militant groups to fight Indian forces in Kashmir.

Many Kashmiri militant groups designated as terrorist organisations by the US still maintain their headquarters in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. This is cited by the Indian government as further proof that Pakistan supports terrorism. Many terrorist organisations are banned by the UN, but continue to operate under different names.

Even the normally reticent United Nations Organisation has publicly increased pressure on Pakistan on its inability to control its Afghanistan border and not restricting the activities of Taliban leaders who have been declared by the UN as terrorists. Both the federal and state governments in India continue to accuse Pakistan of helping several banned terrorist organisations like ULFA in Assam. Experts believe that the ISI has also been involved in training and supplying Chechen militants.







Top level Kashmir-related pronouncements at the chief ministers' conference in New Delhi on Tuesday once again revealed the tendency to rely upon recycling worn-out phraseology rather than coming forth with some really productive ideas. It was nearly four years ago that union home minister P Chidambaram had coined the term 'unique' to define and qualify the problem in Kashmir while advocating for its 'unique resolution'. Again yesterday, he harped on the same theme without really indicating what, if any, progress had been made in the intervening period. He as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mainly confined their statements to highlighting the security dimensions of the situation arising out of the 'stone pelting' agitation. Chidambaram's passing reference to the role being played by the three interlocutors also did not convey anything different from what has been already said and so often. The so-called 'road map' which, according to the home minister, is being prepared by the interlocutors after they had 'succeeded in changing the political discourse' actually amounts putting the cart before the horse. Till today, neither the home minister nor the prime minister has indicated if and when the dialogue process is likely to be resumed. Talking of a road map without even starting the dialogue is only a cock and bull story. Road map is supposed to indicate a definite destination and direction to reach it. Any talk of destination (solution) before even talking to the known stake holders and ascertaining their negotiable position simply makes no sense at all. If anything, this move would seem to be pre-empting the objective of dialogue whenever held.

Perhaps still more sad part of the story is that Dr Manmohan Singh appears to have withdrawn himself from the earlier position when his keen personal interest and direct intervention opened up quite a few clogged channels of communication. While the mainstream segment was able to re-connect directly and openly, via the Round Table and five Working Groups, there were fruitful backstage contacts with the alienated segment. Suddenly that initiative came to abrupt halt after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. By the time it was resumed its contours were totally different. PMO and Dr Singh himself appeared to have withdrawn into the background, almost putting paid to whatever had been achieved till then. P Chidambaram lost no time in putting his own stamp on the resumed initiative. A fatal flaw in its conception and approach became evident when the unexpectedly great success achieved with the direct intervention of an all-party parliamentary delegation was followed up with the transfer of task to non-political interlocutors who till date have not been able to even break ice with the separatists, not to speak of breaking bread with them. In the absence of any interaction with the representatives of the alienated population it is indeed difficult to imagine as to what kind of a 'road map' the home minister is talking about.

Dr Singh spent more time in analysing the 'lessons' of the 'stone pelting agitation' than suggesting any way to averting its reoccurrence. The Prime Minister dwelt at length on the need for procuring 'non-lethal' weapons to deal with this kind of turmoil. Another gross imbalance in the speeches made at the chief ministers' conference was that while huge loss of innocent lives in the protest demonstrations last summer found a cursory mention 'sacrifices' made by the security forces received lavish appreciation. Neither Chidambaram nor Dr Singh said anything about known incidents of wanton killing of civilians by security forces which, in fact, provided the spark of mass uprising in Kashmir last year. Assurances given in the past that guilty security personnel would be dealt with under law of the land were conveniently forgotten on this important occasion.
It is now obvious beyond doubt that New Delhi continues to rely on its tentativeness so long as there is clam on the surface in Kashmir. There is no change in its ostrich-like approach. Unrest in Jammu and Kashmir has a history of highs and lows. Its root causes are known. Yet there is this tendency to hedge the bet and move in circles. It would be sheer wishful thinking, as indeed it has been in the past, to expect that the surface calm would endure the simmering unrest and prevent it from bursting into the open as it has happened so many times. Unless New Delhi comes forth with honest and concrete road map to resolve the festering issue, rather than indulging in expediency, there would always a lurking probability of  the troubles of 2008 and 2010 revisiting the state, perhaps with more damaging consequences.  






The abduction and killing of two teenaged girls, sisters, from Muslimpeer Mohalla of Sopore in Kashmir is shocking and condemnable, to say the least. The act of killing the innocent girls is dastardly, cowardly and a heinous crime and there can be no two opinions about such barbarity that needs to be condemned for going against the basic spirit of humanity. All quarters of society in Jammu and Kashmir including the separatists have rightly condemned it and it is hoped that the civil society, outraged as it is by the incident, would take greater cognizance of such incidents that challenge the very core of humanity. What is adding to the ugliness of this tragic incident is the politicking over the issue. However, rather than give the government an opportunity to score brownie points by measuring the response of its adversaries on a prejudiced scale, it should be a time for seriously probing the case and catching hold of the culprits. Though no evidence is visible, the police has immediately jumped to the conclusion that Lashkar-e-Toiba is behind the incident. This just does not sound very convincing, atleast not if one has to think logically. Though the presence of militants in Sopore area has been reported in the recent past and the fact that some militant group is behind the incident cannot be ruled out, it would not just be foolish to jump to conclusions, it would also generate more suspicions about the way investigations are conducted by first naming an enemy and then weaving a tale around it. As usual, rather than investigate an incident, the Jammu and Kashmir police are busy fanning different kinds of rumours and selectively leaking out reports to media, on conditions of anonymity. All this, coupled with the politicization of this grave tragedy, only indicate that the government is not serious in tracing the culprits and punishing them. It must come out with concrete evidence, first of all, and form its conclusions on basis of facts not beliefs and suitability. Whatever the reasons of the murder and how or why it happened must be known through scientific explanation officially, not doled out in hush hush whispers. The guilty, whoever they are, must be nailed and punished.






In July 2003, a USAF Institute for National Security Studies report titled, "Egypt as a Failing State: Implications for US National Security" suggested "Mubarak's traditionally autocratic and oppressive short-term fixes" weren't working. As a result, "the possibility of unrest is real; with the correct confluence of domestic, regional, and international events, Egypt can quickly be added to the list of failed states....This paper (thus) contends that (the appearance of) democracy is a security imperative for the post-9/11 world."
In its July/August 2010 Failed States Index 2010, ForeignPolicy (FP) ranked nations under five categories: critical, in danger, borderline, stable and most stable. Ranked 49th among 177 countries evaluated, FP called Egypt a failed state "in danger." It scored lowest in three "delegitimization" categories because of:
— endemic corruption, including ruling elite profiteering;

 human rights violations; and — an accumulation of "grievances," including poverty and unemployment among others.

Not least of its woes is an aging, ill, despotic ruler. Washington perhaps wants the appearance of a kinder, gentler replacement, the pretense of change continuing old policies.

Changed Washington Rhetoric

On January 30, Reuters said "Obama voiced support for an 'orderly transition' in Egypt that is responsive to the aspirations of Egyptians in phone calls with foreign leaders, the White House said on Sunday."
His rhetoric mentioned opposing violence, showing restraint, supporting universal rights, peaceful assembly and association, and free speech, what, in fact, Washington disdains globally, including at home.
Also on January 30, New York Times writer Mark Landler headlined, "Clinton Calls for 'Orderly Transition' in Egypt," saying:

She "called (for) a more politically open Egypt, stopping short of telling (Mubarak) to step down but clearly laying the groundwork for his departure." In fact, she suggested Washington wants him out. He'll get time to go, and aid will continue, despite January 28 White House comments saying it was under review.
In its January 28 editorial headlined "Washington and Mr. Mubarak," The Times suggested support for regime change, calling him "arrogan(t) and tone-deaf, (meeting) spiraling protests with spiraling levels of force and repression, (as well as showing) more....weakness than strength (by) shut(ting) down Internet access and cellphone service."

The Times has a longstanding history of supporting wealth, power, and imperial interests. It's also Washington's lead voice, so excoriating Mubarak suggests official administration policy, meaning his time has passed - gracefully if cooperative, violently if not, but one way or other he's gone.

On January 29, Haaretz News Agencies headlined "Sacking Egyptian ministers not enough, US State Department says," quoting spokesman PJ Crowley saying:

"The Egyptian government can't reshuffle the deck and then stand pat. President Mubarak's words pledging reform must be followed by action," stopping short of endorsing his departure but signaling that resolution if he hasn't left in due course.

Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday School at Marantha Baptist Church, Plains, GA. On January 30, he told parishioners and guests, Mubarak "will have to leave. This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office," suggesting, of course, Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution ousting Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, replacing him with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
On January 31, Al Jazeera headlined, "Mubarak swears in new government," saying:

"Three former senior officers are included in the line-up, suggesting a strong security presence in the new government."

Appointments included Mahmoud Wagdi as new interior minister. A retired police general, he previously headed Cairo's criminal investigations department and state prisons. A new deputy prime minister, finance minister and trade minister were also named.

Retaining their posts were Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Fheit and Defense Minister General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.

Protesters were unimpressed, AFP reporting they'll:

"accept no change other than Mubarak's departure. We want a complete change of government (under) a civilian authority," they demanded.

Egyptian Security Forces Back on Streets

Police and Central Security Forces (CSF) are again deployed after letting army troops alone patrol streets. Evidence, in fact, suggested they were involved in looting, robberies, jailbreaks, violence, and break-ins into upscale neighborhoods to create instability, trying to blame protesters and undermine Mubarak's regime. Reportedly, he instructed military troops to shoot to kill if necessary. So far, they've shown restraint.
On January 31, Al Jazeera headlined, "Egypt protesters increase pressure," saying:
Protesters called for massive Tuesday demonstrations. "The so-called April 6 Movement said it plans to have more than a million people" in Cairo streets "as anti-goverment sentiment reaches a fever pitch."
Thousands were back out Monday. "Protesters say they'll stay (there) as long as Mubarak (remains) in power." They're unimpressed with new appointments and pledges, calling them "too little, too late."

On January 31, a Lebanon Daily Star editorial titled, "Egypt's battle requires focus" said:
"....the rest of the world should stay out of the drama that is unfolding in the land of the Nile, and avoid provoking the situation. Decades of double standards based on support for anti-democratic regimes, under the pretext of security, cannot be erased with breathless exclamations of support for 'the people.' "
Czech writer Milan Kudera once said "The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

Global despots are puppets taking orders from Washington, suppressing their people as directed. For generations, America waged war on democracy and truth at home and abroad. After WW II, it was global, today enforced with high-tech military power able to strike targets anywhere with overwhelming force in short order, or deploy quickly on homeland streets to preserve order or crush dissent.

Rhetoric aside, morality, good intentions, high-mindedness, and freedom aren't part of America's agenda - just money power, military strength and global dominance. It's been that way for decades.

HL Mencken on America's Sham Democracy

In 1926, acerbic political critic HL Mencken's "Notes on Democracy" called it farcical, excoriating "mobmen" who extol it while supporting tyrants, offering thoughts like:

"What is worth knowing he doesn't know and doesn't want to know; what he knows is not true. The cardinal articles of his credo are the intentions of mountebanks; his heros are mainly scoundrels."
"The average American doesn't want to be free. He simply wants to be safe."

"I have alluded somewhat vaguely to the merits of democracy. One of them is quite obvious: it is, perhaps, the most charming form of government ever devised by man. The reason is not far to seek. It is based upon propositions that are palpably not true - and what is not true, as everyone knows, is always immensely more fascinating and satisfying to the vast majority of men than what is true. Truth has a harshness that alarms them...."

Irreverent, refreshingly politically incorrect, and as relevant now as then, he eviscerated a sacred cow, with comments like "Shall we make the world safe for democracy?" To the contrary, "The world should be made safe from democracy!" - meaning the bogus kind America espouses.

He accused politicians of "shov(ing)" "plain people" into war, and will "shove (them) into the next one."
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face (to) rule it."

Mencken believed in liberty. Today he'd excoriate Washington for denying it to so many. Also its hypocrisy, with comments like "It is the theory of all modern civilized (US-type) governments that they protect and foster the liberty of the citizen; it is the practice of all of them to limit its exercise, and sometimes very narrowly."
He also called (US-style) governance "organized exploitation," preaching high-mindedness while practicing state terrorism, brutishness, intolerance, and authoritarian control, globally today like Mencken couldn't have imagined.

Prospects Ahead for Egypt

Below are variations on Stratfor founder George Friedman's four possible outcomes:

(1) Mubarak achieves stability and survives, or more likely, a senior military official or cabal replaces him.
(2) ElBaradei or someone like him becomes president, offering a facade of democracy.

(3) The Muslim Brotherhood is empowered with a moderate Islamist agenda, posing no threat to dominant Western interests, cooperating instead to keep power.

(4) Egypt becomes chaotic. Elections produce gridlock. No viable candidate emerges. Instability continues.

Odds are Mubarak will leave, and stability will return under a new regime, very much subservient to Washington like all other global despots wanting to go along to get along, or put another way - survive long enough to enjoy power and related privileges.

A Final Comment

TE Lawrence (of Arabia) once promised Arabs independence and democracy for their support in WW I. They're still waiting.


(Counter Currents)







"You know Bob, it's our reaction to somebody's action that decides how stressfully or calmly we live!" said this doctor to me, and I couldn't have agreed with him more. I believe that, at least to some degree, we can each exercise control over our outlook and attitudes. And the problem is - if we don't control our reactions, they will surely make us ill.

One farmer took charge of his reaction. He did it by filling his mind with awe and gratitude. He found that doing this gave him more energy to work on problems and to tackle those things that needed his attention. His neighbor's could not have been more different.

 One summer morning he exclaimed, "Look at the beautiful sky. Did you ever see such a glorious sunrise?"
She countered. "It'll probably get so hot the crops will scorch."

During an afternoon shower, he commented, "Isn't this wonderful? Mother Nature is giving the corn a drink today."

"And if it doesn't stop before too long," came the sour reply, "we'll wish we'd taken out flood insurance on the crops." And so it went.

Convinced that he would be able to instill some awe and wonder in this hardened woman, he bought a remarkable dog. Not just any mutt, but the most expensive, highly trained and gifted dog he could find.
The animal was exquisite. It could perform remarkable and impossible feats that, the farmer thought, would surely amaze even his neighbor. So he invited her to watch his dog perform.

 "Fetch!" he commanded, as he tossed a stick into a lake, where it bobbed up and down in the rippling water. The dog bounded after the stick, and walked ON the water, and retrieved it. "What do you think of that?" he smirked.

 Her brow wrinkled. "Hmmm. Can't swim, can he?"

Sounds funny, doesn't it?

Her reaction to even a miracle of a dog walking on water was to find fault with it! But remember, there has never been a monument erected for a pessimist.

A stubbornly positive attitude can often make the difference between happiness and misery, between health and illness and even between life and death.

We have to learn to be positive in our response to any situation. It takes training, but there's One above, who's a good trainer. Not only does He train us how to walk life's journey but also walks with you as you respond to the many problems you face everyday.

In other words, your reactions to an action will become His reaction to an action..!



******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD




Union Minister Kapil Sibal's latest proposal to delink telecom licences from spectrum allocation suggests that he has finally come round to agreeing with the Comptroller and Auditor General's view on revenue losses from underpriced spectrum. To be fair, Mr Sibal's new stance is logical. Spectrum is a scarce resource and should not be given away for commercial purposes at sub-optimal prices, especially by a government struggling to control a ballooning fiscal deficit. It is a point that the windfall from 3G licence auctions underlined. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has made this point any number of times, the latest being in its Spectrum Management and Licensing Framework of May 2010. Indeed, Sibal is echoing Trai when he says, "The stage has been reached where there is enough competition to warrant a market-driven process for the allocation of 2G spectrum." Even so, his latest policy statement, that operators who were given 4.4 MHz of start-up spectrum, the minimum required to launch GSM services, in 2008 will have to pay market-linked prices if they want more, is not entirely kosher, apart from running the risk of being challenged in the courts.

True, operators are being disingenuous when they claim that a 6.2 MHz allocation is a contractual obligation and that Mr Sibal's statement is not legally tenable. In fact, the licence states that spectrum will be allocated on the basis of availability and the operator's ability to justify the need for it. So Mr Sibal is following the letter of the law. But government rules are not always about working only within the legal contours of an issue; industry dynamics and public policy objectives also count. Indeed, if the mega-mess over spectrum that precipitated Minister A Raja's ignominious exit from government proves anything, it is policy stasis. To come to the sapecific issue of spectrum allocation and pricing for new operators, Trai concluded that the 6.2 MHz is the commitment for GSM services — the more widely used of the two mobile technologies, CDMA being the other. As a result that allocation has come to be regarded as something of a norm. So it is not unreasonable for new licensees to expect this level of allocation. The older incumbents' case, on the other hand, is slightly weaker. They have been allocated additional spectrum over and above the 6.2 MHz minimum virtually free and now face the prospect of paying humungous 3G-linked premiums for this excess.


 Their case is that the allocation process for extra spectrum may have been ad hoc but they cannot be faulted for taking advantage of what was admittedly a weakness in government policy. But it is also true that the user linkage as opposed to a usage link for additional allocation has encouraged an inefficiency – equivalent to "gold plating" by fertiliser manufacturers – that has robbed the government exchequer. Today, it is suspected that telecom subscriber numbers are inflated 30 to 40 per cent as a result of this. So, in delinking a scarce resource from the rentier proclivities of commercial players, Mr Sibal is clearly keen to make a new start for telecom policy.






The Boston Consulting Group's (BCG's) "Global Challengers List" for 2011, continues to be dominated by companies from China, India, Brazil, Mexico and Russia, though their collective share has fallen. Africa, with four entries, is a notable entrant in the most recent list. The firms that qualify are predominantly characterised by innovative business models in tune with emerging market realities and the financial puissance to avail of opportunities to buy assets globally and compete with established competitors from developed economies. Twenty Indian companies have made the list, a number exceeded only by China with 33. However, all Indian "challengers" are privately owned, unlike their Chinese counterparts, where a significant number are state-owned enterprises or have substantial government holding. Six of the 20 Indian firms belong to the Tata Group, while the rest expectedly comprise sector or industry leaders in India. By industry, "automobiles" (including ancillaries) is the largest contributor with four listings, followed by "information technology" and "engineering" (three each), "mining and metals", "pharmaceuticals", "telecom", "engineering", "diversified firms" (two each) and one each from "FMCG" and "steel".

The arrival of these firms on the global stage is a consequence of the post-liberalisation ethos in India, following the reforms of 1991. They are, in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's words, the "children of liberalisation", characterised by soaring global ambitions, undeterred by the presence of incumbents. What started as a defensive response to increased competition and the limitations of the Indian market has now assumed a "me-first" character. These firms, as well as several other Indian enterprises, are aggressively scouting for natural resources to fuel their expansion plans as well as acquiring companies internationally to achieve both scale and scope, and expand the geographies in which they operate. The rapidly growing Indian market puts these companies in a sweet spot, in that they can now leverage their presence in both domestic and global markets. For new products and services, gaining economies of scale in domestic markets that can be exploited domestically is a strategy that we could increasingly expect to see in the days to come.


 Several of them are already among the top-ranking firms globally in their respective industries. For example, Tata Steel, through the acquisition of Corus and smaller firms in Egypt and Malaysia, is the world's fifth largest steel producer. Reliance Industries' grassroots refineries in Jamnagar are the world's largest, while Hindalco and Vedanta are among the world's largest producers of non-ferrous metals. Bharti Airtel's acquisition of Zain has allowed it to compensate for the saturation of the Indian market, following 10 years of hyper growth, by operating in an as yet untapped geography.

A word of caution is in order — the reform agenda is far from complete. India is still one of the most difficult places in the world to do business in, as reports by diverse agencies indicate. If Indian companies have flourished and gone on to establish a global footprint, it is despite numerous hindrances by way of outdated regulations, red tapism, bureaucratic apathy and political corruption. Successive governments have admittedly made efforts to simplify the regulatory process and establish more responsive administrative mechanisms, but progress on the ground has been tardy. Getting the policy framework right and addressing supply-side constraints can still unleash many more "global challengers" from India.







An NDTV news bulletin once spent a fair amount of airtime on a foreign news feed of Barack Obama in swimwear frolicking in the sea off Hawaii. As the camera focused on the presidential abs and pecs, the anchor earnestly informed us that Obama was taking his first vacation as president of the United States. Then, as she signed off she grinned and said her producer, also a woman, considered this footage the best part of the programme.

It was a light-hearted moment, good for a giggle. But suppose the US president had been a lady with a figure as impressive as Obama's physique, and a male anchor and producer had made similar jokes. Would those have been viewed as light-hearted or sexist?


 The reason for the question is that a couple of months ago, on the same channel, a magazine editor participating in a TV debate facetiously told a female participant that her picture appeared on a cover because she was "pretty". He was sharply reminded by the anchor – a woman – that this was a sexist remark. Was it?

Grey areas like this will increasingly emerge as rapid expansion compels corporate India to employ more women in a variety of executive positions. And increasingly, it will force managements to rethink and reinterpret the rules of engagement in the workplace.

Women's rights advocates may consider this a strange thing to write considering that women's participation in white collar jobs in India is still depressingly low and the famous glass ceiling has scarcely thinned (though, happily, it has cracked in a few places). Indeed, gender relations in the Indian workplace today swing between the buccaneering chauvinism of the Mad Men variety and the impossibly puritanical.

But the point is this. There are more and more sectors of the economy in which women's participation at every level is significantly higher than it was, say, when economic reforms in India began. Financial services, IT and advertising are the most noticed ones, but even the former so-called "manly" professions such as manufacturing, hotel management and media (including sports reporting) have seen a gender revolution of no mean proportions.

This means that the old terms of engagement between the genders have altered significantly too. To be sure, this is tricky ground. Our sexual harassment laws are about 14 years old (the result of a Supreme Court judgment Visakha versus State of Rajasthan in 1997) and they lay down fairly strict boundaries. The judgment was certainly landmark in that it redefined sexual harassment as not just rape or assault but as unwelcome sexually determined behaviour such as physical contact, a demand for sexual favours, showing pornography, and other "verbal or non-verbal" conduct of a sexual nature (which would probably include off-colour jokes, lewd remarks and so on).

But these rules set, at best, the obvious and proforma limits. In my submission, the issue now is less about setting new rules than developing new levels of sensitivity. For instance, it is probably still in the fitness of things that sexual harassment is viewed from the prism of women. That is why the majority of representatives on sexual harassment committees are required to be women. But men in corporations that employ a significant number of women point out that what is often considered engaging political incorrectness or even acceptable behaviour in women can be construed as sexual harassment or plain sexism in men.

For instance, a male manager ruffling the hair of a younger female colleague would be considered an unambiguous case of harassment, if the latter chose to complain. But a woman manager ruffling the hair of a younger male colleague; is that motherly behaviour or harassment? Strictly under the law, the latter interpretation would apply of course, but the point is that the issue rarely comes up for complaint by men for fear of ridicule.

This in no way suggests that women should participate in or encourage blatant locker-room humour or the sexism of male colleagues. But it is equally unfair for them to expect men to exercise a restraint from which they consider themselves exempt. The dividing line between rights and entitlement is a fine one and admittedly hard to define, but it is an HR issue that managements are destined to struggle with, the faster India grows.








India's negotiating strategy on agriculture at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seems to be moving from a defensive to a more engaging position with the release of two interesting discussion papers by the Centre of WTO Studies of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT).

The two studies that were released by India's chief negotiator at the WTO this week are a signal that India may now move towards seeking answers from the developed countries in the sensitive area of farm trade. The release of the papers is timely since the WTO negotiations are back on track again with trade ministers agreeing at Davos to try and complete the Round in 2011.


 One of the papers points to carve-outs sought by some developed countries — including the US, the European Union, Canada, Switzerland, Norway and Japan – to protect domestic concerns and possibly continue to subsidise and distort agricultural trade. The second paper seeks a greater role for New Delhi in the negotiations between the US and the four cotton-producing nations of Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali, since India has the potential to be a global cotton exporter.

Till now, India has primarily, as a member of the G33 on agriculture, focused on issues such as special safeguard mechanisms and special products that are available to the developing countries to defend sensitivities of millions of resource-poor farmers.

While India's primary interest of safeguarding small farmers' interests will remain high, the two academic papers also reflect the need for India to seek market access in other countries for products of interest in the farm sector.

The two papers primarily point to two factors. First, if the current text of 2008 on the table is accepted by WTO members, then the developed countries will continue to safeguard products of interest to them by denying market access. Second, they will have the ability to distort agricultural trade through cheaper exports backed by subsidised agriculture.

This may mean that the Doha Round's primary objective to address higher market openings for farm trade, which is vital for the developing and least developed countries, may not be addressed if the current proposal on the table is accepted without changes.

Interestingly, the developed countries are of the view that the current text of 2008 on the table does not as yet fully reflect their needs in the agricultural sector. However, analysts are of the view that further changes to the text to accommodate the developed country needs may make the deal far worse for the developing and least developed countries. It is, therefore, significant to note, as the authors pointed out when the papers were released, that despite the presence of the carve-outs in the current paper, the developed countries seem to be holding back progress on the negotiations.

The paper on carve-outs does not take into account the distortion to global trade by the developed countries but only points to the possible impact on market access while exporting into these markets. But it covers a wide range of products ranging from corn and wheat to soybeans, rice, peanuts, sorghum, barley and oats besides beef and fruit like apples, apricots, cherries and citrus fruits for processing.

The paper shows that the number of products for which distortion would continue is large and will certainly hurt the future interests of the developing and least developed countries, which are seeking a pie in the global trade for farm products.

Agriculture and industrial goods are the two pillars on which countries will need to move forward first to conclude the Round. The next set of modalities on these issues is likely to be prepared by the chairman of the negotiating groups in Geneva over the next couple of months and it will be important for the developing countries to ensure that the new texts do not undermine the development objective of the Doha Round.

The farm sector is a politically sensitive area for all countries and unless these negotiations do not match the expectations of members, it will be difficult to conclude the Round. The IIFT paper throws the ball back to the developed countries to respond.

The author is principal adviser, APJ-SLG Law Offices








Industrial de-licensing was one of the major liberalisation policies in the nineties, unshackling the constraints placed on industrial investment earlier. Currently, compulsory licensing is required for five industries dealing with manufacture of alcoholic drinks, tobacco and tobacco substitutes, electronic aerospace and defence equipment, industrial explosives and hazardous chemicals.Just 21 items are reserved exclusively for small-scale industry (SSI); a non-SSI unit wishing to manufacture these items requires an industrial licence, which is issued with an obligation to export half of its annual production. In these cases, the government issues Direct Industrial Licences (DIL) and Letters of Intent (LoI), which form a very small share of the total investment proposed in the country.

Though licences are not required for industrial investment in almost all cases now, it is mandatory for firms to file an Industrial Entrepreneur Memorandum (IEM) that notes the intent of the proposed investment, and to inform the government once commercial production begins.

 According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) data, while the late nineties saw a decline in investment intentions, industrial investment proposals grew significantly in the five year period 2003-2008, before being hit by the global financial crisis. The three states with the highest amount of investment interest through IEMs over August 1991 to October 2010 are Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Gujarat, followed by Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. (Click here for graph)  

INVESTMENT DIARY   Year-wise investment proposals


Number of investment proposals (IEMs, LOIs and DILs)

Proposed investment value in Rs cr (IEMs, LOIs and DILs)























































2010 Jan-Oct



Source: DIPP

Interestingly, till 2000, Madhya Pradesh, which included Chhattisgarh, ranked seventh in the country in attracting investment proposals. Chhattisgarh shot ahead of its parent state with its own industrial policy leveraging the state's resources to the maximum.

However, when it comes to implementing these proposals, at the all-India level, just 10 per cent of the total industrial proposals were implemented till October 2010; a mere 4 per cent of the total value of investment proposed.

Smaller states have a significantly higher rate of the proposed investment seeing the light of the day. Gujarat stands out as the state with the best implementation ratio amongst the top three, converting 10 per cent of the proposed investment value into commercial production in the state, almost double the Maharashtra's implementation ratio. On the other hand, the top two, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, implemented less than 1 per cent of the total proposed investment value till October 2010.

At the other extreme is Bihar, which ranks 14th among the states in value of investment proposals and has the lowest implementation ratio. Haryana, which has marginally lower investment intentions than Bihar, has the highest implementation ratio of 21 per cent among the large states.

Over the years, though the DIPP data show a near-constant implementation ratio of 10 per cent in the number of IEMs, when it comes to the value of proposed investment, there has been a drop in the implementation ratio from 18.7 per cent for the period 1991-2001 to 5 per cent for the period 1991-2009. The decline could be due to a variety of reasons — reporting inadequacies, more high-value projects with long gestation periods, hitches in project implementation due to red tape, land issues and so on. However, one fact is clear, with states vying with each other for investment, it is also important for state governments to work towards an environment that allows for speedy implementation of proposed projects.

Indian States Development Scorecard is a weekly feature by Indicus Analytics that focuses on the progress in India and the states across various socio-economic parameters









We came to know a month or so ago that a child named Siddhant Totla in Hyderabad used the Facebook to publicise the corporal punishment his teacher had subjected him to. A remarkable use of technology for setting a wrong right, this instance brings home the rapid uses of technology and its relationship with generations growing up with it. The internet has the potential of a public sphere, an enabling forum that can help voice things we otherwise feel uncomfortable about.


 Siddhant's story is one of technology generating confidence and protest. The nature and groups of many YouTube videos communicate a similar assertion, a celebration of forum outside authoritative domains of the family and school. Meanwhile, it is significant to note that Siddhant is a 12-yearold, a child born in digital times — one that makes no distinction between offline and online reality.


In a similar vein, many children who do not feel comfortable intervening in class, or socialising, become hectic participants in the social space of Internet. Somewhat audaciously, they reply back to their bullies, and make uninhibited conversations with people their age (or even older) in other parts of the world. In the process they are changing, or have changed, and as parents and teachers we do not understand what or whom to compare that change with, for there are no precedents in this matter. In fact, comparable examples lie spatially, not temporally. That is to say, it might be make some sense to see what is common between an upper-class 12-year-old child in India and in California, than between the digital generation and their older siblings. Comparing them with us makes no sense at all.


With some feelings of unease and relief I discovered from an English friend that his child and mine have watched the same television shows and also have similar forms of rebellion. It is understandable to feel relieved and know that you are not the only one going through dilemmas of a particular kind. The unease comes from the inescapable fact that the two children or even the parents do not inhabit the same 'real' space.

The Indianness of reality impinges upon the digital children also, albeit in strange and modified ways. It is 'still' a country where private worlds are considered with greater suspicion, a loud silence surrounds sexual matters, caste and community networks as well as dominance persist and all this also spill over and into the internet or sometimes emanates from it, creating bewildering situations.


And yet there are spaces in the virtual world, where you might find yourself listening to the same music as your counterpart elsewhere, or acquiring the same Goth looks as somebody else. The differentiation in space and culture melts down, only to again reassert its presence when you need to go out or wear certain clothes in an 'Indian society.' Schisms of this nature are enormous, and their reconciliation well-nah impossible. Schism lie in the minds of the digital children, between them and their immediate environments, the one comprising not only the parents but also those other children who cannot dream of digital privileges. A very disturbing phenomenon ensues from this, noticeable not only in adolescents but also people in their twenties.
    Their imagination gets bound by cyber boundaries, so that certain real-life situations appear strange and amazingly backward. I have had 20-year-olds ask questions if there are 'still' dowrydeaths, and honour-killings, and castediscrimination? What is the 'still' coming from? Whatever made them think that India had changed so much for gender and caste inequalities to disappear? Have the last 10 or 20 years of cyber-relation given to one part of India an impression that a sweeping change has occurred everywhere? We are then talking of a divide not just in terms of class, age, demography, but the most unbridgeable one of Time.








THE wages of sin in India is arrest by some arm of the police, rarely prosecution leading up to conviction and punishment. This is glibly described as the law taking its own course. So well it might be with former telecom minister A Raja, former telecom secretary Sidhartha Behura and the minister's former personal secretary R K Chandolia. It is welcome that investigations into the wrongful allotment of second generation telecom licences in 2008 have proceeded to a stage where someone can be arrested. The arrest should not be a means of short-circuiting public anger and Opposition protest and eventually lead to the law taking a very long and meandering course to nowhere in particular, apart from mellow old age of the accused. While the Comptroller and Auditor General estimated that the government lost anywhere between . 57,666 crore to . 1,76,645 crore, these estimates of presumptive loss are debatable, but there is no shadow of doubt that the ministry with Mr A Raja at the helm rigged the selection process to award new licences to a favoured few. This wrongdoing does, indeed, need to be punished and the guilty brought to book. However, acting against one instance of corruption is unlikely to deter other offenders, given that corruption in India is endemic and systemic, producing politicians who amass fortunes rivalling those of the best in industry and business, and civil servants with hundreds of crores of unaccounted income. Taking one Raja to task will be of little utility, unless this systemic problem is addressed.
    Unstructured, non-institutionalised political funding is the root of corruption in this country. Political activity calls for financing. These finances are mobilised, for the most part, through corruption, with the mobilisers holding on to a portion of the fruits of their toil before passing on the collections to the party. They loot the exchequer, sell state patronage and use state power to extort money, all of which entails corruption of the civil service as well. This perversion of democracy in the name of making democracy work must come to an end. This is where the real effort of the government must be spent.






THE robust performance of our exports in December 2010 is heartening for a number of reasons. One, it is a sign that exchange rates have ceased to be a significant factor in export performance. In the period April-December, the real exchange rate of the rupee showed a mixed trend. It appreciated 3.7% on the basis of the trade-weighted six-currency basket but depreciated to a lesser extent against the broader 30 and 36-currency baskets. Despite this, exports grew 36.4% in December 2010 to $22.5 billion, suggesting Indian exports no longer ride only on a cheap currency; they are intrinsically competitive. This is a sea change from the days when Indian exports were so commoditised that demand was essentially a function of how much cheaper they were compared to other countries' exports. Two, it is a sign that many of the initiatives taken by the commerce ministry to diversify both the export basket as well as the destination of our exports — the Look East policy, the increased focus on Latin America and Africa as alternate destinations — have paid off. Economic recovery, and hence demand, in the western world is still uncertain. In contrast, many emerging markets are registering strong growth. Both factors taken together would suggest exports in the current fiscal are set to cross the magical figure of $200 billion as India has already totted up exports of $164.7 billion. And we have three months yet to go.


Three, strong export growth could help us bridge the widening trade and current account deficit. The sharp increase in imports during the first half of the current fiscal saw India's trade deficit widen to $35.4 billion causing the current account deficit to shoot up to 3.7% of GDP (well above the widely-accepted danger-mark of 3%), prompting fears that our external position was becoming increasingly unsustainable. A reversal in trend, with exports growing faster than imports, is therefore a happy augury. It also suggests it is time to rethink, and perhaps phase out, some of the crutches given to exporters such as cheaper bank credit and tax sops and focus instead on facilitating exports through better infrastructure and easier procedures. Will the government bite the bullet?







MAHARANI Sita Devi of Baroda is reputed to have once dismissed her social rival the Duchess of Windsor's newly-acquired bejewelled choker with the cutting remark, "They used to look nice on my feet" — alluding to the gems' previous setting in a pair of anklets she had sold to the famed New York jeweller Harry Winston. Smarting from the putdown, the duchess returned the anklet-turned-choker immediately. This week, the off-the-cuff remark by a US official in Hyderabad that ankle monitors are the favoured accessories of the "hip and happening" appears to have once again underlined the oft-quoted belief that nothing ever goes out of fashion. After all, the American's contention that inebriated movie stars and celebrities have a penchant for radio-tagged ankle cuffs, even if a few sober and clearly untrendy Indian students wrongfooted by shady US universities see them more as an embarrassing impediments, echoes the same difference in perception that the two Indian and British aristocrats displayed over half a century ago.


While the consular official revealed that her wellheeled domestic help also wears anklets (in silver, no less) perhaps she was thinking more on the lines of the 'leg candy' of celebrity bratpackers Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton when describing them as on-trend. The alternative to the anklet, helpfully revealed by her to be an orange prison jumpsuit, however, is scarcely chic. Besides, they are so 2010 as sartorial trends go, as any fashion guru will testify. Maybe the authorities should take a cue from the diplomat's original remark (now retracted with apologies) and do a design makeover for those monitors. Cast in platinum, they could well become the next prison-walkway-to-fashion-catwalk craze. But till then, why make Indian students fashion victims?






According to Chinese astrology, 2011 is the Xin Mao Year, symbolised by Small Yin Metal Rabbit on top of Small Yin Wood. The Fengshui cycle of creation and destruction indicates that this is destructive relationship.

Nature or nurture? In psychology, it is a debate about intelligence — innate or acquired through the effort of parents and teachers. There is similar argument about commodities. Since Malthus, some have argued that Mother Nature rules; others (the 'nurture side') hold that human effort is the key.


In Jean de Florette, a great French film of 1980s, Gerard Depardieu inherits a farm in rural France but fails to grow flowers there because jealous neighbours block the secret spring on which it relies for water. He dies of despondency.

In Trading Places, a great American comedy of the same era, Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy plant false information, then hurl themselves into the trading pit. Murphy makes a fortune in concentrated orange juice futures and lives happily ever after.


India is not the only country with high tomato prices. We have also had inflation a la Mexicana. In Mexico, tortilla prices matter. Tomatoes (central ingredient of salsa), have such weighting in the country's CPI that bad tomato harvests can, on their own, push inflation above target. Noises of the 2007 'tortilla riots' in Mexico as also 'pasta strikes' in Italy are reverberating in Tunisia and now in Egypt. World commodity markets are now at the mercy of supply concentrated in a single country.


ICE March Brent, the global benchmark for crude oil has crossed $100/barrel, amidst unrest in Egypt. Egypt is a small oil producer but important gateway for Brent oil (through Suez Canal and the 200-mile long Sumed pipeline, which connects Red Sea and the Mediterranean). Closure of either/both gateways (oil flows of 2.1 million barrels/day) would divert tankers around southern tip of Africa, adding 6,000 miles to transit.


Nymex WTI (West Texas Intermediate) oil has risen to $90/barrel. Price of the US benchmark has dislocated from the global oil market due to rising inventories at key pipeline hub of Cushing, Oklahoma.


Argentina, world's second-largest corn exporter and third-largest soyabean exporter, is experiencing dry conditions (just when southern hemisphere crop is in key pollination phase) due to La Niña — the unusual meteorological phenomenon that strengthened in the second half of 2010, disrupting global weather patterns.
    Heavy rains in Brazil (75% of its coffee beans are high-quality Arabica), Columbia and Central America have hurt yields and driven coffee to multi-year highs. Northern Brazil (Brazil and Argentina together account for 45% of world's soyabean exports) could be hit by soyabean rust disease post-heavy rains. The US corn belt (60% of corn exports) is due for drought (last was in 1988) — the longest spell between droughts in Iowa, a leading corn producer, has been 23 years.


Brazil accounts for 60% of global sugar exports, leaving importers vulnerable to the weather in small area of the country. Alassane Ouattara has banned exports of Ivory Coast cocoa (40% of global exports) and cocoa has scaled a 33-year high. Twothirds of seaborne supply of coking coal comes from flood-raven Australia.
    Are high food prices here to stay? According to the UK government's 'global food and farming futures' study, real prices of key crops could rise 50-100% during the next 40 years. FAO warns of serious world food crisis. Rising living standards across emerging world, particularly China and India (together, 2.5 billion people) could exert long-term upward pressure on food prices.


 AS THOMAS Malthus famously underestimated, rising demand for food is not bad so long as supply keeps pace. Between 1965 and 1998, global population rose from 3.3 billion to 5.9 billion, but real food prices actually fell. The Jean de Floretteschool of thought says supply is tightly constrained. Trading Places holds that the new speculative money moving into commodity futures ($60 billion in 2010) has created market distortions. If this is Jean de Florette, there is no quick fix — the world has to build supply. If we are in Trading Places, the solution is to reform regulation. Eddie Murphy might have found it harder to laugh all the way (literally) to the bank had there been tighter limits on margin trading.


Emerging economies have to deal with a predicament not of their creation — a toxic combination of ultra-stimulative policy in the developed world and returnseeking global investors (20% of commodity trades in 2010 were by hedge funds, compared with 3% in 2009), which has lifted global commodity prices, fuelled asset bubbles and created inflation fears in countries accounting for 77% of emerging market GDP.

Brazil, Chile, Poland and Hungary have hiked interest rates. In India, seven interest rate hikes beginning March 2010 (175 bps of repo rates and 225 reverse repo rates) have proved ineffective to curb inflation. On the contrary, higher rates lure foreign money, pushing up domestic prices. Raise rates too high and they could crush growth or spark a domestic banking crisis. Prudent central bankers have proceeded with caution; only in Brazil is policy rate (10.75%) above inflation rate (5.5%).


When China sneezes, world catches a cold — because of its insatiable appetite for energy and industry metals. In China, the cost of vegetable oil, a staple in the expanding middle class, and corn, a crucial livestock feed, continues to skyrocket. In China, main weapon used so far is raising bank reserve requirements. If Beijing aggressively hikes interest rates (as expected), it could slow down the overall economy as also demand for base metals such as copper and crude oil. The IMF finds that 1% reduction in China's GDP would reduce the rest of world's GDP by almost 0.5%. A series of rate hikes could engineer a hard landing for the Chinese and thus, the world economy.


Thus, the rally in the prices of agricultural commodities could very well end the rally in the rest of commodities complex, hitting oil and base metals. I reckon the prices of agricultural and other commodities could commence their descent after March 2011, bringing immense relief to the aam admi.
    (The author is CEO,

    Global Money Investor)







THERE is a story about a dissident who, railing against an authoritarian regime in a busy city square, is promptly arrested and put in jail for 14 years. On his release, he takes a bus, makes his way back to the precise spot of his arrest and, raising his voice, begins, "As I was saying the other day…" The tale is a bit apocryphal because, depending on who is narrating it, the setting shifts from parts of West Asia to Turkey. But it is probably not without some basis in authenticity. For, while the world is transfixed by the spectacle — and amazingly, it is for the second time in a lifetime that many are witnessing a people's upsurge against authoritarian regimes across a swathe of territory, the first being in post-Cold War Eastern Europe — of Arabs across their divided lands staging a mass uprising, it has often been forgotten they have had a long history of struggle.


And as reports begin to filter in of Hosni Mubarak 'supporters' attacking protesters who have made Tahrir Square the current epicentre of the world, the danger is that violent repression might make for another chapter in the long historical narrative of dictatorships trying to quell mass movements by brute force. That is the way muqawama (resistance, in Arabic), in its various forms against various regimes has traditionally been dealt with in the region. Following the failure of, and disillusionment with, a larger pan-Arab nationalist project, various strands of nationalist, communist and left-wing movements have been at the receiving end of this violence, meted out by dictators entrenched with Washington's open or tacit support. The larger retreat of the Left too, created a void the Islamists have tried to fill since the 1980s, which only added the catchphrase of 'keeping radical Islam at bay' while silencing opposition.


"The war of liberation," said Frantz Fanon, " is not a seeking for reforms but the grandiose effort of a people, which had been mummified, to rediscover its own genius, to reassume its history and assert its sovereignty." That, in essence is what the current spate of protests in the Arab world have been about, not merely about seeking a change in guard, or forcing the rulingmilitary combine to make some concessions and carry on fundamentally unchanged in character. And that final, logical eventuality is what the ruling elites, and the West, particularly the US, and certainly Israel, would always strive hard to stymie. Because the hard reality is that while the protests across Arab cities emerged due to anger against decades of authoritarian rule, and the economic mismanagement that attends it, they are also an expression of anger against western and Israeli complicity in the state of affairs, against the framework of coercion and violence that has long besieged Arab lives, as well as against the attempt at the imposition of a forced, wholly unequal 'peace' on the underlying Palestinian issue. A shattering of those impositions, in short, is what the 'greater democratisation' across Arab lands would mean.


The idea of that democratisation is a threat for those, at home and abroad, seeking to maintain status quo. And that is a partial reason why, despite the intensity of protests, beyond promises of reform and a few superficial changes, nothing much has changed, be it in Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen. The ancien regimes aren't yet swept away. But, beyond causes for pessimism, there hasbeen something breathtaking about the sight of people, unified, demanding, screaming for change. And that was its marking a rupture. Which will now make other future, deeper, ruptures possible, even if this one does not tear extant paradigms all the way, even if brute force tries to patch it for now. And that rupture is what Slavoj Zizek, speaking of the repression against protesters in Tehran in 2009, described thus: "When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, but before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture often takes place. All of a sudden, people know the game is up: they simply cease to be afraid. It isn't just that the regime loses its legitimacy: its exercise of power is now perceived as a panic reaction, a gesture of impotence."

The regimes may even regain ground for now. But then, there also exists, always has, an enduring fact. And it's called the "peoples history of resistance".








MICROFINANCE institutions (MFIs) have grown at an explosive pace in recent years. This growth has come at a steep cost: heavy concentration of loans in one state, Andhra Pradesh; overborrowing by the poor; extortionate interest rates; and questionable recovery practices. These and the spectacle of promoters reaping huge gains in the name of uplifting the poor have caused a severe political backlash against the sector.


The RBI, which has hitherto adopted a hands-off approach to the sector, was obliged to set up a committee under Y H Malegam to go into the entire gamut of issues related to microfinance and make suitable recommendations. There were really two main issues that the committee needed to address.


One, what precisely is the role of MFIs in financial inclusion — is it to be a dominant role or a supporting one? Two, given that MFIs have a role to play, how best do we regulate them? The committee has addressed the second at length but steered clear of the first.


The regulations recommended are sweeping in nature and will definitely have the effect of reining in MFIs and ushering in consolidation in the sector. Since RBI committees are supported by the central bank's own secretariat, they do reflect the RBI's thinking even when they mostly comprise outsiders. The recommendations show how far quickly the RBI's own thinking has evolved on the subject. Last year, the RBI had indicated that it did not favour capping interest rates in the sector. Now, the committee wants a cap of 24%. In addition, it wants to cap the interest margin.


The RBI has had to change its mind because it has found that what was being said about extortionate interest rates levied by MFIs is true. The larger MFIs have been charging an average interest rate of 37%; the smaller ones 29%. In addition, there have been hidden charges. The Malegam committee now wants only three components in any loan made by MFIs: the interest rate; a processing fee of not more than 1% of the gross loan amount; and the insurance premium.


The Malegam committee also attempts to tackle multiple lending as well as excess borrowing. To prevent multiple lending, it stipulates that a borrower should not be a member of more than one joint liability group/ selfhelp group and that not more than two MFIs should lend to the same borrower. To prevent over-borrowing, it wants the aggregate value of all outstanding loans to a borrower to be restricted to . 25,000.


If the RBI accepts these stipulations, it could end up over-reaching itself. The issue is not the appropriateness of these norms. It is the enforcement of these norms at the grassroots. How on earth will the RBI ensure that MFIs adhere to these norms across millions of borrowers? And who is to say that no borrower should have loans in excess of . 25,000? Or, for that matter, that the interest rate should never exceed 24%?


The best way to ensure credit discipline, whether in respect of borrowing limits or interest rates, is to mandate that all bank loans to MFIs should be through a consortium. This puts the onus for setting appropriate borrower limits and interest rates squarely on the banks.


The banks should be free to determine whether, in particular cases, borrowing can exceed . 25,000 or whether an interest rate higher than 24% is acceptable. The onus for monitoring of end-use of funds will also be on the banks. The banks may appoint agents or assign staff for the purpose. Consortium lending to MFIs will ensure that the sort of runaway growth in MFI assets that we have seen in the recent past, fuelled by indiscriminate bank lending to MFIs, does not recur.


The more important policy question is the proper place in the sun for MFIs. In the prevalent neo-liberal philosophy, policy-makers have been more than ready to accept that the private sector is best placed to bring about financial inclusion. Some are even tickled by the thought that removing poverty through the provision of credit can actually be a profitmaking activity. What better than market economics married to poverty removal?
    It is the acceptance of this philosophy that must explain why the SHG-Bank Linkage Programme has come to be overshadowed by MFIs in the last two years: the share of SBLP in outstanding loans has dropped from 74% to 60% between 2008 and 2010. MFIs have grown in relative importance not just because they are more aggressive or efficient but because of 'lazy' financial inclusion on the part of banks. Since loans to MFIs qualify as priority sector lending, banks have found it expedient to meet their targets through loans to MFIs.
    This philosophy ignores the fact that banks have lower costs and hence are in a position to deliver loans at lower rates than MFIs, while also providing other financial services. Moreover, profit-oriented financial inclusion is bound to create problems, however best we try to regulate MFIs. Banks, not MFIs, must be in the forefront of financial inclusion. The Malegam committee conspicuously fails to make this point


Though the committee deals with the issue of regulating MFIs, it has not defined their role in financial inclusion
The panel's recommendations to tackle multiple lending and excess borrowing are difficult to enforce
The panel fails to appreciate the obvious fact that banks, not MFIs, should lead the way to the goal of financial inclusion






THANK the Egyptians for the image of justice as a grand dame balancing a pair of scales. Her blindfold and the sword came later. The Romans added these props from the symbols of Lady Luck (Fortuna) and the sword-carrying goddess of vengeance, Nemesis.


But Maat, as the ancient Egyptians visualised the Goddess of Justice, was supposed to regulate the movements of the stars and seasons. Thus She came to represent continuity in change. It was Maat who set the order of the universe from chaos from the moment of its creation which she continuously protected.


She personifies what the Vedic Indians call Rta or the Norm both for Nature and society. She was also supposed to play a central role in cosmic harmony by preventing the collapse of the universe into chaos without fostering the status quo. The children of Maat now agitating for freedom in Cairo are yearning for asimilar `miracle'.


Alas, they also know from bitter experience that pain is the midwife of change. Does that 'justify' the blood on her sword? Not really. Of greater concern to Maat is the weighing of souls that supposedly takes place in the underworld; hence her scales.


A single ostrich feather of the goddess sits in one pan. This represents the eternal law. The other pan is supposed to hold the hearts of the dead. Those deemed worthy are sent to paradise. A heart found unworthy goes to the goddess Ammit and its owner is condemned to remain in the underworld.


Later, the deities got conflated into a single wielder of sword and scales. It appears that such a mixing of symbols — vengeful violence with caring commerce —may be rooted in evolutionary biology. New research says oxytocsin, the 'love hormone' that ostensibly fosters love, trust and caring comes with a set of in-built limitations: elevated levels are now being linked to sparking of distrust between disparate groups.


Nor should we be surprised. Cynics have long maintained that survival of the fittest seems to be incompatible with ideas such as peace and universal brotherhood in purely Darwinian terms.


So, what if there is a chemical that creates love and bonding? It stands to reason that the trust it promotes is not towards the world at large but to the person's in-group in particular: oxytocsin thus turns out to be hormone of the clan. This enables individuals to survive by clinging to the gang in Nature notoriously red in tooth and claw!









There is little doubt that Mr Raja has become a super-heated potato for both the DMK and the Congress and so has been dropped to fend for himself.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested Mr A. Raja, the former Minister of Communications and IT, who stands accused of having caused a huge loss to the exchequer by allocating spectrum to some companies in a less-than-transparent manner. He is the second telecom minister to be arrested, the first being Mr Sukh Ram in 1996. While in a sense the action was overdue, eyebrows will surely be raised over how the Government has handled the issue. Indeed, some may cynically ask why at all he was arrested. After all, it was only a few weeks back that Mr Raja's successor, Mr Kapil Sibal, said that Mr Raja had not caused any loss at all. Indeed, he had even called a press conference to rebut the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Officials in his Ministry had then gone into overdrive to explain that while there might have been "some lapses in the implementation" of the first-come-first-served policy of 1999, the policy itself was flawless. So if the policy was kosher and if no loss was caused, why has Mr Raja been arrested? To get an answer, we will have to wait until the charge-sheet is filed. Until then, speculation will thrive. The Opposition, both in New Delhi and Chennai, have called it a political move, aimed at repairing the bruised visage of the UPA alliance ahead of the elections in Tamil Nadu. The fact that Mr Raja's leader, Mr M. Karunanidhi, was in Delhi just a couple of days ago, has added grist to the mill. If the move backfires on the UPA, as the release of the CAG's report seems to have done, the Government will have only itself to blame. It clearly needs to hone its political skills.

That said, there is little doubt that Mr Raja has become a super-heated potato. Neither the DMK nor the Congress (who need each other reciprocally in the state and the Centre respectively) wants to hold it. So both have dropped him and left him to fend for himself. For the DMK, in particular, he is a major embarrassment at all levels; for the Congress, he may well prove to be the nemesis not only because of his own can of worms but also the other cans that people will demand be opened.

If the Government doesn't look out, the effect of the Raja affair is likely to be similar to the one that the Bofors affair had on Rajiv Gandhi's government — almost complete policy and administrative paralysis which eventually culminated in the crisis of 1991. The glue that held the UPA together, namely, the aura of invincibility that the UPA had come to acquire, could melt away very rapidly. The results of the Tamil Nadu election will provide a clear pointer as to the direction in which the UPA is headed because, between the Congress and the DMK, it is a zero-sum game in the state.






The arrest of Mr Raja is unlikely to improve DMK's image by a huge margin. Its only saviour will be poll arithmetic.

The arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of the former Communications and IT Minister, Mr A. Raja, has come so late — he was forced to step down as Minister in November 2010 — that it reeks of blatant political expediency.

Mr Raja stands accused of causing the public exchequer a perceived loss of Rs 1.76 lakh crore by resorting to allocation rather than auction of 2G spectrum.

But just like the raids on Mr Raja's houses and offices, which came well after he had quit as Minister, and to placate an angry Opposition, his arrest too seems tied to political events.

The first, of course, will be the Budget session of Parliament; the entire winter session was a washout with an unyielding Opposition demanding a JPC (Joint Parliamentary Committee) probe.

Political compulsions

But the much more important political event is that Tamil Nadu goes to the polls in two months with the DMK-Congress alliance. Within the top brass of the DMK, there was palpable wrath that Mr Raja's shenanigans, and the DMK patriarch, Mr M. Karunanidhi's unwillingness to sack him from the party, would affect its prospects in the coming elections.

Even Mr Karunanidhi's family was divided on the issue, with reports of the elder son and the Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister, Mr M. K. Alagiri, threatening to resign.

But what seems to have tipped the scale is the buzz that Mr Karunanidhi did not get too warm a reception from the Congress President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, in Delhi on January 31 during the seat-sharing talks.

Following the publication of the Niira Radia tapes and the CAG report on the 2G scam, despite mouthing of platitudes by both the parties on the DMK-Congress alliance remaining intact, there is a clear chill in the relations.

If Mr Karunanidhi was indeed made to wait for long hours before Ms Sonia called him over, as reported in a section of the media, that must have really hurt.

Within the ranks of the Congress that has supported the minority DMK Government for five years, there is growing clamour not only for more seats — over 75 compared to 48 it got last time — but also a share in power.

The argument is that after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the DMK had bargained hard for plum portfolios, and one of them — Telecommunications — has landed the UPA-II in such a big mess. No other scam in India's recent political history has hurt a ruling dispensation more than the 2G scam.

Forget the Lok Sabha stalling by the Opposition parties, the image of the UPA Government has been tarnished in the eyes of the nation. For inflicting such a vicious wound on the UPA, the DMK would have to pay, is the reasoning of the Congress circles in Tamil Nadu.

Uphill task

Though poll arithmetic is an important factor in a State where political parties have committed vote-banks, the DMK faces an uphill task to return to power. Along with the 2G scam and other corruption charges against the ruling dispensation, let's not forget the pendulum factor in Tamil Nadu politics; the electorate tends to swing its patronage from one to the other Dravidian party in successive elections.

This has been taking place religiously from 1991 when the AIADMK swept to power with a brutal majority following Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, to make way for the DMK in 1996, to again wrest power with an impressive 132 seats in 2001, only to lose once again in 2006.

Ironically enough, though nowhere near either the DMK or the AIADMK in terms of political clout, the Congress has managed to win in alliance with one or the other Dravidian party in the last two decades.

In 1996, the Congress was with the AIADMK which lost, but the major splinter group of TMC, formed by G. K. Moopanar, contested the election with the DMK.

Right now, the PMK, as is its wont, is blowing hot and cold towards the DMK. But if the PMK and Captain Vijayakanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) go with the AIADMK, this election might just end that trend.

After so much water has flown down the Cooum, the arrest of Mr Raja is unlikely to improve the DMK's image by a huge margin. Its only saviour will be poll arithmetic; the DMK needs the PMK, along with the Congress, as much, or more, as both the parties need the DMK to get a decent number of seats.






The US President, Mr Barack Obama, has become more assertive in dealing with China but that has not significantly altered the bilateral balance of power. India should play its cards skilfully in the emerging multipolar world order.

During the years of the Cold War, US-Soviet Summits were dominated by discussions on issues such as arms control and Cold War rivalries. Bilateral economic ties were virtually non-existent. The two superpowers had little to discuss on the global economy.

With the US and China closely tied together economically, the major focus of attention in Sino-US relations is on trade, investment, market access and exchange rate mechanisms. This is even more necessary now, with the ongoing economic crisis engulfing the Western world, the American trade deficit with China in 2010 being estimated at $280 billion, and with the OECD countries unable to fashion a unified strategy to confront the crisis they face.


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

The US, on the other hand, is mired in an economic crisis with unemployment reaching 10 per cent and with a budget deficit estimated at 10.64 per cent of GDP. Moreover, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have drained the US Treasury, strained its ties with NATO allies and resulted thus far in the loss of 5,900 American lives. These conflicts have also resulted in 655,000 civilians killed and 4.2 million people displaced in Iraq. Afghan civilian deaths in the conflict are estimated to be between 14,643 and 34,240. American credibility and prestige have suffered heavily from these military misadventures.


If the Americans have miscalculated in military adventures abroad, the Chinese also seem to have been afflicted by hubris in recent years. In 1991, Deng Xiaoping advocated a strategy of "hide your strength, bide your time".

Ignoring this advice, the Chinese have also been flexing their military muscle in recent years, resulting in their hitherto docile neighbours getting seriously concerned. China has aggressively sought to intimidate its neighbours, ranging from Japan and Vietnam to Indonesia and India, with strident and unilateral claims on its maritime and land borders.

Following the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai, the Chinese media went ballistic, threatening to invade and takeover Arunachal Pradesh, if India retaliated against terrorist havens. Expressions of friendship and partnership from the incoming Obama Administration only increased Chinese "assertiveness".

Mr Obama appeared more than ready to bow to Chinese demands during his November 2009 Summit with the President, Mr Hu Jintao, in China. Apart from conceding that Taiwan and Tibet were areas of "core interest" to China, Mr Obama pointedly avoided meeting the Dalai Lama before his visit and avoided reference to "human rights," while in China. When China became increasingly belligerent, American silence led to US allies such as Japan and South Korea feeling abandoned. MrPresident Hu brushed aside American concerns on currency and other economic issues during the G-20 Summit in Seoul.


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

The Americans had perhaps belatedly realised that Chinese nuclear and missile proliferation to Pakistan was vigorously continuing and that China had no intention of being on the wrong side of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In substantive terms, however, the Chinese have made no concessions on monetary or other economic issues, but have succeeded in keeping American corporations on their toes, holding out prospects for lucrative deals in the future.

It is evident that as Chinese economic and military power grows, the US is going to be more circumspect and accommodating in dealing with China. The Chinese will, in turn, claim to be a "responsible power" by periodically responding positively to American concerns on issues such as nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea.

The Russians seem to be prepared to take advantage of this situation by extending selective support to the US on issues like their logistical needs in Afghanistan. These developments have created strategic space for emerging powers such as India, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa to work with others to maintain their autonomy on global affairs. India has to show diplomatic dexterity in safeguarding and promoting its national interests in the emerging multipolar world order.






An effective system of corporate governance would have to move beyond shareholder interests to consider the entire value system the company operates in.

Discussions on corporate governance are often marked by a touch of defeatism. This is not entirely surprising when companies with as widespread a reputation for corporate governance as Satyam turn out to be the centres of massive scams. It is easy then to settle into a belief that corporate malpractice is inevitable. But before we reach such despondency, we need to ask ourselves whether the lack of progress is simply because we have approached the issue from the wrong direction. Could an alternative approach which provides greater space for the ethical beliefs of Indian companies and a stakeholder-driven mechanism to implement governance have provided better results?

Corporate governance has both an ethical and a legal dimension to it. Ideally, the ethical dimension will set out the rules and once a broad consensus has been achieved the legal system will ensure that the few wrong-doers will be punished. It is just possible, though, that we may have got this sequence reversed. Typically, once a scam is uncovered, there is a righteous demand for fresh legislation. Since there is little time or inclination at those times to find out the ethical norms that a vast majority of Indian companies would be comfortable with, there is a tendency for the law to be put together by cherry picking international practices.

This would not be such a bad thing if the governance structure of Indian companies was the same as in the developed world. But western companies, more often than not, tend to be run by independent professional managers, while they are owned by shareholders. Enforcing effective corporate governance is then primarily a matter of ensuring the managements protect the interests of all shareholders.


Indian companies, however, tend to be promoter-controlled. Transferring western norms would no doubt protect the interests of non-promoter shareholders. To the extent that these interests differ from those of the promoters, this is an important safeguard.

But this model does nothing to prevent corporate malpractice that benefits all shareholders. There was a time when a major company would issue non-convertible debentures with the specific understanding among investors that they would later become convertible. While that particular practice was stopped, there are a number of other less-than-ethical practices that are used today to prop up stock prices. And non-promoter shareholders may well be as keen as the promoters to keep share prices artificially high.

A model that is preoccupied with shareholders can also be insensitive to wrong-doing at the cost of other stakeholders. Malpractices that hurt customers, the environment, labour or other stakeholders could benefit all shareholders. Small shareholders with their eye on the price of their shares may be more than willing to look the other way when their company violates, say, environmental norms, especially in a regime where it is possible to get away with such violations.


A more effective system of corporate governance in India would then have to move beyond shareholder interests to consider the entire value system the company operates in. Arriving at a consensus among corporate houses on what this value system should be is not easy. Indian companies are often dominated by families. These families come from a diverse set of cultures, each with their own ideas of what is an ethically acceptable practice.

But it may be possible to make progress with less ambitious targets. Companies may be willing to set out a code on corporate governance issues that are hurting them. After the Radia tapes, companies may be willing to spell out what they believe should be the role of lobbyists. If a consensus on this narrow issue is not possible, individual companies should be able to state what their values are.

We would then be able to take the important, if still small, step of seeing whether companies function according to the value systems they profess. Over time, it may even be possible to arrive at a set of norms for corporate governance that are shared by most Indian companies. A law based on these norms would have a much greater chance of being followed.

It is quite possible that the norms that companies offer will only reflect the views of the controlling shareholders. It is then important that while eliciting the views of companies, efforts are made to also take on board other stakeholders. One mechanism to do so would be to introduce independent stakeholder directors on the board.


An independent director focusing on issues concerned with the environment, for instance, could help the company explore means of environment- friendly growth. Even if such means prove more expensive in the short run, they would minimise the risk of ignoring norms and suddenly facing dramatic threats, such as closure.

For such a mechanism of independent stakeholder directors to work there would have to be great credibility over both their independence as well as their competence to protect the interests of particular stakeholders. Their credibility in terms of their ability to protect the interests of stakeholders, with minimum damage to the company, could be guaranteed through mechanisms similar to those used by auditors. And their independence could be assured by their being paid by an external agency. For instance, if the National Stock Exchange could charge a corporate governance fee from companies listed on it, it would be able to meet the salaries, and evaluate the work, of independent stakeholder directors.

It is only when the appropriate ethical system that Indian companies accept is first identified, and the mechanisms put in place to ensure this ethical system takes into account the interests of all stakeholders, can we hope to take the debate on corporate governance from the realm of righteousness to that of realism.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




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.

"Everything that once anchored our world is now unmoored", remarked Mr Mark Heller, a Tel Aviv University strategist. "And it is happening right at a moment when nuclearisation 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, Mr 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. 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 Mr 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 the Prime Minister, Mr Bibi Netanyahu, of Israel is in danger of becoming the Mr Mubarak of the peace process. Israel has never had more leverage vis-à-vis the Palestinians and never had more responsible Palestinian partners. But Mr 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, 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 Mr 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 Mr Mubarak had", said Mr Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster.

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, Mr 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 US 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 delegitimises 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.






Autocratically-ruled China combines eye-popping infrastructure and rocketing economic growth rate fueled, in part, by institutionalised corruption. Democratic India is overwhelmed by corruption with the leviathan state becoming a liability, habituated to providing rank bad governance, fourth-rate infrastructure, crumbling cities, even worse countryside, and facing a people surviving with the barest necessities of civic life haphazardly delivered by decrepit and slovenly state agencies.

Corruption in China is based on a unique system of graft and progress. Its "one window" payment mode works in parallel with local officials whose advancement is based on how many industrial units are created. Town, county, and provincial level governments, therefore, compete with each other to attract investors and industries, carving out special economic zones and industrial and software parks, and building world-class four and six-lane highways, hinterland dry ports, swanky airports, advanced rail links and communications networks at breakneck speed.

The enabling officials help themselves to 30 per cent of the project costs informally reserved as their take — a figure that is added to the realistic cost estimates of projects. Occasionally, excessive greed results in "tofu" constructions that collapse or the officials' indiscretions become too public to ignore, whereupon, summary justice is meted out with shots to the heads of the guilty officials. Of course, corruption exacts costs; by one estimate some $360 billion has been channelled into foreign bank accounts, except China has gained superb infrastructure and all the wherewithal of a modern state.

Corruption is in the Indian DNA and the over-regulated Indian state would appear to be fertile ground to adapt the Chinese model. Except here, elected politicians and bureaucrats are not held accountable nor judged by their performance in properly implementing official plans and programmes. They are free to exploit their discretionary powers for self-aggrandisement. The ex-chief of the Confederation of Indian Industry, Mr Tarun Das, identified United Progressive Alliance minister Mr Kamal Nath as claiming "15 per cent" of the value, presumably, of all contracts as perquisite. But this ministerial perk did not fetch India much. By Mr Nath's own admission, his surface transport ministry could build only a fraction (four miles) of the meager 20 miles per day of national highways of unknown quality he had promised. Generally, malfeasance and under-performance fetches politicians only a change in portfolio and bureaucrats a transfer as service rules afford them virtual immunity.

With 15 per cent as ministerial booty, savvy foreign and home-grown companies, suppliers and contractors reportedly set aside another 15 to 20 per cent to ease deals through layer upon turgid layer of central, state and local government bureaucracy. That brings the total to around the Chinese 30 per cent mark. The trouble with the Indian system geared to the lowest tender is that this percentage is subtracted from the lowest bid. Imperatives of profit-making and diminished resources mean slip-shod work, use of sub-standard materials, and absence of streamlined designs and smooth finishing, eventuating in infrastructure that is embarrassing even by Third World standards.

To get an idea of the payoffs: 30 per cent of the reported $8 billion deal for the French 1,600 MW nuclear reactor supplied by Areva company may generate distributable "commissions" in the $2.4 billion range. The tremendous enthusiasm for any and all capital imports — nuclear reactors, high-value military hardware, telecommunications equipment, etc. — in government and ruling party circles is, therefore, understandable.

Direct cash transfers to the poor through individual bank accounts and activated by biometric sensors — a doable solution that experts regard as the most efficient way to eliminate hunger and poverty — has been mooted. But because it will minimise corrupt practices and render redundant the manpower-heavy welfare delivery and food distribution departments — 60 per cent plus of government expenditure goes into upkeeping the government apparatus itself — such schemes are ignored.

The finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, instead offered investigation of secret account holders in Lichtenstein banks. But, pray, since when has the Central Bureau of Investigation, the income tax department, or the enforcement directorate investigated any case independently? Influenced by ministerial diktat and direction, they'll likely end up gunning for those whom the ruling party deems expendable, safe or politic to pursue. Indeed, environment minister and Congress party gadfly Mr Jairam Ramesh mocked the reality of a graft-swamped government system by blithely shifting the blame for bribes to the giver: "I can control the demand for corruption but someone has to control the supply of corruption too which I cannot stop".

In the aftermath of the 2G and other scams, the so-called "captains of industry" have been riding the moral high horse and publicly wringing their hands in despair. None of these worthies, however, has taken Mr Ramesh on by speaking the plain truth, conveying the factual state of affairs to the people, namely, that without bribes being paid to political parties, politicians and bureaucrats gumming up the works at every turn, all commerce, trade, and industry in the country would grind to a halt.

If, as the saying goes, fish starts rotting from the head then the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh's role in sustaining a deeply corrupt system of government that is slowly sucking the oxygen out of the Indian entrepreneurial spirit and economy cannot be overlooked. Dr Singh is intimately familiar with the extant system of institutionalised loot in the country, starting from when he first joined government in the mid-1960s as adviser to minister for foreign trade, the redoubtable Lalit Narayan Mishra — Indira Gandhi's chief fund collector. The issue is less about Dr Singh's personal integrity — though there is beginning to be talk about that too — than his culpability in ignoring persistent wrongdoing over the years by his Cabinet colleagues and civil servants. A senior retired IAS officer says aptly of Dr Singh that "he has the proven ability to look the other way". "Looking the other way" is obviously Dr Singh's survival technique, the secret of his success, and explains his indispensability to the political powers that be, first as technocrat, then finance minister, and now as an unelected Prime Minister.

- Bharat Karnad is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi





The arrest of erstwhile communications minister Mr A. Raja is, in the end, a technicality. It will be instructive to see how quickly the CBI can proceed even when the case is being monitored by the Supreme Court. Much would depend on the availability, and collation, of quality evidence against the DMK politician who continues to protest his innocence and maintain that all he did was follow the previous NDA government's policy on spectrum allocation. The political fallout of the affair is naturally important — for both the DMK and the Congress, especially since Assembly elections are due in five states (including Tamil Nadu) in three months. In a wider sense, however, there could be a sense of relief in the country if such a high-profile case could be brought to a speedy conclusion. If this does not happen, and the idea gains ground that powerful people — in politics, government and business interests associated with telecom licences — are going to drag out the matter, the morale of ordinary citizens is likely to be negatively impacted.

There was never any doubt that someone charged with "criminal conspiracy" would be pulled in at some stage of the investigation preceding trial. The arrest of Mr Raja and two of his officials — including former telecom secretary Siddhartha Behuria — who are under investigation is bound to appear dramatic, given the sheer scale of misappropriation that came to be talked about since the report of the comptroller and auditor-general cast doubts on the method adopted for the award of 2G spectrum licences. Also, the pushing out and then the arrest of a Cabinet minister is not a daily occurrence. Politically, it can work both ways. People may be disturbed at the thought of such a person being kept in high office for so long. Another view is that the system did, after all, act decisively in the end. The minister was made to resign before the CAG report was tabled in Parliament. The CBI inquiry had indeed begun earlier although it gained purposefulness after the Supreme Court entered the picture. However, it would be premature to condemn Mr Raja and his associates even before charges have been framed and the trial begun. There appears to be some popular interest on the question of Mr Raja and his associates securing bail. That is a purely legal matter.

If top DMK leaders come into the ambit of suspicion, the impact of this on Congress-DMK relations is hardly likely to be salutary. Just two days ago the two parties announced that their alliance would continue. But if the progress of investigations throws a spanner in the works, the UPA-2 government could well face a political crisis it had not bargained for. With the Opposition's demand for a JPC probe into the 2G affair boosted following Mr Raja's arrest, it is hard to see how the crucial Budget Session of Parliament can proceed smoothly. This can only feed into any crisis that might ensue if more high-fliers from the DMK stable come under the needle of suspicion in the 2G affair.







THE CLAIM: Contraceptives can make you gain weight.

THE FACTS: Weight gain may be the most feared side effect of birth control. Concerns about pills and patches producing extra pounds have been known to keep some women away from them.

But most studies have found that those concerns are unwarranted. And women who do end up gaining weight, experts say, may simply be misperceiving normal weight gain over time as an unwanted side effect of contraceptives.

In a broad analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers combed through data from several randomised trials that compared hormonal contraceptives and placebos. (It was not clear what kind of birth control was used by the subjects who took placebos.)

There was no evidence from any of the studies that women using the contraceptives gained any more weight than those given a placebo. The researchers then looked at studies comparing different doses or regimens of various hormonal contraceptives, which "showed no substantial differences in weight", they reported.

Another study in 2008 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School followed 150 female athletes ages 18 to 26, some of whom were randomly assigned to a group that took oral contraceptives. Others served as controls. After two years, the scientists concluded that the contraceptives did not cause any gain in either weight or body fat.

THE BOTTOMLINE: Hormonal birth control does not appear to lead to weight gain.







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 West Asia 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 civilisation yearned for some civilisation.

President George W. Bush meant well when he tried to start a domino effect of democracy in West Asia 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 West Asia", 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 West Asia". 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 fulfil his grandiose promise to defeat "every terrorist group of global reach", he needed the cooperation of the same dictators the US 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 democratisation 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 West Asia? 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 January 31. 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 on the night of February 1 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".






Sages of ancient India have pointed out the six evils that can sully a person's character and cut short longevity. In the celebrated epic Mahabharata, the sagacious Vidur refers to them while answering a question raised by King Dhritarashtra.

In all the four Vedas, a human being is attributed to have a life of 100 years. But people don't usually live up to that age and that was what confused the king.

Vidur then pointed out to him that six sharp-edged weapons keep cutting short man's life. They are: athimaanam (excess of pride), athivadam (unnecessary disputes), athyagam (lack of sacrificing mentality), krodham (wrath), mithradroham (doing harm to friends) and atinavidhanasa (being self centred).

Death doesn't kill people before they reach the allotted hundred years, it's these six weapons together that kill man. Once a person overcomes the influence of these evils, he can enjoy a longer span of life in good health and devoid of diseases.

As per our tradition, kama, krodh and ajnana (lust, wrath and ignorance) are unforgivable sins that bring about worries in our life. No one's life will be smooth unless one is cured of these evils.

But this is easier said than done. Modern life is devoid of virtues and hence there is no scope for a person to live a long life. Both, the body and mind of human beings have become impure. Spirituality that ennobles human life on earth is no longer at work. Ethics have vanished from every field.

Kama or lust makes us run after money, wine and women. We forget our duty towards wife and children. We shirk our responsibilities and live in the most unethical and immoral way.

Krodh or wrath also spoils relationships and generates hatred and hostility. Everything one builds up over a lifetime gets lost instantly as this evil emotion sets in.

Ajnana means surrending to maya or illusion. You take the unreal for real. So long as ajnana exists in you, you will stay away from Supreme Knowledge, or Brahmajnana. Once you get Brahmajnana, your aatman is released from all bondages and you get moksha.

Aatmaanam pasebhyo mochayati iti moksha (Since the aatman is released from bondages, it is moksha or salvation).

A good and healthy life is not at all possible so long as kama, krodha and ajnana pervade us. Hence we should cure ourselves of these vices to enjoy happiness and attain salvation ultimately.

Every person wants to enjoy incessant joy in life. But there is no short cut to this. Live an ethical life and observe your duties unfailingly.

One may have lust for money, gold or sex. All these give momentary joy, but cause immense cares and worries in the long run. One cured of lust for material possessions alone can enjoy bliss.

Bliss is a higher level of joy. It is heavenly. Only those who have acquired the Supreme Knowledge, Brahmajnana, can experience bliss incessantly.

— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.

He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached
at [1]










From the august envoys in Washington and the UN, it is the Indian who is being harassed in the US of A and for no offence whatsover.  It was humiliating enough to "bodypat"  Ms Meira Shankar or direct Mr Hardeep Singh Puri to take off his turban, both actions ordered by overzealous airport security that overlooks a boarding card being issued to a potential bomber. Now, the impounding of passports and radio-collaring of Indian students of a fake university in California is the latest manifestation of a humiliating trend.

  The argument of the US embassy in India that "tagging" is standard procedure against illegal migrants is a feeble defence of misplaced prosecution. It is the "university" that has made the migration illegal. An estimated 1,500 students, mainly from Andhra Pradesh, were duped by a spurious campus selling visas and work permits at exorbitant rates. It ought to have been obvious to the US authorities that Tri-Valley University had violated two fundamentals ~ it had waived the mandatory GRE/GMAT that is required to pursue studies in the US. Second, under American law a work permit is permissible only after the student had completed a year's full-time course. Tri-Valley had promised the Indian students that facility with effect from the day of landing. Were the authorities unaware of the fiddle till it was exposed? In the net, it is the hapless students who are being made to suffer ~ it is almost an infringement on the freedom of movement as the radio-collar is programmed to monitor their whereabouts.

  The external affairs minister, SM Krishna, has condemned the fixing of the gadget as an "inhuman act". But mere condemnation is not enough; in the context it is a wimp's response. A belated closure of a spurious institution hardly compensates for the enormity of the humiliation inherent in tagging. As yet there has been no response to India's demand that action be taken against those who ordered the fixing of radio-collars. At the core of the crisis is the immigration racket that had charged an enormous amount for visas and work permits. Were the visas issued to the students fake? If not, was the consulate that granted them part of the scam? India needs to go beyond condemnation; her citizens have been cheated and humiliated by the Americans.
The incident ought to provoke a rethink on inviting foreign universities to set up shop in India. It is no less a confirmation of misgivings that institutions with dubious credentials abroad are only too eager to set up campuses here. From Down Under to the Silicon Valley, the Indian is the victim of persecution. The fault is with the system... in Australia as much as in America.




Coalition compulsions seldom leave room for exceptions. If the UPA leadership is destined to be embarrassed by the DMK and Trinamul Congress, the NDA has no reason to feel comfortable after Nitish Kumar's unequivocal denouncement of the BJP's attempts to unfurl the National Flag at Srinagar's Lal Chowk. Bihar is one state where the NDA sits pretty with an overwhelming majority of 206 seats in a House of 243. But what the BJP cannot wish away is the impression that much of the success in the election was due to the chief minister's initiative to put the state back on rails and his record of personal integrity. While one section of the party, which includes deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, is reconciled to the reality and finds nothing wrong in the chief minister's outburst, ideologues like Harendra Pratap are more concerned about overall saffron interests than about the post-poll scenario in Bihar. Nitish Kumar had made a conscious effort to distance himself from rabid elements in the BJP during the election campaign and, to that extent, may not have surprised anyone by publicly disapproving of the Ekta Yatra. Nor is he likely to be concerned about anything beyond the reputation he has earned as an able administrator who has turned things around in his state. The public statement that the yatra has "no meaning'' in the context of the tension prevailing in the Valley may also be a veiled warning that he will not brook any excess from an alliance partner in a state where law and order had been a nightmare in the Lalu years.

The BJP's local leaders seek to rationalise their position, however unconvincingly, by suggesting that the Ekta Yatra is a party programme in which they don't expect support from NDA partners. But more than ideological positions, what matters is that the JD-U boss is riding high and is reinforced by the party tally that is just seven short of a majority on its own. In the circumstances, the Bihar BJP takes the practical position of not wanting to upset the apple cart. All this confirms not just that Nitish holds the trumps and that the BJP is a divided house but that coalitions are all about living with contradictions.



There you go, love, no need for that crash diet. A few curves ~ or "love handles" if male of the species ~ are good for you! That, at least, is the conclusion of a team of scientists at California University who have endorsed the common sense view that carrying a few extra pounds is not only kosher but may actually be good for you, as slightly heavier persons tend to live longer. But before all of you go running away, as it were, with the idea that it's okay to pile on the pounds or begin to theorize that gluttony is a primary good, the rider to the CU study is equally relevant. Exercise in "enjoyable amounts", it says, is the key; along with a varied diet ~ bring on the ghee soaked paranthas but don't forget the sprouts for breakfast ~ to feeling and looking good, not to mention living longer. It is, perhaps, a comment on the times we live in that we need researchers to tell us what anybody who listened to the retired subedar-major routinely employed as the "PT sir" in most Indian public schools through the 1970s and 80s knew already and wasn't shy about sharing with his, albeit male, wards ~ "khao, bhago, hago!" which translates roughly as eat, run, defecate. Sound advice, that, and it has served many in high-pressure jobs dealing with complicated personal lives in contemporary India rather well.
So, exorcise the fear of fatness and eat what you fancy but don't forget to play a game you enjoy either. And if in the process a few extra kilos attach themselves to your midriff, don't  worry  about  it  too  much ~ yes,  your  adipose  will be in motion, but also when you are dancing that jig on the graves of your anorexic, size-zero fetish-enamoured friends with a leg of tandoori chicken in one hand and a glass of whisky in the other!







THE revolt in Tunisia has transformed the Arab world. Almost without warning, entrenched, seemingly immovable regimes have been shown the door, or are on the brink. It began with the Tunisian leader being forced to flee, leaving behind a scene of uncertainty and confusion. More striking, and against all expectation, the flames of revolt spread from Tunisia to Egypt, the fulcrum of the Arab world. President Mubarak, who has governed for 30 years of emergency rule, has been unable to put a lid on the protests that have jolted his country and engulfed his capital. Stability and order, his watchwords and justification for autocratic rule, are no longer his to dispense.

And further afield, Yemen is in similar straits, its government assailed by demonstrations that have shaken yet another apparently unshakeable regime that has been there for ages. Elsewhere in the Arab world, the popular revolts that have fed these events have bred a sense of elation.

Observing what is going on, some rulers of countries as yet out of harm's way have expressed alarm, seeing chaos on the way. But the ordinary people have given exuberant support by coming out in vast numbers onto the streets. It is a period of extraordinary change, both exhilarating and unpredictable.

When it started in Tunisia, it was dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution": from Tunis, the whiff of jasmine has spread far. What is taking place recalls the interconnected "colour revolutions" of a few years ago that upturned so many regimes in the Caucasus and Central Asia, with important geopolitical consequences. But this time the eruption is rooted in domestic situations, without the external prompting seen in the colour revolutions. Nor has it originated in the frenzy of the mob, the sans culottes so often in the forefront at such times, but in the discontent of the educated people, with degrees and training, aspiring to a middle class life but without jobs or prospects. They have been disgusted by the sight of a corrupt ruling elite, immune and protected, comfortably removed from the harsh realities on the ground. The many grievances of the excluded have had little redress, and rulers and ruled have been steadily drawing apart.

Moreover, the close association of the rulers with foreign powers, especially the USA, has offended national pride and added to the volatile mix. The demand for properly representative government has strengthened ~  but first things first: get rid of the present regime is the cry; all else will follow.

The focus is now on Egypt. This is a sober, well-grounded society, not quick to anger, with reserves of patience and endurance. But the dam has broken, it would seem, and unprecedented demonstrations have brought the country to a standstill. People of all persuasions have made common cause, political opponents are united in their determination to be rid of President Mubarak. Thirty years of his rule now seems too much. Parliamentary parties, the Islamist opposition, trade unions, numerous others, are out on the street. After initial defiance, President Mubarak has had to get rid of his ministers and appoint a Vice-President, a putative successor, something he has refused to do until now. But the new appointee is the President's close aide, the security chief, and his appointment has not stemmed the agitation. The role of the army is uncertain: it has proclaimed unwillingness to shoot at demonstrators. The police is seen to be more active, but there are also reports of it having left the field while anti-social elements are on the loose ~ which in turn has bred rumours that this was the work of the regime itself, to breed and exploit chaos.

Out of this cauldron has emerged Mohammed El Baradei, Nobel Laureate, former head of IAEA, who seems to have become the focal point of the opposition. Dr. El Baradei has a very high international reputation as a skilled and independent minded leader. At the IAEA he refused to bow to US pressure at critical times, which added greatly to his prestige. Not long ago, he had toyed with the idea of becoming a presidential candidate at Egypt's last election but backed off when it became apparent that the poll would not be free and fair. Now he is being designated by some of the protesters as the person to negotiate the transfer of authority from the present incumbents to another, as yet undefined, authority. Dr. Baradei has spent little of his working life at home, for his career has entailed his being abroad for long periods, but yet he is currently the outstanding personality among those opposed to President Mubarak. The idea that he could spearhead a negotiated transfer is interesting, perhaps indicative of the moderation that seems instinctive in Egypt: the current regime would not be swept away in violence, but negotiated away in as much good order as may be possible. Recall that in 1952 the deposed King Farouk was left free and sent out from Alexandria in his royal yacht after a revolution that was virtually blood free. The current disorders have brought much greater loss of life, for the whole country is involved and the toll has added up, but nothing like pitched battles between opposing groups, and the army has refused to be drawn in.

Change now seems inevitable and the shape it takes could have a profound effect within the Middle East. Egypt was always at the core, seeing itself in Nasser's day as the central point of three intersecting circles, Arab, Muslim, African; that is to say, it saw an expansive international role implicit in its geographical location, and its weight and pre-eminence in its region. Egypt's peace treaty with Israel in 1979 took it in a different direction, removing it from the stresses of regional politics, but this could be reversed if current developments take a particular turn. It is conceivable that the protesters would demand a more assertive Egypt, more active in the affairs of its region, which would add an unpredictable element to the ever volatile Middle East.
For now, however, there is a highly changeable situation with an unpredictable outcome. India has been deeply concerned to see a long established friend in travail, and it has given voice to its apprehensions. It is not long since President Mubarak came to New Delhi as Chief Guest for Republic Day, which is an indicator of the friendly ties between the two countries. However, if regime change does in fact take place, which may not be unlikely, then India will have to be alert and move rapidly to find common ground with the successor regime. Friendship with Egypt has always been a central pillar of India's Middle East policy and has to be maintained.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary






For people brainwashed by false propaganda, it is difficult to recognise the truth. That is particularly true about Indians fed gigantic propaganda against the memory of both Subhas Chandra Bose and his Provisional Government of Azad Hind by Indian government and historians attached to it since 1947. Although it is a fact that along with Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union too had recognised the Azad Hind Government established in 1943 in Singapore, majority of Indians still don't believe that it could be true.
This could be partly explained by the misinformation spread by Indian and the British historians who held that Bose had been denounced by the Soviet Union because of his proximity to the Fascists and the Nazis. George Orwell, an agent of the British secret service M16, used to rail against Bose regularly on BBC broadcasts, positing the same arguments. A proper analysis can demonstrate that contrary to that view, Bose had been a pro-Soviet socialist all along who had maintained links with Soviet leaders throughout World War II and could secure recognition for his Azad Hind government from Stalin at a time when communists of India, inspired by their British comrades and Orwell, singularly denounced Bose as a "Dog of Tojo" and a traitor.
The Russian military archives in Paddolsk, near Moscow, houses evidence of the recognition bestowed by the Soviet Union upon the Azad Hind government. The discovery was made by General Alexander Kolesnikov, a retired military leader of the now extinct Warsaw Pact Forces, who later became a professor in the Institute of Oriental Studies in the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. During a meeting with an Indian Parliamentary delegation to the Russian Federation in 1996, he submitted a written account of all his findings. The delegation, which included the late Chitta Basu and Jayanta Roy of the Forward Bloc, brought the document back to India. And it formed the basis of an affidavit submitted to the Mukherjee Commission by Dr Purabi Roy, a professor in Jadavpur University, Kolkata, who was sent as part of a three-member Asiatic Society team to Russia to study Indian documents from 1917-1947.

In his article Destiny and Death. Subhas Chandra Bose published in Ezhenedelnaiya Gazeta in January 1997 General Kolesnikov writes that Bose had maintained contact with the Soviet leadership. He had sent an authorised representative of Azad Hind government ~ Kato Kochu (an assumed name) ~ with the rank of an Ambassador to Omsk, which was the alternative capital of the Soviet Union during World War II. There is evidence to infer that Kato Kochu had reached Omsk and had been received by the Soviet leadership.
In March 1999, Pramod Mehra of the National Archives of India, New Delhi, presented a paper at the Netaji Institute of Asian Studies in Kolkata. In page 6 of the paper titled The Declassified Documents from the Ministry of Defence, he writes: "The recognition of the provisional government by the world powers, viz Japan, Burma, Germany, Italy, Thailand, Philippines, Russia declared their firm resolve to support the Provisional Government of India in its struggle for India's freedom." A file (No 265/INA) at the National Archives of India refers to the Provisional Government of Free India as having its representation at Omsk and cites the name of its representative as Kato Kochu.

The most important evidence comes from a letter dated 16 November, 1943 that Bose himself wrote to the then Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov ~ "I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that in accordance with the will of all the freedom-loving Indians in India and abroad and with the fullest support of all Indians residing in East Asia who number close upon three million, and of their political organisation, The Indian Independence League as well as with the backing of the Indian National Army now stationed in East Asia ~ The provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) was established on the 21st of October 1943, with its headquarters temporarily at Syonan or Singapore."

It is indeed surprising that while communists in India were so much against Bose, the Soviet Union chose to maintain close ties with him. The reasons are obvious. Bose has always proclaimed in his book Indian Struggle and in a number of speeches that his aim was to establish a socialist, planned economy in India with the aim to eradicate poverty, illiteracy and caste-religious differences within a decade. He established the first Planning Commission in 1938 with Jawaharlal Nehru as its chairman to create a blueprint for future industrialisation of India. Also, he was the only politician in India to have supported Stalin's move to include the Baltic states in the Soviet Union as reestablishment of Russia's historical claims on its ancient lands. This apart, he had supported the Stalin-Hitler non-agression pact of 1939, by saying that the real enemy of oppressed people was Anglo-American imperialism and that the Soviet Union had to fight the final war against it with Germany and Italy serving only as temporary disturbances. He reached the Soviet Union in 1941 to seek Russian support for India's War of Independence. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Bose was in Rome. He wrote a spirited letter to German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop denouncing the invasion and forbidding the use of Azad Hind Force stationed in Germany against the Soviet Union in any manner.

When Bose arrived in Japan in 1943, Hediki Tojo, Japan's war-time Prime Minister had transformed himself from a military leader to the champion of freedom fighters of Asia. The 1943 Conference of the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere in Tokyo was attended by Sukarno of Indonesia, Bose of India, Aung Sang of Burma other than the deposed kings of Vietnam and Malay as well as the Emperor of China. Political leaders from Mongolia, Philippines and other Asian nations were also in attendance. The conclave was a replication of the Conference of the Oppressed Nations held in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1920 under the patronage of Zenoviev of the Communist International (Comintern) and the Brussels conference of the "League against Imperialism" in 1927 organised by Virendranath Chattopadhyay, the brother of Sarojini Naidu and an associate of Veer Savarkar and Bipin Pal, who was also one of founders of the Communist Party of India in 1920.

Virendranath was the link between Subhas Bose, the Soviet Union, and Japan, and without him the Azad Hind movement might not have become a reality. He became the leader of German Indian Committee, which helped revolutionaries in India with weapons and sanctuaries. This committee had supplied weapons to Indian revolutionary groups such as Jugantar, Anusheelan Samity and to Jatin Sarkar or Tiger Jatin and to the legendary Surya Sen. The committee sent Narain Marathe, Herambalal Gupta, and Rash Bihari Bose to Japan in 1915. In 1933, Virendranath escaped to the USSR. He became the head of the Indian department of the USSR Academy of Science in Leningrad and got very close to the two key leaders of the Russian revolution ~ Lenin's wife Nadezhda Krupskaya and Sergey Kirov.

The Japanese government sent a number of scholars to Germany during 1920s. To this circle, belonged many young scholars during 1926-29 who later enriched Japanese academics and culture. Rouyama, Arisawa, Kunizaki of Tokyo University, and professors from Kyoto University ~ Muraichi Horie, Yoshihiko Taniguchi, Katsuichi Yamamoto, and Katsujiro Yamada ~ were the founding members of The Association of Revolutionary Asians. In addition to these scholars, Japanese artists and journalists in Berlin were part of this group. Theatre and film personalities of Japan such as Koreya Senda, Seki Sano, Yoshi Hijikata, Teinosuke Kinugasa, Souzo Okada, writers such as Seiichirou Katsumoto and Seikichi Fujimori, the painter, Ousuke Shimazaki, and the architect, Bunzou Yamaguchi, were also members. And, Virendranath was the leader of this group.

These Japanese intellectuals became very prominent upon their return home. They supported and financed the formation of the Azad Hind Fauj in Japan and hosted Indian revolutionaries including Mohan Singh, Giani Pritam Singh, Satyananda Puri, and Rash Bihari Bose. They prevailed on the Japanese government to bring Bose to Japan from Germany and to release about 80,000 Indians held as prisoners of war by Japan in Singapore in 1942 to fight for the freedom of India.

In a letter dated 20 November, 1944 to Jacob Malik, the Soviet Ambassador to Japan during World War II, Bose wrote: "Now, when I am in Tokyo, I would like to use this opportunity to see your Excellency… to find through your Excellency a support of the Soviet government in the struggle of India for its independence.
"The fact, that now we have close connections with Axis powers in your common struggle against British and Americans does not stop me. I am happy to say that Axis powers have a very clear idea about the peculiarity of problem of India and they have kindly recognised the Azad Hind (Independent India) Provisional Government… Besides Japan, whose relationship with the Soviet Union has strictly neutral character, even the Government of Germany has understood in full and appreciated the fact, that we, the Hindu, were interested only in actions against England and America. The Government of Germany also understood  and appreciated the fact that we were not interested in the actions against the Soviet Russia…

"I know, that there is an alliance between the Soviet government and governments of the England and USA now. But I quite well understand… that it cannot prevent the Soviet government from rendering us support… With gratitude I recall the assistance rendered to me by the Soviet government after I left India in 1941…
"During his life Lenin always from the bottom of his heart supported colonial countries in their struggle for independence… As I know, after Lenin's death the Soviet government has not changed its policy concerning problems of subjugation of such countries as India at all.

"As far as my party is concerned ~ Progressive Bloc ~ I can say, that at a time when the Soviet foreign policy in Europe was blamed by approximately all parties of India in 1939-40, we were the only people who openly supported the Soviet foreign policy towards Germany and Finland…"

Bose maintained socialist views throughout his life, and, on very many occasions, expressed his hope for an egalitarian and casteless industrialised Indian society in which the state would control the basic means of production. That has not escaped the notice of the Soviet Union, who never had any faith in Mahatma Gandhi.
It was not the Soviet Communist Party but the British Communist Party which had advised the CPI to go against Bose and the Azad Hind government during World War II as the CPI could not have any direct contact with the Soviet Communist Party. Ajoy Ghosh, the then general secretary of the CPI, said that in Moscow in 1953, Stalin had rebuked him for not supporting the Azad Hind government during the war.

The decision for the CPI to transform itself from a revolutionary organisation to a pro-British organisation in 1942 was prompted by some factors, hitherto neglected by historians. CPI was formed by Indian revolutionaries MN Roy, Abani Mukherjee and Virendranath Chattopadhya in Moscow in 1920 with the patronage of none other than Lenin. However, since the deposed members of the Khilafat movement, Muzzafar Ahmed for example, joined the CPI during its Tashkent conference in 1926 against the wishes of its founders, the party's character changed a lot.

During the 1930s, a group of very privileged, British-educated Barrister sons of mega rich land-owners of India utterly changed the character of the CPI, relegating it but to a chapter of the British Communist Party. British socialists are traditionally anti-Indian and staunchly anti-Hindu. The class characteristics of Indian communists had changed by that time, with most revolutionaries who used to be in the CPI having left it for the Forward Bloc or the RSP or the Congress Socialists. The CPI eventually became a very pro-British organisation reflecting the propaganda of George Orwell.

The British connection is also responsible for the decision of the CPI, as well as that of Gandhi, to support the "Pakistan proposal" of Jinnah. The decision of a section of the CPI, who later formed the CPI-M, to support the Chinese invasion against India in 1962 was also influenced by this British connection. The Soviet Union had denounced the Chinese invasion but the British, along with Australians, had supported it indirectly by putting the blame on India.

The CPI before 1948 and the CPI-M since its formation in 1964, had committed a number of historic blunders. This happened owing to the inability of its leaders to have a proper international perspective. They had restricted themselves first to the British communists and then to the Chinese, who are essentially anti-Indian. The decision of the CPI to oppose Bose's Azad Hind government, which was supported by the Soviet Union, is one of those historic blunders.

The author is a professor in international economics, Nagasaki University, Japan






As the commissioner of police, Kolkata, I witnessed, not infrequently, very minor incidents that had never troubled the assistant sub-inspector concerned at a police station or the wireless sergeant on duty or even members of the public but eventually snowballed into serious law-and-order problems. Sometimes, they even assumed communal overtones, necessitating strong police action including large-scale arrests, lathi charge, tear gassing and even imposition of curfew.

On hindsight, it appeared that things could have been easily nipped in the bud if someone had taken the trouble to be a little more observant or demonstrated a better presence of mind.

One perpetual source of anxiety for Kolkata Police is the places of worship of one community situated in areas inhabited almost entirely by members of another. Another worry during my five-year stint as the city's police commissioner was major festivals of different communities falling on the same day. Generally, one has nothing to worry if routes of processions, likely crowd strength, timings and so on are determined in advance and adequate security arrangements made accordingly. I recall one episode. On a late evening, I saw an image of Goddess Durga being taken for immersion in a lorry trailing which were handcarts loaded with bloody carcasses of animals sacrificed as qurbani the same day. I stiffened at the sight on Bridge No. 2, an area in the jurisdiction of the Entally police station. There was really nothing to worry about what with a police picket on the bridge and wireless cars  patrolling the area. But one never knew. A simple error in judgement on part of the office-in-charge of the police station concerned could easily result in a major flare-up. So, it was better to be prepared all the same. 

I recall another episode wherein the presence of mind of two duty officers saved the day for us. It was Id-ul-Fitr and the namaz after a month of fasting is particularly sacred. On this day, namaz can be offered any time from sunrise up to 2 p.m. After confirming that prayers had been held peacefully at Red Road and Nakhoda Masjid ~ the two most important venues in the city where thousands congregate on the day of Id-ul-Fitr to offer namaz ~ I left the police control room at Lal Bazaar to patrol the city. I soon fetched up outside a mosque in Entally, situated in the middle of a colony of conservancy workers. Though a police picket was already guarding the namaz site, I had a feeling that something wasn't quite right. The officer-in-charge of the Entally police station, who was escorting me, assured me that there was no record of disturbances at the site during Id-ul-Fitr prayers and urged me not to worry.

I left the area to visit other prayer sites where namaz had already been offered without incident or was in progress but couldn't shake off my uneasiness about the Entally site. I decided to pay another visit. This time, I came back to see that the devotees were praying peacefully. Looking around, I saw two persons, each sitting firmly on a basket a little distance from the congregation. On a  closer look, it appeared that the two men were trying to contain an agitated animal inside each basket.

The sub-inspector in charge of the police picket posted near the mosque told me that two pigs from the neighbouring colony had strayed and were approaching the prayer site when they were spotted by the two duty officers. They simply picked up two baskets lying around, upended them to trap the animals and decided to sit tight on the baskets till the prayers got over. My gut feeling proved accurate ~ here was indeed a catalyst for triggering off a serious communal flare-up. I waited nervously till the Imam declared that the prayers were over and the devotees began to embrace each other joyfully. The duty officers released the pigs only after the congregation had dispersed and herded them back to the colony from which they had strayed. After their owner had taken charge of the animals, the two officers of the Special Branch walked up to greet me. 
I praised them from the bottom of my heart for thinking on their feet. One of them said: "Sir, thankfully, the baskets were big and strong enough to withstand both the animals and us. Otherwise, God knows what could have happened today!" I thanked them again, all of us appreciating afresh the immense benefits of thinking on the go.






It was pointed out in these columns that the attorney-general's assertion to the Supreme Court (SC) that the selection committee was unaware of the pending court case against Central vigilance commissioner (CVC) Mr PJ Thomas before appointing him amounted to perjury by the government if found false. Leader of Opposition Mrs Sushma Swaraj had claimed that as a member of the selection committee, she had apprised the government about the case. She threatened to file an affidavit in the court to nail the government's lies. It was further pointed out in these columns that the controversy surrounding the CVC's appointment may be dwarfed by a much bigger controversy if the government had indeed committed perjury.

Well, home minister Mr Chidambaram after that quickly set the record straight by admitting that Mrs Swaraj had spoken the truth. Oddly enough, Mrs Swaraj also hastily reversed her decision to file the affidavit in court. She said: "The Home Minister has admitted that I raised the palmolein oil import case (involving Mr Thomas) at the meeting and recorded my disagreement precisely for this reason, there is no dispute over facts. Therefore, there is no need for my affidavit." Wow! What a gracious Leader of the Opposition! With the government on the ropes, Mrs Swaraj did not go for the kill to nail the government's lies. Instead she showed such touching and rare magnanimity! Alas, if half this generosity had been displayed on the JPC issue an entire session of Parliament would not have been scuttled.

However, such sacrifice displayed by Mrs Swaraj may yet prove wasted. She feels personally vindicated by the government acknowledging its false statement made to the SC. But what about the honourable judges of the SC? Will they also overlook the falsehood stated on behalf of the government to the court by the attorney-general? The SC can by itself take up the issue of the government's perjury in light of Mr Chidambaram's public acknowledgment that the selection committee had indeed been informed about the pending court case against Mr Thomas when it appointed him as the CVC. One does not know how the SC will view what appears to be clearly a case of perjury by the government. It will not surprise if at the very least the SC administers a strong stricture against it. Meanwhile, the inexplicable grace displayed by Mrs Swaraj towards the government may best be left for pundits to analyse.                

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist









It is not difficult to understand why Sonia Gandhi is angry. Her outburst on Tuesday against greedy Congress leaders who refuse to exit gracefully is grounded in the reality she sees all around her. She compared, with every good reason, the venality of the present lot with the selfless sacrifice of those of an earlier generation who were committed to freeing India from foreign rule. The vested interests of the political leaders attacked by Ms Gandhi have harmed the Congress and have held it back. The Congress is India's oldest political party in more ways than the obvious one: it is resistant to change, slow of foot, and harking back almost always to its past glory. To be fair to Ms Gandhi, it must be said that this is not the first time she has spoken in this vein. But her words have had little or no impact. One reason for this is the fact that Ms Gandhi has not backed up her words with decisive action. Thus the Congress remains in the state of inertia that it has been in for quite some time.

One way to inject greater and fresher energy into the Congress is to make it more democratic. It is easy to dismiss this suggestion by uttering the platitude that the Congress is committed to democracy or by saying that the Congress does hold, albeit occasionally, organizational elections. What need to be reviewed are the substance of the Congress's commitment to democracy and the content of the inner-party elections. The organizational elections within the Congress have no clearly defined electorate. It is assumed that every member of the Congress can participate in the elections. This practice needs to be abandoned in favour of a more well-defined electorate. It could be laid down that only those who have been elected by the people at different levels — village, locality, province and nation — will be entitled to vote in the inner-party elections. This will serve to an extent to make the Congress more representative of the people who are, after all, the ultimate decision-makers in any democracy. Such a process, by no means foolproof, will offer a better chance to weed out those who are trying to cling to power and are not above using nefarious means to achieve their end. This will require enormous political will on the part of Ms Gandhi and will earn her very few friends. But it will take her beyond expressions of complete frustration. She has very little to lose and an enormous amount to gain.






India is a slow country, but some parts of it are slower than others. In an age when speed makes so much difference, being slow means being left behind. Two young girls from Calcutta paid a price for being residents of one of the slowest states in the country. They were left behind in their city with their shattered dreams of representing India in rugby matches at two big Asian sporting events. Incredibly, this was because policemen and other officials of the state government did not do the simple things that they are paid to do. Obviously, the Centre's guideline on the issue of ordinary passports within two months of submission of an application does not mean a thing to West Bengal's work-shy officialdom. What the two girls experienced is part of the larger story of an all-pervasive decline and decay. It is worse than a story of administrative inefficiency. The real issue is that all spheres of public life seem to be rotten in the state of Bengal. And, there is little hope of the gloom lifting any time soon.

There are slow, insensitive officials in the administration in other states as well. But in Bengal the malaise is systemic. Whether it is the Cricket Association of Bengal's failure to honour its commitments for the world cup matches at Eden Gardens or the administration's inability to issue passports on time, the reason is the same systemic failure. It is not for nothing that Bengal has earned the dubious reputation of being a state where nothing works. Investors and businessmen are more fortunate than the people in Bengal in that they have the option of moving to another state. The exit of the Tata group's Nano project from Bengal reflects a failure that is endemic in all aspects of life in today's Bengal. The violence that has become synonymous with politics in Bengal is only one manifestation of an all- encompassing negativism. It is easy to see this as the result of a political culture that thrives on destructive strategies. But the damage that this culture has caused the society in Bengal seems to be far deeper than is generally appreciated. A change of government will bring new players into the political arena, but it may be a long time before the fundamentals change. As of now, Bengal remains pretty much a state that seems to be beyond redemption. One has to be brave and an incorrigible optimist to live in Bengal and hope to do well in life.






Several argumentative Indians, to borrow a phrase from Amartya Sen, have reopened the debate on an issue which crops up from time to time in post-1991 India. What should be the proper sequence of reforms of the economy? Should the government proceed full speed ahead and complete the unfinished reform agenda of the 1990s? Or should it press the pause button on the reform process and focus instead on distributional measures to promote health, education and food security so as to achieve "growth with a human face"?

This debate has become topical once again, largely because of the recent Hiren Mukherjee Memorial Lecture delivered in Parliament by Jagdish Bhagwati. The professor has been amongst the strongest and most outspoken advocates of the reform process. Indeed, long before 1991, he, along with Padma Desai, had launched a devastating attack on the system of licence raj, the bloated size of the public sector and the then prevailing economic decision-making apparatus. His prolific research output and articles for laypersons have provided intellectual support for the reform process.

Not surprisingly, the main thrust of his lecture was strong praise for the reform process. In particular, his lecture emphasized how the post-1991 changes have made possible the transition to a high growth path. He trod on more controversial ground by pointing out how the high growth rates have also helped the economically disadvantaged sections of society. The inevitable corollary of his message was the need to complete the unfinished agenda — further liberalization of trade in all sectors of the economy, freeing up of the retail sector and labour market reforms, to name only a few.

He labelled these the Stage 1 reforms, contrasting them with measures to change the health and education sectors which he called Stage 2 reforms. Perhaps this terminology was a bit unfortunate. Since one precedes two, several economists and the media have interpreted this to mean that Bhagwati was advocating a specific sequence of reforms — that measures which are primarily growth-inducing must precede policy initiatives designed to enhance the interests of the poor. The media have added spice to the debate by labelling this the Bhagwati-Sen controversy since Amartya Sen is often given the credit for influencing the United Progressive Alliance government to undertake its recent initiatives in promoting social sector reform. Both are heavyweights, and have many followers. And so several blogs have been conducting heated debates on the proper sequencing of reforms.

However, Bhagwati's lecture did not discuss the appropriate sequence of reforms. To the best of my knowledge, neither has Sen advocated that one type of reform should precede the other. The closest he has come to this issue is a warning that excessive preoccupation with measures to enhance growth is undesirable since the poor may not be able to hop on to the growth bus. The important point is that neither has said or written anything explicitly on the "sequencing" issue.

This silence is entirely understandable because this is a completely puerile issue. There is no reason to "sequence" the two types of reform because both can be implemented more or less simultaneously. Moreover, the successful implementation of one type of reform does not make the other type harder to achieve. In other words, there is no conflict at all in pursuing the two different types of reforms.

Some specific examples help to demonstrate why it may even be better to walk on two feet — that is, to pursue both types of reform simultaneously. Consider first the much-maligned growth initiatives undertaken by successive governments, including that of the National Democratic Alliance. (It is worth recalling that the NDA too pursued growth-enhancing reforms vigorously although it frequently adopts anti-growth postures for narrow political gains.) These have typically been labelled anti-poor because the trickle-down process is supposed not to have worked. However, while it seems true that the middle- and upper- income groups — particularly those residing in urban areas — have captured a disproportionate share of the benefits from the unprecedented rates of growth, it is also true that poverty rates have gone down. Bhagwati also points out that the large increase in gross domestic product has generated increased tax revenues for the government and this in turn has enabled the government to spend vastly greater sums of money in the social sectors.

Similarly, policies directed at improving the quality of our healthcare and education system cannot but facilitate the move towards a high-productivity economy. Despite the relatively large infusion of funds into the education sector and initiatives such as the Right to Education Act, the quality of our primary education remains abysmal. We now have more and more children enrolled in primary schools so that the goal of universal primary education as enshrined in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has almost been achieved. But successive reports of Pratham, a non-governmental organization which conducts nationwide surveys of elementary education in rural India, reveal very depressing facts. For instance, just over half the proportion of children in Class V can read the texts designed for Class II. Just over a third of children in Class V can do simple division problems. Clearly, we need significantly greater resources to be devoted to school education. Importantly, these resources should not be viewed as a diversion of resources from growth-enhancing reforms — a well-educated labour force is a crucial input in today's knowledge-based economy.

Several existing institutions are crying out for change. But, because myths prevail about the supposedly anti-poor bias of these changes, status quo prevails. Debates about the direction of future reform should focus on these issues, and not on non-issues such as the proper sequencing of reforms. For instance, one institution which is crying out for reform is the public distribution system. Innumerable studies have documented the inordinately large cost required to provide a rupee of subsidy to the poor. Now, there is talk about the PDS bearing an additional burden — namely, supplying food to the target beneficiaries. Despite the gross inefficiency associated with the PDS, sensible alternatives such as the use of smart cards or food stamps are simply laughed away.

The crisis of the 1990s forced reforms on us — there was no other option. There is no similar panic situation prevailing at this stage. So, the only way in which sensible reforms can proceed is if all politicians realize that successful change brings benefits in the polling booths. Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. The victory of Nitish Kumar in Bihar does show that voters reward good governance.

The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick







Today is New Year's day, the start of the Spring Festival, the biggest Chinese festival, when families reunite. Even during Mao's austere times, the New Year meal was special. Sixty-one-year-old Li Qian, speaking to China Daily, recalls that the family ration of half a kilogram of meat per person per month in those days was increased for the New Year to a small chicken, a very narrow hairtail fish, several eggs and some rice for every family. Traditional New Year snacks such as dried dates, sunflower seeds and groundnuts were also rationed.

Those days, it took her three days and three nights to reach her hometown, so she could go home only every alternate year. But she cherishes the memory of those New Year eves — staying up all night eating snacks, putting on new clothes and shoes, and greeting the neighbours at daybreak. The New Year dinner was always stewed meat and meatball dumplings.

This New Year' s eve, Li, a retired accountant whose husband started a business as soon as the economy opened up in the 1990s, ate out, as she has done for the last 10 years. Ordered three months in advance, with little choice of dishes, this dinner cost Li 1,500 yuan. However, the meal ended at 10 pm — the restaurants' closing time. No wonder Li sighs that the New Year no longer excites her.

More than 10,000 New Year eve dinners were ordered in Beijing alone. Since last year, even Pizza Hut has joined Chinese restaurants in offering special New Year dinners. Every year, the prices of New Year eve dinners increase. But the most expensive dinner this year was offered by a hotel in the tourist city of Suzhou. It cost 388,888 yuan (Rs 2,701,441.59). It included 10 dishes, made of the most expensive ingredients such as sharks' fin. But food wasn't all that was offered. A night's stay at the hotel' s presidential suite, Suzhou' s famous embroidered items, local folk performances and a Hummer car service were all included.

Not cute

At the other end are stories such as that of the Nanjing University student who couldn't afford to buy a train ticket home and so hitchhiked his way to Urumqi, 3,700 kilometres away, armed with 160 yuan, biscuits, a sleeping bag, a map, clothes, a camera, and postcards. It took him 13 days, riding with 25 kindred souls, from the east to the west of the country.

The saddest New Year stories are always those of migrant labour deprived of their wages, so unable to go home. But this year, migrant labourers are part of the official celebrations. A video clip of two labourers singing "In the Spring" in their room, uploaded on the internet last month, made them famous. Migrants everywhere requested CCTV to include them in its New Year programme, and it has obliged.

However, the really unprecedented New Year event this time is the animated card doing the rounds on the internet. This being the Year of the Rabbit, the little animal is the star of this card titled, "Little Rabbit, be good". It starts off cutely, then becomes all blood-and-gore as it shows rabbits being victims of all the major scandals that took place recently — melamine-tainted milk, cop's son running over college girls, forced demolitions, cops firing on protesters, a truck running over a troublemaker, even a 1994 theatre fire in which the audience — comprising mainly children and teachers — was ordered not to move till the Party leaders had left. Two hundred and eighty eight children were burnt to death. The villains are shown as tigers. At the end, the voiceover says: "Even rabbits bite if they are pushed", and shows a horde of rabbits sinking their pointed teeth into the tigers' necks.


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




The conditional clearance given by the environment ministry for the Korean company Posco's  $12 billion steel plant in Orissa marks a softening of the ministry's extreme positions on projects which have a bearing on environmental issues. The project has been mired in controversy and stalled for about six years for alleged violations of laws, regulatory problems and livelihood issues. Environment minister Jairam Ramesh had taken a hawkish stand on these issues in the case of many projects and was gaining the reputation of an obstructionist. But he seems to be taking a more realistic view now, perhaps on persuasion. He has climbed down on the objections he had raised about the Navi Mumbai airport and even on the Lavasa project in Maharashtra. This is welcome because an absolutist position on any issue in undesirable when the needs and demands of people are very interdependent.


The Posco steel plant, with a captive power plant and port, is the country's largest foreign direct investment project and it would not have been in the country's interest to kill it altogether. Some of the initial clearances given to the project were defective, as found by a committee set up by the ministry last year. The remedy, suggested by a member of the committee, was to frame clear and effective conditions for the company to follow, and not to drop the project. The ministry seems to have followed this  advice and has framed 28 additional conditions for the steel plant and 32 for the port. It is the ministry's responsibility to ensure that these conditions are complied with by the company.

Uncertainties and controversies like those that plagued the Posco project can be avoided if there is a clear and objective assessment of environmental issues at the very beginning,  companies are ready to respect the concerns and obey the relevant laws and regulations and governments do not go out of the way in either direction. In the case of the Posco project, the Orissa government, in its keenness to have such a huge project in the state, was blind to some of these concerns and had flouted some of its own laws.

Environmental activists have criticised the ministry's decision and vowed to continue the fight against the project. But it is wrong and unwise to lose sight of the imperatives of growth and development in an overzealous pursuit of the cause of environment. There is the need for a balance between the two.







India can draw some satisfaction from the declining infant mortality in the country. According to latest data from the home ministry's Registrar General of India, India's Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in 2009 came down to 50 deaths per 1,000 live births. It was 58 in 2005 and 53 in 2008. This means that IMR fell by 3 points in a span of a year. Karnataka has performed well. Its IMR is 41; down by 4 points in 2008-09. Goa can be justifiably proud of its performance. Its IMR is just 11 deaths per 1,000 live births. The falling infant mortality in the country has been attributed to the National Rural Health Mission. Indeed IMR in rural India appears to be falling at a faster pace than in cities and towns. Rural IMR fell by 9 points in the 2005-2009 period compared to the 6 point decline in urban India. However, India is still far from achieving the Millennium Development Goals for infant mortality. According to the MDGs, infant mortality should touch 30 by 2015. It does seem that India is nowhere near reaching this goal. Public health experts believe that India will be able to meet the MDG only by 2020.

Both IMR and maternal mortality rate (MMR) are unacceptably high in India. One important reason for the high IMR and MMR is that many women give birth at home with the help of a family member or traditional midwife, rather than the assistance of a doctor. In the event of a complication, there is no trained expertise available, often resulting in death of the mother and/or the newborn. The government has introduced schemes offering incentives to encourage hospital births. These need to be expanded to bring down IMR further. However, incentives alone will not draw pregnant mothers to hospitals. Hospitals are few and far between in rural India. Distance and cost deter mothers from delivering in hospitals.

The survival of infants depends on the health of the mother. Anemia is widespread in India among women. Expectant mothers do not get the nourishment they need. This affects the infant's chances of survival. Most infant deaths occur in the first month. These deaths are not due to incurable diseases but because of lack of medical attention. The death of many of these infants is wholly avoidable. The government must focus attention on states like Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh where IMR is seriously high.







Though fiscal deficit may help stimulate the economy in the short run, it needs to be reined in quickly in the interest of growth.

The recently published third quarterly review of monetary policy by the RBI is the last official statement on the state of the Indian economy before the Annual Economic Survey which comes out a day before the Union Budget is presented at the end of February.

What does the RBI review and recent interviews with prominent policymakers reveal about the state of the Indian economy and the likely future trends?

The economy is expected to end the fiscal year 2010-11 with the earlier projected 8.5 per cent growth of GDP, if not a little higher. The inflation (WPI) forecast has been revised upwards from the earlier projection of 5.5 per cent to the more realistic 7 per cent by the end of March 2011.

The RBI view is that, though the current high inflation (particularly inflation in food and fuel prices) is mainly due to supply side factors about which nothing much can be done by RBI monetary policy, it is spilling over into manufactured goods prices through rise in input costs and wages. Hence, RBI will have to contain demand and inflationary expectations (which lead to wage-price spiral) by tightening monetary policy while minimising the adverse impact on growth and supply side responses.

That's why it has gone for a very small increase in repo rate (the rate of interest at which RBI lends money to banks and injects liquidity) and reverse repo rate (the rate of interest at which RBI borrows money from banks and withdraws  liquidity) by only 0.25 per cent, instead of the widely expected 0.5 per cent increase. This would make money costlier to borrow.

Note that this is the seventh hike in these policy rates in the fiscal year 2010-11. Some analysts fear that profitability of production and investment and consequently growth may be hurt once the rates cross some threshold level. In fact, RBI itself feels that growth in the next fiscal may well be below 8 per cent, specially since RBI is quite likely to go on tightening monetary policy further in order to contain inflation.

The growth in credit (loans) by banks is currently much higher than that in bank deposits. This gap is creating a liquidity shortage. RBI is urging banks to cut lending and encourage deposits. This means credit squeeze as well as a rise in both lending and deposit rates by banks in the near future.

India's current account deficit (CAD) — the sum of trade balance in goods and services plus net transfers like remittances from abroad — is presently around 3.5 per cent of GDP. RBI regards  it 'unsustainable.' Though CAD is being currently financed by capital inflows from abroad, the worry is that the flow of (more stable) FDI is coming down while the flow of unstable short term funds is rising.

Volatility of funds

It is a matter of concern as greater volatility of fund flows would cause greater swings and unpredictability in both exchange rate and stock markets which is not healthy for trade and business. Even the total net flow of foreign capital into India may come down as US economy recovers from recession and interest rates in USA and Japan move up from near zero levels.

Fiscal deficit is another area of concern. Though fiscal deficit may be necessary for stimulating the economy in the short run in the midst of global recession, it needs to be reined in quickly in the interest of growth. Runaway government borrowing will mean less funds for private sector investment while more interest payments on past debt will cut into development spending by the government, unless the debt-created assets generate sufficient returns.

There are indications that the government would go for further deregulating prices of petrol and diesel — thereby cutting oil subsidy — and linking those more fully with international prices when the inflation rate comes down in future.

Official economists have warned, however, that with India moving to a higher growth path and greater integration with the global economy, prices in India would move closer to international prices. Right now, Indian prices for many products are well below prices in developed countries. As India's per capita income gradually catches up with higher income countries (like South Korea or Taiwan) through higher growth rate, Indian prices will also come closer to those countries. In this catching up process, India will have to get used to a higher rate of inflation than what we are accustomed to.

The problem here is that with prices getting internationalised with higher growth, people with money incomes growing at a slower rate (landless labour in agriculture and workers in unorganised sectors, in particular) may see their absolute and relative income getting squeezed in the process.

In a democracy, this would necessitate more subsidy from the government to protect these vulnerable sections or else there will be greater social and political unrest combined with greater prosperity for the rest of the population. Then again some optimists hope that higher incomes for the richer sections, by generating more tax revenue, will make this redistribution possible (along with more expenditure on education, health, social safety net) while higher growth would directly create more jobs to absorb a larger number of the low productivity low-income workers toiling in agriculture and unorganised sectors. Whether that would, indeed, be the case, only the future can answer.


(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM, Calcutta)








Economics isn't a social science anymore. It adopts the role of Catholic Church in medieval Europe.
The increase in inequality is the most serious challenge facing the world. That was one of the main messages that emerged from the World Economic Forum in Davos. According to Min Zhu, a special adviser at the International Monetary Fund and a former deputy governor of the People's Bank of China, the world is not paying enough attention to this issue.

Martin Sorrell, chief executive of media company WPP, concurred by stating that inequality and the concentration of wealth is increasingly emerging as one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis and subsequent recession. Sorrell argues that a more equal spread of wealth would mean more money is recycled back into the economy thereby creating stable demand.

In the US, the top one per cent owned 47 per cent of the wealth in 2007. In 1968, the top one per cent owned 28 per cent of the wealth. A similar trend was found by the recent Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report, which analysed over 200 countries and the wealth belonging to the world's richest people. It noted that the total global net worth has increased by 72 per cent since 2000. But the report highlighted that the possession of wealth is almost unimaginably skewed.

Big divide

The world has over 1,000 billionaires, 80,000 people worth over $50 million each and 24 million worth between $1m and $50m. Contrast this with the three billion people whose wealth averages less than $10,000. Some 1.1 billion have a net worth of less than $1,000. Half the people on earth possess less than two per cent of global wealth, whereas the world's richest one per cent possesses 43 per cent.

On his visit to India last year, it was noticeable that US president Barak Obama and his entourage had little to say about the bottom 50 per cent. Not much was said about the kind of warped 'development' that creates rich-list billionaires while driving agricultural workers and others into dire poverty. There seemed to be no invite, no reservation at the top table, no impending arrival at destination corporate-driven-nirvana for those people.

Instead, Obama's remarks were aimed at the millionaire US CEOs who accompanied him and the millionaire Indian elite. Right across the globe, many workers' jobs and wages are heading one way — downwards. But listening to the mainstream media and the political PR machines, you would be hard pressed to notice.

Leaders and a fawning media are adept in twisting the truth and passing off such things to their respective populations as necessary blips in the journey towards to some cheap con-trick notion of the promised land.

And it is indeed a trick because the system is designed to ensure that the flow of wealth goes upwards and remains there through what the academic David Harvey calls 'accumulation by dispossession'. This takes place via, among other things, the privatisation of public assets, deregulation of the financial sector, the use of subsidies and tax policies that favour the rich and the consistent downward pressures on labour costs.

At Davos, Sorrell called for more integrated global leadership and advocated coordinated efforts to address trade imbalances, capital flows, water resources and immigration. But how can this be a genuine strategy for greater equality?

A more fundamental shift in mindset is required. Regardless of leadership issues and capital flows, the current economic system and any tinkering with it by the corporate elite is based on dogma masquerading as economic theory.

Ha Joon Chang, Cambridge University, says that economics isn't a social science anymore, but adopts the role the Catholic Church played in medieval Europe. Essentially, it's secular theology used to justify the prevailing system, with the hope that some drops of wealth will trickle down an extremely thin funnel to placate the mass of the population. Capitalism is designed to keep wealth at the top. Widening the funnel slightly, as Sorrell and others advocate, will not address the underlying issues of a failed system.

So, what's the answer? You can either wait for the people at Davos to change things effectively. Or you could place your 'X' on the ballot box in support of any number of politicians whose only difference is the velocity by which they rush to suck at the corporate teat.

The answer is that nearly all change that has benefited ordinary people has resulted from the actions of ordinary folk, not bankers, stockbrokers or big business. That's true of worker's rights, women's rights, greater economic equality and any other number of civil liberties achieved. Just ask the good people of Tunisia and Egypt.







It was a cloudy afternoon when they first made their appearance on our balcony. They appeared innocent but a bit wary. I ignored them and continued reading.

 The following day, they returned; this time in a playful mood. Through the glass window I watched them whispering sweet somethings.  Occasionally, they would chase each other or exchange a peck.

Their visits became frequent and it seemed our balcony with a patch of green was their favourite haunt. I got used to their visits and inadvertently watched their affair blossoming. A couple of days later I saw the pair again, this time frantically moving up and down, looking a bit tense unlike the earlier romantic mood.

I noticed they were surveying their potential new 'residence' which was a secure ledge, high on our balcony. A few fallen twigs and dry grass confirmed the fact that construction of a dwelling was underway. I decided to investigate into this illegal work. I climbed onto a stool and not surprisingly I saw a nest in the corner of the ledge. Immediately, my mind conjured up visions of pigeon droppings, flying feathers and the small health risk it posed. Besides, the sound they make is hardly music to my ears. I decided to demolish their new home.

Coincidentally, just then the two birds came flying and seeing me, perched themselves at the far end of the balcony railing. The look in their red-orange eyes seemed to implore, "Please, we need a home!" Indeed, it would be cruel to destroy the nest built so painstakingly. In all my magnanimity I let them be and got back to my routine.

A few weeks later I spotted one of the pigeons flapping its wings excitedly. It flew to and from the nest several times and randomly taking some tidbits with it. Intrigued, I was impatient to know the reason for this excitement. Every time I discreetly peeped, they were around. Two days later, I spied them flying away. I quickly stole a glance at their shelter.

Two teeny-weeny new born pigeons, with hardly any feathers, snuggled against each other on scraps of straw lay asleep there. It wasn't a pleasing sight, it actually unnerved me. I returned inside, cursing myself for being a silent spectator to the conspiring intruders who not only used our balcony for courting but also snooped around, built a residence and started a family. Now, nearly a year later, and after tearing some hair, I have given up on evicting our 'illegal tenants' to move on with a sense of acceptance even as the pigeons expand their family, intensify their cooing and continue to peck our plants and mess our balconies.







Each and every Goan has a lot of respect for India's defence forces. Goa's government, too, has always cooperated with the defence authorities. When the Navy needed the Anjediva Island off Karwar for its Seabird Naval Base, Goa handed it over without asking anything in return. Unfortunately, the Indian Navy has not reciprocated this attitude.

The latest instance of this is the Feast of our Lady of Springs on the Anjediva Island, which was to be held yesterday. Despite having signed a written agreement at the time of acquisition that pilgrims from the state would be allowed to worship at the shrines on the island on two days each year, the Navy has not allowed this since 2005, citing security reasons. It blatantly flouted this agreement once more this year.

In a letter to naval authorities, Godfrey Gonsalves from Margao had requested that arrangements be made to allow pilgrims to hold two masses on 2 February 2011 at the church on Anjediva Island, to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Springs. However, Naval authorities replied that it was not possible to allow anyone on the island owing to "security concerns" and "ongoing naval exercises".

Strange, is it not, that these so-called security concerns do not come in the way of allowing civilians to enter the Seabird Naval Base during Navy Week? Why, they are even allowed onto warships. 'Security' is merely an excuse the Navy makes every time it wants to avoid answering awkward questions.

The Navy is very persistent when it wants to acquire land from Goans and the Goa government. However, it is extremely reluctant when it is asked to hand over any land for the use of the Goan people. Its repeated refusal – on one pretext or the other – to hand over a mere 2.5 acres (10,000 sq metres) of land at the Dabolim airport for the Airport Authority of India's (AAI's) airport expansion project shows this. That land was to be given to another central agency, not to the Goa government. But, as Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said in the Legislative Assembly yesterday, the Navy literally made both the Goa government and the AAI "dance for it".
That is why so many people marched on the Legislative Assembly yesterday to demand that the state government refuse to allow the Navy to acquire two of the islands of St George and the Bimbvel Beach for the usual 'security' purposes. Deputy Speaker Mauvin Godinho raised a calling-attention motion in the House to focus attention on the issue.

In reply, Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said that the Indian Navy as well as other central agencies were only keen on grabbing land in Goa on various pretexts, and that there was "no question" of allowing the Navy to acquire the islands. Citing the example of the Navy's reluctance to hand over land for the expansion of Dabolim Airport, Mr Kamat also said that the state government has had a "bad experience" in dealing with central government agencies once it handed over land to them, and that a "proper policy" must be framed for handing over land to them.

In any case, the Navy's claim that the two islands and the beach are needed to counter security threats to the air base holds no water. It already has one of the three islands in its possession. But it has done nothing to make it secure. Not a single sentry is posted there. Even after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, no one from the Navy guards Grande Island. So much for so-called security considerations! 'Security' must be more than a mere word to justify an insatiable hunger for land.






There are thousands of different bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that can invade a human body and interfere with its normal functions. A billion people in the world have malaria. More than a quarter of the world's population is infected with tuberculosis (TB), according to a report prepared by researchers at the US-based Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. However, CDC researchers say that we could avoid a tremendous amount of suffering by educating people about preventable infectious diseases like measles, mumps, polio and rubella (German measles), which are uncontrolled in many countries, particularly developing countries of the world.

Infectious diseases experts say that factors such as poverty, immigration, improper knowledge and imperfect vaccines have thwarted hopes of wiping out a wide variety of diseases. And, as a result, several dozen infectious diseases like cholera, typhoid, encephalitis, shinglesis, amebiasis, tape worm infestations, etc have appeared or dramatically expanded their global range, during the last few decades. Epidemics have struck both temperate and tropical countries.

For instance, millions of women of child-bearing age are said to be unprotected against rubella, which is known to cause birth defects. Yet, so many avoid shots or do not get their boosters that the situation has become 'epidemic'. CDC researchers say the major problem is that there is no adequate working system for vaccination in many countries. Adults, they said, account for more than 60 per cent of all cases of diphtheria. In every instance, a vaccination would have protected the victims. Acute bacterial illness - diphtheria is still a hazard for people living in poor countries. Further complicating the situation, say CDC researchers, as recently as a decade and a half ago, many current vaccines 'were not yet available or were not being produced in their present, refined state.'

Today, vaccines are available against a host of infectious illnesses, that in the past, claimed millions of lives. The smallpox vaccine helped humankind wipe out the scourge from the face of the earth; different other vaccines are available to ward off measles, poliomyelitis, tetanus, hepatitis (which causes jaundice), typhoid, diphtheria, mumps and whooping cough. Rabies, which till date has no cure, can be effectively prevented by vaccination. Vaccines against malaria, leprosy and AIDS are under trial.

Most of the vaccines are administered right from birth. At birth, a dose of BCG vaccine, which prevents tuberculosis, is given along with hepatitis B vaccine and oral polio dose. At the age of one and half months, a child is given DPT vaccine, which is a combination against three infectious diseases, namely diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. This dose has to be repeated at two and half months and at three and half months. At nine months, the child is given a dose of measles vaccine and at 15 months, a dose of MMR vaccine, which gives immunisation against measles, mumps and rubella. A dose of DPT and OPV (oral polio vaccine) booster is given at 18 months. At five years, DPT raft is administered again; TT vaccine is repeated at 10 years and later, at 15 years. Certain minor side-effects may, however, occur with injectable vaccines. These include pain and tenderness and sometimes, a tiny swelling at the injection site. Mild fever sometimes follows a DPT shot, but is easily controlled with paracetamol. The pertussis component (which is aimed against whooping cough) of the DPT, for instance, may in some rare cases, cause neurological damage and fits, which is why it is not recommended for children who have a history of fits and other nervous symptoms. 

Families, in which epilepsy is common, should avoid the DPT shot. Instead, babies born into such families may be immunised with the DT vaccine which is quite harmless. BCG causes a tender nodule, which may later break down and form a scar - but this is part of the natural immune response and is no cause for concern.
The measles vaccine is one vaccine in the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP) schedule that, perhaps, is the most problematic. Fever and rash commonly follow a measles shot. The MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella causes similar problems as the measles vaccine. Similarly, the hepatitis vaccine can occasionally cause fever and headache.

Should the knowledge of such adverse effects deter us from vaccination? Say experts, "definitely not, if we take into account the huge benefits that follow. Immunisation has been the most dramatic public health success story. But for the worldwide immunisation efforts made since the mid-70s, millions of children would have died from vaccine preventable diseases annually. An increase in the immunisation coverage from 20 to over 60 per cent today has helped prevent half of the deaths.

These benefits vastly overshadow the potential adverse effects of vaccination. Measles vaccination, experts say, despite its problem areas, also prevents affliction like pneumonia and malnutrition which can follow if a baby gets measles. Now on to other vaccines not included in the UIP. The earlier cholera and typhoid vaccines often caused painful swelling and fever, and provided only 50-60 per cent protection. These have been replaced by more effective and safer vaccines. Today, there are two types of typhoid vaccines available in the market - one given orally and other as injection.

Keeping safe from infectious diseases is a never-ending battle. The problem that the health sector labours against is that 'disease' is easily visible even to the lay person and can be quantified, while 'health' cannot easily be measured. Benefits of vaccination should be effectively communicated to the public. The more educated the parents, the more likely a child is to get proper immunisation.

Adverse effects must not deter people from getting themselves vaccinated. Its effects should be weighed against the potential benefits. Side effects of vaccination can be prevented if appropriate precautions are taken, such as using properly sterilised equipment, maintaining the cold chain for the vaccine, using one syringe and needle for each person, and strictly adhering to other guidelines.

According to UNICEF, vaccines have prevented 2.5 million deaths and it has the potential to save another 2.5 million lives if these vaccines are expanded to developing Asian and African countries. Universal child immunisation is one of the targets under the Millennium Development Goal programme of the UN.
India has a long way to go with nearly 40 per cent of our children missing out on vital vaccines, Arunachal Pradesh, UP, Meghalaya, MP and Tripura all had full immunisation coverage of less than 40 per cent. In Tripura, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur, 10 per cent children took absolutely no vaccination. In some cases, the first doses are given, but multiple dose vaccines are not followed through.
Goa, however, along with Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Punjab and Kerala, has achieved the highest level of complete immunisation; 80 per cent or higher. These figures have been released by the latest UNICEF Coverage Evaluation Survey-2009, which estimates that 61 per cent of Indian children in the age group of 12 to 23 months were fully immunised, Goa, it is said, is polio free, as not a single case of polio has been detected for the past ten years.






Last week, I received a letter that began "I read with much interest, nay, with amusement your articles. You ought to be able to write on current affairs engulfing Goa and Goans. You still seem to live in hope. What are you hoping for when devastating things occur daily and Goa keeps sinking?"

Presuming that he is truly, as he says, a retired clown, I think he must have been grinning as he wrote the letter, wondering if I could see how he was pulling my legs. Perhaps, if he were saying this to my face, he would wink, so I could tell he was not serious.

The writer was pitching a slow ball, wanting me to hit it for a six, like in cricket. I am sure, when he mentioned: "The vultures are circling over Kamat's administration. CM is on the ropes. He is lost in a haze under a heavy fog. I wonder if he is aware how he got in. Now, at last, he is a lame duck. When Kamat is committed to the party, hook, line and sinker, how would he now flunk out and fall back on his promises to so many hooded fangs?''

It is a loaded letter. He has tipped his hand by laying it on so thick. He must have known how much I would enjoy executing it. Somehow, I sweated a little harder and reached a little higher! I guess, that is exactly what happened. If you take a look at the way the missive is put together, you would surely get into a quandary.
May I suggest you face reality? Kamat is not a lame duck. Nobody is able to wound him. The catch is, he is still in power and isn't missing a trick. No ploy is going to work. Mickky's fiasco released a hurricane of hot air. But nobody, deep in his heart, cared much about this bit of bungling. In a way, it offers an occasion of phoney indignation that serves as a welcome distraction for certain people. More to the point, the situation defies definition. He has far more power and political support to draw on.

You mention that commodity prices have jumped so very high, so also unemployment, immorality is rampant, scams, drug nexus, empty promises... In which direction is it travelling? If it is headed in all directions, it is sure to be stopped and contained.

Oh you, you devil you! You are trying to tease me, are you not? Is this your heavy-handed idea of a joke, to make me wonder if the parade is passing me by? You are saying that this grossness is going on under my nose, and all I can find out is that over ninety per cent agreed on my suggestion. Please tell me you are kidding; otherwise your amusement in which I expose myself as an old fool out of touch, would be ill-considered. Why argue if Kamat's party is going to lose, the ruling party is going to lose, when the truth is a third party must be the winners, and both the other parties would be ashamed...

Mr Clown, wouldn't you have written me: "I read with much concern, nay, with sadness what you write..." The knock came loud and clear, the day the ex-clown with politics on his breath, came into my office. He huffed and puffed for the sake of the waiting visitors. But between the two of us, he doesn't mean much of it, but you don't find that out, until he lets the mask slip. Even while I was raging at him with the savagery that surprised both of us, later I noticed he had the sad, kind face of a circus clown. He probably hoped I would see through the game, he was playing with me.

Mr Clown thanks for the New Year greetings. It must leave a nice clean taste in your mouth when you speak of the Valentine feelings. We've had a good time today, haven't we? I'll light a candle for you on Tuesday at St. Anthony's' Shrine in that niche at Miramar. How else do you tell that he is still lovable, as an out of work clown?









T he serial blasts of Thursday, October 30, 2008 in Guwahati, Kokrajhar, Barpeta Road and Bongaigaon of Assam left about 100 dead and 800 injured, besides destruction of public and private property. In Guwahati, blasts took place in three locations — Ganeshguri Point, Kamarpati and Panbazar (Chief Judicial Magistrate's Court premises). In Kokrajhar also, bombs exploded in three places. In Barpeta and Bongaigaon, blasts took place in two and one places respectively. These nine blasts were orchestrated to take place within minutes of each other. It was later found out that all those blasts were masterminded by Ranjan Daimari, chief of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), the most dangerous Bodo terrorist outfit.

When this happened, there was a genuine public outcry against the terrorists. This is natural because innocent people suffered. The victims and their friends and relatives also gave vent to their ire on the government departments and officials concerned. The Fire Brigade was attacked for delay in arrival. One of their vehicles was burnt down. The police and the security forces were criticized for not taking advance action and for their inability to identify and apprehend the culprits. The political parties and the government were criticized for inaction and complacency.

A number of steps were taken by the government in the aftermath of the bomb blasts. Security forces all over the State were altered. Action was taken against known criminals and supporters of terrorists.

A committee was appointed to go into the genesis of the trouble and to suggest ways of avoiding such incidents in the future. The former Director General of Police, DN Dutta, was appointed as the chairman of this committee. This committee made several important recommendations. Among these was one for appointing a police commissioner for Guwahati. It seems that the State government has accepted this recommendation. But it has not been implemented as yet. Most major cities in India have this system of police commissioner.

The city of Guwahati has become very big and maintenance of law and order has become very difficult. A senior officer fully dedicated to look after the law-and-order situation in the city has indeed become very essential.

The DN Dutta Committee's recommendations regarding increase of police force and vehicles for quick movement have been accepted and partly implemented. Two years after the incidents, the State Government has decided to implement the committee's recommendations regarding the organization of a Specialized Disaster Response Force. Two companies of this force are being recruited soon. This force will be trained up in the same manner as the National Security Guards (NSG). They will be given the same type of sophisticated weapons and equipment as the NSG. This force will work under the State Fire Service.

The State government has not, however, acted as yet on the Dutta Committee's recommendations regarding placing of close circuit television (CCTV) in vulnerable places. This has become absolutely essential at least in the busy traffic intersections of Guwahati such as Ganeshguri Point, Paltanbazar, Chandmari, Athgaon and Jalukbari. Action should be taken early on this recommendation.

The example of Ganeshguri point will show that the State government seems to be smug and rather unconcerned about the future dangers of similar attacks. The Ganeshguri point has been identified as the most vulnerable spot in Guwahati as far as terrorist activities are concerned. According to media reports, the largest number of bomb blasts have taken place in this spot on as many as 28 occasions. A large number of people have been killed and injured in this area.

The government has also taken a number of steps to curb such activities. On both sides of the flyover, iron fencing have been fixed so that bombs and grenades cannot be lobbed easily. Below the bridge, the parking places have been cleared of vehicles and some of these areas have been fenced out. Proper lanes have been demarcated for cross-traffic to pass below the bridge without hassle. Actually, the number of vehicles which have to pass below the Ganeshguri flyover is huge. Then there are numerous small roads which emanate from the Ganeshguri point on which also the traffic is heavy.

"No parking zone" signboards have been put up in congested areas. Khaki-clad policemen patrol the area. Traffic policemen in white uniform direct the traffic. Unfortunately, however, all these measures have not become totally effective because a lot of vehicles, including government vehicles, are parked in front of the "no parking" signs at all times of the day. The footpaths have become hazardous to pedestrians because of encroachment by hawkers. No action seems to be taken by police, home guard and other security personnel patrolling this area to clear the illegally parked vehicles. This poses security risks to ordinary citizens as well as ministers and the other VIPs who frequently pass through these roads. This problem needs immediate attention.

The principal accused in the Ganeshguri case, Ranjan Daimari, who is the head of NDFB, along with his ten other collaborators, has been arrested by the police in this case. Charge-sheets have also been prepared against them.

Meanwhile, on the night of December 10, 2010, a key accused in the serial blast case, B Jwangkhang alias George Boro, deputy commander in-chief of the NDFB, was arrested from a hotel in Aizawl where he was hiding after his return from Bangladesh. His PSO was also arrested. George has been described as the kingpin of the Guwahati blasts.

The trial of all these accused persons should be completed early. The moves by NDFB supporters to grant amnesty to the terrorists should not be encouraged. Criminals should be treated as criminals. Only then will peace and normalcy return to society.

On October 30, 2010, two years after the incidents, people all over Assam organized memorial meetings and remembered the victims. They demonstrated against terrorists. They demanded immediate and deterrent punishment to them. Their voice should be heeded.

What has irked most people is the failure of the government, both at the Central and in the State, to pay the compensation package promised to the victims and their kins even two years after the incident. Even the amounts promised by the Prime Minister are yet to be disbursed! Such delays cause hardship and annoy the affected people. Necessary action should be taken by the officials concerned immediately.

(The writer was Chief Secretary, Assam, during 1990-95)       






In the history of the subcontinent, the partition of India still remains a black spot that claimed the lives of many innocent people and displaced a mammoth mass of population from their indigenous roots. It is not an unjust comparison when the partition of India is equated with the Holocaust in terms of the magnitude of its victimization. It is not only that both the Holocaust and the partition claimed the lives of many but it is also an established fact by now that both these historical events left tortuous scars in the minds of survivors. It is also to be taken into account that both these historical events were designed by power-mongers and political opportunists.

The Indian partition shattered the great dream of a larger Hindustan forever, and since then the political and geographical turmoil with Pakistan has hardly ever subsided. The partition displaced a huge mass of people from their roots and created a miserable lot of refugees looking for shelter, food and hygiene. The historical tragedy witnessed a few heroic survivals and many a death.

While the partition brought independence for many, it also caused loss of their own country to many. When the masses in Delhi were celebrating the much-coveted independence in a jubilant mood with graffiti and balloons, the protagonist, Mahatma Gandhi, was desperately trying to pacify the rioters in Noakhali. After losing East Pakistan, many a people lost their homeland forever. The Sealdah railway station was crowded with refugees, and there are a whole lot of historical documents to bear witness to their miserable plight. The refugees in turn captured lands to survive and the police could do nothing.

During the partition, the population exchange was uneven. In Lahore, non-Muslim Punjabis were butchered. In India, Muslims were murdered. There were trains full of dead bodies going towards Pakistan and coming towards India. In spite of the population exchange, a large number of Hindus and Muslims stayed in India. Pakistan accommodated 11 per cent Hindus and India provided shelter to 20 per cent Muslims. Bengali writers were aware of this sensitive issue and real presentation of this horrible reality could have triggered further riots. That is why many Bengali writers wrote from nostalgia and not from a real point of view, and this also explains the reason of silence.

Creative writers in India and Pakistan have tried to deal with the issue of partition in their own ways, and because of obvious reasons, most of the partition literature is available in Urdu and Hindi languages. Since Punjab and Bengal were the directly and immediately affected victims of the Indian partition, it is no coincidence that the writers of these geographical regions have been more concerned with the theme of partition. However, it is also a huge irony to note that Bengali literature has been more or less silent on the issue of partition, which is often linked to the writers' reluctance to trigger further communal violence by writing on an already volatile issue.

But literary and cultural historians like Deepesh Chakravarty, Ashrukumar Shikdar and Shemanti Ghosh are busy finding out the various layers associated with such silence. Sunil Gongopadhaya's Purba Paschim, Profulla Roy's Keya Patar Nauko and Atin Bandopadhaya's Neel Kantha Pakhir Khoje are notable exceptions in this regard – all these novels paint the pain of partition in terms of the huge human miseries it entailed.

Celebrated Urdu writer Sahadat Hassan Monto could not come to terms with the massacre and loss the partition caused. His fictional creation Toba Tek Singh dies in a no-man's land, unable to decide which is his motherland. Monto's evocative story Khal Do (translated into English as Open it) captures the trauma of a girl who has been brutally raped by a group of people during the partition and who keeps uttering ''open it'' because of the psychological scar and fear that the rape caused her. Bishma Sahni's Tamas is a landmark creation in the entire domain of Indian literature as it gives a very bleak but superbly authentic picture of the suffering, genocide, political opportunism, erosion of human values, religious bigotry and distrust in social and individual lives which the partition caused.

Sahni's story Amritsar Aa Gaya Hain (translated into English as We have Arrived in Amritsar) exhibits the violent bloodshed caused by partition and the havoc it created in the minds of the survivors. Amarkant's powerful story Maut Ka Shehar (translated into English as The City of Death) provides a vivid but touching picture of the distrust, fear, panic and anxiety that ensued between Hindus and Muslims because of the partition.

Indian English novelists have also dealt with the theme of partition in their particular works, which can be cited as a proof that they are equally concerned about pan-Indian issues. Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan, Shauna Singh Baldwin's What the Body Remembers, Siddhanta Dev's The Point of Return and Amitav Ghosh's The Shadow Lines make an attempt to understand and acknowledge the significance of partition in their own terms.

Because of the magnitude of pain and suffering which the partition entailed, it is often observed that writers dealing with the theme exhibit a tension between speech and silence in their creation. Since pain is related to remembering a certain incident or event, there is often an attempt in the fiction of the partition to willingly forget this incident in order to lessen the pain. But the act of forgetting is essentially embedded in the narrative act of fiction.

The partition was not merely a passing historical event as its residues are still felt both at personal and socio-political levels. Scholars working in it must take into account both the political and the human crosscurrents associated with it.

(The writer is a student of English literature)







Before we consider Gandhiji's relevance in the new millennium, it is necessary to understand his teaching and philosophy. It has been more than 63 years since the Apostle of Peace left the world of turmoil and started on his last journey, on January 30, 1948. He was aptly called the Father of the Nation as it was due to his tireless effort and dedication that India regained freedom, which once seemed to be impossible. It was indeed an extraordinary feat to have forced the mighty British to leave India without any armed confrontation.

Gandhiji was a devotee of truth. He identified God with truth and emphasized truth rather than God. He believed that blind beliefs and prejudices regarding God did immense harm to mankind. Hence he preferred truth to God. He declared, "I don't care for God if he is anything but truth." He also stated, "My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than truth". He believed that only truth can furnish a common basis for all religions.

Besides truth, he also believed in ahimsa or non-violence. In this view he was perhaps influenced by Buddha, as well as Jainism. He said, ''I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and ahimsa are as old as the hills."

Gandhiji believed man to be naturally non-violent. In fact for him, ahimsa was nothing but love, which implied a feeling of oneness. The main theme of Gandhiji revolved round truth, ahimsa and love — which seem to be absent in the present society. The finer emotions seem to be out of context. We are living amidst violence. Can we, for that matter, relegate Gandhiji to oblivion? Gandhiji's value were not only relevant then, but they are also relevant now in my view. If somebody wants to practise ahimsa, he has to make a sincere effort to free the mind from certain feelings like anger, hatred, malice etc, so that love can have a free passage. Love is the feeling which manifests through some noble feelings like tolerance, benevolence, sympathy, generosity etc.

Gandhiji himself admitted that love is not an easy exercise. It is very easy to hate, but very difficult to love. One must have tremendous strength of character in order to love. Love embraces every one — even enemies. Hence Gandhiji believed that ahimsa is meant only for the strong and never for the weak. He also stated that though violence seems to represent strength, actually it arises out of fear, which is a sign of weakness. Ahimsa is a dynamic process of dedicated efforts to restrain oneself from doing injury to others.

Naturally non-violence needs tremendous will power and extreme patience. A truly loving person believes in giving and not taking. "Love never claims, it ever gives." Gandhiji sincerely believed that nobody is totally bad; everybody has some essential goodness in him; so forgiveness is absolutely necessary to practise ahimsa in the real sense.

Gandhiji believed that for practising non-violence, another important fact is very necessary — unflinching faith on God. But since for him, truth is God, he was not talking about the concept of God as conceived by a particular religion. He was secular in outlook and believed in oneness of all religions. That is why he remarked that a sincere faith on God makes man realize that all human beings are essentially one. Thus love of God was transformed into love of humanity, a kind of universal brotherhood.

Needless to say, Gandhiji's views on ahimsa and love brought a ray of sunshine to lighten the gloom and darkness prevailing at the time. It brought about a kind of moral revolution as Buddha did in his time. But due to a tragic twist of fate, he himself fell a victim to the assassin's bullets. Since then violence has been multiplying by leaps and bounds.

How far are Gandhiji's teachings relevant in this new millennium, when the notion of ahimsa has almost become obsolete? His violent death was possibly the signal for a series of unending and increasing violence that have marred the reputation of the peace-loving Indian people and have tainted the Indian soil. That is why people believe that Gandhiji's teachings are no longer relevant in this modern jet age. The holocaust brought by violence, hatred and religious fanaticism have clouded our minds to such an extent that we seem to have lost our perspective.

Yet we cannot possibly dismiss Gandhiji's teachings as irrelevant in modern times. What we witness now is a total degradation of moral values. Love, sympathy, tolerance, forgiveness and other noble sentiments have disappeared, and we find hatred, hostility, violence and arrogance ruling the roost. Gandhiji showed us the path of goodness — that we can conquer everyone, including the enemy, with the weapon of love and non-violence.

Ahimsa, as advocated by Gandhiji, should not be regarded as a passive attitude of a resigned spirit; rather it is a vibrant spirit, which can penetrate deep into the human in his own image, as they say. But we do not see even a spark of divinity in man. Human beings have become so terribly cruel that nobody seems to have the slightest feelings for the victims. Self-interest, corruption, selfishness, cruelty, violence and other evil forces have completely engulfed the human society.

Humanity can be saved if only we follow the teaching of Gandhiji. Peace has disappeared from earth; only love can save us from total destruction.

Some people may dismiss Gandhiji as a visionary, who was forever talking about an ideal, never to be realized. But he, though in a sense an idealist, was in my view a man attuned to the conditions of earth, with an eminently practical outlook.









The unprecedented though inescapable decision to annul the appointment of Yoav Galant as the next IDF chief throws us all, perforce, into a whirlwind of emotions.

It's hard not to feel some sympathy for a talented and celebrated general, who had served the defense of Israel with great courage for over three decades.

It's hard not to exude pride in our democracy, which insisted on absolute integrity from its designated No. 1 soldier, whereas elsewhere his lapses might have been expediently overlooked.

It's hard not to be gripped by acute anxiety when uncertainty surrounds the country's top security position amid the potentially extraordinary dangers Israel faces.

And it's hard not to feel exasperation at what seem to be the ongoing petty grudges harbored by Defense Minister Ehud Barak as he persists in his quarrel with the outgoing chief of General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, further exacerbating the sense of uncertainty.

This entire sordid episode, it might be recalled, was born of an unaccountable display of petulance. Ashkenazi was not kept on for an additional year, and the process of appointing his successor began, because of Barak's curious antagonism toward him, made obvious last summer by a superfluous communiqué informing the nation that Ashkenazi's term would not be extended – when no such extension had even been requested.

Then came the spectacle of Barak choosing Ashkenazi's successor in a one-day fiesta of pro forma interviews, when it was common knowledge that he had already given the nod to Galant. Barak assiduously ignored relentless reports about Galant's alleged usurpation of public land in Moshav Amikam. The defense minister evidently assumed he could could carry through the appointment, legal and ethical hurdles notwithstanding.

Our system ultimately did itself proud when this effort was stymied at the veritable last moment – merely two weeks before Galant was to be sworn in. How much better, however, if those who had vetted the appointment earlier had done a more thorough job and blocked it before this final, debilitating conclusion.

According to some reports, the defense minister was loath to give up on his favored choice even after the state comptroller excoriated Galant and the attorney-general told the government that he could not defend the appointment in court. The unhappy saga was brought to an end, it is said, only when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu imposed the decision to revoke Galant's appointment.

There have been troubled transitions at the top of the IDF in the past, but never the kind of vacuum this episode has created. The levelheaded expectation was that Ashkenazi would now stay on for as long as it takes to select, vet and appoint his successor. This would have been the most stabilizing and straightforward way to proceed, and would seem to have been particularly appropriate given the unpredictable flux of regime-changing events in the region.

Even this common-sense avenue, however, was not followed.

ISRAEL IS facing shifting threats on every one of its borders.

Lebanon is being hijacked by Hizbullah. Syria is tightening its bond with Iran as it braces itself for possible internal unrest. Jordan's government has just been replaced for fear that contagious street uprisings would radically destabilize Amman.

And overshadowing all the other dangers –and disquietingly not foreseen by IDF Intelligence – is the colossal upheaval in Egypt, which threatens to end a 30-year era in which we were able to rely on the absence of hostilities from our southern neighbor, the Arab world's largest and most powerful component.

At best, these are unstable times. The bleak scenarios may not all come to pass, but they certainly might. It is a time when the most reliable of hands is needed at the military helm, yet control is being handed over to a temporary custodian.

Deputy Chief of General Staff Yair Naveh may be eminently qualified for the role, but his fellow General Staff members aren't likely to submit to his authority quite as readily as they would to a veteran commander or to a new full-term appointee. Ambitious generals are already vying for the top spot, potentially rendering relations among the IDF top brass even less harmonious.

Barak's handling of this entire affair was deeply problematic, the more so when the country is beset by existential challenges. Small-mindedness is never desirable, but it's deeply irresponsible at at time of escalating danger.









Obviously, there is a risk for Israel in the Egyptian revolt – the risk that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over. With this in mind, the Netanyahu government, together with most of the public and media, is backing the status quo, the Mubarak regime, our friend (or, at any rate, the Islamists' enemy).

But because this society suffers from a fortress mentality, because we are ruled by fear, we thought only of the risks of losing our friend in Cairo before desperately taking his side. Because we are ruled by fear, we didn't also think of the risks of sticking with the tyrant against his victims shouting for freedom and a decent standard of living.

The result is that Israel has made a terrible blunder, we're paying a high price for it and the price is going to rise. By backing Mubarak's fight for political survival against the mass movement for democracy, we've done something that's both morally wrong and politically very stupid.

Until a week ago, there was nothing wrong, morally or politically, about our alliance with the Egyptian dictator. The only alternative over there seemed to be the Muslim Brotherhood, which is no more democratic than Mubarak, but which is considerably less friendly to Israel, so, in the seeming absence of a viable democratic opposition, we stuck with the friendly, if tyrannical, regime.

Fair enough. But in the last week, there has appeared in Egypt something that, at the very least, is vivid sign of a viable democratic opposition. If what we've seen in the last week is not the dawn of Arab democracy, then what would be?

And in response, Israel, which proclaims from morning til night how much it believes in democracy, how much it prays that democracy will one day come to the Muslim world, is saying, pretty much in one voice, nyet. We don't trust it. It's a trap. Don't believe those millions of people singing for democracy, the terrorists are right behind them, the terrorists will take over. Only Mubarak can stop them. We're with Mubarak.

This has been a moment of truth for Israel. By opposing what is by far the greatest, most powerful demonstration for democracy in Arab history, we've made it clear that we will never support Arab democracy. Never, that is, unless it arrives fully completed, in perfect stability, with an up-and-running, Western-style justice system and elections fought out between Arab versions of Republicans and Democrats, or, better yet, of Likud and Israel Beiteinu. In other words, an Arab democracy that involves zero risk, zero uncertainty, for us.

Until then, nyet.

IN THE moment of truth, this country sided with tyranny over democracy. By staying l