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Friday, February 4, 2011

EDITORIAL 04.02.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


Month february 04, edition 000747 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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








































































































































2.      DEFT MOVES

















1.      OF RAJA RAAJ  


























































































After nearly seven months of an unyielding political deadlock, the Speaker of Nepal's Constituent Assembly announced on Thursday that CPN(UML) leader Jhalanath Khanal had been elected as the new Prime Minister to lead a consensus Government. This is a positive move in the right direction. Yes, it took 17 rounds of polling, several failed deadlines, a slew of electoral reforms and innumerable rounds of negotiations before party leaders could come to an agreement, but hopefully the political bickering of the past months will be left behind and all parties will work together to provide Nepal with much-needed peace, stability and good governance. There is hope especially because the Maoists — who have all this while engaged in disruptive politics to push their own agenda and held up the parliamentary process — finally seem to have begun to make amends. This was particularly evident on Thursday afternoon when Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as 'Prachanda', opted out of the race and instead professed his support for Mr Khanal. This unexpected and uncharacteristic move on his part was in fact one of the reasons why Thursday's election succeeded in producing a new Prime Minister, even though critics had dubbed it a non-starter after the chairman of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Mr Bijaya Gachchadar, joined the race and threatened to upset the delicate voting equations.

In Nepal's 601-seat Constituent Assembly, the Nepali Congress has 114 seats, the CPN (UML) has 108 seats and the UCPN (Maoists) have 238 seats. However, this number was not enough for the Maoists to secure a majority, all the more so because Mr Dahal had failed to gain the support of smaller parties, which was unsurprising given his stint as Prime Minister from August 2008 to May 2009. In recent months, Nepal's parliamentarians, who also constitute its electoral college, failed to elect a Prime Minister because the three big political parties — the Nepali Congress, the CPN (UML) and the UCPN (Maoist) — could not agree over who should lead the Government and even after 16 rounds of polling, none of the candidates could garner a simple majority. Additionally, several leaders belonging to the 25 other fringe parties had often abstained from voting — a procedural flaw, which was recently amended by Parliament on January 26 to include only affirmative votes. Such electoral reforms, along with the support of the largest political party, namely Mr Dahal's UCPN(Maoist), ensured that Mr Khanal was set for an easy win in Thursday's election, as was evident in the final tally in which he polled 368 votes while Mr Ramchandra Poudyal of the Nepali Congress got 122 votes and Mr Gachchadar secured only 67 votes.

In the days ahead, Mr Khanal will be expected to navigate through the rough terrain of Nepal's conflict-ridden political landscape. There are several thorny issues that still need to be sorted out as the young democracy walks the difficult path of nation-building, but chief among them is to ensure that the Constituent Assembly is able to produce a Constitution by the extended deadline of May 28, 2011. Already a long drawn-out political stalemate has pushed the Nepalese people to the brink and any further delay in the democratic process can lead to serious unrest.







While lashing out at power hungry politicians, especially members of the geriatric brigade, who have refused to let go of their positions and make way for younger faces, Congress president Sonia Gandhi seems to forgotten the old adage that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others. At a recent event where a commemorative stamp for freedom fighter Chaudhary Ranbir Singh Hooda was released, Ms Gandhi pointedly noted that the "best aspect of his career was that he voluntarily retired from politics at the age of 64", sending many a veteran Congress leader into a fearful tizzy. While the high points of Hooda's career — a long-time Congress politician who died in 2009 at the age of 94 — maybe debatable, it is hard to ignore that the Congress's beloved leader recently celebrated her 64th birthday but has shown no signs of resigning from her positions as party president or as chairperson of the UPA. In fact, the 125-year-old party's longest serving chief extended the party president's three-year term to five years at the AICC's 83rd Plenary Session this past December. Naturally, her suggestion, irrespective of its merit, comes across as hollow and hypocritical. To make matters worse, a strikingly large number of senior citizens occupy Cabinet positions in Ms Gandhi's Congress-led UPA Government — at last count, 26 Ministers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 32-member Cabinet were above the age of 64 and nine of them were septuagenarians. At this point, nothing less than a mass exodus of veteran leaders would make any difference but perhaps Ms Gandhi was taking a more parivaarik (familial) view of the matter and only laying the ground for her 40-year-old son, Congress general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, to take over. Touted as the Congress's youth icon, Mr Gandhi's campaign to bring in fresh blood is really a front for inducting his high school buddies into the party to build a tight-knit group of loyalists.

And as if all of this were not enough, Ms Gandhi also took the opportunity to pontificate over the evils of greed and selfishness: "Money and power is not everything. It can be used only to a limit. After that, it is only greed the world is running after", she said. Has she forgotten that the Congress is currently in the middle of two major corruption scandals — the Adarsh Housing Society scam and the billion dollar 2G Spectrum telecommunications scam? Or that it is responsible for the massive loot that was conducted in the guise of organising last year's Commonwealth Games? Not to mention the scandal of all scandals: The Bofors payola. Ms Gandhi should pay greater attention while selecting her words every time she preaches from the political pulpit.









Time is fast running out for President Hosni Mubarak. The crowds protesting against his 30-year-rule are unlikely to be pacified till he steps down.

Low comedy has been known to masquerade as high thought, never more so than when Ms Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, remarked loftily that "the United States stands taller than other nations, and therefore sees further". Height gives no advantage when sight is denied and hearing impaired. The multitudes of demonstrating Egyptians on the streets of Cairo, Alexander and Suez and cities near and far calling for President Hosni Mubarak's departure have caught Uncle Sam on the hop. Ensconced in power for 29 years and more, following the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat on October 6, 1981 during a military parade, Vice-President Mubarak, once head of the Egyptian Air Force, took over Sadat's mantle and ruled unswervingly through Emergency Law.

The country's military since Abdel Gamal Nasser's time has called the shots, with its officers slipping from uniform into civilian dress as they occupied positions of political authority. Mr Mubarak ensured stability in the three decades of his presidency, the sort that Egypt's patron America values most from its regional surrogates. But beneath the seemingly placid waters, Egypt boiled and bubbled, as the population grew by a million souls every nine months: More mouths to feed in a land unable to yield the necessary volumes of grain. A crony capitalist class which did exceptionally well out of its connections with the top brass, was empowered in a fetid environment of diminishing job opportunities and rising youth unemployment. This incendiary mix was due for the inevitable social explosion.

There were grievances aplenty elsewhere. The Palestine Papers compiled and released by Al Jazeera tell how a venal Palestinian leadership indulged in big talk publicly even as its members kept bartering their assets to the Israelis for personal preferment. Betrayal by the Arab great and good, and receding hope of Arab redemption, has given way to despair and raw anger. Things eventually fell apart with the centre unable to hold back the seething tide of disgruntled humanity. The thuggish Egyptian police are thoroughly discredited; the Army, which enjoys considerable public esteem, has let it be known that no force would be used against the people. Thus, Beijing's Tiananmen Square massacre would not be re-enacted in Cairo's Liberation Square. It is stalemate, politics caught between a rock and a hard place.

Mr Mubarak, reputed to be a PhD in obstinacy, is, thus far, unwilling to go quietly. He broadcast his intention to leave office in September after a new Government had emerged from the presidential election; in the meantime he was duty-bound to oversee the transition. The crowds howled for change here and now, but cautious voices already advise a stay of political execution as mob violence gathers force and economic life comes to a standstill. Shops have run out of food, shopping malls have been looted, banks shut, salaries remain unpaid and chaos looms large. Mr Mubarak has thrown a spanner in the works. He has affirmed his determination to live and die in Egypt.

In Washington, DC, President Barack Obama's address to the nation made stirring references to US support for the Egyptian people's democratic aspirations, and told of a lengthy conversation with his beleaguered Egyptian counterpart and the urgent need for a swift transfer of power to a new democratic dispensation in Cairo.

However, in the privacy of the Oval Office in the White House, Mr Obama must surely ask how successive US Administrations (including his own) came to fatten the repressive Mubarak regime in Egypt and similar and worse regimes further afield — Pakistan, for instance — with such quantities of military aid in the face of dire economic need and social and educational deprivation. Previous neo-con lunacies would have made the revisiting of failed US policies in post-War China, the intervention in Indochina to buttress French colonial rule, using the Pakistan military to contain India, and cause mischief in Russia a treasonable offence.

It needed a spark to set the accumulated ordnance alight; and it came from the popular uprising in neighbouring Tunisia, where national rage felled the tyrant Ben Ali and his corrupt clan, much favoured by America in its time as a bastion of stability. What smaller Tunisia could do with its population of 10 million, Egypt, with its 80 million citizens, the beating heart of the Arab world, has emulated to greater effect. This maybe is the Arab world's remaking of the European revolution of 1848 minus the depth of its intellectual ferment.

The Egyptian street at the moment is secular and democratic. But it is devoid of organisational muscle. The country's Muslim Brotherhood comprises veterans of organisation, as are Hamas and Al Qaeda members elsewhere. French and Russian revolutionaries, in their time, carried the day because of their superior organisational gifts, as history shows.

The drama unfolding on our television screens is a reworking of a historic theme: That tyranny has its limits, that an exhausted political order is incapable of renewal, that those who would play god from abroad are deities with feet of clay, that the best-laid plans of mice and men are doomed to extinction when the bells of history toll. The American imperium, reared on myths of 'exceptionalism' and 'Manifest Destiny', may yet awake to the vanities crumbling to dust.

The strain on a US exchequer, laid low by the Wall Street crash, is draining. America sought to build an empire on the principles of East India Company, claimed the cerebral Hugh Dalton in a wartime British Cabinet minute. The exercise has as much chance of success as, say, an attempt to bring the Dodo back to life. More so as a weakened America feels the continuing heat of a domestic economic crisis and fears the possible depredations of foreign 'financial terrorists'. Alexandra Freen, from New York, writes in The Times: "The US financial system remains vulnerable to a co-ordinated attack of 'financial terrorism' that risks taking down the US economy and collapsing the dollar, according to a confidential report commissioned by the Department of Defence in Washington."

US foreign policy rests broadly, it would appear, on an oxymoron in which democracy and human rights are in co-habitation with political stability. Where the first are in denial, instability reigns. Pharaoh Mubarak's days are surely numbered; sooner rather than later he will live his life out as citizen Mubarak. Reading the runes correctly, his son and heir apparent Gamal Mubarak has arrived in London, presumably for a prolonged stay.

Meanwhile, other Arab regimes tremble for their future. King Abdullah of Jordan has dismissed his Government and authorised the new Prime Minister to initiate political reform. He has read the signs, and may have bought time for the Hashemite monarchy.








The doublespeak of Americans when it comes to dealing with dictators in Arab countries is amazing: All pious declarations of freedom, democracy and human rights are conveniently forgotten. The popular uprising in Egypt shows there's a blowback happening in Arabia

The kind of double standards practiced by America for decades, even as it arrogantly talks about democracy and preaches the virtues of free speech, dissent and human rights to the world from a pulpit, is a shame to say the least. The fact is, be it Latin America, Asia or Africa, America has always supported brutal dictators who have tortured and killed their own citizens in the most horrific manner.

During the Cold War, America used to argue that propping up unsavoury dictators in strategic pockets was a necessary evil because it had to stop the march of Communism, which apparently was supposed to be far worse when it came to freedom, free speech, dissent and human rights. After the Soviet Union disappeared and Communism was no longer the enemy, many had hoped that America would actually help other nations to move away from dictatorship to democracy.

Sadly, those hopes were belied and crushed when America started citing the global war on terror as an excuse to encourage and prop up nasty dictators. Of course, most of these dictators happen to be now in the Arab world whose oil reserves are the real reasons for American interest rather than the mumbo-jumbo about democracy and human rights.

The fall of the Shah of Iran came to mind while reading about citizens in Tunisia rising in revolt and throwing out their ruler — a staunch American ally who ruled that country ruthlessly for more than two decades. That sense of déjà vu was reinforced when reports started pouring in from Egypt about protesters taking to the streets. The protest in Egypt has become a symbol of the suppressed aspirations of millions of Arabs finally finding an outlet.

President Hosni Mubarak — an American plant — has ruled Egypt like a dictator for 30 years and was in the process of trying to install his son as the next ruler when the sudden wave of protests engulfed his country. More than the people's revolt in Tunisia, it is Egypt which is causing more sleepless nights in Washington, DC. As of now, Egypt, to use that familiar cliché again, is a staunch ally of America and has diplomatic relations with Israel. It is also the acknowledged leader of the Arab world.

What happens in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria is bound to have a huge impact on the rest of the Arab world. Citizens in Arab countries have been watching in helplessness, frustration and rage till now as Egypt repeatedly winked at the atrocities committed by Israeli troops against innocent Palestinians in the name of fighting terror. Cables released by WikiLeaks also show that the US has had no illusions about the regime.

The US and its allies now stand thoroughly exposed for using more than $2 billion in aid a year and maintaining silence over internal repression to turn Egypt into a crucial agent of their regional policy, particularly in suppressing demands for justice for the Palestinians. The Egyptian people's uprising is showing the world that this highly prized Western ally is utterly devoid of legitimacy. And without doubt, that message will echo through every other dictatorship in the region.

As of now, a nightmare is haunting Tel Aviv and Washington over the nature of the regime that will take over eventually in Egypt. The best case scenario for the strategic and foreign policy cowboys in America and Israel is a situation in which Egypt evolves from a dictatorship into a country ruled by a moderate Islamist party as in Turkey. Incidentally, Turkey is increasingly taking a stand against the strategic interests of America and Israel. No wonder, many have started nursing hopes that an 'Islamic' Turkey will become the new leader against an Imperial America and its ally Israel.

Egypt becoming another Turkey will surely become a headache. But it will be a nightmare if the country falls into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood — the organisation that gave Al Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahari — and emerges as another Iran, implacably hostile to America and Israel. And don't think for a moment that such a situation will never come to pass. Who had ever dreamt in 1978 of Iran becoming what it is in 2011?

No one had thought that citizens of the Arab world, suppressed for so long and denied both political and economic opportunities, would be in a position to rise in revolt against dictators. But Tunisia showed the way and a firestorm is sweeping across the Arab world. In fact, many analysts are calling this the 'Soviet Union' moment for America as history turns full circle in a wickedly ironical way.

To me, the uprising in Egypt is nothing short of a civil revolution. It has the potential to not only transform the political scenario of West Asia but also every other region wherein anarchy and dictatorship have been the mainstay. Right now, for example, China's 457 million Internet users (and 180 million bloggers) can no longer use the Chinese word for 'Egypt' in microblogs or search engines. Why is China worried about controlling the use of the word 'Egypt' on the Net? The Government's goal is to pre-empt any contagion effect that popular uprisings against autocracy might have in China.

The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian.







Is UPA seeking to legitimise sex among minors?

Different arms of the Congress-led coalition Government at the Centre seem to be working at cross purposes. On the one hand, the draft Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2010, prepared by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, proposes that children as young as 12 years may be allowed to engage in non-penetrative sex. As against the commonly prevalent age of consent for sex at 16 years, the draft suggests introducing two age brackets for consensual non-penetrative sex: 12-14 years and 14-16 years. Further, the maximum age gap between children in the age group of 12-14 should be two years; and in the 14-16 group, it should be three years. Thus, rather than seeking to empower children, especially those belonging to the poor multitude — prone, anyway, to early marriages, sexual activity and reproduction — by educating them first, policy-makers, in seeking to legitimise early carnal interaction in a limited way, are actually dooming them to a subsistence-level existence.

On the other hand, in the wake of growing disapproval of the TV serial Balika Vadhu, based on child marriage, Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising in December 2009 informed the Supreme Court that the Union Government was thinking of making child marriages void. Apparently, social recognition is given to such marriages in order to protect the rights of females. She appeared on behalf of the Union Government in a case, filed by the National Commission for Women and the Delhi Commission for Women, seeking clarity with regard to the definition of a minor girl. In this area, too, confusion reigns. The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, dating back to the British Raj, defines boys under 21, and girls under 18 as minors. Other laws create ambivalence on the issue, be it the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code; Shariat law, applicable to Muslims; Indian Divorce Act, 1869; and the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000.

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 was meant to protect minors, especially girls, from the horrors of early union, damned as a social evil by Hindu reformers. In 19th century Bengal, visionaries such as Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar spent their lives working to improve the lot of Hindu girls, who were usually fated to lead a dreary, joyless existence on account of early marriage and, sometimes, widowhood. Loss of childhood and absence of education consigned them to the stifling, narrow walls of their homes. There was no chance of social mobility. Many young widows, considered to be liabilities, were burnt as Satis along with their diseased spouses on the cremation pyre. Child marriage was rampant in many parts, and continues to occur in backward areas. Mass marriages of children are even now routine events in Rajasthan's feudal pockets.

But, instead of formulating a strategy to eliminate this evil, and giving teeth to existing laws against sex between minors, the Union Government, in its questionable wisdom, is trying via the draft Bill to make early sexual activity acceptable among all classes. While inputs from various NGOs are reported to have gone into the making of the draft and the National Advisory Council, headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, possibly gave it shape, independent child rights activists disapprove of the proposed legislation. Mr Vikram Srivastav, who runs an NGO called Independent Thought, is of the opinion that such a law would spell trouble.

He lists three immediate concerns. First, the balancing of right to sexual education, theoretical, really, has been extended to allow its practical realisation. Second, one cannot guarantee that the sexual encounter would be restricted to a non-penetrative exercise. Third, the new law will sanction sexual exploitation of children, especially those from poor families, by both adults and children. It would boil down to commerce. He concludes that any proposal meant for children should first be tested on the touchstone of their best interests.







Election fever notwithstanding, the political scene in Tamil Nadu remains hazy. However, Karunanidhi will find it an uphill task to set the family feud right, unite the party and get over the impact of the 2G scam

Election fever has hit Tamil Nadu. With Assembly polls round the corner, political parties have stepped up their activities. In New Delhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi held discussions this week, putting all speculations to rest about a rift in the seven-year-old alliance.

While both leaders discussed only the broad contours, the nitty gritty about seat-sharing and other issues will be discussed by a committee. One thing that has come out loud and clear during this meeting is that the Congress would like to weaken the beleaguered DMK.

For the ruling DMK, this election is going to be a bitter turf war. If the party wins the election, it will be a hat-trick — a rare phenomenon in the political history of Tamil Nadu. It would mean Mr Karunanidhi would be elected for the record 12th time and become Chief Minister of the State for the sixth time. But most important, the result will have a positive impact on the UPA coalition, making it more stable.

The results will also have a bearing on Mr Karunanidhi's family as his sons and daughter are fighting for his political legacy. Most important, DMK's win would mean a major body blow for AIADMK chief Ms J Jayalalithaa, who has been waiting in the wings for almost 10 years.

However, this time round the DMK will find the sailing tough unless Mr Karunanidhi gets his arithmetic right. The Assembly elections in the past have proved that in a coalition era, arithmetic matters more than chemistry. Perhaps realising this, both Mr Karunanidhi and Ms Jayalalithaa are wooing the allies, including the Congress and the PMK.

No doubt, it will be an uphill task for Mr Karunanidhi at the fag end of his career to set the family feud right, unite the party, get over the impact of the 2G Spectrum scam and win back people's trust. Populist slogans and schemes like free TV to voters may not click this time.

A time has come for the DMK to share power in the State. The Congress is upset because despite propping up the DMK, it has never shared power with its allies. The local Congress leaders were upset when they were not made Ministers after the 2006 Assembly polls. Hence, the State leaders want the Congress central leadership to make this a pre-condition for alliance.

The DMK would like the PMK, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi and the Muslim League as part of the alliance. The PMK is yet to confirm its tie-up with the DMK though there have been indications that the two parties are getting back together after a two-year estrangement. They have jointly contested previous Assembly elections before splitting up in 2008 over anti-DMK remarks by a senior PMK leader Kaduvetti J Guru. However, the PMK, finding Mr Karunanidhi cornered, would demand more seats to continue as an alliance partner.

Over the past two decades, Tamil Nadu has been witnessing a fight between two political alliances led by the DMK and the AIADMK. In the 2006 Assembly election, the DMK contested on 132 seats and won 96 seats, while the Congress fielded candidates in 48 seats and won 34 seats. The PMK won 18 seats out of 31 it contested. However, the AIADMK failed to get the magic combination right.

After former Telecom Minister A Raja's arrest, the DMK is on a sticky pitch despite its efforts to put up a brave face. This time round, it will have to deal with an assertive Congress while holding talks on seat-sharing. For the Congress, continuing the alliance with the DMK is important to run the UPA Government at the Centre.

No doubt, a good showing will boost the image of the Congress at a time when the UPA is down in the dumps with inflation and corruption tainting its image. It will also revive the Congress in the State after decades. However, some senior Congress leaders are of the view that whether they win or lose, the Government at the Centre should not be in peril.

The Congress, which is in an upbeat mood, is trying to get more seats out of DMK's kitty. This time it has pitched for not less than 75 seats citing its good winning rate in the previous election, while the DMK is not ready to part with more than 60 seats. The PMK wants at least 40 seats. If Mr Karunanidhi agrees to these demands then the DMK's share would be less than half of the total Assembly seats of 234.

Film actor turned politician Vijayakanth is yet to reveal his party MDMK's electoral strategy. His criticism about Mr Karunanidhi's New Delhi visit this week shows that he may not align with the DMK-Congress combine. The AIADMK, too, is wooing Mr Vijayakanth because his 10 per cent vote share would boost any alliance.

Although the election in Tamil Nadu is a few weeks away, the political scene is still a bit hazy, as players are yet to table their cards. What is certain is that there will be a tough contest this time with political equations changing.







In its recent 'correction' in Dara Singhs' conviction and a judgement related to beating up a young Bhil woman and then parading her naked in the village, the Supreme Court has provided grounds to speculations that judicial standards are steadily declining

In the space of a month, two separate judgements from the highest court of India have contributed to the long list of steadily-declining judicial standards in the country.

The first is the Supreme Court's "correction" of parts of its original judgement upholding Dara Singh's conviction last week, which has aroused widespread indignation for the dangerous precedent it has set. It implies that anybody with the wherewithal to create a shrill ruckus in the media and intelligentsia can bend the Supreme Court to its will. While this is a perversion of every tradition of decency, the court must also share a portion of the blame for yielding to such ham-handed tactics.

The second relates to a Supreme Court conviction in the first week of January. The case relates to beating up a young Bhil woman and then parading her naked in the village. An observation in that judgement is sadly uninformed, historically inaccurate and lacks perspective.

In its judgement, the Supreme Court praised the tribals and emphasised that the current state of affairs, where tribals are being robbed of their forests and hills, must stop. Curiously, the judgement traces the current exploitation of tribals all the way to the Mahabharata period and says that Dronacharya set the precedent by asking for Ekalavya's right thumb to support its observation that tribals were historically always exploited. To quote, "This was a shameful act on the part of Dronacharya. He had not even taught Eklavya, so what right had he to demand 'guru dakshina'… the right thumb of Eklavya so that... (he) may not become a better archer than his favourite pupil Arjun?" Further, this episode constitutes the "well-known example of the injustice" to tribals.

It's quite interesting how the venerable judges used exactly one episode from the mammoth epic to draw this astonishing conclusion. A holistic judgement would consider how the tribals were treated in the entire epic, the attitudes of the general public towards tribals, and the history of tribal oppression in India at various points in history. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled that tribals have always been subjected to injustice.

Ancient India, since the establishment of different forms of Governments (for an instructive account, read, KP Jayaswal's Hindu Polity), has always made provisions for the fair and respectable treatment of tribals. For instance, The Arthashastra institutes elaborate laws for the preservation of different kinds of forests-majority of today's concepts of wildlife conservation that can be traced back to Kautilya's strictures for preserving the Abhaya Aranya, Nagavana and so on. It also stresses on the need to safeguard and grant a dignified life to the suppliers of honey, animal skin, elephants, timber, flowers, medicinal plants and other forest produce. Kautilya recommends awarding exemplary punishment to any person who harmed an innocent tribal in any form.

From a more pragmatic perspective, it made sense for a king to have tribals on his side for they had access to the remotest recesses of the forest and acted as guardians of a kingdom's border. Antagonising them meant definite defeat at crucial moments in a battle. Tribals were actually pampered by kings until as recently as the 19th century. Most kings had a separate "tribal force". A good example of this can be found by studying the Nayaka dynasty that ruled Chitradurga for about three centuries.

The inevitable conclusion is that tribals weren't always oppressed. Recent researches have traced the antecedents of many of today's tribals to various royal dynasties who fled into the jungles to escape the tyranny of Muslim rule in medieval India. An accurate estimation of the history of tribal oppression on a large scale can be traced to the British who began to usurp India's resources massively.

Dronacharya's act remains condemnable but holding that as a precedent for oppressing tribals is far-fetched. More importantly, Dronacharya's heinous act wasn't an injustice against tribals per se. The most crucial point is Drona's motive, which as the judges rightly say, was to prevent Ekalavya from becoming a better archer than Arjun. Had Ekalavya not been a tribal but a proper Kshatriya and given the same circumstances, would Drona's demand be any different? An epic like Mahabharata deals with the most fundamental human impulses and motivations. Avarice, lust, ambition and power are gender, caste and class neutral. Further, nobody, starting with Veda Vyasa to all commentators on the epic, ever regards Dronacharya as an ideal teacher, an important aspect that the honourable court has missed.

Injustice to tribals is a real and festering problem in India and needs to be tackled with the proverbial iron fist. But the iron fist, which is political will, is missing because in most cases those who should wield that will are themselves the perpetrators. Nothing short of exemplary punishment needs to be awarded to the human scum that paraded the poor woman naked. The sadder fact is that tribals are far more brutally oppressed in independent India and get little, if no justice, than they were in the time of Dronacharya.

The Supreme Court's conviction would've stood on its own merit without the reference to the Mahabharata, which is both inaccurate and unnecessary. A woman's dignity has been violated in a despicable manner and it deserves strict punishment. Would it be okay if she wasn't a tribal but say, a college student? It gets confusing: Are we seeking justice for a wronged woman or a wronged tribal woman? Is the need for justice amplified because one belongs to a certain group that has been presumed to be victimised forever?

But then we live in an age of social justice and blanket, thoughtless pity and glorification of anything that remotely sounds like it is oppressed. An age where victimhood is worn as a badge of pride, and has become the dominant public discourse. While it is understandable that courts do get influenced by the prevailing discourse, one wishes that they exhibit a stronger fibre to not cow down to those who raise blank noises. The law is supreme and doesn't require the approval of lobbyists to rule in favour of what is fair and just.









HOW needless controversies arise in the political realm these days is evident from the ongoing spat between the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj over the controversial appointment of P J Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner.


Mr Chidambaram has now accused Ms Swaraj of making ' thoughtless allegations' against him, by saying that he had told the selection committee that Mr Thomas was acquitted in the palmolein case.


Only those who attended the meeting know what really transpired there; one of them, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the only one who has remained silent till now.


As it is, the government's case seems to lack credibility. It had recently told the apex court that the fact that Mr Thomas had been charge- sheeted was not brought before the selection committee. That the government was not being totally honest became evident when Ms Swaraj contradicted its claim, threatening to file an affidavit in the Supreme Court. The government then changed tack, with Mr Chidambaram conceding that the palmolein case was indeed discussed at the time of Mr Thomas' appointment.


So rather than engage in a needless duel with the Opposition party leader that worsens the already vitiated political atmosphere, the government must accept that it erred in appointing Mr Thomas in the first place.


At the same time, it must understand that public spats with the leader of the Opposition do no credit to it. The government of the day must learn to engage the Opposition in a constructive and meaningful manner, and in this case, the issue could well have been thrashed out by Mr Chidambaram and Ms Swaraj through discreet meetings and consultations, rather than media statements.



THE death of 11 people who were injured in the boiler blast that took place in Tughlaqabad Extension in South- east Delhi on January 25 highlights a larger malaise that exists in the city. There are a different set of norms that govern the attitude of the government towards the relatively impoverished areas.


The cloth factory in which the blast took place, for instance, was located in the middle of a residential area and had as many as three Municipal Corporation of Delhi schools in its immediate vicinity. This would have provoked a massive hue and cry had it been one of the more posh areas of Delhi.


There are thousands of such small manufacturing units and sweatshops across the city — most of which are illegal. Needless to say, they are in gross violation of the government's safety norms.


In fact, most of them exist in colonies which are themselves unauthorised. Government officials abet the sprouting of these sweatshops and remain completely apathetic to the civic conditions in these areas.


Particularly revealing in this context is the fact that the victims' families — most of whom were dependent on the victims' income from the cloth factory — haven't even been given a respectable compensation.



THE government move to overhaul the Motor Vehicles Act is overdue. While motor vehicle population is growing by leaps and bounds, the rules and regulations to make driving safe and pleasurable are absent.


In this context, the decision to raise the minimum fine for traffic violations is welcome, since the current limit of Rs 100 for even serious violations is not a deterrent.


Also welcome is the decision to introduce penalty points for various violations because experience shows that dangerous driving tends to be a serial offence. The earlier the person concerned is relieved of his or her licence, the better.


The experience of traffic management during the recent Commonwealth Games in New Delhi shows that tough policing and deterrent fines can and will be able to discipline the capital's notoriously difficult traffic.


But in themselves higher fines will only become a source of added income for corrupt police officials. The Delhi police need to shift a paradigm with a new traffic act, but they must get their own act together first.








THE RECENT controversy over the Supreme Court's January 21 judgement on the Graham Staines murder is revealing. To begin with, Justices P. Sathasivam and B. S. Chauhan saw fit to make certain gratuitous remarks: " the intention was to teach a lesson to Graham Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity.

It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of ' use of force', provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better." It's not clear whether they're saying there were such grounds for complaint against Staines ( the Wadhwa Commission found " no extraordinary increase in the Christian population in Keonjhar district between 1991 and 1998"); or if the judges were merely saying that Dara Singh believed Staines to be converting people.




Be that as it may, following protests by Christian organisations and members of civil society, the judges modified their judgement on January 25. They deleted the reference to Dara Singh's intentions; and replaced it with the following: " more than 12 years have elapsed since the act was committed, we are of the opinion that the life sentence awarded by the High Court need not be enhanced..." It also replaced the references to " interference in someone's belief by way of ' use of force', provocation..." etc., with the sentence " There is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means." Christian organisations welcomed the judges' decision to expunge or modify the two sentences, but the matter still carries grave implications.


The issue is not the rights and wrongs of conversion, which may be debated, but the citation of communal animus as a justification for murder. Undoubtedly some Christian evangelical groups use objectionable language and means to convert people.


They can be countered by civic protest and legal proceedings — there are several laws regulating religious conversion. The issue before the Court was an act of pre- meditated murder, in which there were not one, but three victims. We are talking about the law, and section 302, IPC. The SC's modification remains tinged with sinister implications. It would appear that the change was made with regard to offended sentiment, rather than in recognition of a flawed argument.


While the decision to spare Dara Singh's life is a welcome one, the reasoning supplied by the honourable Justices is disturbing.


They say, " there is no justification for interfering in someone's religious belief by any means." The reference to religion has been watered down, but remains. The implications are that 1/ Staines was indeed so interfering — for which there was no official complaint, nor reference in the Wadhwa Commission report; and 2/ that communal animus is a mitigating ( rather than exacerbating) factor in pre- meditated murder.


Even more disturbing is the fact that the judges have rendered invisible ( as regards the punishment meted out to the culprit) the deaths of two little boys, Timothy aged 6, and Philip, aged 10. Even if Graham Staines was indulging in objectionable activity, he did not deserve to be murdered for his sins. And even if the Staines' were Christian evangelists, their children could hardly be guilty of offending any law or anyone's religious sentiments. If the extenuating factors relating to conversion apply to the murder of Graham Staines, what factors could possibly attenuate the crime of burning alive two small boys? The judges have allowed their consciences to erase even the natural sympathy we feel about their terrible plight.


Their comments — before and after their modification — are tantamount to blaming the victims for their fate. They violate the spirit of the Constitution and the norms of human decency; and they add weight to the normalisation of violence in the Indian polity.




Judges are not elected officials. The judicial conscience is separate from public belief insofar as it cannot be led by popular prejudice or stereotypical modes of thought. One such stereotype is manifested in the doctrine of collective guilt that may be found, for example, in the Biblical accusation that the blood of Christ lies upon the heads of all Jews till eternity. More generally, it vests in the idea that the sins of the fathers are visited upon their sons. This is one of the most noxious ideas in human history, and has found its way into every form of communal ideology. Early in 1985, I heard a justice of the Delhi High Court say something similar in response to the PUDR petition praying for the registration of cases in the matter of the carnage of Delhi's Sikh citizens in November 1984.


The judge dismissed the prayer, saying, as he did so, that " there was a background to the killings." He was alluding to the murder of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. By speaking thus, he was alluding to the idea of collective guilt.


There is indeed a background to everything, but surely no thoughtful person, let alone a judge, can argue that a

crime committed by a member of this or that religious group somehow taints every member of the criminal's community. For a judge to suggest that communal hatred diminishes the gravity of a heinous crime is a travesty of justice.




The Supreme Court recently asked a minister to be temperate in his speech.


Their own choice of words carries far more weight than that of any minister.


Judges derive their authority from the seats they occupy, and society's trust in their fair- mindedness and wisdom. The Bench is superior to the persons who temporarily occupy it. That is why there is a constitutional provision for the impeachment of judges. It is within the realm of possibility that judges can commit contempt of court. The Staines' judgement comes close to exemplifying such contempt. The learned Justices could have endorsed the judgement of the High Court and left it at that. But they chose to act otherwise.


The central danger to the Indian polity is communalism, and it works via ideas and prejudice, not organisational affiliation.


The Kandhamal cases, arising out of events initiated by the murder of Swami Lakshmanananda by Maoists in 2008, and followed by an orgy of collective retribution upon poor Christian villagers, will be adversely affected by this judgement. If our highest judges wittingly or otherwise provide barely- disguised legitimation for criminal deeds, our Constitution is doomed. Speaking out against this judgement is the least we can do to atone for the cruelty with which little Timothy and Philip were deprived of their innocent lives.


The writer is a political commentator








The demise of K Subrahmanyam, India's premier strategic guru and a frequent contributor to these pages, should be an occasion to reflect on what he frequently bemoaned - the absence of a strategic culture in the country, which often held it back from achieving its goals. If that situation has been somewhat remedied today, that is due in no small measure to Subrahmanyam's own intellectual and institutional contribution. India set up a National Security Council, for example, as late as 1999 - and that was partly in response to Subrahmanyam's tireless advocacy.

A strategic culture fosters an objective assessment of national capabilities in the context of the geopolitical environment in which it operates, and lays out policy options guided by a long-term view of national interest - rather than being simply ad hoc or reactive, or dictated by sentimental or ideological considerations. Among Subrahmanyam's contributions to a pragmatic reorientation of India's foreign policy were three major initiatives which he championed: Indian help to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, India's development of an independent but limited nuclear deterrent in a context where its neighbours were weaponising, and the India-US civil nuclear agreement.

Mistakenly characterised as a 'hawk', Subrahmanyam was aware that greater economic interdependence among countries was the best guarantee of peace. And he was one of the first to recognise that India's economic liberalisation in the 1990s would pose new strategic challenges. That India has negotiated the transition to a post-Cold War world creditably is testimony that the country is indeed in the process of developing a strategic culture, accounting for significant initiatives in recent times such as the 'Look East' policy. One of the major strategic shifts has been moving from non-alignment - with its concomitant fear of being 'entrapped' by the world - to what may be described as 'omni-alignment', or engagement with all the power centres that are shaping the world. This has led to the emergence of a confident India and is a creative response to a post-Cold War, globalised era.

If an Indian strategic culture is to be nurtured in order to secure its long-term growth and security, we need to replace ad hoc responses with well thought out, flexible planning that takes into account India's rise at the international arena as well as the constraints facing it. This can be done through promotion of independent think tanks, greater interaction between policy makers and strategic experts, strengthening the National Security Council as well as promotion of strategic expertise within the external affairs and defence bureaucracies. Successfully navigating the frosty world of geopolitics requires more than intuition or sticking to procedure.







The tragic deaths of 18 job aspirants - sitting on top of a train and hit by a low bridge near Shahjahanpur - while returning from a scuttled Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) recruitment drive in Bareilly, exposes once again institutional apathy at multiple levels. Following the tragedy, the usual blame game has begun with each agency trying to pass the buck. However, a closer look reveals that the absence of inter-agency coordination and a tardy official response mechanism converted a recruitment opportunity for youths into a needless tragedy. To start with, the ITBP created much confusion by cancelling the recruitment when it should have displayed greater imagination in handling the swelling number of jobseekers. The paramilitary agency could have spread the recruitment drive over several days or split it among several centres.

Similarly, the district administration failed to appropriately respond to ITBP's repeated requests for security. On top of it all, the Railways did nothing to stop the job hopefuls from perching on train rooftops. The tragedy could have been averted had these agencies coordinated better among themselves. Lastly, what stands out is the lack of proportion between the paltry number of jobs available (416) and the tens of thousands of applicants who swamped the job fair. It's a pointer to youth unemployment that exists in the country, and serves as a grim reminder to the government that unless it massively augments job creation, India's demographic dividend might turn out to be a millstone round its neck. Since government doesn't have the resources to create enough jobs on its own, economic policy must focus on incentivising the private sector to generate jobs on the scale that's necessary.









There's a perennial complaint in India's Olympic sporting circles that cricket has destroyed, or rather harmed, the Olympic sporting fraternity. Sponsors inevitably queue up to pay for the gentleman's game, television broadcasters give cricket a lot more airtime and print media publish cricket news as the lead sports item. These facts, more often than not, are correct.

However, the reasons behind such stepmotherly treatment of Olympic sports have hardly been delved into by the administrators of these disciplines, for these would tend to expose their own deficiencies and amateurish work ethic. A comparison between the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and the forthcoming cricket World Cup 2011 makes clear the fundamental differences in the governance structure of cricket and Olympic sports in India.

The best way to drum up interest before a mega event is through sale of merchandise. For the Commonwealth Games, a full-scale merchandise programme was never launched. There was no sale of games merchandise at outlets throughout the country, no official agent appointed till the very end and the few samples produced were sold out within minutes of the start of the games on October 3, 2010. The result - a huge revenue earning opportunity lost.

In contrast, World Cup merchandise is already on sale in India and elsewhere in the subcontinent. The range is impressive and the sales options easy to manoeuvre. One can buy official merchandise from the International Cricket Council (ICC) website and also from the website, official ticketing agents for the World Cup. By allowing Kyazoonga to sell merchandise, the ICC, in a smart marketing move, has enabled customers who buy tickets to also pick up merchandise. Says Neetu Bhatia, co-founder of Kyazoonga, "There's a huge demand for cup tickets and merchandise. While all games in Bangladesh are near sold out, all India games will see packed stands.

Such is the demand that phase two of the ticketing in Bangladesh, which opened in early January, was an unprecedented success. For two days, the country came to a standstill with people queuing up for tickets all day and night. Interestingly, only 34% of the tickets were picked up by people from Dhaka and 15% by cricket fans in Chittagong while a whopping 51% of the tickets were bought by fans from across the 62 districts of Bangladesh. In India too, tickets have been available online from June 1, 2010 and matches such as the England-India contest at the Eden Gardens, now under a cloud of controversy, witnessed an unprecedented number of online hits.

Unfortunately for the Delhi Commonwealth Games, ticket sales and distribution were a complete mess. While retail outlets had 'all sold' signs, stadiums were never more than half full in the competition's first week. Problems over ticket distribution for the opening and closing ceremonies had also resulted in numerous mini skirmishes at the organising committee headquarters.

It is the professionalism associated with cricket, evident also from the way the Eden Gardens and Wankhede under-preparedness issues have been handled and hard measures taken, that explains the tremendous interest in the event across sectors of the Indian economy and society. In the case of Eden Gardens, the
BCCI was never in trouble to come up with an alternate venue and the Cricket Association of Bengal was forced to realise that unless it gets the work completed by February 7, it stands to lose all its share of World Cup games. Interestingly, Eden Gardens' iconic status did not pre-empt the ICC or the BCCI from dealing with it professionally.

Interest in the World Cup isn't confined to just sponsors and marketers. For the media as well, it is the first big event in 2011, a platform to catch eyeballs and garner high TRPs. Knowing full well that the World Cup will have to be covered from start to finish with the same intensity, most networks have already finalised their line-ups for the extravaganza. And in so doing, they have ensured that even lesser known cricketers end up making huge amounts of money as experts from the six-week gala.

The process of contracting cricketers as television experts for the World Cup started in July 2010. Agents seeking to make the most of the opportunity enlisted cricketers from across the world on the promise of getting them lucrative deals from Indian media networks. Barring the stars who will be doing commentary for the host broadcaster, many cricketers have been lured by the opportunity of earning anywhere between $800-1,500 a day, standing to earn anywhere between Rs 20-25 lakh from the tournament.

Unlike in the Commonwealth Games where tourist interest had dwindled to minimal due to the disastrous build-up, tour operators from across the world are looking at the World Cup to make a killing. Especially for Indian tour operators and planners, this is being looked upon as their best opportunity to sell packages to NRIs who will inevitably make their way back home to catch the World Cup action.

In the final analysis, then, the World Cup is much more than a cricket competition. It is a battle for TRPs, a platform for rival brands to leverage the opportunity and for marketers to make hay. And all because it is a professionally managed and run event unlike the 2010 Delhi games.

The writer is senior research fellow, University of Central Lancashire.







Based on a small report in the Times of India on March 24, 1989 about cold fusion, 12 teams of scientists in BARC set up independent electrolytes and observed the phenomenon that was first made public by two US scientists. We were the biggest group responsible for the research at that time in the world. We found evidence of production of tritium and neutrons in the electrolysis. A separate book on the scientific findings was published by BARC. A US team visited BARC in December 1989, saw our findings and gave a positive report to the institute. Based on this report, funds were released for research in a US university.

What is the current status of research in cold fusion in India and abroad?

For all practical purposes, research in India has come to a standstill since the mid-1990s. I have been trying to keep scientists and the public informed about the breakthrough in nuclear energy. Unfortunately scientists still remain sceptics. Since 2008, some scientists in India have started to look at cold fusion with an open mind. But there's still a long way to go for research to begin. At the international level research is underway in
Russia, the US, Europe, South Korea, Japan and China. Around 300-400 scientists are involved in the research. On January 14, two scientists in Italy demonstrated production of 20 KW of energy using hydrogen and nickel in a lab.

What are the new findings on this issue in the past decade?

Transmutation reactions in electrolytic and gas loaded devices is one of the important observations made by the scientists involved in cold fusion research in the past decade. Use of nano-technology has also played an important role in the last three years.

What is the agenda of the forthcoming conference in Chennai?

This is the 16th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, held in rotation between Russia, US, Europe and
Asia. For the first time it is being held in India. The main aim of the conference is to draw the attention of the Indian scientific community to cold fusion. It is also an opportunity for the scientists to listen to the original researchers. Around 60 scientists from nine countries are participating in the meet.

Why is there opposition to the cold fusion theory?

There is opposition because the findings do not tally with textbook nuclear physics. However, scientists will have to think about nuclear and chemical reactions in a holistic way.

What is the future of this research?

Our dream is to have a small fusion power generator or pack with a capacity to produce 20-100 KW of energy in each house. Mankind needs a new source of energy and this could be a major source to meet the ever-increasing demand for power. The findings of this research could change the face of science.







The other day the geyser in the bathroom suddenly stopped working. One moment it was spouting hot water like those thermal springs famous for their therapeutic qualities and known to cure everything from adenoids to plumbago, and the next the damn thing was dribbling aqua colder than an Eskimo's nose drip. Phone the shop we bought it from; it's still within the warranty period, said Bunny. OK, i said, and went to the phone. Only to discover that the phone, along with the geyser, had also stopped working. Use your mobile, said Bunny. Right, i said. But my mobile wasn't working either because i'd forgotten to plug it in for recharging the night before and the battery was dead. 


OK, it needn't be the geyser, the landline and my mobile. It could be the fridge, or the washing machine, or the TV, or the sound system, or any and all possible combinations of these things, which are not working. It could even be the electric pop-up toaster that's not working. And that's really spooky, because we don't have an electric pop-up toaster. But i know that if we did it too would, without warning, no notice period given, up and go on strike for no ostensible reason whatsoever and stop working. 


On any given day, at any given time, in our home there are on an average at least three items of daily-use which are not functioning. Ours is not a large household, crammed with ultra-sophisticated, state-of-the-art gadgetry. It is a modest household with standard middle-class fittings. So what's the secret conspiracy which makes things go kaput all the time? 


I've checked with people and discovered that everyone i've asked is similarly plagued by things that mysteriously stop working, choosing the most inconvenient of times to do so, and making sure that getting them repaired or replaced becomes a full-time occupation which takes up the larger part of your daily life. And if you're not actually busy getting something fixed that's not working, you're busy worrying about how you'll get something fixed when it stops working, which you know it will do the moment your back is turned and you're least expecting it. In short, you don't run your house, and the gadgets it contains. Your house, with its gadgets of supposed convenience, runs you. In smaller and smaller circles, round and round. 


What is this in-built failure mechanism which turns so-called mod-cons into mad-cons, in that they drive you mad with frustration by going on the blink? Is it the revenge of a technology which we foolishly believe we have enslaved, to make our lives more comfortable and convenient, but which in fact has turned the tables and enslaved us instead? In which case, should we turn our backs on this treacherous technology and go back to an era before mechanical objects took over our lives? Get rid of that gas stove. And find two sticks to rub together to make fire. 


We can't turn back the ticking clock of technology. It would take even more trouble than it does to keep it ticking. Perhaps what we think of as technology's bane - its way of making us worry about when next it's going to let us down when we need it most - is actually a boon. Perhaps by constantly making us worry about small things - a crashed computer, a malfunctioning micro, a wonky washing machine - technology's hiccups divert our minds from worrying about much bigger things. 


If we weren't constantly rushing about getting small things fixed - the iPod, the RO water purifier, the pop-up toaster you don't even have - what would we do instead with our time? Think about the next mega scam that's going to be exposed? Wonder where and when the next terror attack's going to take place? Will there be a nuclear war between India and Pakistan? What's that small lump i've just discovered behind my ear? Could it be malignant? Oh my God! Everything's suddenly gone dark! Have i been struck blind!? 


No, it's only a fused light bulb. Thank technology for small mercies. 







The arrest of former Union telecom minister A Raja was not going to be a bolt from the blue. But when Mr Raja and two of his associates charged with "criminal misconduct" were picked up on Wednesday by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to be produced in court the next day, there were many who could be forgiven for thinking that this was the final chapter in the case that has held the nation's attention — and held up Parliament's business — since some time now. Mr Raja's arrest is the start, not the end, of what should be a procedure to get to the bottom of the truth of arguably one of India's biggest heists.

The Opposition has predictably responded to the latest move as being 'too little, too late'. That is politicians being politicians. If one is clear-headed about the matter, Mr Raja's arrest forms a logical trajectory that started with the Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) finding lapses in November 2008 in the manner in which 2G spectrum was distributed, the CBI registering a case in October 2009, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) indicting the department of telecommunications in October 2010, and the subsequent 'resignation' of Mr Raja from his ministry a month later. To state at this juncture that the government is still obfuscating the judicial process is to be churlish and can be perilously interpreted as an open invitation to set up a kangaroo court to indict everyone from Mr Raja upwards.

This, of course, does not mean that everything can now be left on auto-pilot. An alleged crime of this nature and heft is unlikely to be the job of a few players. A system was breached and tweaked and there will be individuals who need to be brought under the criminal investigation to tell the CBI more. It is the CBI's duty now to get and present the necessary evidence in court. The Supreme Court knows that the CBI has a reputation for letting things slide when its mood calls for taking its eyes off the ball. The court has therefore done the right thing to ask the CBI as well as the enforcement directorate to submit status reports into the case by February 10 when the case comes up for hearing.

It is imperative — both morally and politically — for the UPA to clear the muck of corruption that has been sloshing around it for some time now. Cooperating to ensure that an unimpeded and thorough investigation into the 2G scam case takes place is an opportunity for the government. The 'tu-tu mein-mein' of 'A Raja vs Yeddyurappa' being played out between the BJP and the Congress will lead to nowhere except into a deeper ethical cesspool in our politics. The CBI has been granted custody of Mr Raja and his two associates for five days. Let us now wait for more facts before making noises.

As for the government, it should remember that however crucial an alliance with a party with an 18-member bench strength may be, much more is at stake in how the 2G spectrum scam investigation pans out.






New Zealand's version of the feminazis have thrown cold water on prime minister John Key's attempts to be a bit of lad when he described model-actress Elizabeth Hurley as hot. That he rabbited on about how Ms Hurley would be a dream date and that he would not mind being Tiger Woods both for the money and the benefits have fired feminist fury to boiling point.

Does Ms Hurley object to being described as hot? We think not, considering she has made an entire career raising male temperatures. Some of us remember her hot, sorry, haute couture gown held together by safety pins which allowed a generous view of her proportions which were described as incandescent much before Mr Key's admiring comments.

Those who feel that Mr Key's comments are out of the 60s haven't kept up with the times. Now being hot, as the many ladies who graced the Tiger Woodsian extra-marital odyssey will testify, had several benefits for them as well in the way of chat shows and lots of lovely money. Ms Hurley, who's been around the block a few times, hardly needs defenders of the feminist faith. So, perhaps, they should turn the heat on elsewhere where their politically correct correctives are needed. But for the moment the hapless Mr Key will be in the hot seat till the trail turns cold.








It has been clear for many months now that the lack of a sustained Indian engagement with Pakistan has proved to be counterproductive, fruitless and even dangerous. The prospects, for instance, of an early prosecution of those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attacks or a clampdown on the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba haven't improved because of our so-called policy of coercive non-engagement. Instead, the growing fragility of a nuclear-armed Pakistan is potentially a source of instability across the subcontinent.

There are renewed expectations, therefore, that the discussions early next week between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan (on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting in Bhutan) will lead to a sustained dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh understands and appreciates the importance of reconciling with Pakistan — troubled and turbulent as it may be — and it would be tragic if what could have become the most important legacy of his current tenure is abandoned because of a perceived public backlash.

Indeed, the importance of reconnecting was brought out at the Chaophraya dialogue organised by New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in partnership with former Pakistani federal minister Sherry Rehman's Jinnah Institute, which brought a group of Indian and Pakistani analysts together in Bangkok recently.

This was not a meeting of bleeding heart liberals. The Indian group consisted of mostly hard-nosed realists who were driven not by some latent atavistic desire for reconciliation but by the challenge of negotiating with a deeply unstable, nuclear-armed neighbour that is increasingly being inflamed by extremist fires. Similarly, the group of Pakistanis, included those who recognised the existential challenge that their country was facing, but were not rosy-eyed about India or India's policies.

The fact that a group like this was able to arrive at a joint declaration suggests that there is now a growing consensus on the importance of a dialogue within the strategic communities of the two countries. More critically, there was an unequivocal reaffirmation of PM Singh's long-term vision of India-Pakistan relations as one where borders can't be changed but can eventually be made irrelevant and of a South Asia that is economically and socially integrated.

Three other aspects of the dialogue could serve as a template for the forthcoming official talks: first, while the present government in Islamabad had initially disconnected itself from policies followed under former President Pervez Musharraf, there is now a rethink in terms of the work done during those years, especially in terms of resolving contentious bilateral issues with India. There is more or less acceptance that the only resolution of Jammu and Kashmir has to be on the basis of non-territorial settlement by converting the Line of Control into a line of peace. There is also agreement that the back channel that dealt with this issue needs to be activated and it can further build on the Singh-Musharraf understanding in this area.

Second, there was a consensus that there should be an uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue on issues of strategic and nuclear stability. It was recognised that the region is endangered by the absence of robust crisis prevention and crisis management mechanisms. There was unanimity on the need to set up a bilateral study group for this purpose. It was also felt that it was essential to review the efficacy of existing confidence-building measures and explore additional declaratory, unilateral, and mutually agreed to nuclear confidence-building measures and nuclear risk-reduction measures. No less importantly, it was recognised that there was great need for a discussion among China, India and Pakistan to promote strategic stability with a focus on the logic of sufficiency of nuclear arsenals.

Third, there was a consensus on the need to fight terrorism and extremism. Pakistani participants didn't shy away from admitting the great danger posed by extremism to the survival of their State and societies and the need to ensure that State institutions are not eroded by extremism. They also emphasised the need to initiate an institutionalised and regular dialogue between the intelligence agencies and believed that it was imperative that there be a continuous exchange of information on incidents of terrorism and about the activities of terrorist organisations.

The Chaophraya dialogue suggests that there is a process of deep churning taking place within Pakistan's fragmented political and social structure. While the rising tide of extremism and fanaticism is most visible, there is a growing movement of those willing to battle for 'the heart and soul' of Pakistan and reconstruct the State — in keeping with Jinnah's original vision — as Muslim, moderate and modern. It's also been clear for some years now that India is unable to comprehend or address the complexities of a changing Pakistan. Not surprisingly, New Delhi's policies have floundered, if not failed. Strident debates in the Indian media, frightening in their Manichaean simplicity, reflect a lack of appreciation of the intricacies of the Gordian knot of bilateral relations. Robust if differentiated, focused but flexible, multi-track responses must define India's grand strategy towards Pakistan.

As finance minister of India, Singh led the process of economic reforms. In his first term as PM, Singh risked the survival of his government by agreeing to a nuclear deal with the US. By freeing the country from the regime of technology-related sanctions, India also mainstreamed itself as a nuclear power. The PM must use the rest of his current term in office to free India from the heavy burden of its 60-odd-year-old belligerent relationship with Pakistan. That alone will strengthen his standing as a statesman and restore the credibility of his government. 

Amitabh Mattoo is Professor of international politics at Jawaharlal Nehru University and the honorary director general of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi The views expressed by the author are personal.






We need a new culture in agriculture, fresh investment patterns and new forms of subsidies

Recently, in an upmarket cafe in south Mumbai I overheard a lady remark that there are two types of people in India: those who can afford is Vuitton handbag and those who can't. A a Louis Vuitton handbag and those who can't. A couple of days later, at a dinner in Hyderabad, I heard another unique definition of the poverty line. Uma, the cook, said: "The country is now divided into two: those who can afford onions everyday and those who can't".

Uma's family is not poor: she and her husband earn R20,000 per month or R667 per day, far above the R96 per day earned by many Indians. Yet at R90 a kg, this staple is clearly unaffordable for most. Why can prices go up drastically? The government claims capitalist middlemen are hoarding onion stocks and artificially fuelling inflation. The Opposition said it is a case of the government's inability to do anything for the common man. The deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, said these changes are inevitable since our developing economy is morphing into a developed one.
But, like the onion, we have to peel many layers to get to the core of the problem.

At about 10 million tonnes of annual output (which works out to an abysmally low 20 grams per day per person, not counting exports), onion is not a major crop. Then why did the State fail to prevent prices from going through the roof?
Though our foodgrain production has gone up, the onion fiasco proves once again that we need to reform our agricultural sector.

More and more farmers are finding agriculture a loss-making venture. This is because agriculture in India is designed to make losses and 78% are small and marginal farmers for whom sale proceeds are less than their input costs. They are vulnerable to the agents of fertiliser and pesticide companies who lure them to try new cash crops that need more fertilisers and pesticides. Ironically, when production falls below productivity projections of these companies, farmers have nowhere to go; they can only lament their losses.

The Punjab government's Environmental Sustainability Report admits that the state has .03% organic matter in the soil as against an ideal 3%. This is disastrous for the water table, crops and climate change. It's against this backdrop that the government is mulling two new solutions. First, introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops. Never mind that they will increase in fertilisers use, which in turn will push up the input costs.
These crops will also deplete organic matter in soil.

Second, it is considering foreign direct investment in retail. An analysis of US price trends over the last 60 years shows that farmers have been getting less and less share of the final sale price.
This means the aggregation of procurement by giants like Wal-Mart hasn't helped farmers. In India too, biggies like Reliance and ITC haven't been able to help farmers, as big corporate groups rely on new generation middlemen who are more expensive than the old traders.

We need a new culture in agriculture. We need new investment patterns and new forms of subsidies. Here are some suggestions: create facilities closer to production and procurement areas; set up subsidised warehouses and cold chains near the fields, not in cities. This will assure optimal prices for farmers, less seasonal fluctuations of retail prices for consumers and reduce artificial inflationary situations.

The other problem is of nutritional security. We are obsessed with production of foodgrain but it does not address the nutritional requirements of small farmers and their families. Traditionally, they grew rice, wheat, sorghum, millet and lentils and that guaranteed not just food but nutritional security. Now they grow loss-making cash crops and stand in serpentine queues in front of ration shops to buy rotten rice. It might be a good idea to provide subsidies to farmers (cash vouchers) so that they can opt for the organic route instead of the GM option. And why not a high minimum support price for nutritious cereals and essentials like onions?

Manoj Kumar is CEO, Naandi Foundation, Hyderabad The views expressed by the author are personal







Even as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act enters its sixth year, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said in Delhi on Thursday that cash transfers were the answer to the eternal questions about inefficiencies in government schemes. He had tried out direct cash transfers in his effort to give Bihar's girls bicycles, he said, and discovered that the programme had a "92 per cent success rate". No programme, he said, of the Centre or in any other state can boast anything similar. He went on to argue that cash transfers would "plug a lot of leakages in the [food] distribution system as well, as the PDS is not working really. Also it will give the poor an option in terms of their spending." Universalisation of the public distribution system, he said, should take a backseat to transfer-based reform.

This is not the first time that Kumar has spoken in favour of transfers, but these are some of his firmest words yet. They also mark something else, his ability to transfer a policy idea into the political realm. It isn't just his name-checking of the bicycle scheme, widely identified as one of the key reasons for his government's popularity in Bihar. It was also his clear identification of universalisation of the PDS — an idea associated with Congress president Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council — as the wrong idea at this time. Nor is he the only chief minister to talk of cash transfers: the Congress's Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi, has also been a proponent. Local-level leaders in Andhra Pradesh have also spoken of transfers as a possible path to reform.

There continue to be major roadblocks in any shift to a transfer-based system for large government schemes. But, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the ceremony marking the NREGA's fifth anniversary, delivery mechanisms must be smartened up, and modern technology is available to help us do it. It is difficult to avoid the sense that our politics has become more welfarist than it was some years ago. The focus must now be, however, on ensuring efficiency — and thereby on fiscal prudence. State-level leaders who have to deal with implementation problems, like Nitish and Dikshit, should be listened to carefully. Our debate on mechanisms should widen, and definitely take into account ideas like conditional cash transfers. More, our politics, too, should start to debate policy ideas. Nitish Kumar has shown, after all, it is workable.






At a time when his office should be shouldering up to the task of excavating large-scale corruption in the government, the central vigilance commissioner is preoccupied with justifying himself to the Supreme Court. P.J. Thomas insisted that his selection was entirely within the bounds of propriety, as he was the most senior of over 40 IAS secretaries. He suggested that being screened and getting vigilance clearance to be selected as a secretary to the Centre proved his "impeccable integrity". Referring to the palmolein import case that has followed him around for 19 years, he contended that civil servants are often smeared as they ascend the career ladder, whether or not they are guilty of misconduct. Many of these cases are "trumped up or politically motivated", he claimed. In presenting the charges against him (now being investigated by the SC) almost as a burr that attached itself to him along the way, to be casually flicked away, Thomas is trivialising the unseemliness of this situation.

The manner of appointment of Thomas as CVC is a mistake that has been compounded several times over by a stubborn government. The question is not whether or not he is culpable — it is the perfunctoriness of the process that chose him which is problematic. Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati acknowledged that there was no mention of the palmolein case in the documents presented before the selection panel. This detail is important because the government overrode the leader of the opposition's reservations by claiming that a majority decision was sufficient. And it continues to doggedly defend its mistake, even now, finessing the SC's question about whether the chargesheet was a stigma or not. Moreover, given that he was telecom secretary, Thomas has offered to recuse himself from the 2G spectrum investigation, the most enormous task that confronts our investigative agencies — because of his own stint as telecom secretary.

This kind of back-and-forth on clearances and screenings may go on, but is far from convincing, and does little to undo the Centre's primary mistake of having picked a less-than-suitable candidate.






That this is a pivotal moment in the history of North Africa and West Asia is obvious. For the first time in memory, the streets of the Arab world have, in near unison, erupted in protest. These countries have suffered from many deficits: of development, of connectivity, of gender empowerment. But perhaps the most glaring deficit has always been of governance and of accountability — and perhaps this is the common thread that unites the diversity of anger on display in the streets of Beirut, of Cairo, of Tunis, of Amman, of Khartoum and of Sana'a.

Yet little more than this can really be stated with confidence. That is the one thing that is true of the pivotal moments of history, when events and futures balance on a knife-edge. Yet it is also human nature to search for parallels — perhaps to explain, perhaps to comfort, perhaps to warn. Is this the Arab world's 1989? If so, is it the 1989 of the Berlin Wall and Timisoara, as regime after authoritarian regime collapsed as an amazed world looked on? Or is it the 1989 of what they now, in China, call merely the "June 4 Incident"? For a parallel closer in space but perhaps not in time, is it the 1979 of the Islamic Revolution, as so many in the West and elsewhere fear? For Israelis, of course, the shadow is of the years of 1967 and 1973; will they once again, as then, be encircled by unfriendly regimes? And will the decades-long security they won in those years vanish in clouds of teargas and artillery smoke?

Yet while the parallels can be drawn endlessly, in hope and in fear, there is a limit to how much they will explain and predict. When you witness a hinge in history, embracing the moment requires the realisation that it can swing either way.








The silence of Ayman al-Zawahiri is the most resounding reverberation from the seething streets of Cairo. He is, after all, Egypt's most famous Islamist and the world's second-most wanted man. That he has not sent a message yet is the most telling sign of the change that is not happening in Egypt. In most circumstances he would be the first off the block to be heard, on any issue that incites the brotherhood. But in this case, the Brotherhood is not to the fore — in every sense of the word.

There have been fears, much voiced, that the rage on the Arab street would lead to an Islamist takeover of societies that have remained largely aligned with the West, and hence, are allies. Those fears of sectarianism triumphing on the streets are based on the experience of Iran vis-à-vis the West. There is an assumption that ultimately the street will be taken over by the Islamic radical. This is far from the case, for various reasons.

It is not known yet whether the Egyptian revolt will lead to regime change, however much the world may want it to happen now. That it is a people's expression of their angst is well known. That it predates the Tunisian uprising is, however, not so well known. Even before the hapless Mohammed Bouazizi burnt himself into Arab posterity, there were already rumblings on the Egyptian street about match-fixing in the upcoming elections. President Hosni Mubarak was blatantly manoeuvring his son into position, which had raised the ire enough on the street to make news. But it did not make news and, therefore, the West and its statement-a-minute spokespersons did not think it fit to comment then. As ample a reflection of rights and wrongs, of the preaching and practice of morality, as there can ever be.

There is fear and loathing on the Arab street on any given day. This too is well-known. This is a world in which all sorts of dodgy regimes keep their populations under a watch, all of the time. The infamous mukhabarat, or secret service, is not that secretive about its activities, and is all-pervasive in Arab countries. Egypt is no exception. Over the decades it has fed a deep dislike of the state, and a deep envy of those societies that do not live under such circumstances. They feel the world has passed them by, and that their predicament does not let them partake in awesome global changes. A number of Arab societies live the duality of global economic integration and social and political isolation. This has created a schizoid relationship with the West and its friend, the Arab State.

Not a surprise then that it would come to the fore someday. Each Arab street agitating today has its own peculiar dynamics, and its own particular slogans. But there is a common goal: of liberation from state practices that are designed to make the street servile.

Ignition in each case has been different, so to assume that this internal combustion will result in an Islamist takeover is misplaced. There is no Ali Shari'ati in the Arab world. Shari'ati was the ideologue of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the intellectual catalyst for the students who made the Shah flee (ironically to Egypt first) — not the Ayatollahs who entered the country later and hijacked the revolution. The Iranian leadership denies him the status that is due to him, as do the international analysts probing every sneeze in this part of the world. And that probe will reveal the complete absence of an Arab Shari'ati.

The one who would have liked to don that mantle now lives in some hideout in Pakistan, separated from reality by his proximity to jihadists eagerly knocking at the gates of heaven. Ayman al-Zawahiri is the epitome of all that the Egyptian state despises. The ideologue of death and destruction was once at the forefront of an Islamic uprising against the Egyptian state. Scores died, Egyptian and foreign tourists. Their tactics were of the terrorist — and the state responded brutally.

This cycle of murder caused the Egyptian people's fatigue, expressed in the decimation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a violent opposition to the state. It exists, but now is a shadow of its sinister self. Tamed by the horrors inflicted by the state, the Ikhwan is a much-softened organisation.

It's a similar tale across the Arab world. While in Syria it was massacred in Hama, it was neutered by politics in Jordan, and devastated in Egypt. So it's not a change of spots — but simply a consequence of people having tired of that near civil war-like situation. There is also an element of guilt and fatigue over September 11.

The people of Egypt would not want another round of those days of sanctified chaos. That, in fact, is the tactic that Hosni Mubarak is using today. It is often overlooked, but Mubarak is an air force officer, and as a young pilot was bloodied in battle during the civil war — in Yemen! Yes, Yemen. He was there on pan-Arab duties, and had no hesitation in pulling the trigger on fellow Arabs. That bit of his early life should give an insight into his mind and tactics now. That he will not go right now is plain to the eye.

That he will go sooner rather than later is also a possibility. But that departure will be on his, and the regime's, terms and not of those on the streets. Or of those of a US administration suddenly indignant by the absence of liberty and freedom in Egypt.

The writer was a BJP MP in the 14th Lok Sabha. He is now editor of 'Defence & Security Alert',








Many reactions to the sad death of 20 young Indians only wanting to offer their services to the ITBP focus on labour market and skill-enhancing reforms, and are very valid. Yet these need to be followed up with more convincing policies promoting the conditions for sustained and harmonious growth.

I have consistently argued for skill development policies. When the original Goldman Sachs paper on the demographic dividend appeared, I argued that the demographic dividend was largely conjured by assumptions — and the "inevitable" part was actually contingent. Dividends come to the brave, to those with an operative vision of the future. Otherwise, frustrated young persons can be a liability.

Skill development was a major strategy in the Eleventh Plan; the answer chosen was relying on local plans to cover skill deficits, with some certification of the skills developed. The National Skill Development Corporation is now history, and a skill development adviser to the PM —

S. Ramadorai — from a company which has done it — TCS — is great. I hope he will release the government's programme from only helping state-run ITIs and start helping the many good NGOs that are doing it.

But this is a long-haul story, and the faster we do it the better off we will be. Companies like TCS, or some agro-based groups, take university graduates and train them for well-paid jobs; but the typical skill development module in the labour ministry/ Planning Commission capsules gives you Rs 3,000 monthly after a few weeks of training, and more if certification is from a kosher group, like the City Guild of London. Face it: the ITBP aspirants were from another layer.

For some, labour market reform is an article of faith. But jobs in the organised sector have not been rising. In fact, labour market reform of a kind has taken place — because more than two-thirds of jobs in the organised sector are outsourced to badly paid casual workers. It was left to Arjun Sengupta to show that they only aspire to a wage that is frequently even below the official poverty line. What the vapid labour market reformers don't tell you is that this is, from all accounts, a very unstable situation. And the more thoughtful corporates are getting out of this trap, in which they can be held responsible for tweaking the law, or be held hostage to militancy by unorganised workers, as events in places as far off as Surat and Bengal showed.

Meanwhile, the situation on the macro front — particularly the prospect of wage-goods inflation — is not all that easy either.

India was late by a few months, but finally got a Keynesian stimulus which worked. All talk of reining in deficits was not practical; and the economy, after a few hiccups, responded. But by now our deficits are the highest in history, unstable borrowed money is large, and food/ fuel inflation has the unmistakable character of wages chasing prices. A slew of companies has reported bad news in the third quarter, and stocks are taking a drubbing. Meanwhile, our competitors in the rest of the world are recovering with inflation largely under control. Government economists in India are much too good to not know the bad news. More of the same will not work.

One of the last professional exchanges I had with the late Rajiv Gandhi was on the need for a sensible stand on reservations. He argued in the Lok Sabha as leader of the Opposition — I think in September 1991 — that the need was not just reservations for OBCs in non-existent government jobs, but for an economic policy which created many, many well-paid jobs for the agriculturists, dairy herdsmen and artisans of India. I am all in favour of reasonable, well-earned wages — together with an NREGA wage which acts as a self-selection mechanism so that only the genuinely needy benefit.

We have to now squarely face the fact that resources are limited, and everybody has to share the burden of sourcing non-inflationary growth, and not just unorganised workers. If per capita income, in real terms, is rising by 6 per cent a year, one of the lessons of macro theory and policy is that real incomes for wage-earners, entrepreneurs and farmers cannot rise more than a weighted average of 6 per cent, as you approach capacity constraints.

In other countries this is called an incomes policy, and tax breaks only to one section are contested. But in the woolly world of liberalisation in erstwhile colonies, sab chalta hai. Used intelligently the market can be a good handmaiden; otherwise it can be a cruel master. Young men desperately wanting a well-paid job require out-of-the-box reactions.

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







It's ironic, but in the process of trying to save the government from the backlash of the Raja scam, the prime minister's minders have put him squarely in the middle of the flak. Until now, most people, including the worthies in the CAG, believed the prime minister's only fault was that he was hamstrung by coalition politics, that he had asked A. Raja to auction spectrum, but the latter refused to do so.

So when a crack team, including a retired bureaucrat, crafted a strategy which included taking on the CAG, one argument it put forward was that the prime minister had never asked Raja to auction spectrum — with Raja's arrest, the only fig leaf that stood between his actions and the prime minister has been removed. There are enough letters from Raja to the prime minister, on November 2, 2007 to show the prime minister had been kept in the loop on all his actions — so far, everyone, including the CAG, focused on only the PM asking Raja to auction spectrum. The focus has now shifted and those letters are back in play once again.

The opposition, which looked like it was breaking up, with the BJP appearing to have lost interest and the CPM agreeing to ensure the budget session went off well, looks energised once again. The CBI arrested Raja to quell the Supreme Court's anger. Kapil Sibal announced the outline of his auction-is-best policy for the future (after having debunked auctions earlier) to take the sting out of the Opposition's demand for a JPC — well, Raja's arrest has changed all that.

Kapil Sibal argued that since auctions were not required by law, there could be no scam in not auctioning spectrum. This is completely fallacious since it was decided in 2003 that auctions would be used for all new licences — the fact that the BJP chose to violate this within days of coming up with the rule doesn't mean the rule never existed. In any case, even if there wasn't a law, what prevented the UPA from putting it in place given that it had got 573 applications for just 122 spectrum slots it had available?

The idea of the one-man Justice Shivraj Patil committee to examine policies since 2001 was to try and dilute things by passing the muck around — this would show that the original distortion of the first-come-first-served policy to avoid auctioning licences was done by the BJP. This is what Raja argued and it shows how out of touch the rest of the government was when, even after Raja's departure, it adopted the DMK's party line as the UPA's party line.

Just like the government missed the anger at the corruption, it misread the change in the country's dynamics, the fact that telecom wasn't environment or steel or any other old-world sector. Not too many players in steel or power or those aggrieved by environmental clearances (Ajit Gulabchand is the odd one out) go and take on the government. In telecom, however, it is pretty routine to do so, it's been happening for years (read the latest Tata petition against Raja to understand just how explicit it can get); each big player in telecom has an army of analysts and lawyers who can cite the IART TCA backwards (that's TRAI Act!), who can point out where the government is going wrong and why it is citing the wrong precedent. In the modern economy, there is nowhere to hide. That's why we're seeing even smart officials/politicians constantly being wrong-footed by well-briefed journalists.

Given the government's refusal to smell the coffee, and the fact that the Raja scam investigations have now acquired a momentum of their own with the investigations being supervised by the Supreme Court — next week, the CBI has to tell the court what it has found, who Raja's co-conspirators were in the scam, and more — it's difficult to predict just which way the chips will fall.

What is certain though is that we can safely expect bureaucrats/politicians to be a lot more cautious, a lot less ready to take decisions that can later be questioned. Things will change over a period of time, they always do, but for the moment bureaucratic decisions will be slower in coming. This will necessarily compound the slowdown that has taken place in investments, and not just in foreign direct investments — from 38.1 per cent in 2007-08, investment-to-GDP levels across the country fell to 34.5 per cent in 2008-09 and then rose a bit to 36.5 per cent in 2009-10.

This is a pity, but there's nothing that can't be reversed over the next couple of years. It needs the government to get out of its current state of denial, to stop treating the current crisis as a college debate where, if it is given the time, it can argue its way out of the problem. At the end of the day, no matter how smart Kapil Sibal is, he can't convince anyone that the companies didn't make a killing from the licences and that the government would not have got a large part of this had it auctioned the licences. Beyond this, the rest is irrelevant.

The writer is opinion editor, 'The Financial Express',







Change you can believe in?

The turmoil gripping Arab nations has been the subject of great discussion in the Urdu press. In an editorial on January 31, Rashtriya Sahara writes: "The fact is that whether it is Tunisia or Egypt, Algeria or Jordan or other neighbouring countries, the people want change... The responsibility for the present situation in Egypt lies with President Hosni Mubarak and the US from where he receives guidance... Obama's statement, to the effect that Hosni Mubarak should fulfill the promises made to the people, is now irrelevant. The Saudi ruler has also played with the sentiments of the Egyptian people by expressing sympathy with Hosni Mubarak."

But there is some confusion and deep suspicion in sections of the Urdu world. On January 30, Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj writes: "The fact cannot be denied that there are many forces at the international level who want to destroy the Muslim countries. It is quite possible that there is an international conspiracy here." Jamaat-e-Islami's Daawat is more specific. In a front-page piece on January 25, the paper writes: "The people's consciousness (awami bedari) is not behind the noise of the slogan of democracy and free elections. It is the conspiratorial mindset of the West that is at work, to create a situation of political turmoil and civil war in almost all Muslim countries and using democracy, and its wherewithal, to keep them trapped in domestic problems. The people of those countries are being very easily misled." The paper says that "if one looks at the demonstrations for six months after the presidential election in Iran, and how America and Britain controlled the opposition's agitation from behind, much of the truth of the events in Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan is revealed."

Congress MP Maulana Asrar ul Haque Qasimi writes that with the return of the Islamic leader Rachid Ghanouchi to Tunisia, "the US might have apprehended...that Arab countries might start being dominated by Islamists... it is quite possible that the US itself might have prompted the agitation in a big Arab African country like Egypt". He points out that the "US's blue-eyed boy, Mohammed ElBaradei, has comfortably reached Egypt, and is provoking and leading the protests."

Scooting with the loot

Hyderabad-based daily Siasat writes in an editorial on January 22: "Now that details of Swiss bank accounts have been given to WikiLeaks, the possibility of exposing the Indians who have deposited illegally collected wealth in foreign banks cannot be ruled out. It is the government's responsibility to take all possible steps to bring this money back." Lucknow-based daily Qaumi Khabrein writes in its editorial on January 17: "No one is clean, and this is the reason that... various political parties have been fighting fixed bouts (noora kushti). But no one wants a cure for this ailment, because it is the flowing Ganga, and it is hard to tell who, at what time, has got a chance to wash his hands with its waters." Bangalore-based daily Saalar in its editorial on January 20 targets the BJP, asking "why no effort was made to expose the lakhs of crores of rupees

deposited in foreign banks during NDA rule."

Flagging convictions

Describing the BJP's policy on Kashmir as "separatist," Hyderabad's Etemaad Daily (the mouthpiece of Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslemeen) writes in its January 25 editorial: "What message does the BJP want to give to the people of Kashmir by unfurling the Tricolour at Lal Chowk on January 26 when the Tricolour is unfurled by the state's governor on that day? It means that Kashmir is a part of India. But the BJP repeats the same act. This will be taken to mean that the party has the same kinds of doubt about Kashmir being part of India that the Kashmiri separatists have."

The paper adds: "After the confessions of former RSS pracharak Swami Aseemanand, the Sangh Parivar thinks that its nationalism and patriotism have become dubious. Making use of the peaceful atmosphere of the valley, the Sangh Parivar wants to unfurl the Tricolour at Lal Chowk so that, in its view, the blot put on its nationalism and patriotism by Swami Aseemanand might be removed. But the history of the Sangh Parivar's terrorism is full of such crimes. How many such blots can it remove?"

Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar, in its editorial on January 26, describes the campaign to unfurl the Tricolour at Lal Chowk as a part of the attempt to worsen the sensitive situation in Jammu and Kashmir. The "disturbance created by BJP workers at Jammu following the arrest of the party's leaders was tragic and painful. Tricolours were scattered all over on the road, and it was difficult to imagine a greater insult to the national flag than this," the paper says.

Compiled by Seema Chishti






The future of the Arab world, perched between revolt and the contempt of a crumbling order, was fought for in the streets of downtown Cairo on Wednesday. Tens of thousands of protesters who have reimagined the very notion of citizenship in a tumultuous week of defiance proclaimed with sticks, home-made bombs and a shower of rocks that they would not surrender their revolution to the full brunt of an authoritarian government that answered their calls for change with violence.

The Arab world watched a moment that suggested it would never be the same again — and waited to see whether protest or crackdown would win the day. Words like "uprising" and "revolution" only hint at the scale of events in Egypt, which have already reverberated across Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia, offering a new template for change in a region that long reeled from its own sense of stagnation. "Every Egyptian understands now," said Magdi al-Sayyid, one of the protesters.

The protesters have spoken for themselves to a government that, like many across the Middle East, treated them as a nuisance. For years, pundits have predicted that Islamists would be the force that toppled governments across the Arab world. But so far, they have been submerged in an outpouring of popular dissent that speaks to a unity of message, however fleeting — itself a sea change in the region's political landscape. In the vast panorama of Tahrir Square on Wednesday, Egyptians were stationed at makeshift barricades, belying pat dismissals of the power of the Arab street. "The street is not afraid of governments anymore," said Shawki al-Qadi, an opposition lawmaker in Yemen, itself roiled by change. "It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. The new generation, the generation of the Internet, is fearless. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life."

The power of Wednesday's stand was that it turned those abstractions into reality.

The battle was waged by Mohammed Gamil, a dentist in a blue tie who ran toward the barricades of Tahrir Square. It was joined by Fayeqa Hussein, a veiled mother of seven who filled a Styrofoam container with rocks. Magdi Abdel-Rahman, a 60-year-old grandfather, kissed the ground before throwing himself against crowds mobilised by a state bent on driving them from the square. And the charge was led by Yasser Hamdi, who said his two-year-old daughter would live a life better than the one he endured. "Aren't you men?" he shouted. "Let's go!"

As the crowd pushed back the government's men, down a street of airline offices, banks and a bookstore called L'Orientaliste, Abdel-Rahman made the stakes clear. "They want to take our revolution from us," he declared.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition force, has entered the fray. In a poignant moment, its followers knelt in prayer at dusk, their faces lighted by the soft glow of burning fires a stone's throw away. But Abdel-Rahman's description of the uprising as a revolution suggested that the events of the past week had overwhelmed even the Brotherhood, long considered the sole agent of change here.

"Dignity" was a word often used Wednesday, and its emphasis underlined the breadth of a movement that is, so far, leaderless. Neither the Brotherhood nor a handful of opposition leader — men like Mohammed ElBaradei or Ayman Nour — have managed to articulate hopelessness, the humiliations at the hands of the police and the outrage at having too little money to marry, echoed in the streets of Palestinian camps in Jordan and in the urban misery of Baghdad's Sadr City. For many, the Brotherhood itself is a vestige of an older order that has failed to deliver.

"The problem is that for 30 years, Mubarak didn't let us build an alternative," said Adel Wehba, as he watched the tumult in the square. "No alternative for anything."

The lack of an alternative may have led to the uprising, making the street the last option for not only the young and dispossessed but also virtually every element of Egypt's population — turbanned clerics, businessmen, film directors and well-to-do engineers. Months ago, despair at the prospect of change in the Arab world was commonplace. Protesters on Wednesday acted as though they were making a last stand at what they had won, in an uprising that is distinctly nationalist. "He won't go," President Hosni Mubarak's supporters chanted on the other side. "He will go," went the reply. "We're not going to go."

The word "traitor" rang out Wednesday. The insult was directed at Mubarak, and it echoed the sentiment heard in so many parts of the Arab world these days — governments of an American-backed order in most of the region have lost their legitimacy, built on the idea that people would surrender their rights for the prospect of security and stability. In the square on Wednesday, protesters offered an alternative, their empowerment standing as possibly the most remarkable legacy of a people who often lamented their apathy.

Everyone seemed joined in the moment, fists, batons and rocks banging any piece of metal to rally themselves. A man stood on a tank turret, urging protesters forward. Another shouted at Mubarak's men. "Come here!" he said. "Here is where's right." Men and women ferried rocks in bags and boxes to the barricades. "We're not going to destroy our country," said Mohammed Kamil, a 48-year-old, surging with the crowd. "We're not going to let this dog make us do that."

From minute-by-minute coverage on Arabic channels to conversations from Iraq to Morocco, the Middle East watched breathlessly at a moment as compelling as any in the Arab world in a lifetime. For the first time in a generation, Arabs seem to be looking again to Egypt for leadership, and that sense of destiny was voiced throughout the day.

"I tell the Arab world to stand with us until we win our freedom," said Khaled Yusuf, a cleric from Al Azhar, a once esteemed institution of religious scholarship now beholden to the government. "Once we do, we're going to free the Arab world."

For decades, the Arab world has waited for a saviour — be it Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian president, or even, for a time, Saddam Hussein. No one was waiting for a saviour on Wednesday. Before nearly three decades of accumulated authority — the power of a state that can mobilise thousands to heed its whims — people had themselves.

"I'm fighting for my freedom," Noha al-Ustaz said as she broke bricks on the curb. "For my right to express myself. For an end to oppression. For an end to injustice."

"Go forward," the cries rang

out, and she did, disappearing into a sea of men.ANTHONY SHADID







Blood streams from a man's face as he is carried from Tahrir Square. Stones are hurled between anti-government protesters and President Hosni Mubarak's big-bellied provocateurs. As night falls, Molotov cocktails are hurled; gunshots pierce the darkness. Stones clatter against improvised shields, the toll of dead and injured mounts. "Cairo finito" is the verdict of one Mubarak supporter as I head away through murky streets down the Corniche beside the Nile, all-seeing river.

This great city's not finished, by no means, but the peaceful phase of Egypt's pro-democracy uprising is. The orchestrated Mubarak riposte has begun, couched in father-of-the-nation concern, invoking the spectre of "chaos," deploying busloads of thugs, promising change from the very fountainhead of immobility — himself, no less, an unyielding generalissimo of 30 years.

Nice try, Hosni. Egyptians, in large numbers, don't believe it. They don't buy this offer in extremis of constitutional reform and a free September election in which Mubarak won't run. Look at the language in which his promised exit was couched: "I say in all honesty, and regardless of the current situation, that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term."

So, this stubborn man — who has ruled with the sweeping powers of an emergency law since Anwar el-Sadat's 1981 assassination; who has broken countless promises to revoke that law; who has just overseen a farce of a parliamentary election that stuffed the legislature with his National Democratic Party; who has denied the political system oxygen; who has refused to offer any succession plan; who has allowed a coterie around his son Gamal to amass Farouk-like wealth through sweetheart deals — this ruler of yet another oxymoronic Arab republic had planned to step down anyway, before his people rose up! Of course, had Mubarak made the offer 10 days ago, things might have been different. But it is not the way of 82-year-old despots to see beyond the web they have spun. And so they reap the whirlwind.

A "new beginning" is what Obama said he sought when he came to Cairo in June 2009. That is impossible with the old extremist-breeding, modernity-denying Arab order. You cannot carve in rotten wood.

When Obama spoke in Cairo, the audience offered polite applause until he said this: "You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion." And continued: "You must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy." Whereupon somebody shouted: "Barack Obama, we love you!"

Remember that cry, Mr. President. This is the first major foreign policy crisis of the Obama presidency in which he has real leverage (not the case in Iran). If Egypt, the Arab hub, manages a transition to some more representative order, that victory will resonate in 2012. If the Egyptian mockery of democracy persists, Obama's failure will be stark.

Already we hear the predictable warnings from Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: This could be Iran 1979, a revolution for freedom that installs the Islamists. But this is not 1979; and Egypt's youth are not lining up behind the Muslim Brotherhood, itself scarcely a band of fanatics.

There is more hope for the Middle East — and ultimately Israel — in Egyptian reform that would establish the first peace between a Jewish and an Arab democracy. The US can no longer advance its interests through double standards long apparent to every thinking Arab. It's time to be very clear that Mubarak's time is up.

I spoke to two Egyptian lawyers from the northern town of Tanta. Ahmed el-Biery and Ahmed Romeh had travelled to Cairo, to protest, to end "the only regime we have known." Why their anger? "First, corruption. Second, no laws. There are thousands imprisoned without trial."

Mubarak has been a firm ally, kept a cold peace with Israel and Egypt at peace for three decades. I don't want to see him humiliated. But Obama must stand now with el-Biery against a corrupted order.

The Egyptian army has shown superb professionalism. It can guarantee an orderly transition. But a Mubarak-orchestrated free election in September is unimaginable; his departure is a condition for it. The vote must be organised by a transitional civilian authority — and Mubarak can retire to Sharm-el-Sheikh. I'd say he's earned the right, just, to die on Egyptian soil. Roger Cohen






If the third quarter earnings of mobile operators are anything to go by, normalcy is returning to the industry. There have been no disruptive tariffs in the last three quarters, and while the average revenue per user (ARPU) is slowly recovering, the minutes of usage (MoU) are recovering faster—cancellation of licences that are on the cards are sure to hasten the trend, though number portability and 3G introduction will work in the other direction to keep margins down. While Bharti saw Ebitda fall 3% on a sequential basis and revenues rising 3.5%, Idea's Ebitda rose 20% and revenues 8%—given the third quarter is traditionally seen as a good one, a better performance was expected. Bharti has explained the fall in profits by citing forex losses, one-time rebranding costs and pre-payment of debt. Whether this is enough to justify the performance is an open question; certainly forex losses and profits have to be considered part of doing business for a company that has a substantial foreign presence and has to deal with movements in a large number of currencies.

Bharti reported a sequential decline of 2% in terms of ARPU and of around 1% in its MoU—Idea's ARPU rose 0.6% and MoU rose 1.8%. Given its revenues are roughly a third Bharti's makes growth easier. But given that Bharti has much higher valuations than several emerging market telcos, it will have to deliver much better performance to retain its attractive valuations—Kotak Institutional Equities estimates the company needs to deliver 50%-plus EPS growth to meet its FY12 forecast after taking into account the expensing it will have repaying 3G debt (some part will come from the non-recurrence of the one-time expenses Bharti talked of, but a high growth is required all around). Zain's performance will be critical and it has reported a higher customer base—the real meat, however, depends on how quickly Bharti is able to lower costs for Zain.

If the company's own performance isn't enough, Bharti faces the uncertainty over what it needs to pay for the 'extra' spectrum it has—a new Trai recommendation on this is awaited. While Kapil Sibal has indicated this will be accompanied by a reduction in spectrum charges—in which case, the one-time payment may not be a big issue—Trai has yet to make a recommendation on this. Given the policy confusion, it's unlikely that there will be any great clarity for some months to come, including on the cancellation of licences. Reliance Communication's numbers are yet to come out, and once they are out, there will be some more clarity on the way industry is shaping up.






The recent spat between the Kolkata Port Trust and Orissa government over the former's plan to develop a deep water berthing facility to attract ships with larger tonnage is a sign that Indian ports will see slow growth, despite the optimistic projections by the shipping ministry. Growth in the Indian ports sector—one of the first to hit the reforms road—has lagged massively, with even the largest among those, the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), yet to be corporatised despite several deadlines (the latest is 2011). In spite of the huge opportunity created in the last decade to overtake the Colombo port—when Sri Lanka was in the middle of a civil war—Indian ports have travelled very little. In December 2010, when Colombo announced it had handled 4 million containers or TEUs (twenty foot equivalent units) in a calendar year, JNPT handled a million less in the same period. On the east coast, where the current dispute has flared, Kolkata, Paradip, Vizag, Ennore and Chennai have handled only 1.6 million TEUs. These are pretty dismal numbers.

Symptomatic of this lackadaisical approach is the way the peculiar problem of the Kolkata port system, including Haldia, has been tackled—the problem of shallow drift at the harbour due to the heavy silt carried by the Ganges. The plan, approved by the shipping ministry, is to create another major berth farther away from the mouths of the delta. The positioning of this facility has raised hackles in Orissa, which has approved seven ports along its coastline to take advantage of Kolkata's problems. The developers and, therefore the state government, feel the plan is akin to shifting of the goal post. Instead, they should take comfort from the fact that the plan is highly impractical, as it would mean unloading at a berth a few hundred kilometers from the old site and then again ferrying them to either Haldia or Kolkata. As it would make a huge demand from the West Bengal government to create a new port town, the plan would seem unrealistic from the start. Also, ports such as Dhamra, being developed by the Tata group and L&T, should take cognisance of the fast-expanding hinterland that eastern states like Bihar and Orissa are throwing up, which will push the capacity of even the new ports to their limit. Instead, one suspects the financial closure of the new ports has been heavily built on projecting them as alternative to the Kolkata port system. Little else can explain the consternation in the Orissa government. The larger worry is that the malaise, which blocks the development of major Indian ports, has also invaded the investors into the sector.







Of the top ten companies in the world by market capitalisation, four are from the BRIC countries. And of the four, three are from China and one is from Brazil. These are: Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, PetroChina, China Construction Bank and Petrobras. Such a representation from the BRIC gang shows how different the world economic order has become after the global meltdown. Equally surprising is the absence of any Indian company from this list, by a long shot.

Market capitalisation is a very fickle method of making up a pecking order but if one makes allowance for relative sizes then the numbers are a fairly cool way to arrive at conclusions.

The market cap numbers show that these companies could soon converge around the $400-billion mark, a sort of global scale of heights (quite similar to the way mountain peaks higher than 8,000 metres are considered part of an exclusive club). Judging by that scale, Indian companies, both in the public and the private sector, are dwarfs. RIL barely touched $68 billion and the biggest in the public sector, ONGC, is at $57 billion.

One interesting facet of the BRIC global gang is that a majority of the companies are from the financial, mineral and energy sectors. This does not apply to the companies from the developed world. GE, for instance, has been the world leader for a long time and so have been Apple and Microsoft. In India, like its BRIC peers, the biggest companies are from the financial, mineral and energy sectors. The other aspect of the BRIC list, even if we go by the global top 20 companies, is that most of the companies are state-controlled.

This is not surprising. As successive UNCTAD reports have pointed out, transnational companies from the new areas of the globe depend on state support to expand beyond borders. In any case, the financial sector in all these countries is dominated by the state. The same holds true for the extractive sectors.

Yet, at the same time, when China, and to a lesser extent Brazil, has widened the support to its companies to think big, Russia has lost out in a bruising war with its oligarchs. And India has just buried itself in building up rules that cripple all the leaders.

Each government has decided to interfere in the minute details of the working of the companies but abandoned them to fight an often losing battle in the international arena.

So, ONGC and NTPC have to check back for each investment decision, forget their Navratna status; but when Sudan is carving itself into two nations, OVL will be lucky if it manages to retain its royalty payment from the successor regimes. The pipeline that OVL built in the country runs through southern Sudan, which is waging a bitter war with Khartoum, with whom OVL had signed the deal. Going by the acid write-ups in the blogosphere on the split, the southern nation could take a fresh, hard look at the deal. Until now, the petroleum ministry has made precious little comments on the issue, busy as it is, trying to figure out if ONGC needs to pay royalty post the Cairn-Vedanta deal.

Managements of all major public sector enterprises are unanimous that it is impossible to push big deals abroad, unless the government, as the actual owner, comes with big time support through additional sweeteners. We have the money to offer these packages but that requires an approach that goes way beyond the turf of any single minister. The government has to ride behind the deals and cannot leave it to the diplomatic skills of individual ministers and bureaucrats from New Delhi. There is no evidence that either this government or its predecessors even thought through these possibilities.

Instead, the government has relied on a safety-first approach where more than one public sector company is roped in to share blame for a deal gone sour, rather than reap the benefits. This was most evident in the way a five-company child, ICVL, handled the Riversdale bid. It was evident that to clinch the deal someone had to take quick decisions. But there was no reason why any of the promoter company chairmen will put their heads in the noose at the fag end of a successful career to push Indian energy needs first, by taking quick decisions.

There can't be a stronger contrast with the relentless march of PetroChina to satisfy China's energy needs or of Brazil's Petrobras, each of which are massively underwritten by their respective governments.

It is this crippling attitude that has stretched beyond the public sector to visit the promising private sector entities by now. For instance, the RIL-ADAG spat has obviously done the former little good, with the government meddling up the rules of the game in the sector thoroughly.

Of course, there could be an argument whether it is necessary for an economy to throw up such massive heavyweights and whether there is any need to set a time frame for it. But, when an economy graduates into the world leader club, it is certain that some companies from the heap will make their presence felt. So far, no names from India have shown such promise. In the same time period, others have reached a far higher scale of operations, which, in turn, has created a very positive spin off for their economy. If it does not happen for the Indian economy, one would think the conditions available within India are not promising enough for such a scale of growth. Some years ago, finance minister P Chidambaram had wondered why no Indian bank had managed to make it to the top 50 league, which raises the question—are we reading the growth story wrong?







Given the increasing importance of markets (and hence information) in India's economy, the need for an accurate reflection of economic reality, in order to calibrate policy and commercial decision making, is becoming acute. Capex plans of corporates are increasingly data driven. Data integrity is particularly important for financial markets, which intermediate funds for investment, having to position their high frequency data-driven decisions within a stable framework of macro-economic data.

Unfortunately, there is an increasing apprehension about the quality of national accounts and industrial output data, given the magnitude of revisions that we have been witnessing. Specifically, for the GDP data, the proximate cause of these revisions is stated to have been the recent re-weighting of delineated baskets of commodities in the WPI, but there seems to be much more to the story than this.

Earlier this week, for instance, India's 2009-10 GDP estimates have been significantly revised upwards, with growth up from earlier estimates of 7.4% to 8%. This is significantly higher than the extent of revisions in FY09 and FY08, where the revisions were about 0.1-0.2 percentage points.

A portion of these revisions in real GDP is due to the change in the GDP deflators, due to the recent change in the composition of the WPI. However, there is significant ambiguity in interpreting the revisions, given the large gaps in the data. While the revision from the production side (all in constant 2004-05 prices) is Rs 29,662 crore, that from the expenditure side is Rs 62,095 crore. This is the gap in just the revisions, mind you, not the actual GDP figures. The difference, conceptually, between the production and expenditure sides is "net indirect taxes", since the production side is measured at Factor Cost and the expenditure side at Market Prices. It is difficult to validate the gap in revisions, particularly the composition of the subsidies.

What is peculiar however, is the composition of the revision of the expenditure side of GDP. While the overall revision is Rs 62,095 crore, as noted earlier, that of the consumption and investment components are Rs 86,300 crore and Rs 1,20,600 crore, respectively, implying a negative revision of Rs 1,44,700 crore in the two other components that make up the expenditure side of the GDP. This residual, whose breakups are not given in the GDP data, comprises net exports (i.e., exports minus imports) and "discrepancies". The total net trade (goods and services) deficit in 2009-10, to put the residual revision in perspective, was Rs 1,80,700 crore. If you consider a revision of even as large a proportion of 20% in this number, that's Rs 37,000 crore, leaving Rs 1,08,000 crore allocated to the "discrepancies" line item. If you were to hypothetically allocate this gap to either consumption or investment (or to manufacturing or services growth on the production side), this would introduce significant uncertainty about the revised growth numbers.

From a sector perspective, the revision in FY10 GDP estimates is due to higher agriculture and services on the production side and rising inventory accumulation ("changes in stocks" in GDP parlance) on the expenditure side. Increase in investment growth has been mostly due to rising inventories and holdings of valuables, even after a downward revision in fixed capital formation (about 90% of total capital formation) both in FY09 and FY10.

That was the inflation adjusted side. To understand the impact of the GDP deflators, the ratio of the old 2009-10 GDP at current and constant prices was 1.31 but 1.35 for the revised estimates. That's a huge revision, given the magnitude of nominal GDP (Rs 66 lakh crore). This magnitude of revision, however, is not seen for the GDP deflators of the two previous years, which remain virtually unchanged at 1.18 and 1.27, respectively. This was the result of the revisions of the basket of weights in the WPI, which was revised in September 2010 (which will be a separate story altogether).

It is certain that the current magnitude of revisions is transient and the changes in data capture processes and the design of the new indices are making the data apparatus of the government more robust. The endeavours of the former and current heads of the statistical machinery in modernising India's data processing and dissemination give some cause for reassurance. Unfortunately, however, there is a thick pipeline of impending changes in various measures of prices and output, with a series of revisions in the Wholesale Price Index and the Consumer Price Index, which will keep various deflators in a state of flux, although the end result of the exercise is likely to be a more representative and robust set of numbers. During the transition, it would be helpful to users of the data if a mapping was provided of the changes in the prices indexes (which are well documented) to the construction of the GDP price deflators, to reduce the ambiguity of the effects on the changing deflators and to enable analysts to distinguish these effects from other structural changes.

The author is senior vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views






A second day of deadly clashes in Cairo's Tahrir Square has been more than enough to show President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old regime in its true colours. Refusing to step down until the next election in September 2011 and keeping silent on the demand that he rule his son Gamal out as a candidate for the succession, Mr. Mubarak has presided over fighting in which thousands of unarmed and peaceful protesters have had to defend themselves against brutal attacks by his purported supporters. Eyewitnesses identified among the attackers members of the government's semi-official thug militias and the notoriously vicious police, now in plain clothes. The role of the army, which was initially praised on all sides for its statement that it would not fire on protesters, is suspect after it let the hoodlums through the lines formed by soldiers around the edges of Tahrir Square. The violent turn has caused at least five deaths in addition to the 300 that the United Nations estimates have already occurred across the country; and more than 1,500 people are believed to have been injured since the mass protests started nine days ago.

It is clear that Mr. Mubarak will not change the way his government has always responded to dissent, namely, by unleashing repression. His earlier vague talk of political and economic reform, and his more specific moves — such as the hastily appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman's promise to implement appeal-court decisions on contested election results, and the replacement of the notorious Interior Minister by a retired general — were no more than a smokescreen. The regime's initial moves served to buy time from its strongest backers, the United States and other western countries, and to delay their recognition that the Egyptian state has lost all legitimacy. Unsurprisingly, Washington's first reaction was to support its longstanding ally in the region by stressing order and stability. But a new situation has arisen, with the Obama administration changing tack to condemn the violence against the protesters by Mr. Mubarak's henchmen and to demand that he speed up his exit — and the dictatorial regime hitting out at what it has characterised as foreign interference aimed at "inciting the internal situation in Egypt." Reports that the U.S. is now trying to establish links with the Muslim Brotherhood suggest that successive administrations have given little thought to what a post-Mubarak Egypt would look like. Now that the street has risen in do-or-die revolt against a hated regime that has unashamedly served the U.S. and Israeli interests in the region for three decades, Washington finds itself facing great uncertainty and forebodings of what might happen in the wider region beyond Egypt.





It was only to be expected that the long-awaited report of the Federal Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) on the financial crisis of 2008 from an American perspective would apportion blame among virtually all the participants in the financial markets. Captains of finance as well as the several regulators failed abysmally to identify the build-up of risk, leave alone taking corrective action. The Federal Reserve "neglected its mission" by not piercing the housing bubble. Goldman Sachs has been faulted for understating the benefits that it derived from the government bail-out of the giant insurer, AIG. Among individuals, the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan received the largest share of criticism for having presided over a culture of deregulation that implicitly believed the markets would correct themselves. The FCIC identified "widespread failures in financial regulation, a "dramatic failure of corporate governance and risk management", and "excessive borrowing" as some of the principal causes. Also, the government was ill-prepared "and inconsistent in letting Lehman Brothers fall, while orchestrating the rescue of Bear Sterns earlier and bailing out AIG later. None of these need surprise anyone even remotely familiar with the sensational developments in the U.S. financial system in 2008.

Being the first official report on the subject, it serves as a useful and authentic narration of developments during a truly extraordinary period in recent economic history. However, its value to policymakers stands diminished on account of a few factors. One of its main findings, that the market turmoil of 2008 was "avoidable", appears simplistic and inconsistent with its apportionment of blame across a number of agencies and financial products such as the complex over-the-counter derivatives. It would have also helped had the report taken a global view of the crisis. After all, the contagion spread quickly to many other advanced countries, some of which had tighter regulations than the U.S. Perhaps an even bigger failing of the FCIC report is its inability to evolve a consensus. That in itself is not surprising, given that the views on the key economic and social programmes of the U.S. administration aimed at tackling the crisis are split on political lines. Some Republicans on the Commission have blamed global imbalance as one of the factors responsible for the crisis. Yet another view is that the government's efforts at broadening home ownership led to a proliferation of sub-prime loans in the housing sector, triggering the crisis.








The year 2010 saw journalists, their associations and unions hold more conferences and seminars on one professional issue than any other. And it wasn't on the Wage Board or the Radia tapes. Hundreds of journalists across the country attended these meetings. Dozens stood up and spoke of their own experiences of the subject. Of how it demoralised them and ruined their profession.

Yet, the main topic of their discussion found no mention in the very newspapers, magazines or television channels they work for. Sometimes, the fact of the meeting being held, perhaps as an event attended by a High Court judge, was reported. But the subject discussed was not. In newspapers and TV channels, choking with stories on corruption, this is the one story you are the least likely to see. The media are their own worst censors when it comes to reporting on 'Paid News.'

Just before the 2009 Assembly elections in Maharashtra, a large newspaper group in the State brought its editors together for a meeting in Pune. A lively discussion ensued on who would win the elections and the extent to which money power would play a role. Generally, it was agreed, winning a seat in the State legislature would cost Rs. 3 crore to Rs. 5 crore. (That was a huge underestimate, given the expenditures that actually followed.) With 288 seats in the Maharashtra legislature, a party had to win at least 145 in order to rule. This meant an expenditure of between Rs. 435 crore and Rs. 725 crore by the party or front that triumphed. On just the winning candidates.

The editors discussed a few known names of those who had that kind of money power. At this point, the daily's financial managers spoke up. If there's that kind of money being spent, said the cash-box boys, we should get a decent share of it. What, after all, is election expenditure but campaign and propaganda expenses? Detailed plans for 'pay-to-print' were soon under way in one of the biggest media groups in the State.

Other groups were already ahead of them. A couple of them had already gained on this front during the parliamentary polls. The taste of success in that round had whetted their appetites.

Maharashtra, after all, sees more money than any other State being spent on worse things. Some media groups set themselves targets of 20 to 30 per cent of what they perceived would be the money splurged by the major candidates. Some even assigned cash targets to their different branches. This did not mean forgoing money from the defeated contestants or even the 'other side' or front. It simply meant that you targeted a lower level of recovery from them. Losing candidates, alas, don't pay up.

Paid news comes in many packages: pre-paid, post-paid and yet-to-be-paid, for instance. There are also deluxe tariffs and aam aadmi tariffs, the former in crores, the latter in lakhs. Sadly, these media groups met, even exceeded, their targets.

But it's not just during elections that paid news or its Euclidian variants occur. The crazy saturation coverage of Davos in some channels was not caused by breathless public interest or media curiosity. It had a lot to do with 'partnerships' and corporate subsidies the public can't see, and won't be allowed to see. Some channels sent out 'rules' to their journalists of things that just had to be done. Rules with no particular journalistic rationale at all.

Now we have yet another Group of Ministers, yes, one more, to deal with Paid News. Has the Prime Minister reviewed its composition? It could end up hugely embarrassing to have a member of the GoM whose family owns a major newspaper that could be affected by any inquiry. Or another who, it might turn out, has represented corporate media groups in the past as a lawyer.

"Any news or writing appearing in a media (print or electronic) for a price in cash or kind in consideration" — that is how the Press Council of India (PCI) defined 'paid news' last year. A lot of this, of course, boils down to advertising disguised as news coverage. In the 2009 elections, powerful media groups connived at the violation of spending limits in the polls by rich candidates and parties. Paid news did more damage to the media's coverage of those polls than any other factor. (Meanwhile, the odium the media earned themselves in the 2009 polls and after, saw this year's Padma awards giving journalism a wide berth. Less Padma, More Lakshmi?)

It is a scam worth more millions than anyone can accurately estimate. Most other institutions of Indian democracy and regulatory structures have tried doing something about it. But in the free media, there was a costly silence. Consider this: the Election Commission of India (ECI) has tried hard to curb the menace with a strong crackdown that actually saw candidates in the recent Bihar elections pulled up in over 87 instances of 'paid news.' The ECI has also drawn up new guidelines and rules to help its officers spot and stamp out what is essentially a media management-driven racket. It now has a special division dealing with money power and paid news. And it has taken up a major case: of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan's huge media blitz during the 2009 election campaign.

Almost nothing of this has been reported in the media, barring The Hindu and a couple of other publications. The hearings in the Chavan case have been fascinating too — with near-zero coverage. The ECI, normally treated with great respect by the media, has seen many of its initiatives on the 'paid news' front simply being blanked out. So the public gets to know very little about how alive the 'paid news' issue is. Will the case get bogged down in challenges of jurisdiction and in the courts, or will we see a decisive result, given the firmness of this ECI? As news, or as an issue, it ought to fascinate the media. But there is silence because, while Mr. Chavan stands accused, it is the media who are on trial.

Or take Parliament. It saw an astonishing consensus on this subject. The issue came up through a vital calling attention motion moved by Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M), a clinical dissection of the problem by Arun Jaitley of the BJP, and with members from all parties in total agreement that 'paid news' was disastrous for democracy. Across the spectrum, MPs demanded an end to the practice. Not a word on this Parliament debate appeared in most of the media. Much earlier, the country's Vice-President had detailed the 'double jeopardy' that paid news placed Indian democracy in. One, it wrecked the concept of a fair and free press. Two, it undermined the democratic electoral process of the nation. Later, President Pratibha Patil voiced her concern over the damage this was doing to free media.

Or look at the Securities and Exchange Board of India. SEBI was disturbed by what 'private treaties' between the media and private corporations were doing to news. (These 'treaties' opened the floodgates for paid news.) It felt that such backdoor deals where corporates pay media companies in shares for advertising, plus other favourable coverage, could mislead investors. They "may give rise to conflicts of interest and may, therefore, result in dilution of the independence of the press vis-à-vis the nature and content of the news/editorials in the media ..." SEBI, therefore, got the PCI to make mandatory the disclosure of any such links. It sought to ensure that such disclosure would have to be made in any "news report/article/editorial in newspapers/television relating to the company in which the media group holds such stake." Following this, one of our largest dailies carried a tiny line below a piece linked to the Lavasa private city project in which it admitted to having a minor stake. In the kind of font size that had Sherlock Holmes reading newspapers with a magnifying glass.

The PCI set up a two-member sub-committee, which produced a devastating 71-page report on Paid News (see The Hindu, April 22 and August 5, 2010). Buckling under pressure from powerful media owners, the PCI then betrayed its own ideals and the public by suppressing its report. However, that report is freely available online, even if banished from the PCI's website.

So the ECI, Parliament, SEBI and top political leaders have all contributed to the fight against the slaughter of honest journalism. Even the spineless PCI did so, before deserting ship. But in the media there is near-total silence. True, there are the exceptions. And the fact that all those journalists went public at those meetings shows how deep their resentment runs. But institutionally, the media's failure is huge and, if not reversed, will extract a terrible price. The corporate media have censored the Paid News story, browbeaten their own journalists and cheated the public of information it has every right and need to know.








Throughout the night they fought pitched battles. As darkness fell on Wednesday and the orange-hued streetlights came alive, the final showdown for Tahrir (liberation) Square had started. It was a face-off between thousands of angry supporters of Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt for 30 years, and hundreds of pro-democracy activists.

The President's men — of which many, the opposition said, citing seized identification cards, were undercover policemen — began hurling Molotov cocktails. Those firebombs in bottles fell in a flaming arc into the midst of the anti-Mubarak camp, lighting small fires. But the opponents of the government responded bottle-for-bottle, and the battle for Tahrir Square wore on through the night. There was no decisive outcome, however.

With their backs to the wall, the activists for democracy fought the pro-government assault with grit and tenacity. They included some of Egypt's finest minds — filmmakers, intellectuals, young tech-savvy diehards… They had to fight, as Mr. Mubarak's armed gangs had cordoned them off by blocking key lanes that led into the square.

From an overhead bridge overlooking the square, which Mr. Mubarak's men had occupied, the activists faced a steady barrage of rocks. These were being pulled out from the pavements that had been earlier torn apart. The tit-for-tat battles with flying rocks continued through the night.

Digging themselves in, those still at the square raised makeshift barricades of what appeared to be metal sheets. This was their outer line of defence, on the periphery of the square. Deeper inside, a mosque had been turned into a virtual field hospital. There, doctor-volunteers attended to the injured who had begun arriving in a regular stream as the battle wore on.

A "citizen's police" had emerged, and its members detained some in the pro-Mubarak camp who tried to enter the square. Eyewitnesses said that the response to the detainees from people in the square was usually mixed. Some of them heatedly called for heavy and summary punishment, while others advocated a non-violent handover to the passive army that stood nearby. The latter argument usually prevailed.

By daybreak on Thursday, steady bursts of firing could be heard over the square, and details of casualties began to flood in. It was established by the Egyptian Health Ministry, perhaps conservatively, that five people were killed and nearly 900 injured in the clashes. But despite the heavy toll, the protesters at Tahrir Square were steadfast. As the sun rose in a haze over the Egyptian capital, they had defied a brutal assault by their foes for nearly 24 hours.

The battle for Tahrir Square has been much more than an exercise for the control of prized territory. It is a reflection of an existential tussle between an old authoritarian order of stability — essentially underwritten since the time of modern Egypt's founding father Gamal Abdel Nasser and represented by a paternalistic military — and a people's pro-democracy movement that now wants to occupy political centre stage.

It was therefore not surprising that the military, which is likely to face incremental marginalisation if the pro-democracy movement triumphs, went into a shell once the street battles on Wednesday started, despite having facilitated peaceful pro-democracy protests the previous day. The arrival of what eventually could turn out to be state-sponsored pro-Mubarak mobs — armed with sticks, rods and knives — to be let loose on peaceful protesters, has tested the limits to which the military would go to facilitate the birth of a genuine democracy led by Egypt's youth. By doing nothing to prevent the bloodletting since Wednesday afternoon, the military had spoken: it was part of the old order, led by Mr. Mubarak, a former air force commander, and one of its own.

The fighting has, however, exposed a salient weakness in the pro-democracy movement as well. A steely shadow political leadership capable of delivering modern democracy to Egypt has still not emerged. Only such a leadership can reflect the aspirations of a courageous youthful movement that is being hounded by a tyrannical and bloody minded regime that is fast nearing its eclipse.







Each year 127 lakh people discover that they have cancer and of them, 76 lakh die. Two-thirds of these distressing deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

The World Health Organization projects that unless immediate action is taken, deaths from cancer will increase by nearly 80 per cent by 2030; most of them occurring in low and middle income countries. That translates to nearly 260 lakh newly diagnosed cases and about 170 lakh deaths every year! In fact, cancer kills more people than do AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Research suggests that "one-third of cancer deaths can be avoided through prevention" and "one-third through early detection and treatment". The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) states that the world's cancer burden is rising and, without action, the poorest countries — those currently least equipped to cope — will witness the largest increases in mortality by 2015. As per the UICC, whose headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland, the number of deaths due to cancer every year is more than the population of the whole of Switzerland.

There are so many known causes acting directly or indirectly on the systems to produce cancer. Many of them are related to "lifestyle" and avoiding these can prevent or protect against cancer.

Measures to prevent cancer include eschewing tobacco, having good dietary habits, physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, environmental health, prevention of cancer causing infections and limiting alcohol intake.


Many people relate tobacco to cardiac and respiratory diseases. But beyond that, smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world. It is responsible for more than 25 per cent of all cancer deaths; it kills one person every six seconds.

It also accounts for one in 10 adult deaths and kills more than 50 lakh people every year.

Smoking not only affects the person who smokes but also people around him through second-hand smoke. Children born to mothers who smoke are also affected.

The risk of oral cancer increases 27 fold in men and six fold in women who smoke. Laryngeal cancer is 10 times more common in men and eight times more common in women. There is an eight to 10 fold increase in oesophageal cancer and 50 per cent increase in gastric cancer in tobacco users compared to non-smokers.

It has been noticed that there is a two-fold increase in pancreatic cancer among smokers. If they smoke more than 40 cigarettes a day, there is a five-fold increase.

The risk increases significantly if the individual has the habit of drinking also.

In many situations we find that many cancer patients have been smoking and drinking for years.


This is a factor that concerns everyone. Diet plays a significant role in the prevention of certain cancers, not necessarily in the Gastro-Intestinal system.

A "Healthy Diet" can prevent many cancers, more so if it is combined with physical activity. Many medical societies fighting cancer recommend the following:

— Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight

— Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day

— Avoid sugary drinks

— Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses

— Limit consumption of red meat and avoid processed meat

— Limit consumption of alcohol

— Limit salty food

It is also better to avoid reheated oil for cooking.

Cancer-causing infections

An estimated 22 per cent of cancer deaths in the developing world and six per cent of deaths in industrialised countries are related to cancer-causing infections.

Significant among these are Human Papilloma Virus causing cancer of the cervix and Hepatitis B and C causing liver cancer.

Environmental carcinogens

Environmental factors do play a role in certain cancers; poor air quality indoors and chemical pollutants can cause lung cancer. Similarly, food chemicals can be responsible for gastro-intestinal cancers.

Research done by the Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, along with the Department of Clinical Nutrition, Ethiraj College for Women, on gastric cancer produced revealing insights.

Of 100 patients analysed, 98 had the habit of consuming preserved food in the form of leftover rice, dried fish, pickle, or — for a majority — a combination of leftover rice and pickle. Moreover, 97 patients had the habit of reusing oil — 77 people reused oil more than three times; 88 were non-vegetarians; 78 consumed 25-30 grams of salt per day; and 74 consumed about 20 grams of chilli in their meal every day. In addition, 73 were smokers, 37 had the habit of tobacco chewing, 33 consumed alcohol every day, only 21 had the habit of exercising, and only two out of 100 consumed fresh fruits and vegetables regularly.

Indian scenario

As per results published by the Tumour Registry, in men, lung cancer tops the list followed by cancers of the stomach, oral cavity, oesophagus and oro-pharynx.

In women, breast cancer leads, followed by cancer of the cervix, ovary, oral cavity and stomach. Also, if reproductive organs are excluded, stomach cancer is the second most common cancer affecting people living in Tamil Nadu.

Similarly, oesophageal cancer is the fourth most common in men and in women [third if reproductive organs are excluded]. As per a publication by the Registry in 2010, cancers from the oral cavity to the stomach constitute 25.4 per cent of all cancers in men and 14.4 per cent in women.

Of these "Tobacco Related Cancers" — namely cancers of the oral cavity, oro-pharynx, larynx, lung, oesophagus, pancreas and urinary bladder — constitute 44 per cent of all cancers in men and 16 per cent in women.

What is being done ?

The Union for International Cancer Control is aiming for a "World Cancer Declaration". The declaration outlines 11 targets to be achieved by 2020, which include:

— Significant drop in global tobacco consumption, obesity and alcohol intake

— Universal vaccination programmes for Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus to prevent liver and cervical cancer

— Universal availability of effective pain medication and

— Dispelling myths and misconceptions about cancer

Every year February 4 is observed with a focus and for 2011 it is "teach children and teenagers to avoid UV exposure by being "Sun Smart."

What do we have to do?

It is a common observation that many people in our society present cancer at an advanced stage. Various studies done across India shows that 60-70 per cent of the patients present at an advanced stage where cure may be impossible.

The main factors which contribute to this include: Myths and misconception about cancer, lack of awareness, negligence and dietary and lifestyle modifications including tobacco use and regular consumption of preserved foods.

The major task before the health authorities is to create awareness, dispel myths and misconceptions and provide the best advice to people on healthy lifestyle, eating habits and the need for exercise. More importantly, people should not "ignore the symptoms" and must consult a doctor to get the appropriate treatment without delay. All of us can play a role to create a cancer-free world. You need not to be a doctor to spread this message. Let us all join hands to fight against cancer.

(The writer is Head of the Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, Centre of Excellence for Upper GI Surgery, Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital and Madras Medical College, Chennai.)






Egyptian authorities forced Vodafone to broadcast government-scripted text messages during the protests that have rocked the country, the U.K.-based mobile company said on Thursday.


Micro-blogging site Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone's Egyptian customers showing text messages sent over the course of the protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old regime.


A text message received on Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt appealed to the country's "honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honor".


The sender is identified only as "Vodafone."


Vodafone Group PLC said in a statement that the texts had been scripted by Egyptian authorities. The company said authorities had invoked emergency rules to draft the messages, whose content it said it had no ability to change.

— AP





Since the day he bought his first newspaper aged 22, Rupert Murdoch has shaken up the world's press, revolutionised television and transformed the way politics is discussed from Australia and Britain to America. But one area has so far eluded his Midas touch: digital publishing. Until, he hopes, now.

With a huge roll of the dice, Mr. Murdoch yesterday on Wednesday sought to put a seal on his reputation as a visionary media tycoon by launching The Daily, a news operation created from scratch and designed specifically for the iPad. Much is riding on it, not just Mr. Murdoch's personal legacy in the twilight of his career, but, in his own description, the future of how people produce and consume journalism.

Looking rather stiff in the leg, but showing no reduction in the scale of his ambitions, Mr. Murdoch took to the stage of a theatre in New York's Guggenheim museum to unveil the venture, with Apple, the iPad's creator, lending a supporting hand. If he was anxious about raising expectations for the product, he certainly didn't show it.

The Daily, he said, would herald a new journalism for new times. It would combine the "serendipity and surprise" of newspapers with the speed and versatility of new technology; it would make news-gathering "viable again". It was his offering for what he called the digital renaissance. "Simply put, the iPad demands that we completely reimagine our craft." Part of that reimagining, he said, was that with the Daily there would be "no paper, no multimillion-dollar presses, no trucks". That in turn, gave its editors the licence to experiment and innovate.

For now, The Daily will only be available for U.S. iPad owners. News Corporation says that international markets will come online in the near future, but has no specific schedule.

To say that media watchers will be keeping a beady eye on The Daily is an understatement. Mr. Murdoch's record on digital publishing has so far been underwhelming, marked by the failure of the social networking site Myspace, and observers are keen to see whether The Daily will fare any better.

Some have written it off as dead on arrival, thanks to its fusion of old and new media. It will be fully digital, but published every night in time for the subscriber to read over morning coffee. "Wonderful! Slower news — and at a higher price," wrote Scott Rosenberg of Salon before the launch.

As ever, Mr. Murdoch has dismissed the naysayers with a flick of his ample cheque book. He has sunk $30 million into developing The Daily and said it would cost $26 million a year to cover its costs, including those of 100 staff. He is targeting the 50 million people expected to own an iPad by the end of next year. Analysts project that he can cover costs if two percent of them could be persuaded to subscribe to The Daily at 99 cents a week — no mean task, considering that there are already 9,000 other news apps for the iPad on the market. "It will all come down to content," said Alan Mutter, blogger and former editor of the Chicago Daily News. "He's going to have to make something very compelling to get people to pay." The first edition of The Daily had a conventional news front on Egypt under the headline "Falling Pharaoh". It gave high billing to its gossip section, with features on Natalie Portman and Rihanna, and a column by Richard Johnson, formerly the doyen of the Page Six gossip column of the New York Post. It also showcased several digital bells and whistles, including photographs that can be scanned through 360 degrees, a "carousel" of stories that can be spun with a finger, and stories that you can listen to like a radio.

Asked by the Guardian whether The Daily would be more centrist in its politics than other parts of News Corporation, which, particularly in America, have been accused of being caustically rightwing, Mr. Murdoch was noncommittal, saying its Editor, Jesse Angelo, would decide.

"We are patriotic," Mr. Angelo replied. "We love America, we are going to say what we think is right for this country." How would he measure success, Mr. Murdoch was asked. "When we are selling millions," he replied.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








Among the various internal security problems this country is besieged with, the Naxal/Maoist issue is one which is difficult to attribute to foreign inspiration, unlike, say, the dodgy situation in Kashmir or the Northeast, or lately even communal violence, which is sometimes linked to the action-reaction syndrome driven by terrorist attacks. And yet it is plain that success in dealing with this homegrown malady appears to be minimal. Union home minister P. Chidambaram acknowledged as much when he told the chief ministers' conference on internal security this week: "Looking back at 2010, my assessment is that there is a kind of stalemate." The home minister's observation is noteworthy for its frankness. Usually not one to beat about the bush, Mr Chidambaram has offered a clearcut appraisal. Perhaps its public articulation will goad the Centre and state governments to be both more analytical and purposeful in meeting a challenge which, at its root, emanates from two sources — the stark poverty in the countryside in large parts of the country, and the deficit of governance which drives people, particularly the poor, to despair that can become a stepping-stone to violence.
Mr Chidambaram took charge of the home ministry a little over two years ago. Right from the beginning he set about revamping, innovating and establishing institutions to deal with terror-related crimes since he came to the job in the immediate the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. It was only a little later that he turned his attention to Naxalism, which was then being officially described as the country's primary internal security problem. (Under the pressure of political to-and-fro, not least within the ruling Congress itself, such a cavalier categorisation has been modified imperceptibly as it appeared to be casting blame on the poorest sections of our people, particularly tribals. Now the marker of hierarchy has been abandoned and the Maoist question only ranks as one among the country's key internal security challenges.) Even so, the government's success in dealing with Maoism has been conspicuously limited. This is not surprising. So long as the Indian State cannot take effective steps to raise people from grinding poverty, it cannot turn the tide against Naxalism, especially in regions where the terrain is forested and inaccessible for the most part. Merely deploying the police, paramilitary forces or even the military means will not do, important and inescapable as these may be. As Mr Chidambaram admitted at the internal security conference, there has been a "perceptible lull" in anti-Naxalite operations since the massacre of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada in April 2010 — in effect, for the past one year. This is clear recognition that even the police and military end of the solution has not crystallised. There aren't enough police personnel, and those that are available lack the right training and equipment, and possibly also suffer from an absence of leadership and morale. Not so the Naxalites. The home minister called the CPI (Maoist) a "powerful and determined adversary", and noted it had added "at least four companies to the People's Liberation Guerilla Army".

India's home minister clearly has his task cut out. He must not only inspire the state governments to raise the right type of uniformed forces, he needs to engage in serious dialogue with them to do the needful and promise them all the support he can. But there is a key acknowledgement to be made. At bottom, the Naxalite menace can be traced to ungoverned spaces — not unlike the Taliban problem which Afghanistan faces. The State must govern effectively. In order to fight poverty, it has to go out and build roads, set up schools, welfare centres, post offices, and not just police stations. Besides, these nodes and communication lines must function. Local livelihood opportunities must be created, keeping in mind local resources as well as sensitivities. Only then can Maoist battalions be driven back.






The tumultuous events in Egypt this week, still unfolding as I write, have been commented upon by experts far more knowledgeable than I am about the Arab world. And yet there is one aspect of what has happened that none of the experts seem to have focused on — something with wider global implications.
Let me explain. Perhaps one of the more interesting sidelights of last weekend's dramatic events in Cairo, as millions poured into Tahrir ("Liberation") Square and the Egyptian police melted away in the face of demonstrators, looters, democrats and vandals alike, was the reaction of the People's Republic of China. Beijing's official spokesperson on January 30 called for a "return to order" in Egypt, expressing concern at the troubles besieging this "friendly country". Praying for calm, the Chinese government made it clear that the restoration of law and order was its principal priority.

What made China — once a reliable supporter of the cause of "liberation" for "oppressed peoples" seen as groaning under the yoke of pro-Western authoritarian regimes — take such a tack this time? It is easy enough to say that China is no longer the Communist country it used to be, and that Mao's old enthusiasm for spreading the faith of the Little Red Book has long been supplanted by a preference for the Big Green Chequebook instead. That is, of course, true, and few are the "liberation movements" these days that can count on cash, ideological support or practical assistance from Beijing. Nor is it wrong to point out that despite a consciousness of a US threat to its own global superpower ambitions, China does not fundamentally see itself in political competition with the US and is making little effort to wrest pro-Washington governments away from the American embrace.

All that is commonplace enough. But there is something more behind the Chinese position. What China's statement about Egypt reveals is that the mandarins in Beijing are thinking about themselves — and their own stake in the success across the world of authoritarian systems which, whatever their foreign policy orientations, are more akin to their style of rule than to Washington's.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990-91, no one was more worried than the Beijing establishment. They too had embarked on reforms, after all, driven by the same realisation as Moscow that the Communist system was not only morally and ideologically bankrupt, but worse still, did not work in practice. Communism's biggest weakness was not that it was undemocratic, but that it could not deliver the goods. The fact that the USSR's embrace of reform had led so rapidly to the collapse of the ruling Communist Party, and even to unravelling of the entire country, gave pause to the enthusiasts of change in China — those who had been tempted by the Gorbachev-like impulses of one-time party leader Zhao Ziyang. They anxiously studied the Soviet reform experience for lessons they could draw upon to avoid a similar fate themselves.
And from this emerged a simple insight: what an authoritarian system in the throes of reform needs to do is to pursue perestroika but not glasnost. Political change is a bad idea, economic success is essential.
Gorbachev's big mistake, the bosses in Beijing concluded, was that he mixed up the genuine need for perestroika (the restructuring of the failed and inefficient Communist economic and bureaucratic system) with the unnecessary turn towards glasnost (openness, liberalism and democratic pluralism in the political system). The former, as the Chinese Communists saw it, was an imperative they had already realised by then; the latter, which Gorbachev saw as a necessary accompaniment — rather like the chole without which a batura isn't worth having, would simply guarantee their own extinction. Whereas the Russian Communists had wrongly believed the package came as a whole and couldn't be disaggregated, the Chinese decided it could be. They proceeded to demonstrate that you could operate a capitalist economic model within an authoritarian, repressive one-party state.

In this they found considerable sympathy from regimes around the world which, while pro-Western in their foreign policy, remained the antithesis of Western Enlightenment values at home. The survival of such regimes — from Putin's Russia, still more messy than Beijing would like, to a variety of Arab and African dictatorships — vindicated China's view that its way of doing business (and running government) had far more resonance and viability than the free-for-all democracy practised in untidy places like India and nominally advocated by America and the European Union.

The fact is that they are not wholly wrong. The "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia and its knock-on effect in Egypt (with the prospect of the contagion spreading to Libya, Sudan, Yemen and/or Jordan in the weeks and months to come) is instructive for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps the most striking of them is that it is not authoritarianism per se that the crowds in the streets are demonstrating against. Dictatorial rule has been accepted in each of these countries for decades. What the protestors were shouting for was not just freedom but dignity — the dignity that comes from having jobs worth doing, food to eat, hopes of a better life for the kids. As long as authoritarianism can deliver economic benefits, most people in most developing countries will put aside their natural desire for democratic self-expression and concentrate on making a good life for themselves and their families instead. It is when an authoritarian state fails to deliver on these basic necessities that the people finally pour into the streets.

This is the central Chinese insight. A rock song of the 1970s memorably told us that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". When the heavy hand of the state takes care of your material aspirations, its heaviness seems less important. Opposing it would jeopardise a lot of material benefits: this is why Chinese dissidents have so little support in their materialistic society. When the state doesn't deliver the goods, then opposing it makes sense: you have nothing left to lose. The biggest failures of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine Al Abidin Ben Ali in Tunisia may not have been their repressive politics but their failed economics. If young men hadn't been unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, feed themselves and have the self-respect to offer a home to the young women they desired, they would not be calling for the overthrow of their government. That is worth bearing in mind as the so-called experts allow the scent of jasmine to envelop us all.

n Shashi Tharooris a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






Stuck for an answer about the policies of a king or queen in the dim and distant past, students of history across India fall back on a stock refrain: The ruler is praised for remitting revenues, promoting the arts, setting up rest houses, and yes, planting trees along the roadside.

Pressed for an instance, they could come up with responses that vary depending on where they live in this vast land. In the north, it would be Sher Shah Suri (1540-45) and the trees along the Grand Trunk Road. In deep south, it could well be the Mangammal Salai, planted by the Nayaka queen who died in 1706. Even when little else — save for architectural monuments and legacies — survives from the past, trees remain a living link with it. The word "salai" in its original rendering specifically can mean "a tree lined avenue or road".

For once, the laziest of school girls or boys is right. Travellers of the past record how central certain trees were, not just to the landscape but in the way it was recorded and remembered. Bishop Reginald Heber in the 1820s wrote of a giant banyan tree on an island in the Narmada which, it was said, could provide shelter and shade to as many as 7,000 people. Though he reverentially called it "one of the noblest groves in the world", it was diminished in size a hit by a storm.

This was a giant of a tree, a veritable mammoth among its companions. Upstream of Bharuch, it even had a name: Kabirbadh. Its 320 trunks were additionally supported by over 3,000 prop roots. Even the floods that reduced it in size could not mar its majesty.

Later in the century, the Gazetteer of the Central Provinces refered to another such tree on the way from the provincial capital of Nagpur to Betul. This one could provide shade from the sun to as many as 500 horses.
Yet, it was in the southern peninsula that the ace historian of trade and transport routes in India, Professor Jean Deloche, finds tree-lined avenues the norm across centuries. Trees were the saving grace of road journeys from Vellore (scene of the famous Blue Mutiny of 1806, a dress rehearsal almost for the Revolt of 1857) to Bengaluru or from Ranipettai on the other bank on the Palar to Chittor in Rayalseema (literally, the land of stones).

Banyans were not alone: there was the tamarind, with its fruit much loved by monkeys, children and housewives. Both trees cast a deep shade, which while much beloved of travellers, peddlers and mendicants, does not allow even grass or shrubs to grow. What stands out in this choice of trees is the priority given to those that gave good shade, and also those that provided a harvest of fruit.

The intrepid and tireless historian of Delhi's trees, Pradeep Krishen, provides deep insight into where the British planner of the new imperial city got it wrong. The tree species labelled as "Avenue First Class" included the Ashok and imli, anjan and philkan, Arjun and Maulshree. What mattered was "the evergreeness" of a tree. Of course, the trees played truant. Given Delhi's semi arid climes, they did and do shed leaves. But these species were not the best suited to the place: the British had, unlike earlier rulers, not planted with the ecology of the region.

Yet, Lutyens and forester Peter Clutterbuck, like Sher Shah or the Nayaka queen, did create a legacy that is green. But how will the future judge us in 21st century India? Not very kindly, it seems. The four-laning of highways and the widening of roads within metros and cities are playing havoc with roadside trees. When this takes place in cities such as Bengaluru or Delhi (both with a fast growing number of private cars), the issue receives attention and provokes debate.

But the trees along roads that link different centres do deserve a closer look. Dr T.R. Shankar Raman, an ecologist and wildlife biologist who himself spends much time re-growing rainforests on abandoned tea estate on the Valparai plateau of Tamil Nadu, has recently drawn attention to the slaughter of roadside trees. Banyans that date back centuries are being felled along several key roads in Karnataka and he warns that unless preventive measures are taken hundreds of trees will be chopped down and transformed into charcoal. There is a way out: not only to plant more trees but to reconsider whether these roads ought to be widened. In addition to the money earned by contractors who sell the wood, there are state governments eager to avoid the hassles of land acquisition. Were the latter to be done, the trees could survive in a central verge, a model tried out for tree planting in Haryana by former chief minister Bansi Lal.

Only time will tell whether the school kids of the future will look back on our age not for the green legacy it created but for the heritage it left impoverished. The old banyans and peepal, mangoes and tamarind trees are no less worth keeping than human made monuments. Will we learn from the past and sensibly so?








With a Nobel peace prize to his credit, US president Bara-ck Obama was widely expected to advance universal values. Yet he has signalled that promotion of human rights is a tool to be used only against the small kids on the global block that hold no major economic benefits for the United States — the Burmas and the




In relation to the world's largest and oldest autocracy, China — which has intensified its crackdown on democracy activists, internet freedom and ethnic minorities — Obama has only compounded the mistake of his secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in 2009 said that the US will not let the human-rights issue "interfere" with closer Sino-American relations.


Chinese president Hu Jintao's just-concluded US tour was noteworthy not for his grud-ging admission that his country has a subpar human rights record. Rather the visit was notable for the manner Obama bent over backward at the joi-nt news conference with Hu to virtually rationalise China's human-rights abuses.


Asked by a questioner to explain "how the US can be so allied with a country that is known for treating its people so poorly [and] for using censorship and force to repress its people," Obama replied that "China has a different political system than we do"; that "China is at a different stage of development than we are"; and that "there has been an evolution in China over the last 30 years" and "my expectation is that 30 years from now we will have seen further evolution and further change."


In truth, Obama followed in the footsteps of Clinton by publicly downgrading human rights in America's China policy, contending that differences over "the universality of certain rights" will not come in the way of better relations with China because "part of human rights is people being able to make a living and having enough to eat and having shelter and having electricity."


Although citizens in China now enjoy property rights, freedom to travel overseas and other rights that were unthinkable a generation ago, some things have changed for the worse, such as the greater repression in Tibet and Xinjiang, more-sophisticated information control and online censorship, and whipping up of virulent nationalism as the legitimating credo of communist rule.


Yet Obama affirms that China is moving in the right direction and wants its suppressed citizens to patiently wait 30 years for further change.


The proffered rationalisations for repression, including earlier stage of development and the importance of alleviating poverty, beg the question: Why the macho approach, for example, against impoverished Burma, whi-ch, unlike China, has no record of routine executions, or employing gulag labour to make goods for export, or dispatching convicts as labourers on overseas projects?


During his recent Asian tour, Obama attacked Burma three times while in India, and then in Indonesia sung a line opposite to the one he intoned in Hu's presence: "Prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty."


If Tunisia's popular uprising holds a broader message, it is that Arab nations need true democratic participation that would empower the masses and decide issues at the ballot box. Yet narrow geopolitical interests crimp US ability to promote democratic empowerment in the Arab world. A quiet cold war that pits the US, Israel and the Sunni oil sheikhdoms against Iran, Syria and their allies, Hamas and Hezbollah, ostensibly validates Washington's cozy relationships with despotic Sunni Arab regimes, including a jihad-bankrolling Saudi Arabia.


With Washington reluctant to push powerful Russia on human rights, the weight of democracy sanctions or pressures falls on the small kickable Chinas like Cuba and Zimbabwe. But this raises a larger question: Can promotion of human freedom and the rule of law become a geopolitical tool wielded only against the weak and the marginalised? When the small, poor states fall victim, the world tends to turn a blind eye to even genocide. As the cases of Burundi and Rwanda showed, the world did nothing to stop genocidal killings there.


Obama's leniency toward the big human-rights abusers overlooks an important connection between their internal and external policies. How China, for example, treats its citizens has an important bearing on the way it treats neighbours and other states.


Freed from real pressure to adhere to universal values, any powerful autocracy will be less willing to play by the rules on trade, resource, security, currency and other issues. If anything, this opens up space for it to subtly help shape new international rules in the years ahead.








Valley's venerated saint Shaykhul Alam's saying ann poshih telih yelih van poshih decorates the frontispiece of the forest department building in Srinagar. Spoken with remarkable ease, the axiom, when analyzed, reveals something very profound. It says food will uphold only if the forests uphold. Our state being mountainous for most part is known for its forest wealth. And as geography and climate vary from region to region, flora and fauna of the state, too, present a myriad of variety. Mountains 3000 feet above sea level generally provide a variety of finest trees, deoder, kail, and conifer etc., tall and stately. These lend immense beauty and grandeur to the land and its ecology besides being a dependable source of income. However, notwithstanding a range of benefits normally accruing from this natural source, our forestry has remained stagnant for decades at end. Nothing has been done to pull our forestry out of antiquated contours and put it on modern lines. In a sense our forests have become sick and decedent. In addition to this debilitating state of affairs, human vagary has also contributed to the depletion of our forest wealth.

Though belated, the State Government has at last awoken to the need of formulating a long range policy to conserve our forest wealth on permanent basis. This step should have been taken long back. But it is never too late to mend things. It is satisfying that the cabinet has taken into account most of the aspects relating to the protection, preservation and promotion of forests. It is a right decision to modernize our entire handling of this unique wealth, and obviously, the forest department will have to get into touch with its counterparts in developed countries like Canada, Switzerland and Russia to learn from them the methods of how rich forests can be grown and preserved. Its treatment has to be on modern and advanced lines. The department needs to know how the village folks living in the proximity of forests are made partners in preservation of this wealth. The cabinet was right in involving tourism, finance and revenue ministries in the broad policy formulation process because all of these departments are involved. One expected that the department of social welfare would also be part of the process.

It is important to launch a campaign against loot and vandalizing of forests not only by some unscrupulous forest lassies but also by cronies close to powerful politicians and even the village folks. An important related issue is about reclamation of forest land once trees are felled and land becomes arable. Land belonging to forests should never be converted into arable land and those seizing it rightly or wrongly should not be allowed to proceed with any agricultural activity on the reclaimed land. Conversely, the forest department should take steps never to let the forest land remain without fresh plantation and forest growth. A fir tree takes many years to grow and protected against natural or man made calamity. We have a full fledged department of forest conservation and in many cases the boundaries of forest land have been secured with barbed wire. But despite that, villagers do the sniping and making entries for their cattle to graze in the forests which also accounts for destruction of thousands of saplings by the quadrupeds. This nuisance has not been controlled and strict laws need to be enacted and implemented to ensure that young saplings are not cut short before they grow into robust trees. Utilization of timber obtained from forests for building purposes remains obsolete, old fashioned and unscientific. It is enormous waste and loss, which should be avoided at any cost. Modern and scientific methods of proper utilization and manufacturing of goods made of timber is highly developed in western countries right from the exercise of felling the tree to that of making fine furniture out of it. The State Government will have to devote attention to setting up modern timber factories at suitable sites and train wood workers for various jobs. Production and marketing system of wooden material has to be upgraded and streamlined, and brought in line with modern techniques. People will gradually develop taste for proper use of timber and eschew losses and wastes.
Associated with forestry is the important area of promoting wild life of which we have had abundance at one time in history. Depletion of forests exposes the wild life to the poachers. If not, wild life meets its end for want of proper nurturing and safe environment. Therefore the department of wild life has to remain closely linked to any effort that is directed towards promotion and protection of forest wealth. Equally important is to pay attention to the cultivation of herbs and plants for medicinal use. There are many herbs known to traditional medical men that are frequently used to cure ailments. Expert medical practitioners easily identify these herbs and plants with utility for medical practitioners. The Government also needs to streamline the segment of social forestry. New ideas and new methods about developing forests, preserving saplings and trees, making wild life secure, and keeping forests out of the reach of quadrupeds have to be initiated. It would not be out of place to imagine of having exclusive forest courts to tackle with cases related to damaging forest wealth. As the Government is formulating new forest policy, an overhauling of forest establishment is also highly advisable. At the base of the pyramid of forest department stands the forest guard who is on spot all the time and is closely bound to people and woods under his jurisdiction. He is the source of information to the department and shoulders formidable responsibility. Likewise other junior echelons are also deeply involved because they work in the field. It is important that they are adequately supported to discharge their duty honestly and efficiently. Revision of their pay scales is of urgent importance. Likewise daily wagers and contractual employees in the forest department need to be regularized and brought at par with matching cadres in terms of salary and other benefits. As the cabinet took far reaching decisions in regard to improving the functioning of forest department, at the same time some disgruntled sections raised their voice demanding regularization of their services. The Government should have given thought to their demands. Now that the subject of protection and preservation of our forest wealth has come to the notice of policy planners, one should expect some concrete steps will be taken by the forest department to make a change in its treatment of forests visible.







Police is reported to have seized a big cache of intoxicating stuff in the shape of capsules from the possession of drug traffickers in Samba-Kathua range. This is alarming news and indicates that narcotics mafia has spread its tentacles far and wide including Jammu province. Police department is to be complimented for having unearthed the smuggling of a dangerous drug. Now it is for the Government to see how this menace can be thwarted. Admittedly, Jammu narcotic mafia groups are linked to a wider network as they generally do not conduct these activities single handedly. After nabbing the persons involved, it is the duty of the police to make public whatever information has been obtained after the interrogation of the culprits. This is to bring awareness to one and all about the consequences of illegal activity. But if no stringent action is taken and laws governing the trafficking of drugs are not fully an impartially enforced, drug trafficking will ultimately destroy the social fabric of society. Therefore we always say the evil has to be nipped in the bud before any serious damage is done.








It is always a shock to return home from Davos and see the contrast between what our politicians and business leaders speak of India in that snowy enclave and India in real life but last week the shock for me was deeper than usual. This was because I returned not to Delhi or Mumbai but to the uglier realities of a Northern Indian village. I drove straight from the airport to this village (no point in names they all look the same) on a cold and foggy morning and recoiled at the sight of its filthy drains and rotting garbage. It is a village of prosperous people. The houses are large and storied, the cars of the villagers fancy and foreign and in every other street there are advertisements for English medium 'international' schools but somehow the residents seem not to notice the slimy, stagnant water that has solidified in the open drains or the mangy dogs that scrabble about in the mounds of uncollected garbage that line the village streets. Rural India's filthy public spaces are always a shock but much more so if you have just returned from Switzerland with its spotless streets and its impeccably planned towns and cities. I was so shocked by the village to which I returned after a week in Davos that I called up a local political leader and asked why he did not do more to make his village look better. He was from the Bharatiya Janata Party and tried at first to lay all the blame on Delhi's Congress government but at the end of my relentless badgering conceded that everyone was to blame including the village's ordinary citizens who saw nothing wrong in dumping their garbage on the outskirts of the village instead of finding a better way to dispose of it. He admitted that poverty was not the reason for the village's appalling living conditions. Every resident of the village lives in a 'pucca' house, nearly everyone owns a cell phone and a colour television and many people drive their own cars. So it is the eternal Indian problem of people not having enough civic sense to feel responsible for conditions outside their own homes. And, yet if you had listened to the speeches made by our politicians and businessmen in Davos you would have thought that all was well with India.
It was a special Davos this year from an Indian viewpoint because the flavour of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting was Indian. The Indian government in collaboration with CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) had designed a campaign that it called 'India Inclusive'. Some of the biggest Indian companies paid to promote the campaign. So a Davos café was converted temporarily into the Indian Adda, buses were decorated with Indian themes and large, colourful hoardings advertizing 'India Inclusive' decorated the promenade.

Each year in Davos there is an India evening and this year it was larger and more successful than it has ever been in the fifteen years that I have attended the forum's annual meeting. Among the ministers who wandered among the guests were Kamal Nath, Anand Sharma and P. Chidambaram. The party happened to be on the evening of the day that the Reserve Bank of India's quarterly magazine reported a drop of more than 36% in foreign direct investment for the quarter just ended but the ministers were optimistic and reassuring. They said the India story was far from over and that if there were a few blips on the economic landscape they could be attributed to the ups and downs that are inevitable in democracies. In private conversations they admitted that India had a long way to go before our infrastructure could compete with that of our old rival China but publicly they refused to concede that there were any problems. But, unless we begin by admitting that there are problems and that these problems are huge we will continue to delude ourselves into believing that because GDP is growing at more than 8% annually all is well.

It is not and it has more to do with a serious governance deficit than it has to do with 'inclusive' growth. This deficit affects India's poorer citizens more than it does rich Indians or the middle classes. The kind of Indians who go to Davos are not bothered by the absence of such fundamental necessities as clean water and electricity because they can afford to generate their own electricity and purify their drinking water. It is hard to find a middle class home in Delhi or Mumbai that does not have its own water purifying devices. It is hard to find a middle class home that relies on government schools or healthcare. It is only those Indians who are forced to use public services that suffer. It is their children who leave school without being able to read a story book or being able to do simple mathematics and it is their children who, for this reason, end up unemployable in a country that has a desperate shortage of employable workers.

In Davos our ministers attended sessions on India in which they admitted that we are desperately short of carpenters, masons and electricians. Without these skilled workers it will be almost impossible to build the infrastructure we need or cities for the millions expected to move from villages to urban centres in the next two decades. Without decent schools it will be impossible to educate our vast population of young peopleand yet there is no indication that the Government of India has understood the urgent need for a new approach to governance. Education and healthcare may be mostly the responsibility of state governments but if the Prime
Minister sets a new course the states will follow. On my first day back in the old homeland last week the newspapers were filled with pictures of parents waiting outside nursery schools to see if their children had been able to gain admission or not. It happens every year at this time and yet we go from year to year without Government understanding the need for an education policy that will make it easier to build private schools. Most of India's economic progress in recent years has been led by the private sector but there is only so much the private sector can do. In the end it is for government to deliver its side of the contract.
Only when it does will Indian political leaders have the right to boast in Davos of 'inclusive' growth.








The United Nation (UN) has called for launching the year 2011 as an "International year of Forests" with effect from 24th January. Its main aim and objective is to create awareness among the general masses to conserve the forests of the Globe which sprawal over an area of 31 percent of its total in whole of the world. The devastation of the forests is however global based and theme chosen by the UN would definitely bring into focus the crises which the posterity would face due to deforestation and overgrazing of the pastures.

When forests disappear, Nations lose much more than just timber as the human civilization commenced and progressed merely in presence of forests. Forests not only act as the banks of oxygen, essential for breathing of animals including humans and plants, but also provide food, fodder and medicines etc. They constitute an abode of wildlife, provide rains, prevent soil erosion of the forests or the green cover of the earth. In fact since the existence of man on earth, he has always remained dependent upon Forests for his sustenance. forests being an integral part of human existence has made his life possible on earth. Man's life without forests is just like a soul without body.

The Indian scriptures and epics are full of references, evincing the role of forests in day to day life of civilization. This can be further substantiated by the words of Lord Budha, which are as follows :-
"The forest is a peculiar organism of unlimited kindness and benevolence that makes for its sustenance and extends generously the products of its life activity; it affords protection to all beings, offering shade even to an axe man who destroys it."

In spite of so many advantages, man has left no stone unturned in denuding the forests. The forest are being felled indiscriminately for various developmental activities like building of roads, railway tracks, construction of hydro electric projects, houses. Felling of trees recklessly has, thus, resulted in dramatic change in climate. Soil erosion both water erosion and wind erosion, floods and droughts have increased. There is heavy losses of wildlife's habitats and water sheds.

Losses of various watersheds have crippling effect on the environment. "Food production and food supply management have already been warned in the report released by the World Wide Institute of Washington entitled taking a stand: cultivating a new relationship with the world's forests". Most of the watersheds of India have deforested. It is because forest cover in our country is shrinking. The first post independence assessment made in 1987, indicated that India's forest cover has declined from 40 percent of the country's total geographical area to 22.7 per cent (Anonymous, 1988). Although the Central Planning Commission had a plan to raise the forest cover to 25 per cent by 2007 and 33 percent by 2012 yet there is a big hurdle as still the forest area has been worked out to be about 22 percent. The depredation of forest in the Himalayan states in recent years has contributed soil erosion, landslide, and disturbance of ecological balance.

Among the north western Himalayan states, the forests of Jammu and Kashmir are the worst affected by deforestation. This has not only created barrenness in the hills but has rendered barren fields below in the plains because the erosion of uphills creates havoc by causing flash flood which changes the green fertile lands into unproductive sandy areas, eventually affecting the food production.

There is a world wide clamour to save the green gold. It is as if the man is consciously head long rushing towards his doom. Protecting and conserving forests has, therefore, become an absolutely necessary for the very survival of humanity. The above report also pointed out that this havoc is being brought because of forests mismanagement. Scientific management of the utilization of forests is also imperative alongwith conservation of forests. Good management of forests will assist in sustaining ecological balance and also to satisfy our burgeoning human and live stock population.

Conservation of Forests : Forest conservation differs from preservation as natural resources like forests are better conserved than preserved. Forests are characterised well by their floral and faunal species. Species components individually have their own life cycle, but the forests are capable of existing in perpetuity provided they are conserved by wise renewable processes. The utilization of forest resources should be planned wisely so that they are conserved for the future use. Conservation of forests is quite akin to soil and mineral resources.
* The planning of utilization of forests in any region should take into account the total endowment of the forests with reference to needs and aspirations of the people. Forest resources must be developed in such a manner that there is balanced development of the region as their unplanned development will cause a reduction in the availability of these resources in future.

*The forests must be conserved judiciously and effectively on the principles of ecology to get their maximum utility and benefits. Foresters must have thorough knowledge of life cycle and phenology of the trees, physiological processes of the plants, environmental factors influencing plants biotic relationship between plants and animals, climatic climax of particular region etc.

*The large scale exploitation of the timber has led to the depletion of forests over a large area and as such conservation of forests is not possible here. As for example, Himalayan region has been overexploited the chir pine forests, and indiscriminate clearing of forests for firewood and charcoal has resulted in permanent loss of forest cover and shrub vegetation in parts of north west Himalayas.

* Forest Conservation Acts introduced in the Forest Departments/Corporations must be enacted fully.
* Another aspect that needs attention for upgradation of the forests is to allow the process of regeneration of forests to take place just by cordoning off certain areas. Some areas need to fenced off and forests allowed to come up naturally for 5 to 7 years. This will prove the best and the most inexpensive method of growing the forests.

* In certain areas where growing forests naturally is difficult, in such areas planting of forests alone would be essential.

* The last aspect and certainly very important aspect is soil conservation and should be done where large areas are getting degraded pretty fast. All soil conservation measures such as mechanical measures, engineering structures and biological methods are needed to be followed.

* Forests must be managed so as to maintain environmental and ecological balance and the derivation of economic benefits must be subordinate to this principal aim.

Suggestions: The first and the foremost front is the responsibility of every person is to protect the forests that have been left. Till now we have failed miserably to protect them because it has been noticed that wholesale cutting of green trees is being done at most of the places.

Cutting of forest trees can only be stopped by taking very strict measures and ensuring that the defaulters are punished. For this purpose the forest officers must be given free hand to deal with this problem.
Experts of the department must launch more such awareness camps in hilly and far off areas to educate the people about the cultivation, preservation and benefits of these plants. This will enable the unemployed educated youth to come to this field and earn livelihood by cultivation of medicinal plants. This will prove more beneficial to youth of Jammu and Kashmir as forests of this state are full of medicinal plants.







Breast Cancer understanding myths and facts:

Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in women. While there are certain risk factors like genetics that cannot be changed, many lifestyle changes can aid in breast cancer prevention. However, misinformation can keep you from recognizing and minimizing your risk of breast cancer. It is important to dispel the myths and arm yourself with the facts
Breast cancer only affects older women
While it's true that the risk of breast cancer increases, as we grow older, breast cancer can occur at any age.
If you are at a risk factor you will get the disease
Even if you have one of the stronger risk factors, like an inherited breast cancer gene, getting breast cancer is not a certainty.
If there is no family history of cancer, you are safe
Every woman has some risk of breast cancer, which increases with age. About 80percent women who get breast cancer have no known family history of the disease. A history of breast cancer in your mother's or your father's family will influence your risk equally. That's because half of your genes come from your mother, half from your father.
Diagnosis of breast cancer is same as death sentence.
Early detection of breast cancer before it has spread; along with new treatment modalities can help improve survival rates and quality of life. Early detection is essential, hence the importance of breast self-examination and mammography.
Yearly mammograms expose one to radiation and cancer will occur as a result.
Mammogram is an x-ray examination of the breast that can detect a breast cancer when it is quite small, long before it may be felt by breast examination. 85-90 percent of all breast cancers are detectable by mammography. Thus, the benefits of annual mammograms far outweigh any risks that may occur because of the minute amount of radiation used during the procedure.
Birth control pills cause breast cancer
In the past, birth control pills used a higher dose of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. But now, the hormones are used in much lower doses, which are not in way linked to breast cancer. As with any medicine, the risks and benefits have to be weighed and then the decision has to be taken, in consultation with the doctor.
Using antiperspirants or deodorants causes breast cancer.
There is no evidence that the active ingredients in antiperspirants influences breast cancer risk.
Women with known risk factors are the only ones who get breast cancer
About 70 percent of women with breast cancer have no known risk factors. A woman's best chance of improving her odds, is to diagnose the disease at an early stage, through regular self breast examination, check-ups and mammograms.
Only women get breast cancer.
Male breast cancer is uncommon, but it does occur and is usually more aggressive in nature. Now that we have cleared the air regarding some common myths related to breast cancer, here are some important facts that you should know about breast cancer.
Most breast lumps are benign About 80 percent of breast lumps are benign, though the percentage becomes smaller as women age. Sometimes there can be lumps, cysts, nipple discharges and calcification resulting from hormonal changes, injury or infection.The breast changes that you should report to your doctor are:
Any lump or thickening of the breast or underarm A dimpling or puckering of your breast Scaling of the skin surrounding the nipple Nipple discharge, which is not associated with breast-feeding Retraction of the nipple
Only a small percentage of cancer cases are hereditary. Researchers have identified 2 genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 that, when mutated are associated with an increased risk. Of all the risk factors involved (family history, age, early puberty or late menopause, childlessness or late childbearing), a mutated BRCA gene can account for 5percent increased risk. Another 5percent of cases are thought to be linked to genetics, but the mechanism is uncertain.
Pregnancy and breast-feeding lower risk of breast cancer. Both pregnancy and breast-feeding reduce a woman's total number of lifetime menstrual cycles, which is thought to be the reason, it helps lower your risk. Having children before age 30 also reduces risk of breast cancer.
Lifestyle changes and improved awareness may improve your odds against breast cancer. Maintain a healthy body through regular exercise, healthy diet, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco. Also, examining your breasts every month, having regular check ups and mammograms, along with recognizing the risk factors for breast cancer, and its early signs, all can go a long way in raising your defenses against this disease.










The Manmohan Singh government deserves to be commended for not standing in the way of the CBI arresting former Telecom Minister A. Raja, his private secretary R.K. Chandolia and former Telecom Secretary Siddhartha Behura for their role in the grant of licences and allocation of 2G spectrum during 2008 in violation of established guidelines and procedures. By acting against them the government has shown sensitivity to public opinion and moved decisively towards restoring its battered credibility on the corruption issue. Considering that Raja belongs to the DMK which is a vital ally of the Congress in the ruling coalition, the action against him is a bold step at a time when the state is preparing for assembly elections. That the two parties have in principle decided to maintain their electoral alliance is as much testimony to the skill with which they negotiated their deal as to the fear that any break in ties at this stage would work to the advantage of AIADMK supremo J. Jayalalithaa.


Having allowed action against Raja close on the heels of the chargesheet filed against former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan in the Adarsh housing scam, the Congress has cocked a snook at the BJP which has been shielding Karnataka Chief Minister Yeddyurappa in the face of serious charges of corruption and nepotism against him. At the same time, it has taken the wind out of the BJP's sails on its demand for setting up a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G scam on which it had boycotted an entire session of Parliament. The BJP will indeed need to do a serious re-think on its current adamant attitude of staying away from the budget session. That the Shivraj Patil committee turned in its report on 2G in a month and did not mince words on Raja's culpability has strengthened the Congress position that it would shield no one.


The big test for the CBI and the UPA government would now be to take the legal process against Raja and his aides to a just conclusion. All eyes will be on Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal to deliver on his promise to get to the root of the scam, to work towards augmenting the public exchequer by recovering money from wrong-doers. The CBI would be watched too for meting out exemplary punishment to those found guilty.









A 20 metre-fall in central Punjab's water table in the past decade is alarming, to say the least. A study by the state's Agriculture Department has revealed shocking details about the ground reality in the districts of Sangrur, Barnala and Moga. The situation may not be much different in other districts barring those areas where waterlogging is a problem. What is worrying is that even when there is heavy rain — as it happened during the monsoon last year — the water table continues to decline. The data taken in October 2010 shows there was no improvement in the post-monsoon groundwater situation. This means rainwater simply goes waste as village ponds have been levelled or encroached upon.


The reason for the declining water table is well known. It is excessive paddy cultivation. Since paddy still gives the highest and assured returns to farmers, thanks to an almost yearly increase in the minimum support prices by the Centre, there is no attempt to shift to other kharif crops. The area under hybrid maize, for instance, has not increased. Though the Centre talks of extending the Green Revolution to the eastern states, it has now started encouraging the production of oilseeds and pulses in Punjab and Haryana by offering better support prices since the country relies heavily on costly imports.


However, it is Punjab's political leadership that not only ignores the state's long-term interests but also works at cross-purposes. On the one hand, the government departments make efforts – even if half-hearted — to promote crop diversification, on the other state politicians press for higher paddy prices/bonuses every year to cash in on farmers' votes. The misdirected subsidy of free power also leads farmers to over-exploit groundwater. The canal water supply meets just one-fourth of the requirement for paddy. The canals and rivers lose water heavily for want of repairs and cleanup. The state leadership is yet to wake up to the need for rainwater harvesting, which ultimately has to be adopted on a mass scale to rejuvenate Punjab's depleting water resources. 









During the five years of its existence, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has done quite a bit for ameliorating the lot of the rural poor. But at the same time, a large percentage of what should have ideally reached the deserving has been siphoned off. Even National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi has admitted that funds are being spent on other works and there are reports of forged job cards and muster rolls and fake names of labourers. The Centre has released Rs 1.08 lakh crore to states since 2006 under the scheme but did not carry out proper account auditing at any level. Only now that the behemoth has become a byword for corruption is it bracing up to face the challenge. The Centre has put the blame on the states which have not been careful in preventing leakage. Instead of just playing the blame game, the two should put their heads together to solve the problem. After all, quite a few states are ruled by the Congress itself. A thorough overhaul can be started right from there.


Implemented properly, the ambitious scheme can bring about a win-win situation. It guarantees employment for 100 days in a year and also helps in undertaking measures like water conservation, building rural roads, etc. Issues like lack of planning at the ground level and dearth of expert human resources need to be addressed. Due to such stumbling blocks, only 3.1 lakh of the total 68 lakh works taken up by the MGNREGS (under 5 %) have been completed so far.


The state governments ought to realise that they can win over the hearts of the people by bringing in accountability and transparency in the functioning of the scheme. Any siphoning off of money presents the governments in a poor light. It is ironical that the country's — and perhaps also the world's – largest rural safety net programme does not pay minimum wages to its workers. A duly elected government should not refuse to implement its own Minimum Wages Act. 

















FOR all its faults that are many and at times serious, India is not a tin-pot West Asian dictatorship. Except for the 19-month period of the Emergency in the mid-seventies of the last century, it has been the world's largest democracy, albeit a raucously noisy and rather undisciplined one. In broadly free and fair elections held with due regulatory, Indian people could easily dethrone so powerful a leader as Indira Gandhi and then bring her back to power. In May 1996, the government in New Delhi changed thrice in 30 days flat. Not a shot was fired. Nor did crowds demonstrate on the streets for the simple reason that people were glued to their TV sets to watch vote-of-confidence debates in Parliament.


Thereafter, following the fall of one government in 13 days and of the other two in quick succession, the country had to endure two elections in as many years before the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government could complete a full five-year term. Political stability thereafter has been even more impressive. In May 2009 the Congress-dominated United Progressive Alliance returned to power for a second five-year tenure with a much stronger mandate. Constitutional and legal measures enacted during the 1980s ensure that the Emergency cannot be repeated. In these circumstances, there is neither any scope for nor any possibility of the "Jasmine revolution, now sweeping several other West Asian countries, especially the largest Arab country, Egypt, reaching Indian shores.


Even so, the powers that be ought to be worried about the consequences of their disappointing performance in the face of the rising tide of corruption and their failure to control the vicious spiral of prices, especially of food items, including onions and tomatoes. There should be no mistaking the public mood. It was sour to begin with, but is now yielding place to growing anger. Something has got to be done, therefore, and done without further delay.


It is tragic that the UPA government goes on boasting that it is acting with alacrity against mounting corruption — as against eight major scams in the 1980s, there were 26 during the nineties and as many as 150 between 2005 and 2008 — while its actions belie this claim. The mother of all scams, the 2G-Spectrum allocation, underscores the point. The gargantuan loot was obvious to all concerned as early as 2008. The man responsible was A. Raja (now arrested), a nominee in the Cabinet of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Minister of Telecommunications in UPA-I. Yet he was reappointed to the same post after the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. The Radia tapes have exposed how. Even after parliamentary and public protests against the monstrous scam the government continued to protect the errant minister because of the diktat of the DMK patriarch, M. Karunanidhi, a key ally of the Congress. Only after the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report on the gravity of the mega scandal was Mr. Raja asked to resign.


The squalid story did not end there. The spectrum scam wrecked the entire winter session of Parliament because almost the entire Opposition demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) that the government resisted with equal inflexibility. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's belated offer to appear before the Public Accounts Committee but not before a JPC cut no ice. All this called for fast track investigation and prosecution of the culprits. What happened instead was that the new Telecommunications Minister, Kapil Sibal, declared that there was absolutely no loss on account of spectrum allocation. He also took the opportunity to trash the CAG for which both the Supreme Court and Parliament's PAC chastised him. Many commentators raised the pertinent question: why Raja was sacked, and shouldn't he be brought back?


What has further eroded the government's moral authority and credibility as well as the Prime Minister's positive image is the UPA's absolute refusal to disclose the names of the criminals guilty of stashing black money in secret bank accounts overseas. This is matched by the utter inadequacy of the government's efforts to bring back the mind-boggling hoards of money from various tax havens. Dr Manmohan Singh even stated that there was "no instant solution" to the black money problem. Since the apex court is seized of the issue because of public interest litigation, its reaction was sharp. It took exception to the government's refusal to name those "who are plundering the nation's wealth".


Rightly or wrongly, the government goes on invoking the "confidentiality clause" in double-taxation avoidance agreements with foreign countries. Rightly or wrongly, an angry public believes that the government is determined to "protect its own" along with tarnished tycoons, corporate crooks and sundry other scoundrels. Whatever the government's chief troubleshooter, Pranab Mukherjee, might say it just cannot hold water. For in 2005 India signed a UN convention on corruption and black money that could have helped expose those hoarding huge stocks of it outside the country. For five years the government hasn't ratified it. Why? Someone indicted by the Supreme Court for gross obstruction to justice sits pretty in the UPA Cabinet despite the so-called reshuffle.


This is disgraceful, but even more disgraceful is the stinking mess the government has made over the selection of the Central Vigilance Commissioner. The choice of P. J. Thomas for the post of the watchdog against corruption was inexcusable. A lot worse is the series of shifting and shifty excuses in defence of the indefensible the government has offered in the Supreme Court. To quote R. K. Raghavan, an outstanding and upright former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Attorney-General's "admission" that the facts of Thomas's "involvement in the palmoelin case were not placed before the selection committee "compounds the impropriety …". He has added: "Persons in the background who constitute extra-constitutional centres of power, who may have driven hard to bring in Thomas, must be squirming in their seats". The crowning irony is that Thomas has now turned on his benefactors. He has contemptuously rejected their appeals to resign to avoid further embarrassment. He is showing every sign of turning out to be a Frankenstein's monster.


The ruling combination, run by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister, can no longer say that it hasn't been warned adequately. It still has more than three years to first stem its rising unpopularity and then reverse the trend. The gnawing question, however, is whether it has the necessary will and capacity.








Subbu, as K. Subrahmanyam was popularly known, died with his boots on. He reflected, wrote and discussed current events and their implications for the future until the last even as he gamely battled a terminal illness. He will be remembered with respect and gratitude for having tutored two generations of Indians to think holistically and strategically. That will be his enduring monument.


A member of the Tamil Nadu cadre of the IAS, Subbu was a young Deputy Secretary in the Department of Defence Production in Delhi when I first met him in 1966. I had just left The Times of India to join Indira Gandhi as her Information Adviser. Soon thereafter China exploded its third nuclear device — the first having been in 1964 — and preparations were afoot internationally to draft a non-proliferation treaty to limit nuclear weapons to the five nations that had tested up to date. This would effectively bar others, including India, from joining the exclusive nuclear club.


The official Indian response to these events seemed vague and confused and it appeared to a mere outsider like me that the problem had simply not been thought through. Conflicting and compartmentalised thinking was evident with everybody pulling in different directions and no studied effort to build a consensus or frame clear options.


I accordingly took the bit in my teeth and did a note for the Prime Minister urging a holistic study, noting that the Opposition in the Lok Sabha had sought a firm official commitment to build the Bomb and Foreign Minister Swaran Singh's had been that it was intended to develop the knowhow and technical capability for the purpose.


Homi Sethna, Director of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), whom I knew, happened to drop into my office and plaintively remarked that the AEC was being administratively hamstrung. I took the cue and invited him to lunch the next day for a brainstorming session to which I proposed to invite some others. In the result, Sethna; S. Gopal, Director, Historical Division of the MEA; Pitamber Pant, Head of the Perspective Planning Division of the Planning Commission; Romesh Thapar, then a close confdante of Mrs Gandhi; K.Subrahmanyam, a promising young official who I had been informally told was an appropriate person to invite from the Defence Ministry, and I assembled at the Delhi Gymkhana Club. We formulated the outlines of what might be done after going round the table garnering preliminary insider inputs on the technical, economic, diplomatic, political and security parameters.


I reported the outcome to the Prime Minister and her Secretary, L.K. Jha. A week later, at an AEC meeting chaired by the Prime Minister in Bombay, tentative approval was accorded to a study on a nuclear weapons and missile programme. Vikram Sarabhai had taken over the leadership of the AEC from Homi Bhabha, who had tragically been killed in an air crash. Subbu was thereafter to remain a continuing link and the most persuasive, eloquent and indefatigable advocate of India's nuclear weaponisation, placing his arguments in the wider and rapidly evolving regional and global security and strategic context.


The theroretical basis for his strategic thinking was refined and deepened when, as Director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Subbu had time to read, travel, interact and seminar with some of the best minds on the subject anywhere. He was reasoned, not merely polemical, something that even his intellectual opponents admired. He was a regular at Pugwash meetings and other Track II engagements, notably the India-Pakistan Neemrana Initiative, where his powerful advocacy came into full play and where he was heard with rapt attention by leading Pakistani interlocutors.


Heading the Joint Intelligence Committee gave Subbu insights into areas out of bounds to most. It was no surprise that he was closely consulted and actively involved in the final phases of the country's nuclear programme that climaxed in 1998 with Pokhran-II, to which Pakistan, not unexpectedly, responded in kind.


He was natural choice to lead the first National Security Advisory Board which produced a national threat assessment and a national security doctrine after extensive debate. Subbu had strong views but he never sought to impose them on others preferring, patiently, to build consensus. This was evident in his deft handling of the NSAB debate on prescribing a nuclear doctrine for India posited on no-first use, a credible minimum (second strike) deterrent, and a triad-based (air, sea and land) delivery system. These recommendations were accepted by the government without demur.


Few perhaps know or recall a very incisive paper on the Kashmir question that Subbu wrote, maybe in the 1980s. This deep interest combined with his security-intelligence background led to his being appointed chairman of the Kargil Review Committee, with Lt-Gen K.K. Hazari (retd), and me as members and Satish Chandra, Secretary, National Security Council Secretariat, as member-secretary. Many scoffed at what they perceived to be the limited and innocuous terms of reference of the committee and its lack of judicial powers or those of a commission of inquiry. All it was armed with was a letter from the Cabinet Secretary to all concerned, civil, military, intelligence and others, soliciting full cooperation and candour.


The result was astonishing, Subbu decided that all those invited to depose should meet the committee and be given a transcript of their remarks which they were then invited to correct, amend or rewrite with whatever additions or excisions they desired and submit the amended version under their signatures. The formula inspired confidence and worked wonders. The responses were utterly candid and much was revealed that might have otherwise remained hidden. Security deletions were effected in the main report and 22 Annexures but that was nevertheless a frank and open account of events and assessments.


The report was accepted by the government, which set up four Task Forces to flesh out the salient recommendations with regard to higher defence management, internal security, border management and intelligence. These, too, were broadly adopted and set in motion a major overhaul of structures, procedures and archaic doctrines that had remained sacrosanct and untouched since the British left.


The fallout of the Kargil Review Committee was perhaps Subbu's greatest achievement even if much of it remains work in progress.


The man will be missed. His work and ideas will not fade.









Agricultural progress in the last decade has made India self-sufficient in major foodgrains. Yet, undernutrition continues to be a major nutritional problem, especially in rural populations. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) statistics reveal shocking proportion of child malnutrition (children under three years). In terms of the proportion of underweight children its levels are exceptionally high in India - higher than the average for all of sub-Saharan Africa. The irony is that India's per capita income is much higher and the growth record much better than that of sub-Saharan Africa.


Undernutrition of children directly affects many aspects of their development. In particular, it retards their physical and cognitive growth. Literature reveals that most growth retardation occurs by the age of two and is largely irreversible. The consequences of child undernutrition for morbidity and mortality are enormous. It has been estimated that pediatric malnutrition is a risk factor for 16 per cent of the global burden of disease and is responsible for 22.4 per cent of India's burden of disease. Studies show that malnutrition increases susceptibility to infection and diseases in childhood and adulthood. Undernutrition also undermines educational attainment as it increases their dropout due to ailments. Moreover, the consequences of undernutrition go beyond the individual affecting total labour force productivity and economic growth.


It is true that there are large inter-state variations in our country and all-India figures may get affected by this. Paradoxically, in case of Haryana too, which is economically one of the most developed state, NFHS data shows that in all three measures of child malnutrition, i.e. in stunting, underweight and wasting, it fares very poor (i.e. 46, 42 and 19 per cent respectively). Stunting is deficit in height-for-age, wasting is low weight for height and underweight is low weight-for-age. It must be noted that several studies have repeatedly shown that given similar opportunities, children across most ethnic groups, including Indian children, can grow to the same levels, and that the same internationally recognised growth references can be used across countries to assess the prevalence of malnutrition. These measures of nutrition are expressed in standard deviation units (z-scores) from the median for the international reference population. Children who are more than two standard deviations below the reference median on any of the indices are considered to be undernourished, and children who fall more than three standard deviations below the reference median are considered to be severely undernourished. It may also be noted that in many cases being short or lean is not a serious impairment. However, there are evidences that pronounced stunting and wasting in childhood is associated with serious deprivation, such as ill health, diminished learning abilities or even higher mortality.


Nutritional status of children in Haryana is shockingly poor, whether it is measured as prevalence of underweight, stunting or wasting. This is a puzzling pattern and hence requires a closer scrutiny. The prevailing situation is perhaps due to these reasons. The all-pervasive spatial pattern of undernutrition among children do points to unbalanced dietary practices prevalent in the state. People in rural areas are largely vegetarians and their diet lacks diversification in terms of intake of fruits, vegetables and pulses. Most of the rural population is dependent on the foodcrops grown in the fields and non-cereal crops are missing from the cropping pattern. Secondly, this is also associated with low women status in the region and literature shows that that there is little attention paid to mother's health. According to NFHS and district level household survey (DLHS), the state does have a high proportion of children born as low weight babies. Thirdly, the lack of education among women and awareness regarding balanced diet also have a telling impact on women and child health.


Further, the nutritional intake statistics of National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO 61st round, 2004-05), which presents data on calorie intake vis-a vis monthly per capita consumer expenditure classes (a surrogate of income classes) shows that except upper quintile, per capita intake of calorie intake is much below the norm in the state. In lower monthly per capita expenditure classes (3 lower MPCE classes combined together represent lower 20 percent population), the per capita calorie intake is less than 1500 kcal. It is shocking to find that in food surplus state the intake of calorie is lower than the all-India average. The food basket however shows that proportion of expenditure on food items is 60 percent, meaning thereby that the rest of income is spent on non-food items. It should not be taken that money is spent on other items when food need is completed. Rather it also points to the fact that like food, clothing, housing, education etc are necessities of life and population in lower quintile too is forced to spend on these by cutting on food items, which is reflected in lower calorie intake and consequently reflecting poor nutritional status of children. There is no tight link between health and nutritional status and calorie consumption, yet calories are important and one can obtain from NSS data that in case of Haryana, large amount of calories are obtained from the consumption of cereals only. The bio- availability of iron in cereal-based diets is low and is, therefore it is important that the diet must include adequate intake of fruits, vegetables and pulses.


Here emerge some pertinent questions. Is adequacy or surplus with respect to foodgrains production sufficient? Though the state has managed to have large stock of foodgrain production which is largely wheat and rice and there is a neglect of pulses, millets and vegetables. Diets exclusively based on rice or wheat will be deficient in a range of micro-nutrients, apart from being relatively poor in protein quality. Though milk intake is above national average in the state, but its per capita consumption has declined over a period of time. Further, the intake of pulses is also low. With neglect or decline in area under these crops, the intake of protein which was otherwise easily available to its population has reduced over a period of time, which has its reflection in mothers and children health, both in short term and long term nutrition.


There is an urgent need to take short and long-term measures to achieve nutritional security in the state. Among short term measures, it suggests the need for awareness campaign for healthy dietary practices as well as special attention towards maternal health as more than 60 per cent of expectant mothers were found anaemic and a high proportion born to them were low weight babies (NFHS-III). Among long-term measures, there is a need to seriously think over the fact that diversification of food production is necessitated not just because of play of market forces but more importantly, due to nutritional considerations.


The writer is Associate Professor in Geography, Kurukshetra University








The manner in which the State government has dealt with the issue of the selection and appointment of the Chief Information Commissioner and other Information Commissioners under the State's Right to Information Act betrays both lack of will and ability of those at the helm in taking measures of public importance. It is particularly so on the issues concerning the empowerment of the people, checking corruption and improving governance by making it transparent in its functioning and accountable for its actions. Though enacted in March 2009 the State's amended Right to Information Act is not being enforced for the last two years due to the failure of the State government to select the CIC and other commissioners as provided under the law. The Government first announced the appointment of Wajahat Habibullah, the then Chief Information Commissioner of India as head of the State Information Commission (SIC) in most casual manner. The move was subverted with the Union government refusing to relieve the incumbent for taking up this assignment before he completes his tenure at the Centre. Intriguingly, before selecting Habibullah as CIC in J&K the State government did not seek Union government's opinion whether it was willing to relieve him before he completes his tenure as CIS of India. Even after New Delhi's refusal to do so the State government delayed the selection process for about a year thus keeping the SIC headless. Eventually when under the public pressure, the Government started the process of selection it only managed to put itself in soup due to its half-hearted and casual approach. The selection committee headed by the chief minister cleared the name of G.R.Soofi, Chief Commissioner Income Tax, Amritsar range, otherwise a suitable choice in view of the incumbent's competence and integrity , as CIC and the file in this regard was sent to the Governor for statutory approval without seeking the mandatory approval of the Central Vigilance Commissioner. The Governor returned the file in view of this serious discrepancy in the government decision. Clearly the State government had not done its home work before making the selection. Whether it was a deliberate slip aimed at delaying the selection or a case of casual approach and incompetence can only be known through an independent inquiry.

What raises doubts about the contrived nature of such slipshods is the manner in which several other maters of public importance have been dealt with by those at the helm of affairs. Take the case of the State Accountability Commission which has remained headless, making the State Accountability Act redundant, ever since the first chairman of this institution resigned over five years ago. While its predecessor regime failed to take initiative for the appointment of the chairman of the SAC, the present government is betraying similar clumsiness in selecting the SAC chief as it has done in the case of the selection of CIC. Such casualness is evident in several other issues of importance like those making governance accountable and transparent, empowering people through a process of democratic decentralization, fighting the menace of corruption and streamlining the administration. The reports of the working groups set up following the round table conferences are eating dust in the cupboards of the State government for the last four years with those at the helm unable to take steps for implementing some of the recommendations concerning governance, economy and human rights situation. Those at the political and bureaucratic helm appear to have a vested interests to subvert all moves for reforms and creating healthy institutions for this purpose. Yet another case of the deliberate casual approach being adopted by the State rulers is the way they have subverted the moves for democratic decentralization by refusing to amend the Constitution on the pattern of the 73rd and 74th amendments in the Constitution of India and then delaying the elections to the existing panchayats and urban local bodies. There appears to be a method in the administrative madness. There are reasons to believe that those at the helm are neither willing to shed absolute power by evolving a system of democratic decentralization nor serious in creating institutions to make governance healthy, efficient, accountable and transparent.






The recent announcement of the central government of initiating concrete measures for containing food inflation which has touched a new high of more than 17 percent during the past week does not appear to have made any headway. While these developments have been described as an international phenomenon which is affecting the food prices all over the world but South East Asia appears to be the worst hit. In the case of Jammu and Kashmir, inflation has started pinching the pockets of everyone due to the follies of the government, which is totally insulated from the adverse effects of food prices. The state government does not appear to have made any effort in coming up to the expectations of the people or taking steps to make rations available to the people through its Public Distribution System (PDS) network. The biggest drawback on this front is the calculation of the population structure in urban and rural areas by the government which continues to provide rations on the scale of 2001 census figures despite the fact that there has been increase in the number people over the past one decade. Moreover, non-availability of funds for paying the transportation charges for carrying rations from different grain depots of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is another factor that is hitting the consumers in J&K. The corrupt system of the PDS network is adding to the woes of the people so far as the grains are concerned because the rations meant for specific areas are not reaching the targeted population. Apart from the grains, the prices of the essential commodities are rising without any check in J&K and there is nobody in the government, who can be held responsible particularly in Kashmir region where stocking of the food stuffs and other essentials has been badly hit due to unrest during the summer months. The fixation of prices for essential items is far from reality as a result of which there is large scale hoarding and profiteering resorted to by the unscrupulous traders. The situation in Kashmir is particularly bad when the supply line maintenance is difficult during the winter months where communication is hit by the vagaries of nature. Shortage of commodities has also added to the price rise in the winter zone of the state. The periodical check conducted by various departments of the government is totally missing from the scene as a result of which the unscrupulous traders are having a field day in making a quick buck. In the absence of any accountability, the miseries of the people are being multiplied because there is no enforcing authority which can check the prices fixed by the traders on their own. Acute corruption in these departments has ensured that people are fleeced continuously by the traders in connivance with the officials of the government departments. This can lead to unhealthy and unpleasant situations in the near future if correction measures are not taken.






The conception of a representative government that would enable the devolution of administrative responsibilities to districts and villages; a socialist system in which the state would control the means of production so as to ensure the fairest distribution of goods, power, and service to its members; the good of society would be considered a responsibility of the state, but the state would serve as an administrator and a distributor, not as a disseminator of ideology or doctrine; instituting educational and social schemes for marginalised sections of society---this worthy manifesto has been replaced in J & K with an agenda that encourages mainstream Indian financial institutions to play a decisive role in the State, through the fixing of prices on the national and world markets, cartels, and a variety of educational and cultural institutions. How representative are the new elites brought to power through the electoral process, or even unwitting or willing agents of mainstream powers and agencies?

This is how I see the gist of the contemporary problem in Kashmir: a conflict driven by nationalistic and religious fervour, with each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to the violence and injustice of the other, and each side, India and Pakistan, pointing to its own suffering and sorrow, while ignoring the irreparable loss of lives, unredeemable loss of productive years, unsalvageable loss of properties and sources of livelihood, and the deep-rooted sense of despair of Kashmiris.

The insurgency and counter insurgency in the State has gone through a series of phases since 1990, but repressive military and political force remains the brutal reality, which cannot be superceded by seemingly abstract democratic aspirations. After the forces of separatism reared their heads in J & K, the Indian Union exacerbated the violence and disorder by deploying belligerent and tactless methods. For instance, on 1 October 1990, Indian paramilitary forces razed the bazaar of Handwara, a town located in the Northwestern part of the Valley. This action, taken after a guerilla attack, resulted in the indiscriminate killing of a large number of civilians. Subsequently, the landscape was tarnished by shanty-like bunkers with firing positions adorned with Indian flags and nationalist slogans, underlining the brutal repression of regionalist and antiestablishment aspirations. The systemic erosion of democratic rights in J & K, which has been the underlying theme of India's and Pakistan's policy toward Kashmir since the dawn of independence since 1947, cannot go on forever. Events that are celebrated in the rest of India are overtly mourned in Kashmir: 15 August and 26 January are occasions that evoke a resentful and pain-filled response in the Valley, creating a paralysis of sorts. 26 January 2011, particularly, showcased the apathy of the people of Kashmir to the absurdity, bigotry, and spectacle that the nationalist politics of the BJP created.

While the reaction of the State government to the melodramatic and blustering attempts of the BJP to hoist the Indian national flag in Lal Chowk was designed for the Congress palate, it should not erase our memory of the duplicity of the Congress in enabling Murli Manohar Joshi to hoist the Indian national flag in Kashmir amidst tight security in 1992. If the Congress oracular "High Command" had decreed that the "children of a lesser god," Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, be indulged by allowing them to raise the Indian national flag, which is the principal ideological unifier across political and caste divisions in India, the State government, in all likelihood, would have complied. J & K is replete with such examples of political dogmatism, undemocratic methods, and state sanctified brutality. The territory has been benighted by reprehensible misgovernance and trammeled by a militarised culture.

J & K is an example of a neocolonial territory manipulated by New Delhi in collusion with comprador governments unrepresentative of the populace, and reliant on the political and military prowess of their patrons. This strategy, which New Delhi espouses without making any bones about it, has had the adverse effect of stunting the development of civic and democratic structures conducive to suffrage and participatory democracy. The erosion of "indigenous" opposition in J & K has delegitimised the voice of dissent and radicalized antagonism toward state-sponsored institutions and organisations. The exposure of Indian democracy as a brutal facade has instigated disgruntlement toward Indian democratic procedures and institutions in the state. The cause of the independence and/ or autonomy of J & K have been thwarted by both India and Pakistan. Beijing is also worried about the ramifications that Kashmiri independence would have in Tibet. In India, the BJP keeps harping on the balkanization of J & K along religio-ethnic lines, first propounded in 1950 by Sir Owen Dixon, the United Nations representative for India and Pakistan.

I reiterate what I have reinforced in my earlier writings: I cannot emphasize enough the need to create access for marginalised Kashmiris to a community perspective, or a reference group. Avenues for rehabilitation must be created, so those who have been brutalized can work through the discourse of oppression and victimhood into developing the construction of their identities as survivors. Victims of brutality can politicise their identities within clear conceptual frameworks, instead of inculcating the "habit of silence," which is a dangerous habit. We cannot refuse to deal with a landscape that has been radically transformed by struggle. The politics of representation cannot undermine the oppositional force of indigenous movements. A carnage that wiped out the bloom of youth, dreams of surpassing the banality of life, ambitions of carving their own destinies and charting their own paths, of many of our children, cannot be dismissed as the obdurate stubbornness of an uncivilized people or mere "summer unrest." The mass mobilisation in Kashmir erupted within a similar political discourse that now pervades Tunisia and Egypt. Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his cohort might have aspired to leadership of the indigenous, grass roots movement of 2010, but the truth is that it was a legitimate mobilisation, not fundamentalist, but the unleashing of potent forces for political and social transformation. Such transformations, as evidenced by the happenings in the Arab world, are never peaceful.

I felt so hopeless and disillusioned for a while, because of how the victims of the 2010 summer violence in Kashmir became mere collateral damages, and did not motivate either the State government or New Delhi to bring about structural changes that would substantially address inequities and injustices. Because of my despair at the hijacking of a haunting mass mobilisation by mainstream organizations and separatists, and at the dearth of coherent political discourses in Kashmir, I decided not to write, until I realised that it was important to avoid the "habit of silence" at all costs.

(The author is Visiting Professor, Department of English University of Oklahoma, Norman and grand-daughter of Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah)







It's a confused nation we live in, where a policeman kills a leopard that is actually attacking a villager, and instead of being felicitated he is booked for the crime of saving a human being!
A nation where Rice is Rs.40/- per kg and SIM Card is free.
Where a pizza you have ordered reaches home faster than an ambulance or police, even if you were being murdered or having a heart attack!
Where a car loan is charged at 5% but an education loan, so necessary for our youth is charged an interest of 12%!
A nation where students with 45% get into elite institutions through the quota system and those with 90% are sent away because of merit.
Where a millionaire buys a cricket team, spending crores instead of donating the money to any charity. Where two IPL teams were auctioned at 3300 crores, yet still a poor country where people starve for two square meals per day.
A country where footwear is sold in AC showrooms, but the vegetables we eat, are sold on the footpath and very often next to garbage dumps!
Where everybody wants to be famous, not by doing good for others, but by looting others and finally getting their names in the newspapers through some scam or other!
It's a strange nation we live in, where assembly complex buildings get ready within a year while public bridges, flyovers and sea links take several years even to get off the drawing board and another decade to be completed.
We are a nation where two brothers fight with each other for the nation's spoils, but the nation doesn't know that the two of them are cleverly looting the nation while we watch their mock battles.
We have malls, and sky-rises, with slums forming their boundary wall.
A country where men and women squat on railway tracks, with no where else to go while watching them from windows, are couples with three bathrooms and one for the guests.
A country where politicians who are supposed to serve the people accept money from the same people they are supposed to serve, then take a salary from the government for their services to the people!
We are a nation where we talk in hushed whispers about the corruption in the country and then dig into our pockets to bribe a cop when we are caught cutting a red light.
Think about it; we are a confused nation, aren't we?




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What initially appeared like an open-and-shut case is now embroiled in an unseemly inter-ministerial battle. A few months ago, the trustees of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) had recommended that its members would get a 9.5 per cent interest on their deposits for the current financial year. This was a welcome increase of 100 basis points, though the reason cited by the EPFO in defence of the interest rate increase was the fortuitous discovery of surplus money available in its interest suspense account. The auditors had duly qualified this discovery pointing out that it could not verify the available surplus until the EPFO updated the accounts of all its 47.2 million members. This was the primary reason the finance ministry cited while rejecting the rationale for increasing the interest rate on EPFO deposits for 2010-11. The finance ministry also raised another objection, namely that the EPFO followed two systems of accounting — recording its income on an actual receipt basis and its liability (interest payments to members) on an accrual basis.


Not taking such objections lying down, the labour ministry has shot back with a rebuttal that on the face of it seems strong and convincing. It has argued that updating the accounts of 47.2 million members would make no difference since the total corpus on which it has to pay interest will be the sum of all these individual accounts, which the EPFO has already considered. The labour ministry has also repudiated the finance ministry's suggestion that the EPFO followed two accounting principles, reiterating that both its income and liability are recorded on an actual basis. Moreover, it has argued that a higher interest payment at the rate of 9.5 per cent for the current year is sustainable since about half its total funds were invested in securities that yielded an annual return of nine to 14 per cent. What made matters appear a little intractable was the fact that both the secretaries – representing the finance and labour ministries – had invoked their respective ministers and their support while arguing their cases. Worse, national labour unions have now joined the battle noting that the finance ministry had no justification for denying the workers a higher rate of interest earned on their deposits.


 There are many lessons that the government ought to learn from this spat. Only a couple of kilometres separates the office of the Union labour secretary from that of the Union finance secretary. A conversation between the two officials may have helped clarify matters that badly drafted notes can never do. A rise in the interest rate on EPFO deposits to 9.5 per cent would pressure the government to raise the administered interest rates on other similar deposit schemes run by the post offices or the Public Provident Fund. There is also the political difficulty the government would face next year when it may have to reduce the interest rate. It is these concerns that needed to be discussed and thrashed out. Passing the buck to the ministers to decide such a contentious issue, as has been suggested by the warring officials, may not always bring out the best results. There is an urgent need for modernising the accounting system the EPFO is following at present and for addressing larger concerns on whether it can meet the rising pension liabilities for its 47.2 million members. With so much to be done, avoidable controversies ought to have been avoided.







The many adventures of Sherlock Holmes have different characters, different plots and different problems. What makes many of the stories particularly interesting is that they reveal different facets of the detective. It's his courage that stirs one when he confronts a belligerent opponent; at another time it's his insight – the ability to go deeper and deeper into an issue asking "why" – that helps him get to the bottom of the problem. At another time, you are amazed by his dexterity to overcome an agile and cunning contender; and yet again, it is sometimes the way he makes unusual connections between seemingly unconnected things that leads him to solve the mystery. And occasionally, he does come up with the smart cookie who outwits him — showing his vulnerable human side. So, as you read a book of Arthur Conan Doyle's short stories, they rarely get boring. Sherlock Holmes is always a hero — he's intelligent with a dry sense of humour and a reassuring personality that makes one feel he can solve anything that comes his way. Yet, every story has a charm of its own.

A brand is a story told through its advertising. The challenge for strong brands, which advertise year after year, is how to remain engaging advertisement after advertisement. The brand positioning – and proposition – tends to remain the same. So, often, the story change is limited to the characters and settings and, at best, the drama point. Does that make the advertisement engaging enough in this day and age when freshness is the need of the hour?


 The telecom industry – mobile phones or mobile service providers – has cracked the problem building from the inherent innovations in product features. Every ad taps into a new feature to reveal a new facet of the brand. Vodafone has used multiple icons – like the pug, the Zoozoos, kids and celebrities – to tell different stories based on different product features.So it's "network" one day; "happy to help" another day; "magic box" the third day; "privileges" another day and "blackberry service" yet another day. Idea, true to its name, has explored a number of social issues, season after season, to keep its advertising stories engaging. They opened with "caste conflict", moved to "education", then explored health through "walk and talk", environment friendliness with "save paper" and national integration with "talk any language". In each case, the brand cleverly wove its product feature smartly into the story, thus remaining relevant yet fresh. In both cases, the viewer (equivalent to the reader of Sherlock Holmes) is left waiting eagerly to see what the brand will say next.

It's much easier in the technology space where innovations are part of a brand's everyday story. Today's technology products are constantly made outdated by new features tomorrow. The new features provide a good entry point to tell a new story. How does one do this in the traditional product space like fast-moving consumer goods in which innovations are few and far between? The burden falls on the idea of the brand story. The challenge is to find an idea that is large and constantly push oneself to explore a new expression rather than create a cookie-cutter freshness with new faces and new settings but plotlines remaining largely the same. It's about understanding the brand, its personality and values, and exploring its new facets. It's about keeping in touch with the consumer, her rituals and language, and telling stories in the context of her evolving life.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk has done it quite successfully in the last five years. Staying within the territory of "Kuch meetha ho jaaye", it has explored many strong cultural rituals around sweets in India. It opened with a celebration of success with its "Pappu pass ho gaya" campaign. Then it opened up a "pay day" occasion with "Aaj pehali tareek hai". It then took on Diwali with "who will you make happy this season" by urging people to spread joy and happiness. Last year, it stepped into "sweet beginnings" with shubh arambh tapping into the Indian ritual of starting something new auspiciously with something sweet. In each case, the storytelling format also changed and, thus, aided the viewer to see a new facet, yet being consistent with the brand's core. Interestingly, the basic product remains the same — the bar of chocolate! Pepsi has done it fairly consistently during its existence in India – from "Yehi hai right choice baby" to "Youngistan ka Wow"– exploring new lingo and mores of the youth to stay relevant to the young audiences. Tata Tea has, on its platform of "Jaago re", addressed voting and corruption in the last few years, thus stirring the conscience on different issues. Fevicol, over the last two decades, has told stories of unbreakable bonds using slice-of-life visuals from India. Bajaj Pulsar has used "free biking", "Pulsar mania" and "runaway" biking to highlight performance in dramatic ways. All these brands have been good and consistent story-tellers, and it's possible!

However, developing ideas, year after year, is never easy. Some stories obviously have the width and depth; others don't. The importance of consistency is to ensure the brand doesn't get schizophrenic or confusing. Yet, the criticality of infusing freshness and newness is to avoid becoming boring or wallpaper. There is always a temptation to change track and, with it, character. It seems easier. However, in the long run, great brands have stayed the course.

Brands can draw inspiration from Nike. Over the years, it has remained true to the spirit of "Just do it". Whether it is shadow running, or stars playing impromptu football at an airport or with street kids, or a boy challenging a dog with meat on his football, expression after expression opens new facets of the competitive spirit that Nike embodies. Not surprisingly, Nike remains a great case of idea preservation and development. In the brand world, it is as enigmatic as Sherlock Holmes is in the literary world.

Something worth thinking about.

The author is country head, discovery and planning, Ogilvy and Mather India

The views expressed are personal 









There's been quite a flurry in the art world recently, with the 3rd Art Summit in Delhi, coinciding with the first-ever exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor in Bombay and in Delhi. Now at the risk of sounding foolishly extravagant and of embarrassing the mild-mannered Kapoor, I would like to state right upfront that of all the art I have seen – and I have been sniffing around art, artists and the art world for over 40 years now – I unhesitatingly rank Kapoor's work as the greatest.


 I believe that for art to be great, it needs to create a "Wow!" from as wide a spectrum of people that encounter it, whether erudite scholars or small children or, indeed, uneducated and even illiterate villagers. To my mind, Kapoor's work passes that test more than any other I have seen. It is hard – I would say impossible – not to be delighted at his works, and, sometimes, lose all sense of space and time, particularly when you interact with his deeply pigmented wall works.

Another dimension of greatness is, of course, impact on the world at large. And, judging from what happened a few days ago at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Delhi, Kapoor once again scores huge points.

I was at the museum enjoying the exhibit, when I noticed an attractive woman in a sari, about my age, seemingly deeply engrossed in the deep purple/indigo/blue work at the far end of the gallery. Never one to miss an opportunity like that, I sidled up to her, and saw, to my amazement, that it was Sonia Gandhi. Remarkably, she was not surrounded by security or other hangers-on and appeared to be almost in a trance, clearly lost in time and space.

Suddenly, she started and exclaimed, "Oh my God, it's not 2011, it's 1991, it's 1991! India is in a crisis!"

She looked around, blinking her eyes. Her entourage was immediately all around her and she swept out of the room. The rest, of course, we all know from the press.

She rushed to the Prime Minister's Office in alarm and cried out, "India is in a crisis!"

Dr. Manmohan Singh sagely nodded and said, "Yes Madam, I know. Inflation is a major problem and we have a crisis in agriculture."

"Fix it," she said, "whatever it takes."

Next thing we knew that the prime minister had called the finance minister, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, the finance secretary and the chief economic adviser and told them that Madam recognises the crisis in agriculture and has demanded no less than a complete overhaul — something akin to what we did in 1991, he said, nodding to Montek and Dr Rangarajan. There was a wry smile playing about his face, when he added, "And, Pranab-da, she said you should open the Budget with the words, 'This will be India's first reform of agriculture Budget.' And, if any of the other ministers raise…"

"I can manage them," said the finance minister, also greatly pleased.

But the happiest of all were the finance secretary and the chief economic adviser. Their job of putting together the Budget was suddenly so much easier since there was a clear focus.

Reforming Indian agriculture requires no rocket science; it just needs sensible incentives for improving yields and completely re-engineering the supply chain. For instance, improving yields requires larger farms, and corporate investment in farming could be readily attracted by providing some clear guidelines on clubbing of small, contiguous parcels of land, with existing owners being given shareholding (and, where possible, jobs). Re-engineering the supply chain could begin with providing tax incentives for investment in warehouses, cold-storage plants, and enabling foreign direct investment in multi-product and multi-format retail. Recognising that commodity markets need to be integrated into financial markets, the FMC could be moved under the ministry of finance. And, of course, it would be absolutely necessary to connect all villages (say, with a population of more than 2,000) to the nearest growth centre (with medical, education and marketing facilities) with high-quality roads.

All of this should have been done years ago, but we were starved of a crisis where the government had no choice but to act decisively, as in 1991. And now, as a result of Kapoor's transcendent work, the "crisis" presented itself, at least in Mrs Gandhi's mind, which, of course, is the key place for any action in the country.

So the finance secretary and the chief economic adviser went back to their rooms whistling happily –— actually, both of them were even able to take a little time out and visit the exhibit at the NGMA.

As I said at the start, Thank you Anish Kapoor.








A panel discussion on "Entering the Human Age" at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week provided fascinating insights on the challenges corporations face in leveraging human potential.

Jeffrey A Joerres, Manpower Chairman and CEO, calls it "Talentism". In the past, Joerres says, companies needed access to capital to move ahead and grow their businesses; as this process evolves, we will see talent and human potential replace available capital as the new dominant resource. In shifting ideological tectonics, capitalism is evolving into "talentism", and so we will see power and choice shifting firmly towards the hands of the talent-filled individual.


 Before the discussion, Manpower announced that the company has identified that the world is now entering the Human Age, where employers will be awakened to the power of humans as future drivers of economic growth. While previous areas were defined by the materials that transformed them – stone, iron and bronze, then by ever-evolving technology – industry, space and information, in the Human Age access to key talent will become the key competitive differentiator. It will matter less if countries and companies can access capital, and more if they can attract and retain the talent they need to win.

"Those individuals with the skills and the talent are actually changing the swagger in their step," says Joerres. "When there is so much global competition, every person has to be very good. Employers need to work with their people to unleash their full spectrum of skills, engaging them on a human level and retaining those high-quality people to succeed in the new age."

The point may seem dramatic, but it is indeed the new reality. Rapid change in emerging economies and the breakneck pace of technological evolution means that skills are quickly becoming outdated. In many countries around the world, including most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and China, an ageing population and disengaged youth are putting a further squeeze on available talent now and will do so in future.

For example, from 2011, 10,000 baby-boomers will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years. According to Manpower's most recent Talent Shortage survey of more than 35,000 employers across 36 countries, almost a third are struggling to fill jobs they desperately need to in order to succeed.

Joerres says as the global economy shifts into recovery, we are seeing huge growth centred on developing economies, meaning the demand for specific skills and behaviour is outstripping supply. Unfortunately, this exact talent is becoming increasingly difficult to find, creating a mismatch between the talent that is available and that needed by employers. That is why the apparent paradox of high levels of unemployment and job vacancies can co-exist.

With the Human Age accentuated by demographic shifts such as ageing workforces, worsening talent mismatches, the collaborative power of fast-evolving technologies and the need for companies to do more with less, the panelists agreed that having an adequate talent pipeline is as challenging as it is critical.

The panel also focused on the problem of long-term unemployment, which is adding to the imbalance between the talent needed and the talent available because skills deteriorate when a person is out of work for an extended period of time. Collaboration is the key to tackling this problem, but individuals must ensure they commit to lifelong learning to get ahead in the Human Age. "It's the biggest challenge ever to put unemployed people back to work," says Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Confederation of Trade Unions. "We've got to invest in jobs and investment in jobs needs to be blended with investment in skills."

Frank Brown, Dean of INSEAD, says the so-called "industry migrants" – workers who are moving to a different industry – are one key to solving the skills mismatch but they need adequate transition support from employers. "This is about transitioning from one industry to another," he says.

Don Tapscott, chairman of Moxie Insight, says that protectionist attitudes to immigration would exacerbate the talent mismatch because it will make it difficult for individuals with the required skills to relocate to where they are needed. He also added that more entrepreneurs need to be assisted to create more jobs. "We should be encouraging entrepreneurship because most 80 per cent of new jobs come from companies that are five years old," he says.

Kris Gopalakrishnan, CEO of Infosys, says the velocity of change in the Human Age also poses massive challenges for the individual. "The nature of work and the areas in which work is being done are changing. Today, a person will probably change jobs five or six times. If an employee doesn't have the skills, they're at a disadvantage."

The need for "talentism", it seems, has never been so desperate.








Why do people advocate spectrum and licence auctions? Is it because they think auctions work? Is it the appeal of an ideology, like capitalism or socialism? Or is it because governments often collect large sums, and auctions seem fair (in a market-driven sense) and transparent? Theorists apparently cannot find better ways to allocate spectrum or licences, despite the alternative of technical and financial short-listing followed by a lottery. Yet, while desiring high government collections, people really want reasonably-priced good infrastructure, and continue to rail against government waste. Let's review some so-called "successful" auctions and what followed.

 1994: The US spectrum auction Prior to 1994, the US used to allocate spectrum on demonstrated capacity and merit ("beauty contests"). The spectrum auction in 1994 netted record bids. The Federal Communications Commission chairman reportedly said: "Auctions have proven once again to be a success not only by awarding licences to those that value them most, but also by decreasing the national debt." Then disaster struck, with a number of "successful" bidders declaring bankruptcy. As BusinessWeek put it in 2010 with the benefit of hindsight, "... over time, beauty contests have delivered fewer problems and higher value to society than have airwave auctions."1

1994: India telecom licences In 1994, India auctioned telecom licences. Chaos followed owing to overbidding and default. Thereafter, the sector struggled from one contention to the next, with the government and operators deadlocked by 1998. The New Telecom Policy of 1999 provided a breakthrough, tossing aside the auction bids in favour of shared revenues. After the percentage share was reduced to reasonable levels, and "Calling Party Pays" halved tariffs in 2003, mobile services grew exponentially to over 725 million subscribers by 2010. Interestingly, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India estimated that auction fee foregone till March 2007 was over Rs 19,000 crore, whereas actual revenue collections were double, at Rs 40,000 crore; by March 2010, the collections were 80,000 crore.

2000: The UK 3G auctions The 3G auction in the UK was hailed as a spectacular success, reaping bids of about $35 billion.

2000: The France and Germany 3G auctions Germany followed, netting $67 billion, and the finance minister quipped that the auction was for unexpected revenue to pay the national debt. France demanded a flat fee of $4.5 billion per licence.

The dotcom bubble burst in March 2000, followed by communications and technology companies a year later, and the bidders went into a tailspin. The collapse nearly bankrupted not only British Telecom owing to the enormous debt it incurred for the bids, but the entire industry worldwide. The economic slump that followed made it impossible for firms to pay off high debts, as their interest payments increased while their ratings fell.

A contrarian move in France is noteworthy for its prescience and insight. CEO Martin Bouygues (pronounced "Bweeg") of the third mobile operator, Bouygues Telecom, refused the government's demand of $4.5 billion as the fee for a 3G licence, making it the only mobile communications company in Europe with no investment in 3G. Mr Bouygues' letter in May 2000 appeared on the front page of Le Monde, asking: "What should I tell my employees? … That we have a choice between a sudden death and a slow one?" While his opposition was ignored, by 2002, the French government dropped its asking price by more than 85 per cent to induce Bouygues to accept a 3G licence.

In terms of results, the auction "failures" – the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, and "non-auction" countries like South Korea, Japan and Finland (until 2009) – have the best broadband services. 2

Kapil Sibal's appointment as India's telecom minister has brought hope, with prospects of radical improvements in infrastructure, especially broadband, with a clean hand. Mr Sibal's recent pronouncements on a new telecom policy, however, raise the spectre of another deadlock. Here are two examples: (a) "Adequate spectrum will be provided to all service providers."

This is feasible not through slivers of spectrum for many operators, but only if there is a common carrier access, that is, all operators can access spectrum for a reasonable fee. There is no indication of what "adequate" means, nor of pooling or sharing spectrum.

Let's hope the domain experts have been heard and not shouted down on "adequacy". For instance, the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers' Association had recommended that two blocks of 50 MHz each in the 698-806 MHz band be allocated to facilitate the development of wireless equipment and services. Large blocks of contiguous spectrum offer far more efficient capacity than many narrow bands. For local innovation, to get low costs, we have to think of adequacy in these terms, and not slivers of 4.4 MHz or 6.2 MHz.

(b) "Spectrum henceforth will be awarded only on a market-based mechanism."

If the criterion for success is high bids and not delivered services, in effect, this means auctions, and the result is likely to be dismal. Those enamoured with auctions focus on the success of bids, ignoring the purpose of spectrum/licence allocation, which is service delivery resulting in consumer surplus (societal benefits).

If the operators choose to roll over and accept authoritarian decrees, the conflict will be between government and the public interest, as spelt out below.

The government's choices include:

  • a genuine effort at developing comprehensive and integrated policies for reasonably priced services, while carrying along stakeholders;
  • a cosmetic effort, letting stakeholders vent, and then issuing arbitrary decrees that leaves a mess. For example, too many operators with fragmented spectrum; or
  • attempting a political or populist fix, seeking to make the United Progressive Alliance look good, the Opposition look bad, bleeding all operators to avoid accusations of a sell-out, and still leave a mess.

The first alternative is in the public interest; the second and third are not. The issues that need comprehensive transformation are spectrum and network sharing for service delivery at least cost. The government and Mr Sibal have the opportunity to choose an approach resulting in excellent delivery including broadband at reasonable prices.







989 was a year of revolutions, 1 Hungary eral one that communist saw , Czechoslovakia the East states collapse Germany --Poland of and sev- , ,     Bulgaria,


Romania. Except for Romania, the others were singularly bloodless. All succeeded. To the east, another uprising against the communist regime of China gathered momentum and culminated in the brutality of the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989.


Curiously, the epicentre of every one of these revolutions was a city or a town: Gdansk in Poland, Sopron in Hungary, Berlin in Germany, Sofia in Bulgaria, Prague in Czechoslovakia, Timisoara and Bucharest in Romania, and Beijing in China. The Velvet Revolution of November-December 1989 in Prague was electrifying: thousands gathering in the historic Wenceslas Square, a rectangular plaza bounded by gorgeous architecture, and addressed by Vaclav Havel, the playwright and poet, from the balcony of the Metantrich building. Havel was later the first president of the Czech Republic, and the recipient of many awards including the Gandhi Peace Prize. While the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 was the most dramatic image of the dismantling of a tyrannical political regime, each of those revolutions also yield magnificent images: the lone student facing a battle tank in China, for example.


Today, 22 years after those momentous events of 1989, another revolution has erupted in Egypt. It is also directed against oppression. It is also a mass movement. And it is also taking place in cities. Starting in Cairo, it seems now to have spread to Alexandria.


What is it about cities, especially in developing nations and nations under oppressive governments, which make them such centres of discontent? The obvious answer is, of course, numbers. Cities have vast and dense concentrations of people, and gathering large numbers is easier in a city than over several small villages spread far apart.


As Charles Correa recently pointed out, cities are also great instruments of "social engineering". In our crowded trains and buses and in our public parks there is barely place for people. Certainly there is no place for a man and his prejudices. People who live in cities are also more immediately exposed to news, unfolding events and the machinations of corrupt governments.


The gap between the rich and poor is nowhere as stark as it is in a large city: private swimming pools in 'iconic' towers stand on the other side of a road from the most unimaginable, degrading squalor, with people forced to line up for a single bucket of water and to bathe in gutters. But the poor in cities, like the poor everywhere, are the most disenfranchised. They do not have the means or perhaps the will to mount a revolt.


These revolutions don't seem to come from the city's poorest. They are driven by the middle class (often students), and they address issues that affect them most. The ham-fisted approach of Egypt and its secret police is perhaps an extreme instance of a government oppressing the middle class.


Our politicians need to pay more attention to the middle classes if they want to continue in power. Our urban planning policies are entirely skewed towards builders and high-end housing. State Governments have no discernible policy of affordable housing. At the same time, public amenities are constantly being reduced: school buildings are fraudulently declared dilapidated and torn down to make way for malls; parks and public open spaces are given over to developers; and slum rehabilitation has become an extraordinary bonanza for builders (and officials). When our development policies are so designed that they squeeze the middle classes out of their homes and established life styles, and in addition there is the kind of rampant corruption we see at every turn, there is a revolution of some kind simmering under the surface. One day it will erupt. People will stand up and shout enough is enough. Then our cities will burn, and governments will fall.


Governments should learn to respect and fear our cities and their people. As Mr Hosni Mubarak is learning, it is very often the city that gets to decide the fate of a nation.


For a more detailed version, with links and notes, see 








    MICROFINANCE is in bad odour — politicians accuse it of driving poor borrowers to suicide, the media, including this newspaper, carries stories on promoters of microfinance institutions growing rich on costly lending to the poor. All this moral outrage skirts the fundamental question in this form of lending: are the poor borrowers better off with MFIs being present as a source of borrowing in additional to the traditional moneylenders? Even if MFIs are seen as organised sector moneylenders, the answer can only be strongly in the positive. The article alongside by Saurabh Tripathi cites a major reason why MFIs are crucial for financial inclusion. They have the lowest cost of manpower among all organised players who lend money to the poor. But even with such small manpower costs, small MFIs in remote areas making small-ticket loans would need to have a margin much higher than the 12% called for by the Malegam panel. The panel's assumption that MFIs access money from the banks at 12% is totally misplaced. Banks charge rates closer to 17%, including upfront service fees, and these rates are bound to go up when the RBI tightens liquidity further. It would be wholly counterproductive to regulate MFIs to the point where it is no longer viable for them to make small-ticket loans or operate in areas that are underserved by microfinance and, therefore, call for higher costs of operation. The only gainer would be the moneylender, who would not bat an eyelid collecting . 100 in the evening from a borrower who had been given . 90 in the morning (armchair critics of microfinance, please note, the rate of interest on this loan, if we discount a processing fee, works out to 4,055% per year). Compared to the rates charged by a moneylender, MFI lending rates are greatly beneficial to the small borrower.
    Reducing their lending rates by six percentage points would reduce a typical borrower's weekly repayment instalment by something like . 5. That is all. This might dim moral outrage but would also render smaller MFIs unviable, while making no significant difference to the borrower, until she is forced into the hands of the moneylender after the regulated collapse of the MFI. The more constructive regulatory response would be to allow new technology to cut banks' costs in giving the poor direct access.






THE official index of industrial production (IIP) understates growth, say two government working papers, as the base year, the items tracked and their weightages have remain unrevised for far too long. A paper by M C Singhi of the industry ministry and the other by R K Kamra and S Chakraborty of the ministry of statistics, both study correlation of the IIP with the much more comprehensive Annual Survey of Industries. And the main finding is that while the association between the two data series was strong up to 1998-99, it has become more tenuous since. The industrial index is of course dated, as these columns have often stressed. After all, significant structural changes have taken place in the industrial economy (and beyond) since the index was constructed with base year as 1993-94: many items of production have become considerably more important since — and others much less so — in terms of output. And the unrevised weightages in the index have underplayed the relative changes. The Kamra and Chakraborty paper finds that correlation between the index and the more detailed annual survey can be as low as 0.64. For more accurate estimates, what is clear is that the base year needs more frequent revision.


The base year in the industrial index needs to be revised quinquennially, as is the international practice, together with revision of weightages for different items of production. The index is available after a lag of six weeks following production, and remains our main lagging indicator, with widespread implications for such sectors as banking, travel, hospitality and communications. But in tandem, we need a dependable set of leading indicators compiled by the Centre, to include time-series data for order-book volumes, consumer confidence, a reliable price index, along with the benchmark share-price index and operating profits of corporates. In addition, it is now accepted practice abroad to include industrial productivity figures as a standard component in leading indices. To be comprehensive, an index of services output needs to be compiled as well, and again with the base year changing every five years. A fast-growing economy that calls for policy-nimbleness cannot afford to have obsolete or unreliable data.







IS THERE a language more universally confounding than bureaucratese? Nearly every country, whatever its lingua franca, is plagued by the incomprehensible prose that administrators favour. It is almost as if there is an international conspiracy by officialdom everywhere to keep the wider citizenry tongue-tied; knowledge, after all, is power. In that context, a mammoth book by a retired Canadian civil servant compiling all the phrases favoured by his country's bilingual bureaucracy deserves to be a bestseller. Ostensibly, it is a mere translation of common terms used by government servants so that nothing is lost in varied translations from English to French (and vice versa), but it can easily be regarded as one of the first signs of a popular uprising against abstruse and obdurate governments all over the world. People who have been afraid to speak out against blatant abuse of wordpower, would surely be inspired to articulation and action if more and more activists and groups strive to decode polysyllabic obfuscations of governments and indeed any other entities that seek to rule by confusion.


Even if some key nations dither, the cautious but brave clarion call by the Canadian should certainly be taken up forthwith by public-spirited individuals in India. Our daily discourse is not only weighed down by the accumulated detritus of generations of recondite governmentese, it is also consonantly plagued by acronymous new jargon from MNREGA to JNNURM, CVC to CAG. We would be one step closer to the universal goal of transparent governance once these jargon-auts are speedily banished. A brave new word order should not be a distant dream for plainspeaking folks.






WE BETTER not let politics destroy our fledgling MFI industry. While many players speak for the poor, this industry has demonstrated a sustainable business model dealing with the financially excluded. In this article, I argue that contrary to popular perception, financial inclusion is not a technology challenge but is, in fact, a low-cost HR challenge. And MFIs (and some NBFCs) have shown how to operate sustainably at a very low cost of HR. Technology is a crucial facilitator. High street banks — both in the public and private sectors — will not be able to solve the HR riddle unless they pick crucial business model lessons from these firms. They hold the key to addressing exclusion.


Financial exclusion is an HR problem. People costs account for over 65% of a bank's operating costs. Technology accounts for less than 10%. The search for low-cost banking is a search for lowcost human resources. Those who believe that innovation in technology can replace human resources are as mistaken as those who had written off bank branches many years ago. Bank branches with their reassuring presence and human touch are back at the centre stage now and are considered crucial to win customer trust. If educated customers need the human touch, why shouldn't the poor man with his precious savings?


MFIs are interesting because they operate profitably at such a low-cost of human capital that they can provide the human touch even for businesses with a low-ticket size. The average cost per head of MFIs is about . 1 lakh per annum compared with . 5.6 lakh for PSU banks, . 5.3 lakh for private sector banks, and . 3.8 lakh for regional rural banks (RRBs) as depicted in the graph. MFIs operate their branches, evaluate credit, make collections, manage technology and maintain accounts at an average cost of manpower equal to a peon's salary in a public sector bank. The MFI business model is not yet the full answer (and recent issues have highlighted the areas to improve), but it definitely bears the seeds of low-cost banking required for inclusion.


Despite the many regulatory interventions, high street banks will find it difficult to do inclusive banking as profits are too low and the 'hassle' is too high. It has been known for quite some time that a conventional high street bank's cost structure is too high to be able to serve a low-ticket business in rural areas. The regulator has pinned its hopes on outsourcing the costly last-mile customer touch point. The business correspondent (BC) model was envisaged to help commercial banks in the last mile to reach the financially excluded. However, the progress has been slow.


For a long time, the reigning paradigm was that the poor should not be exploited and no profits should be made at their expense. So, only non-profit entities were allowed to be business correspondents. Gradually, the regulator acknowledged that 'for-profit' entities are required in the last mile. 'For Profit BC' guidelines were introduced some time ago. We have, however, not yet seen any significant adoption of the BC model by 'for profit' entities. The reason is that the 'for profit' entities like corporate houses with rural distribution do not find this business financially lucrative.


THE regulator has to appreciate that the profits are very low and risks too high, to interest any organised entity to venture into this. In fact, the entities who would actually be interested as they have the customer contact and are used to the operational issues — the MFI and rural NBFC — have been barred from becoming BCs.


Public sector banks will not succeed in bringing inclusion due to the inherent constraints of their character. Despite their noble intent, the public sector is most ill-equipped to create inclusive banking. Most people do not appreciate that the public sector is the highest cost business model in the Indian banking system today in terms of average manpower cost. Despite very low compensation at senior levels, the HR cost per head in the public sector is the highest. Given the nature of industrial relations in public sector banks, this trend is unlikely to be arrested.


The RRBs are a sitting example of this phenomenon. RRBs were a bold public sector initiative to create banks for rural areas with local low-cost HR. The costs within RRB have crept up gradually and today they are considered inadequate for their mandate. Further, the work environment in the public sector is hardly encouraging for experimentation required to innovate and create new low-cost models. Innovation involves risks of failure and many public sector executives will admit in private that one of the good ways to thrive in public sector is by not taking any decisions and hence avoiding making mistakes.


Banks who are serious about inclusion will need to create separate subsidiaries or business units that will pick tips on HR from the MFIs. Banks shudder at the thought of having to manage two different set of employees with different service conditions and costs. They could, however, learn from the airline industry. Budget airlines have been very successful. Many full-service airlines that entered the budget airline space successfully created a separate subsidiary with a distinct brand, employees, fleet and infrastructure. I will not be surprised if these bank subsidiaries look like MFIs in terms of HR strategies.
(The author is Partner & Director, BCG.
    Views are personal.)







Professor, Centre For Policy Research

Only if democratic regimes take over


THE answer to the question whether the 'revolution' in the Arab world is in India's interest will depend on who would take charge after the overthrow of these regimes. So far, the agitating masses in Egypt are united only in demanding the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. This fragile unity could easily break in the chaotic situation, even after his removal.


What happens here is crucial to India's interest. Egypt is an Indiafriendly country. Bollywood films are popular there and Amitabh Bachchan is a household name in Cairo. Seen more as a US stooge, Mubarak has been no friend of India. And till recently, India did not figure much in his foreign policy agenda.


But the fact remains that he did keep fundamentalist forces like the Muslim brotherhood under control. This could change if they manage to come to the fore. The uprising, coming as it does close on the heels of the Tunisian Jasmine revolution, might have been a spontaneous outburst of public anger against corruption and misrule, but it could not have been sustained for so long and gain momentum without some planning and support. If the transition is chaotic and violent, there is every possibility that the extremist religious elements would take centre-stage.


 No doubt, if truly democratically-elected liberal regimes take their place, they would certainly be in India's interest. But if the Islamic forces succeed — like a repeat of the Iranian revolution — it could be a potentially dangerous situation. Such disturbing developments could impact not only our external relations with the Arab countries where we have vital interests but also our internal situation.


It would be pertinent to recall that the strengthening of the separatist forces and terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir took place during the mass upsurge in Iran. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir could sharply deteriorate again if the jihadi groups, aided and abetted by Pakistan, get inspiration and support from the so-called revolution in the Arab world. There is no scope for romanticising the situation. India needs to be hard-headed to look after its own national interest.



Former Foreign Secretary


Will have little direct impact here

 INDIA was not born in a revolution. In 1947, the old guard was not taken off in tumbrels to make way for the new. Instead, it was an orderly transfer of power from one authority to its successor, even while the country was wracked with utter mayhem and disorder. The main institutions of governance survived the transition virtually unaltered, with the all-important addition of a fullyfunctional Parliament. India's instinctive predisposition for orderly and harmonious transition was demonstrated in those trying times, and also its inclination to recoil from abrupt and violent transformation.


But there is another, no less compelling Indian propensity, which is the love of freedom as a basic value. Indians are free people, they make their own choices about how they should be organised and who should rule them, and they will not have it otherwise. They can only rejoice when others choose to do the same, so their sympathies are closely engaged with the struggle of the mass of Arabs who have come out in defiance of seemingly immovable rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other parts of West Asia.


Indeed, only the remarkably dull would fail to catch the thrill and exhilaration of the current moment as ordinary people leave the security of their homes and workplaces to cast defiance at those who have exercised authority over them for so long. The sympathy of Indians will certainly be with those demanding a better deal.


It is worth remembering that these events will have little direct impact on India. The major consequences will be in the Arab world itself, where the demonstrations have served to regenerate trampled national pride, and have strengthened the universal cause of freedom and democracy. India's interest in this drama is not to be measured in petty accounts of profit and loss but, above all, in affirming the values we share with those who have come out to demonstrate.


The inspiring example they have given the world must be acknowledged. We must wish for them a peaceful and orderly transition to the new order. And we must reach out to them in friendship.








WHEN I visited your country last summer, I came with a very clear purpose: to take the relationship between India and the UK to the next level — to make it stronger, wider and deeper. This week, our two countries are making good on that promise. Yesterday in Downing Street, we held the first ever UK-India CEO Forum, bringing together business leaders from our two countries and giving them the chance to exchange ideas, develop links and seize opportunities.


Why does this matter? From a British perspective, it's clear. I'm determined that as we emerge from recession, we build a new economic model in our country. A model based on balanced growth between different industries and regions, where we see more exports and higher investment. To get there, we need to connect ourselves to the fastest-growing parts of the world. And, quite simply, they don't get much faster than India. In the past four years, your average rate of growth has been 8% — and that presents great opportunities for Britain. We are already feeling that power back home. The Tata Group is now one of the largest manufacturing employers in Britain. And Indian investments in the UK in the last financial year generated over 3,000 new jobs and safeguarded a further 2,500. So, deepening our ties further means even more jobs and more growth back home.
    But this isn't a one-way street. As you look to grow your economy in the years ahead, the UK has practical attractions for India too. We speak the world's language. We are still the world's sixth largest manufacturer and the best base for companies wanting to do business in Europe. We have some of the best universities in the world and we are a great hub for science and innovation. And let's not forget, we not only have the strengths of our history — our democracy, rule of law and strong institutions — but a modern dynamism too. We're the nation that helped pioneer the internet, unravel the DNA code and whose music, films and television are admired the world over. All of these things can mean so much opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs.


The question is: where should the focus of our attention be? When it comes to economic cooperation, I think two areas clearly stand out. First, we should encourage more investment by Indian companies in Britain — and vice versa. Both of us already benefit so much. JCB, BAE, Wipro and Infosys are just some of the companies who do business across our countries. But I want to see more Indian companies setting up in Britain and more British companies setting up in India. And let's be clear: that will only come when we take some difficult decisions. We've both got to take on some vested interests and open up our markets. We in Britain have to welcome your expertise in car manufacturing and steel production; I hope you in India will reduce the barriers to foreign investment in legal services, defence, banking and insurance.


The second area we need to cooperate is on trade. This is the single biggest stimulus we could give our economies right now. To be fair, things are improving. India-UK trade went up by more than two-thirds between 2004 and 2009, and now stands at more than $11 billion a year. But things could still be so much better. Today, the UK still trades more with Sweden than it does with India. Is that good enough? I don't think so. That's why yesterday, at the UKIndia CEO Summit, I agreed a new bold target to double trade between our two countries by 2015.


Setting the target is one thing, getting there is quite another. There are some relatively simple steps we can take, like streamlining customs red tape to save time and money — and we're committed to it. Other things will take more time — not least, working for international trade agreements at Doha and between the EU and India. But whatever the circumstances, some big questions still need to be answered. Are there specific sectors where we can be more ambitious? Are there any quick-wins? What are the real obstacles to trade that exist between our two countries? That's why, as part of their remit, the UK-India CEO Forum is going to take a long look at this whole area and report back their answers to Prime Minister Singh and me in the summer.
    This is an exciting time for the UK-India partnership. It finally feels that after years of talking about strengthening, we're actually getting on with doing it. Of course, in the end, it will be results that matter — the ties that are developed between our people; the investment that occurs; the jobs that are created. But we've made a bold start in 2011, and I'm more confident than ever that the relationship between our two countries could be one of the defining relationships of this century.


(Written by the Prime Minister of Britain exclusively for the Economic Times on the occasion
    of the UK-India CEO Forum)







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!








Earnings data for the latest quarter show that banking is still interest income-driven and fee-based services are not growing fast enough.

For the past twelve months, the Reserve Bank of India has been tweaking key rates, sending interest rates upwards all through last year. What impact such action has had on the intended goal of inflation control is evident in the persistent stickiness of prices at "elevated" levels. There may have been some impact on the tendency for overheating in the real-estate sector, but anecdotal evidence does not point to a significant break in the buoyancy of the market for commercial and residential properties. So what has the RBI really achieved with its signals for higher rates down the line?

A bonanza for banks it would seem. December earnings season shows banks doing far better than was expected in a climate of tighter monetary policies and doubts about the sustainability of industrial expansion. Against the expectations of reduced interest incomes, banks expanded net interest earnings by 37 per cent with public sector banks topping the charts at 42 per cent, followed way down by the private sector banks with 23 per cent. But when it came to net profits, private banks marched ahead with 35 per cent growth compared with their public sector counterparts that clocked an expansion of just 21 per cent. Public sector banks were handicapped by higher standard-asset provisioning for teaser loans mandated by the RBI; they set aside 78 per cent more under provisions, including for bad loans, this year than the previous year partly due to restructured assets that could have slipped into NPAs. In contrast, provisioning in the case of private sector banks has dipped 28 per cent over last year. Also, higher employee costs through gratuities and pension liabilities shaved off some of the earnings of public sector banks. What do these results tell us? State-owned banks may account for the largest volume of business in the country, thus explaining their higher net interest growth, but they are saddled with higher costs on account of oversized manpower. The fact that together they have an extensive network of branches also adds to costs; the RBI data show that most of the banking business is concentrated in the metros followed by Tier-II cities. Private sector banks, therefore, are not so handicapped; their employee levels are lower and productivity higher. While state-owned banks have been catching up through organisational modernisation, the fact that they are also beholden to the government cramps their freedom to innovate as fast as their private sector counterparts.

Be that as it may, the earnings data do show that banking in India is still interest income-driven; clearly, fee-based services are not growing fast enough to make a difference to the earnings profile.






Given the inherent conflict between social objectives and profit motives in the MFI industry, it is time to think of alternative models to reach credit to the poor.

"When do you wish to be a debt-free person?" When I posed this question casually to Mastanamma, a Self Help Group (SHG) member and client of at least three Micro Finance Institutions in Tandur Village, of Andhra Pradesh's Ranga Reddy district about a year-ago, she just gave me a blank stare.

Struggling hard to service her multiple loans from 1992, she had no idea when all her debts would be cleared. It was hard to imagine the amount of interest she must have paid for over nine years when interest rates were between 30-60 per cent. She was in a debt trap, a fact she was probably not even aware of.

Since then, persistent queries to the heads and other functionaries of the top five MFIs in the country could never elicit a convincing response nor explain to me properly the 'inextricable link' between the prosperity of the poor, microfinance and debt trap.

"They are taking loans to reinvest in business," a top functionary of SKS Microfinance mumbled feebly, adding that the repayment rate was a whopping 99 per cent, the obvious implication being that the borrowers were prospering. Developments in Andhra Pradesh (AP) over the last four months would require any sensible observer to disagree with the prosperity theory. On the contrary, there is a growing threat of social debt in rural India.

Just consider the AP case. Over a 100 borrowers of various microfinance institutions allegedly committed suicide; some women confessed they were forced into prostitution by other group members to fulfil weekly payment obligations (the AP Government went on record with this!) and such stories abound.

It is not a coincidence, therefore, that AP accounts for over 30 per cent of the Rs 33,000-crore outstanding portfolio of MFIs in the country, with 142 registered MFIs operating in the State, according to a report submitted to the Malegam panel by the Government recently. Interestingly, till September 2010, almost all MFIs claimed a 99 per cent repayment rate from their borrowers.

How was this possible and why was there a sudden uproar about non-payments and coercive methods of recovery? Could it be that over 10 lakh SHG members and other clients of MFIs in AP might have reached a stage of bankruptcy after being forced to repay MFI loans by various means?

If so, further expansion of MFI-lending in other States too is bound to result in similar scenarios after a period of time when the repaying capacity of the rural poor totally dries up.

Multiple lending

Even the Malegam Committee report notes that repayment of old debt accounts for about 25 per cent of new loans taken by joint liability groups/SHGs in Andhra Pradesh, while another 25 per cent goes for income generation activities.

The panel's recommendation of a cap of 24 per cent interest rate plus one per cent insurance costs on MFI loans could still prove too high for the poor to bear.

Another important point is the repayment frequency. By suggesting that MFIs should be given the freedom to fix the pattern of repayment, the Malegam panel has, willy-nilly, increased the interface between borrower and MFI, the nature of which cannot be controlled at the ground level.

The measures to ensure transparency and fair treatment of clients by recovery agents are difficult to enforce as there are over 1,500 MFIs in the country.

There is also a need for all stakeholders to hammer out ways and means to tackle the problem of multiple lending, as the so-called self-regulation by MFIs has obviously failed.

In the absence of any mechanism to check multiple lending, the AP Act has put a system in place a system to prevent it. SKS Microfinance, for instance, could disburse just over 100 loans from November 16 till recently due to the strong scrutiny process put in place by the Act.  

While Government intervention to the extent of clearing loans may be detrimental to the industry in the long run, it might be a workable solution in the short term, at least till the industry learns to regulate itself.

The Malegam panel's suggestion that no more than two MFIs should lend to a borrower may not work in the absence of a workable mechanism to check multiple lending.

These, along with many other recommendations of the Malegam panel make one point clear.

While the AP Microfinance Regulation Act (originally promulgated as an ordinance on October 15, 2010) approached the MFI sector from the social and borrowers' angle, the Malegam panel has taken an industry/banker's perspective by focussing more on capital adequacy, solvency and definition of MFIs.

Alternative model

Given the inherent conflict between social objectives and profit motives in the MFI industry, it is probably necessary to think of alternative models of reaching credit to the poor.

The SHG bank-linkage accounts for 58 per cent of the outstanding microfinance loan portfolio, but banks are worried over growing defaults from SHG members.

For instance, in AP alone, the dues were Rs 2,098 crore, constituting 16.42 per cent of outstanding loans as on October 31, 2010. It appears that growth in microfinance lending comes at a huge cost for both the poor, who are falling deeper into a debt trap, and the banks, which face growing NPAs. The AP Government has taken the lead by roping in some banks to fund Mandala Mahila Samkahas (MMS) directly which would, in turn, lend to SHG members at 10 per cent interest. The working of this model needs to be watched closely.






An Oxford University study points out that IFRS brings significant "unexplored impacts" to many different areas of socio-economics overriding the positive effects in capital markets.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) ignites extreme passions equally amongst protagonists and antagonists. And why not? IFRS represents a tectonic shift in the grammar of accounting. Yet, there was no assessment done on the socio-economic impact of introduction of IFRS till the University of Oxford stepped in with a recent study.

The result, "Socio-Economic Impacts of IFRS on Wider Stakeholders in India", by Dr Tomo Suzuki and Prof Jaypal Jain of Said Business School, University of Oxford, has been recently submitted to The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI).

The authors have carried out several rounds of interviews with 371 stakeholders to reach a collective understanding on the impact of IFRS in India. Deploring the standard rhetoric used to project IFRS as "high quality, global accounting standards that enhance transparency, comparability and the efficiency of the financial markets in the public interest," the authors point out as to why even the very introduction (forget convergence or full adoption) of IFRS should be considered as a matter affecting our national interest.

Warning stakeholders that the impact of IFRS is largely unexplored, more so for a developing country like India, the Report reveals, rather startlingly, that many including capital market participants did not find any significant benefits of IFRS. Further, vast majority of stakeholders considered the introduction of IFRS costly without corresponding benefits to them.

Promotion of IFRS

The Report points out how no one could articulate why and how IFRS convergence was necessary or better for globalisation or, more importantly, desirable for India. Similarly the authors do not seem to be too impressed with the standard rhetoric that adopting IFRS would lead to more foreign capital inflows.

The Report points out that most members of the ICAI were unaware of the decision to converge with IFRS, while exposing the role of the then President of the ICAI (2007-08) in announcing convergence, "without proper consultation and procedure." The paradox is ironical — IFRS, ostensibly sought to be introduced to enhance transparency in business was in effect smuggled in the most undemocratic manner!

Whose agenda?

Naturally all these raise an uncomfortable question — who is interested in this agenda of thrusting IFRS on us? How is it that the ICAI completely sold out to this idea without a debate?

The Report concedes that no one seems to understand how exactly IFRS has become so influential concluding that if politics dominates the introduction of IFRS in India, it could be only at the cost of wider stakeholders, whose voices are structurally under-represented. The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) — the global accounting body that set these standards — is a private body which is accountable to none. Yet, accounting norms are an instrument of political sovereignty and far too important to be left to such private bodies!

Serious questions

The Suzuki-Jain report is one of first studies to raise serious questions on the fundamental principles that drive IFRS. Conventional accounting measures profit on the income statement as an indicator of a company's performance while simultaneously excluding future profits by matching realised revenues against accrued cost. In contrast, Fair Value Accounting (FVA) defines profit on the Balance Sheet as an increase in net assets over a period. The discomforting factor for many is when the fair value of assets is measured by estimated future cash flows; it could include unrealised future profit. The fundamental accounting principle of conservatism would get the short shrift.

The concern of the authors is "how often estimates are required, and how reliable they can be, not in the context of advanced financial economies but in the local contexts of India and other jurisdictions including emerging economies."

Endless referencing?

FVA can often be driven by different models and estimates which officially have to be determined by the management.

Is this a responsibility or freedom? In the absence of detailed rules, how are the estimates to be determined by the management, particularly in developing countries?

That leads us to a fundamental question — how will the fair value of assets and liabilities be "negotiated" between management and auditors? We may end up with a long chain of professional referencing where professional valuers, management and auditors flourish in an environment where no one is held accountable by the system, while the increased costs are borne by investors.

All this explains why the top honchos in the ICAI are rooting for IFRS but it is indeed inexplicable why Corporate India, especially those who have no need for foreign capital, have not raised their voice on these lines. Similarly, investor forums too have been silent.

Taken for Granted

The Report questions the presumption in the world of finance that the disclosure of fair value to investors without time lag is efficient and preferable.

Crucially, it points out that beneath the armour of fair value and transparency, preparers and auditors admit to the increasing magnitude of subjectivity and risks under IFRS.

Naturally, this raises a basic doubt — where there are multiple fair values that can be chosen from under IFRS, what can be held to be transparent?

On top of this, corporates fear that they have to grapple with the consequent tax implications.

The Report points out how the US Securities Exchange Commission and Financial Accounting Standards Board are increasingly under pressure to slow the pace towards convergence. Ditto with regulators in Japan. In effect, world over there seems to be a rethink on IFRS.

The Suzuki-Jain study points out that IFRS brings significant "unexplored impacts" to many different areas of socio-economics, some of which are negative and override the positive effects in capital markets.

Managers are incentivised and often forced to play the number game based on "unrealised profits" which in turn are expected to be distributed as dividends.

No wonder IFRS is being pursued by these vested interests including international investing community. Interestingly, in such a scenario the Report points out as to how no one will take responsibility or will be held accountable simply because G-20 leaders and multilateral agencies have endorsed the same.

All these are frightening. Yet, ICAI is slated to discuss this Report in its Council Meeting at its own leisure in March.

Perhaps, by that time it might become too late as the timeline for the first set of corporates who have to begin their convergence is April 1.

Surely, vested interests would love the Suzuki-Jain Report to be buried.

Therefore, it is in the interest of trade bodies and chambers of commerce to ensure larger discussion and generate appropriate political pressure to ensure postponement of IFRS implementation till the findings of this Report are widely disseminated, discussed and debated. After all, should not the "most transparent accounting idea" be introduced transparently?






What is employee engagement? Everyone appears to have a definition of his own. Skimming through them only creates more confusion. Bugged by these two words — 'employee engagement', almost every company has tried to do something based on its understanding. But the question is, are they hitting the bull's eye? There are still many myths surrounding employee engagement. Exploding these myths is paramount to draw the real benefits of engagement. One of them is that employee engagement is a derivative of job satisfaction.

Partly engaged

Many believe that employee engagement is an improved version of job satisfaction. But I chose to differ. I think engagement can happen even without job satisfaction. Consider a fresh hire, Mr X, in his new company 'A'. On his first day in the new organisation, he expected the usual routine introduction, loads of paper forms to be filled, and so on. Instead, after a brief video tour of the organisation, all fresh hires had a 'coffee with CEO' of the company, when they had a chance to share new ideas that would improve the company. Later, he was assigned a buddy (a senior employee) to help him out with everything, right from making him with the office to finding a house, gas connection etc. Mr X was already feeling that this was the place he always wanted to be in and he would give his best to the organisation.

Now, would you say that Mr X has job satisfaction when he has not been assigned any work? However, Mr X already appears partly engaged.

Similarly, disengagement can happen even when the employee is satisfied and involved in his job. Consider Mr Y in another organisation 'B'. He has been working in this organisation for the last five years and his track-record has been very good. Mr Y is relatively satisfied with his job.

Shift in strategy

Organisation 'B' has recently been acquired by an industry major and has, of late, seen a sudden shift in strategy. The company now seems to be focusing more on development projects, rather then on maintenance and support projects. He, like many working on such projects, has been perplexed at the sudden change in the organisation's strategy and has been uncertain about its future. In the absence of communication from the company, there was a lot of grapevine in the informal circuit.

Mr Y suddenly gets an offer from a competitor through a head-hunter and even though he was very satisfied with his job, he decided to take up the offer as it provided him ample chances to grow and learn.

Here, in this case, Mr Y leaves the organisation despite being satisfied with his job.

Long and short of the story is that there is a fundamental difference in the approach of job satisfaction and employee engagement. While job satisfaction approach calls for simplification of the job, monetary rewards, title inflations and perks to make the employee happy and satisfied, engagement principles involve making the job interesting and challenging, embraces unhindered communication, transparency, facilitating performance through various interventions and providing opportunities to employees to contribute, so that their performance can be enhanced.

In the process, the employee derives happiness and a self-drive.



                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Among the various internal security problems this country is besieged with, the Naxal/Maoist issue is one which is difficult to attribute to foreign inspiration, unlike, say, the dodgy situation in Kashmir or the Northeast, or lately even communal violence, which is sometimes linked to the action-reaction syndrome driven by terrorist attacks. And yet it is plain that success in dealing with this homegrown malady appears to be minimal. The Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, acknowledged as much when he told the chief ministers' conference on internal security this week: "Looking back at 2010, my assessment is that there is a kind of stalemate." The home minister's observation is noteworthy for its frankness. Usually not one to beat about the bush, Mr Chidambaram has offered a clear cut appraisal. Perhaps its public articulation will goad the Centre and state governments to be both more analytical and purposeful in meeting a challenge which, at its root, emanates from two sources — the stark poverty in the countryside in large parts of the country, and the deficit of governance which drives people, particularly the poor, to despair that can become a stepping-stone to violence. Mr Chidambaram took charge of the home ministry a little over two years ago. Right from the beginning he set about revamping, innovating and establishing institutions to deal with terror-related crimes since he came to the job in the immediate the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. It was only a little later that he turned his attention to Naxalism, which was then being officially described as the country's primary internal security problem. (Under the pressure of political to-and-fro, not least within the ruling Congress itself, such a cavalier categorisation has been modified imperceptibly as it appeared to be casting blame on the poorest sections of our people, particularly tribals. Now the marker of hierarchy has been abandoned and the Maoist question only ranks as one among the country's key internal security challenges.) Even so, the government's success in dealing with Maoism has been conspicuously limited. This is not surprising. So long as the Indian State cannot take effective steps to raise people from grinding poverty, it cannot turn the tide against Naxalism, especially in regions where the terrain is forested and inaccessible for the most part. Merely deploying the police, paramilitary forces or even the military means will not do, important and inescapable as these may be. As Mr Chidambaram admitted at the internal security conference, there has been a "perceptible lull" in anti-Naxalite operations since the massacre of 76 CRPF personnel in Dantewada in April 2010 — in effect, for the past one year. This is clear recognition that even the police and military end of the solution has not crystallised. There aren't enough police personnel, and those that are available lack the right training and equipment, and possibly also suffer from an absence of leadership and morale. Not so the Naxalites.






The tumultuous events in Egypt this week, still unfolding as I write, have been commented upon by experts far more knowledgeable than I am about the Arab world. And yet there is one aspect of what has happened that none of the experts seems to have focused on — something with wider global implications.

Let me explain. Perhaps one of the more interesting sidelights of last weekend's dramatic events in Cairo, as millions poured into Tahrir ("Liberation") Square and the Egyptian police melted away in the face of demonstrators, looters, democrats and vandals alike, was the reaction of the People's Republic of China. Beijing's official spokesperson on Sunday called for a "return to order" in Egypt, expressing concern at the troubles besieging this "friendly country". Praying for calm, the Chinese government made it clear that the restoration of law and order was its principal priority.

What made China — once a reliable supporter of the cause of "liberation" for "oppressed peoples" seen as groaning under the yoke of pro-Western authoritarian regimes — take such a tack this time? It is easy enough to say that China is no longer the Communist country it used to be, and that Mao's old enthusiasm for spreading the faith of the Little Red Book has long been supplanted by a preference for the Big Green Chequebook instead. That is, of course, true, and few are the "liberation movements" these days that can count on cash, ideological support or practical assistance from Beijing. Nor is it wrong to point out that despite a consciousness of a US threat to its own global superpower ambitions, China does not fundamentally see itself in political competition with the US and is making little effort to wrest pro-Washington governments away from the American embrace.

All that is commonplace enough. But there is something more behind the Chinese position. What China's statement about Egypt reveals is that the mandarins in Beijing are thinking about themselves — and their own stake in the success across the world of authoritarian systems which, whatever their foreign policy orientations, are more akin to their style of rule than to Washington's.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990-91, no one was more worried than the Beijing establishment. They too had embarked on reforms, after all, driven by the same realisation as Moscow that the Communist system was not only morally and ideologically bankrupt, but worse still, did not work in practice. Communism's biggest weakness was not that it was undemocratic, but that it could not deliver the goods. The fact that the USSR's embrace of reform had led so rapidly to the collapse of the ruling Communist Party, and even to unravelling of the entire country, gave pause to the enthusiasts of change in China — those who had been tempted by the Gorbachev-like impulses of one-time party leader Zhao Ziyang. They anxiously studied the Soviet reform experience for lessons they could draw upon to avoid a similar fate themselves.

And from this emerged a simple insight: what an authoritarian system in the throes of reform needs to do is to pursue perestroika but not glasnost. Political change is a bad idea, economic success is essential.

Gorbachev's big mistake, the bosses in Beijing concluded, was that he mixed up the genuine need for perestroika (the restructuring of the failed and inefficient Communist economic and bureaucratic system) with the unnecessary turn towards glasnost (openness, liberalism and democratic pluralism in the political system). The former, as the Chinese Communists saw it, was an imperative they had already realised by then; the latter, which Gorbachev saw as a necessary accompaniment — rather like the chole without which a batura isn't worth having, would simply guarantee their own extinction. Whereas the Russian Communists had wrongly believed the package came as a whole and couldn't be disaggregated, the Chinese decided it could be. They proceeded to demonstrate that you could operate a capitalist economic model within an authoritarian, repressive one-party state.

In this they found considerable sympathy from regimes around the world which, while pro-Western in their foreign policy, remained the antithesis of Western Enlightenment values at home. The survival of such regimes — from Putin's Russia, still more messy than Beijing would like, to a variety of Arab and African dictatorships — vindicated China's view that its way of doing business (and running government) had far more resonance and viability than the free-for-all democracy practised in untidy places like India and nominally advocated by America and the European Union.

The fact is that they are not wholly wrong. The "Jasmine Revolution" in Tunisia and its knock-on effect in Egypt (with the prospect of the contagion spreading to Libya, Sudan, Yemen and/or Jordan in the weeks and months to come) is instructive for all sorts of reasons, but perhaps the most striking of them is that it is not authoritarianism per se that the crowds in the streets are demonstrating against. Dictatorial rule has been accepted in each of these countries for decades. What the protestors were shouting for was not just freedom but dignity — the dignity that comes from having jobs worth doing, food to eat, hopes of a better life for the kids. As long as authoritarianism can deliver economic benefits, most people in most developing countries will put aside their natural desire for democratic self-expression and concentrate on making a good life for themselves and their families instead. It is when an authoritarian state fails to deliver on these basic necessities that the people finally pour into the streets.

This is the central Chinese insight. A rock song of the 1970s memorably told us that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". When the heavy hand of the state takes care of your material aspirations, its heaviness seems less important. Opposing it would jeopardise a lot of material benefits: this is why Chinese dissidents have so little support in their materialistic society. When the state doesn't deliver the goods, then opposing it makes sense: you have nothing left to lose. The biggest failures of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine Al Abidin Ben Ali in Tunisia may not have been their repressive politics but their failed economics. If young men hadn't been unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, feed themselves and have the self-respect to offer a home to the young women they desired, they would not be calling for the overthrow of their government. That is worth bearing in mind as the so-called experts allow the scent of jasmine to envelop us all.

* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






Stuck for an answer about the policies of a king or queen in the dim and distant past, students of history across India fall back on a stock refrain: The ruler is praised for remitting revenues, promoting the arts, setting up rest houses, and yes, planting trees along the roadside.

Pressed for an instance, they could come up with responses that vary depending on where they live in this vast land. In the north, it would be Sher Shah Suri (1540-45) and the trees along the Grand Trunk Road. In deep south, it could well be the Mangammal Salai, planted by the Nayaka queen who died in 1706. Even when little else — save for architectural monuments and legacies — survives from the past, trees remain a living link with it. The word "salai" in its original rendering specifically can mean "a tree lined avenue or road".

For once, the laziest of school girls or boys is right. Travellers of the past record how central certain trees were, not just to the landscape but in the way it was recorded and remembered. Bishop Reginald Heber in the 1820s wrote of a giant banyan tree on an island in the Narmada which, it was said, could provide shelter and shade to as many as 7,000 people. Though he reverentially called it "one of the noblest groves in the world", it was diminished in size a hit by a storm.

This was a giant of a tree, a veritable mammoth among its companions. Upstream of Bharuch, it even had a name: Kabirbadh. Its 320 trunks were additionally supported by over 3,000 prop roots. Even the floods that reduced it in size could not mar its majesty.

Later in the century, the Gazetteer of the Central Provinces refered to another such tree on the way from the provincial capital of Nagpur to Betul. This one could provide shade from the sun to as many as 500 horses.

Yet, it was in the southern peninsula that the ace historian of trade and transport routes in India, Professor Jean Deloche, finds tree-lined avenues the norm across centuries. Trees were the saving grace of road journeys from Vellore (scene of the famous Blue Mutiny of 1806, a dress rehearsal almost for the Revolt of 1857) to Bengaluru or from Ranipettai on the other bank on the Palar to Chittoor in Rayalseema (literally, the land of stones).

Banyans were not alone: there was the tamarind, with its fruit much loved by monkeys, children and housewives. Both trees cast a deep shade, which while much beloved of travellers, peddlers and mendicants, does not allow even grass or shrubs to grow. What stands out in this choice of trees is the priority given to those that gave good shade, and also those that provided a harvest of fruit.

The intrepid and tireless historian of Delhi's trees, Pradeep Krishen, provides deep insight into where the British planner of the new imperial city got it wrong. The tree species labelled as "Avenue First Class" included the Ashok and imli, anjan and philkan, Arjun and Maulshree. What mattered was "the evergreeness" of a tree. Of course, the trees played truant. Given Delhi's semi arid climes, they did and do shed leaves. But these species were not the best suited to the place: the British had, unlike earlier rulers, not planted with the ecology of the region.

Yet, Lutyens and forester Peter Clutterbuck, like Sher Shah or the Nayaka queen, did create a legacy that is green. But how will the future judge us in 21st century India? Not very kindly, it seems. The four-laning of highways and the widening of roads within metros and cities are playing havoc with roadside trees. When this takes place in cities such as Bengaluru or Delhi (both with a fast growing number of private cars), the issue receives attention and provokes debate.

But the trees along roads that link different centres do deserve a closer look. Dr T.R. Shankar Raman, an ecologist and wildlife biologist who himself spends much time re-growing rainforests on abandoned tea estate on the Valparai plateau of Tamil Nadu, has recently drawn attention to the slaughter of roadside trees. Banyans that date back centuries are being felled along several key roads in Karnataka and he warns that unless preventive measures are taken hundreds of trees will be chopped down and transformed into charcoal. There is a way out: not only to plant more trees but to reconsider whether these roads ought to be widened. In addition to the money earned by contractors who sell the wood, there are state governments eager to avoid the hassles of land acquisition. Were the latter to be done, the trees could survive in a central verge, a model tried out for tree planting in Haryana by former chief minister Bansi Lal.

Only time will tell whether the school kids of the future will look back on our age not for the green legacy it created but for the heritage it left impoverished. The old banyans and peepal, mangoes and tamarind trees are no less worth keeping than human made monuments. Will we learn from the past and sensibly so?







 "The Arab world is on fire", Al Jazeera reported on January 27, while throughout the region Western allies "are quickly losing their influence". The shock wave was set in motion by the dramatic uprising in Tunisia that drove out a Western-backed dictator, with reverberations especially in Egypt, where demonstrators overwhelmed a dictator's brutal police.

Observers compared the events to the toppling of Russian domains in 1989, but there are important differences.

Crucially, no Mikhail Gorbachev exists among the great powers that support the Arab dictators. Rather, Washington and its allies keep to the well-established principle that democracy is acceptable only insofar as it conforms to strategic and economic objectives: fine in enemy territory (up to a point), but not in our backyard, please, unless it is properly tamed.

One 1989 comparison has some validity: Romania, where Washington maintained its support for Nicolae Ceausescu, the most vicious of the East European dictators, until the allegiance became untenable. Then Washington hailed his overthrow while the past was erased.

That is a standard pattern: Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo Hwan, Suharto and many other useful gangsters. It may be under way in the case of Hosni Mubarak, along with routine efforts to try to ensure that a successor regime will not veer far from the approved path.

The current hope appears to be Mubarak loyalist Gen. Omar Suleiman, just named Egypt's vice-president. Suleiman, the longtime head of the intelligence services, is despised by the rebelling public almost as much as the dictator himself. A common refrain among pundits is that fear of radical Islam requires (reluctant) opposition to democracy on pragmatic grounds. While not without some merit, the formulation is misleading. The general threat has always been independence. In the Arab world, the US and its allies have regularly supported radical Islamists, sometimes to prevent the threat of secular nationalism.

A familiar example is Saudi Arabia, the ideological centre of radical Islam (and of Islamic terror). Another in a long list is Zia ul-Haq, the most brutal of Pakistan's dictators and President Reagan's favourite, who carried out a programme of radical Islamisation (with Saudi funding).

"The traditional argument put forward in and out of the Arab world is that there is nothing wrong, everything is under control", says Marwan Muasher, former Jordanian official and now director of West Asian research for the Carnegie Endowment. "With this line of thinking, entrenched forces argue that opponents and outsiders calling for reform are exaggerating the conditions on the ground."

Therefore, the public can be dismissed. The doctrine traces far back and generalises worldwide, to US home territory as well. In the event of unrest, tactical shifts may be necessary, but always with an eye to reasserting control.

The vibrant democracy movement in Tunisia was directed against "a police state, with little freedom of expression or association, and serious human rights problems", ruled by a dictator whose family was hated for their venality. This was the assessment by US ambassador Robert Godec in a July 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks.

Therefore, to some observers the WikiLeaks "documents should create a comforting feeling among the American public that officials aren't asleep at the switch" — indeed, that the cables are so supportive of US policies that it is almost as if Obama is leaking them himself (or so Jacob Heilbrunn writes in the National Interest.)

"America should give Assange a medal", says a headline in the Financial Times. Chief foreign-policy analyst Gideon Rachman writes that "America's foreign policy comes across as principled, intelligent and pragmatic… the public position taken by the US on any given issue is usually the private position as well".

In this view, WikiLeaks undermines the "conspiracy theorists" who question the noble motives that Washington regularly proclaims. Godec's cable supports these judgments — at least if we look no further. If we do, as foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes reports in Foreign Policy in Focus, we find that, with Godec's information in hand, Washington provided $12 million in military aid to Tunisia. As it happens, Tunisia was one of only five foreign beneficiaries: Israel (routinely); the two West Asia dictatorships Egypt and Jordan; and Colombia, which has long had the worst human rights record and the most US military aid in the hemisphere.

Heilbrunn's "Exhibit A" is Arab support for US policies targeting Iran, revealed by leaked cables. Rachman too seizes on this example, as did the media generally, hailing these encouraging revelations. The reactions illustrate how profound is the contempt for democracy in the educated culture.

Unmentioned is what the population thinks — easily discovered. According to polls released by the Brookings Institution in August, some Arabs agree with Washington and Western commentators that Iran is a threat: 10 per cent. In contrast, they regard the US and Israel as the major threats (77 per cent; 88 per cent).

Arab opinion is so hostile to Washington's policies that a majority (57 per cent) think regional security would be enhanced if Iran had nuclear weapons. Still, "there is nothing wrong, everything is under control" (as Marwan Muasher describes the prevailing fantasy). The dictators support us. Their subjects can be ignored — unless they break their chains, and then policy must be adjusted.

Other leaks also appear to lend support to the enthusiastic judgments about Washington's nobility. In July 2009, Hugo Llorens, US ambassador to Honduras, informed Washington of an embassy investigation of "legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28 forced removal of President Manuel 'Mel' Zelaya".

The embassy concluded that "there is no doubt that the military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch". Very admirable, except that President Obama proceeded to break with almost all of Latin America and Europe by supporting the coup regime and dismissing subsequent atrocities.

Perhaps the most remarkable WikiLeaks revelations have to do with Pakistan, reviewed by foreign policy analyst Fred Branfman in Truthdig.

The cables reveal that the US embassy is well aware that Washington's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan not only intensifies rampant anti-Americanism but also "risks destabilising the Pakistani state" and even raises a threat of the ultimate nightmare: that nuclear weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists.

Again, the revelations "should create a comforting feeling… that officials are not asleep at the switch" (Heilbrunn's words) — while Washington marches stalwartly towards disaster.

* Noam Chomsky's most recent book, with co-author Ilan Pappe, is Gaza in Crisis. Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass

By arrangement with the New York Times






Shaykh Ali ibn Uthman Hujwiri (d. 1071 AD) came to be called Datta Ganj Baksh, The Giver of Treasures, because of his generosity. He is one of the most luminous figures in Islamic history, becoming the first great Sufi to settle in the subcontinent. His 967th Urs, or death anniversary, which falls in Safar, the second Islamic month, was celebrated last week in Lahore, the city he made his home.

Datta Sahab's family traces their lineage from Imam Hasan, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. Uthman Hujwiri was born at Hujwer; a settlement in the town of Ghazna in present-day Afghanistan. He studied Sufism under several masters and travelled to Turkestan, Transoxania, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Datta Sahab's Master, Shaykh Muhammad bin al Hasan Khattali of Syria, ordered him to go to Lahore. When his Master died, Hujwiri was with him in Syria. Some years later, he went to Lahore.

Datta Sahab wrote many books on Sufism, including the famed manual Kashf al Mahjub (Uncovering of the Veils). It remains an important study of the early Sufis and their philosophies and is the first comprehensive book on Sufism in the Persian language.

According to Datta Sahab, "The knowledge of God is the science of Gnosis, the knowledge from God is the science of the sacred law and knowledge with God is the science of Tasawwuf, Sufism. Knowledge is a divine attribute and action a human attribute and the two are not separate from one another".

The Kashf al Mahjub describes the perfect state of the intoxicated Sufi as one of sobriety. It explains safa, purity, as the destination of a Sufi, a station where there is no room for complaint. Datta Sahab defined a Sufi as one who overcomes the passions of the self and annihilates himself in the path of haqq, truth. The mystic preached that those with Marifah, divine knowledge, are the chosen ones to whom God reveals the "divine secrets".

Datta Sahab identified seven forms of lust — warning the true seeker of God against them. (Lust of the eye to see, of the ear to hear, of the nose to smell, of the tongue to speak, of the mouth to taste, of the body to touch and the heart to feel.)

Before his arrival at Ajmer, Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti meditated for 40 days at the Datta Durbar. Khwaja sought his blessings and described Datta Sahab as a perfect Sufi. Khwaja wrote:

Ganj Bukhsh Faiz-e-Alam; Mazhar-e-Noor-e-Khuda

Naqisa-ra Pir-e-Kamil; Kamila-ra Rahnuma

(Ganj Baksh is a grace to the world; a manifester of God's light. A perfect spiritual teacher for the beginners; a guide for the perfected.)

The dargah of Datta Ganj Baksh is situated in the old city of Lahore outside Bhati Gate. Sultan Iltutmish built the first dome on Datta Sahab's grave. Various kings and rulers through the centuries, including emperor Akbar and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, built additions to the complex. The Maharaja held Datta Sahab in great reverence, making offerings at the annual Urs festivities and even presenting a copy of the Quran to the Durbar after his victorious campaign against the Afghans. Rani Chand Kaur, wife of Kharak Singh, built the courtyard near the well.

Hundreds of years gone by, devotees from different backgrounds, creed and class continue visiting Datta Durbar. Those seeking blessings distribute langar, food to hundreds of people each day. It is believed that thanks to Datta Sahab's blessings, no one remains hungry in Datta ki nagri, the city of Lahore.

— Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam. She can be contacted at [1]






The West Asia's latest unrest has revived once again a tired debate about the power of social media. Recent headlines gush about the arrival of the "Facebook Revolution" or "Twitter Diplomacy". Critics like Evgeny Morozov respond by noting that the influence of new media has been exaggerated by a press enthralled with "techno-utopianism". Social media enables fast coordination, critics say, not the narrative or resolve necessary to sustain a movement; flashmobs do not a political organisation make.

But to state the obvious — that Facebook cannot replace good old-fashioned activism — is not to say much about what Facebook actually does in a place like Egypt. What does it do?

Malcolm Gladwell, a Canadian writer for the New Yorker, in his recent critique of cyber-activism, argued that the problem with Facebook and its kin is that social networks are only good at certain small tasks that draw on weak social ties. You can easily get a million people to sign up for a cause — but that cause is just as likely to be "Save Darfur" as it is to be the "Foundation for the Protection of Swedish Underwear Models". Social media tools cannot supplant the kind of organising required by, say, the civil rights movement. Social media tools, Gladwell says, "are not a natural enemy of the status quo".

But what if revealing the status quo is enough to change it?

Psychologists have long known about a phenomenon called pluralistic ignorance — situations in which people keep their true preferences private because they believe their peers do not or will not share their beliefs. In 1975, the sociologist Hubert O'Gorman showed that pluralistic ignorance was to blame for the false perception white Southerners had that their peers overwhelmingly supported segregation.

In such situations, rapid shifts in behaviour can occur with the mere introduction of information about actual peer preferences. Acting on this authority — the authority of one's peers — is a powerful phenomenon. Studies have shown that the extent to which we are willing to litter, or to lower our energy use, is tied to our perception of what our peers are doing. Merely knowing about social dynamics changes social dynamics.

Health experts have used this insight to fight binge drinking. Studies on the Princeton campus revealed that a majority of students did not like to binge drink, but they wrongly believed themselves to be in the minority. So rather than urge students not to binge drink, health officials revealed the fact that a majority of students do not like binge drinking — and they had college students convey the message. Information about peer preferences, conveyed by peers, is a powerful influence on our behaviour.

In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak's illegitimacy has long been the family secret. Few dared to speak out for fear that their peers would not show up.

Here, then, is the power of Facebook. Not only does social networking give demonstrators a tool for quick coordination, but it reveals important information about peer preferences. It offers a platform to say "you are not alone; see you in Tahrir Square". And tipping points can be as tiny as a tweet. That small, silly act is what in politics we call solidarity. It is the basis for all social movements.

This is not to say that a Facebook-organised street protest — even one with thousands of members demanding revolution — is enough to overthrow a government, or that Facebook deserves all the credit for doing so. Political movements still require tight organisation.

Nowhere was this more evident than in Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, which was hailed as the first great social-media campaign, and also credited with the greatest command-and-control campaign discipline in recent memory. Social networks are supposed to be good at getting people to take little steps — pledges, small donations — not national revolutions. Yet, the Obama campaign put a black man in the White House. How can this be?

The answer is that his campaign organisers managed the relationship between the vertical and the horizontal. They relied on networks for what networks are — a messy, decentralised source of small donations and online pronouncements, which their campaign headquarters then harnessed for their political value. That meant letting the network speak for itself: millions of Americans tweeting "Yes We Can".

Of course, great movements require great leaders. That's why the leadership vacuum in West Asia is so politically electric, and why Tunisia is still a mess.

The crucial question, in Egypt as in Yemen and Tunisia, has little to do with Twitter's availability. It is whether a galvanising figure will step forward and seize this opportunity to lead, or remain in the crowd, just another decentralised node in the network.

* Andrew K. Woods is a Climenko Fellow at Harvard Law School and co-editor of the forthcoming book, Understanding Social Action, Promoting Human Rights

By arrangement with the New York Times









SUPERLATIVES have, deservedly, been used to laud the services rendered to the nation by the doyen of the "strategic community", K Subrahmanyam, whose missile of life ran its course on Wednesday. For though he was a bureaucrat by profession he refused to imprison himself in babudom, and from a relatively less-important assignment in the defence ministry, he progressed to leading the drive to inject grey-matter and analytical appreciation into policy formulation. While defence and foreign affairs were his primary focus, his varied experiences in the civil service ensured he strived to see the bigger picture: he realised that while academic endeavour had its merit, defence could not be perceived in isolation. As head of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (some say he was sent there to stop him treading on corns in South Block), he went on to inspire a whole new school of strategic expertise. The several "think tanks" in the Capital are indeed the offspring of what he initiated. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that much tribute has been paid to him by the political, bureaucratic and military leadership, academia and media-personalities ~ after retiring from government he took to serious contribution to leading publications. Some might have found him hawkish, on nuclear policy in politics, and perhaps rigid. Yes rigid enough not to follow so many of his IAS colleagues into "buckling" during the Emergency. He was shunted out of Delhi, brought back because his worth had been noted.
Though it might appear churlish at this point in time, it would be ducking the issue not to ask if there is not a trace of hypocrisy to the eulogies from national leaders? How sincerely did they try to implement what he was tasked with analysing/recommending? Though he was the architect of the nuclear doctrine, has the stockpile been built to the level he desired to serve as a "credible minimum deterrence", on which the "no first-use" policy is predicated? Considerably diluted have been the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee, and little is known of the blueprint developed by the group on global strategy that he headed. To be fair, it is not politicians and bureaucrats alone who decline to accept "non-official" counsel, the Service Headquarters are equally reluctant to emerge from the comfort zone of inertia. It is pertinent to ask if the quality of national security has matched the manifold increase in defence spending. Such were the queries that "Subbu" raised ~ honest answers would do his memory proud.



IF the election was shambolic, the inaugural of Myanmar's newly-elected parliament was a non-event. Which should drive home the message to the junta that the world will not be deceived by what has been touted as the "first taste of disciplined democracy". It was palpably evident on Monday that legislative discipline on the military's terms has only reinforced the travesty of democracy that the country has witnessed for the past two decades.  The massive security clampdown in the new, remote capital of Naypyidaw, the closely-monitored buses that conveyed the new members, and the closure of roads leading to the parliament building were measures of profound symbolism, indeed the antithesis of freedom. During the stage-managed session, members will be allowed what passes for "freedom of expression", but short of what the junta reckons to be a threat to national unity and security.  Protest inside the House ~ a mark of democratic free speech ~ can incur a prison term of two years. Members will not be allowed to ask a question without notice; it must be submitted in writing ~ ten days in advance ~ to the leader of the House. Before being accepted or rejected, the question will be examined to ensure that it does not undermine the national cause. The crippling curbs are inherent in the 'disciplined democracy' that parliament is expected to showcase.

The terms of legislative engagement are stifling in the extreme and the composition of the House will militate against dissent.  The claim of "disciplined democracy" has been reduced to irrelevance on the opening day of parliament where a sizable segment of the seats are held by the military and its allies. Small wonder there was little or no popular interest in the inaugural of a made-to-order House. The man on the street has seen through the bluff, but Beijing must be pleased. The only salutary development ~ coinciding with the opening of parliament ~ is that Aung San Suu Kyi has launched a website as a "people's network to speed up the fight for political change".



PATRIOTISM and sport are said to reflect the finest elements in humanity. Alas, at times they can prove a lethal combine, extracting the worst. Have not the homes of Indian cricketers been stoned when the team has performed poorly? The "hero to zero" cliché often kicks in most painfully. But there could be a bit more to patriotism going perverse in the huge fuss being made over an admittedly far-from-pretty outburst from Li Na during the women's championship match at the Australian Open. It is possible to understand the tension she was enduring as she struggled to make history and become the first from her country (indeed the continent) to bag an individual Grand Slam crown. Tension that degenerated to frustration as the seemingly gentle yet ruthlessly efficient Kim Clijsters turned defeat into victory. Yet the booing from a section of Chinese spectators at the Rod Laver arena was no mere disappointment at her coming unstuck: the "advice" they offered was interpreted as insulting her husband-coach, perhaps even reflective of a desire of the "establishment" to get back at the star who had bucked the system: and had gone farther than any of the other women who remained within the official fold. That one commentator should have slammed her for asking a British chair-umpire to restrain Chinese fans betrays a certain mindset: one that had dominated the "Communist bloc" (before that political regime collapsed in the Western world) where victory on the sports field was deemed a victory for the all-dominating "state". What a contrast from the pristine era in which a wreath of laurels was all that victory earned.

We do not have to look far beyond the tennis court to see the other side of the picture. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi ~ particularly the former ~ seem to "feed off" their fan following. Time was when Leander, playing Davis Cup singles, recovered from difficult situations as the cheering from the stands ignited the adrenalin in his arteries. Indeed home support adds another string to the bow, sorry the racquet. Maybe now that Li Na appears to have found a place on the big stage she will learn to thrive on positive energy from spectators and ignore the negative. But spare all sportspersons a thought: they are expected to be fiery and feisty against their opponents but docile and meek before spectators. For whatever it's worth, Li Na has our sympathy.







Bengali intellectuals have traditionally been politically conscious, acting as conscience-keepers of the people. Rabindranath Tagore had protested against the Jalianwalabag massacre by renouncing  Knighthood. Thus did he boost the morale of freedom-fighters. In the Forties and Fifties, such protests were part of politico-cultural movements like the one led by the Indian People's Theatre Association (IPTA) and the Tebhaga agitation.
Since the early Fifties, the tradition was carried forward by a new generation of intellectuals with pronounced Left sympathies. It was fashionable for the budding intellectuals in colleges and universities to reflect on what they called the infallibility of Marx. The Coffee House in College Street used to be the venue of the discourse.
To demonstrate their solidarity with the leaders of the undivided Communist Party of India, the students would occasionally troop out of Hindu Hostel to cast proxy votes in the Hare School polling booth in favour of Mohammad Ismail who had contested from the Bowbazar assembly constituency in 1957. The story goes that the Left-inclined students had skipped dinner when Dr BC Roy was declared elected by a slender margin.
Much later, a Tollygunge celebrity, who was then in his early thirties, danced on the streets of Kolkata holding green bananas when All India Radio broke the news of Prafulla Chandra Sen's defeat in the 1967 elections.
There were, however, notable exceptions who retained their independence and refused to align with any political outfit. Pre-eminently Ananda Shankar Roy who went against the popular mood by refusing to write an article for a weekly against the Chinese after the 1962 war.
During the Emergency, courageous intellectuals, notably Amlan Dutta and Gour Kishore Ghosh, criticised the draconian measures imposed by the government to curb the citizen's fundamental rights. Later, Satyajit Ray issued a public condemnation of China during the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.
The scenario changed when the Left Front came to power in 1977. It was the Left intellectuals who became active. The CPI-M tried to monitor the intelligentsia closely, rewarded those who were with them and marginalised the dissenters. Dissent has no place in the Stalinist brand of communists. The partisan nature of the Left intellectuals evolved in a brazen manner. They were strident in their condemnation of the demolition of Babari Masjid, the Gujarat pogrom and America's invasion of Iraq. Yet they maintained a deafening silence  over the Marichjhanpi offensive, the killing of Ananda Margi sanyasiss, or outraging the modesty of a lady officer at Bantala. Civil society was confused over the Left's stand. It had exposed its own hypocrisy.
English was withdrawn from the primary stage. Allegedly fake PhD-holders dictated the curriculum. The party's education cell was largely responsible for denuding Presidency College. Alimuddin Street seemed to welcome the emergence of mediocrity in crucial appointments to higher educational institutions. A section of the party has even been opposed to the upgradation of the college to a university. One must give it to Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that he has had his way.

Cultural fora such as Nandan, Natya Academy and Bangla Academy sprang up as the nerve-centres of artists, poets, writers,  and stage personalities who were eager to beat the drum of the ruling party. Their real character was exposed in the wake of the unseemly lobbying for coveted positions in  state-run institutions. The treatment meted out to the rebel poet, Subhas Mukhopadhyay, illustrates the predicament under the Left regime.
Before the Nandigram outrage, the Left intellectuals were reluctant to take an independent stand on the socio-political problems confronting the state. They had a good rapport with the Chief Minister and were happy with the benefits that automatically came thanks to their proximity with the powers that be. In the process, they lost their freedom. Buddhijibis were derided as Buddhajibis.

In the aftermath of Singur and Nandigram, a section of the Left intellectuals concluded that enough is enough. They broke their silence and openly protested against state atrocities. Some severed their connection with the government-controlled cultural institutions like Bangla Academy and Natya Academy. A noted theatre personality resigned from the Natya Academy after the Nandigram firing  on 14 March 2007. They eventually realised that the Left Front government had unwittingly echoed the words of George Bush: "Those who are not with us are against us."

After successive poll reverses since 2009, the Left Front has not only been cornered politically, but culturally as well. Mamata Banerjee has now acquired considerable political space. The storm of impending paribartan (change of guard at Writers') is sweeping the entire state ~ from Darjeeling to the Sundarbans. Predictably, a sizable section of deemed intellectuals  have switched allegiance to the Trinamul leader. Which explains the tongue-in-cheek query as to whether many of the erstwhile Buddhajibis are trying to become Didijibis, a clear reference to those who have started enjoying her patronage, like free AC class rail travel.
Knowing Mamata Banerjee as we do, particularly her unpredictable temperament and dictatorial tendencies, doubts persist whether dissent will have any place if and when she comes to power.  In today's Bengal, an intellectual or a creative artist cannot expect to survive unless he/she owes allegiance to a political outfit.  Intellectuals tend to rub shoulders with the powers-that-be  either for cheap publicity or  personal gain.
Will there be space for the voice of dissent? Will a change in the political dispensation also entail the freedom to discuss its policies? Will it allow public debates? Nothing will change unless the people are allowed to speak against anti-people policies. At stake is the freedom of expression.

The writer is a retired member of the West Bengal Civil Service




 Without doing something beyond what the USA has done so far, Washington risks the charge of not having prevented the much worse bloodshed that could still overwhelm Egypt, writes donald macintyre

For decades, pundits, including those in West Asia itself, have talked airily about the Arab "street". It is a convenient if somewhat patronising term, of course ~ a necessary nod to the fact that there are peoples in the region as well as regimes. But it has also been sometimes used to conjure the notion of a homogeneous, poorly educated, restive mass whose true feelings, such as they are, can be grasped only by some form of almost mystical osmosis; and one prey to seduction by extremists without the firm hand of a strong ruler.
One of the many consequences of the past 10 days is, or should be, a much wider understanding that the "street" is a much more complex human organism than that. As Western politicians have wrung their hands and worried that the "stability" afforded by President Hosni Mubarak's autocracy could give way to the rise of a new and dangerously Islamist Egypt, the hundreds of thousands who have marched and stood in Cairo's Tahrir Square and in central Alexandria have started to tell the world a story that conspicuously fails to fit neatly into this binary model. One part of this is the price paid domestically over the past 30 years for that stability: a brutally thuggish police, a fawning and utterly controlled state television network, the concentration of absolute power in the hands of a dictator who rigs elections and is chief, not only of the government, but of the judiciary, the army, the non-military security forces, even the journalists' association. Indeed, the widespread public understanding by Egyptians of just how concentrated is this power is why the protests are focused so personally on the President, and why his appointment of a new deputy or a new Cabinet cuts so little ice with the protesters.

And the other is the real goals of the "street" itself, or at least of the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators who seem to have rediscovered their dignity and sense of national pride by the sheer act of speaking out. Anyone who has spent any time talking to them in the past week finds that many of those goals are markedly like those we take for granted in the West.

   It was a 40-year-old software engineer who told me what little hope he had for his children, aged 13 and nine, from this "very corrupted" government. A hospital anaesthetist on a gross salary of less than £100 a month told me how he despaired of sending his children to the private school that he was sure was their only hope of a decent education. A secondary school teacher who spent five months at the University of East Anglia on a scholarship complained of how Mubarak had "sold our country to businesses" and lamented that "we are a quiet and patient people" but that the regime had "taken advantage of these qualities". A science lecturer said how badly Egyptians needed British and American help to win "real freedom". "You can't let (Mubarak) stay for 30 years," he insisted. "This is not a kingdom. It is a republic."

Of course, it is the question of how, if at all, to respond to this last demand that has been causing such agony in Washington in the past few days. We may have now entered the most dangerous phase of the crisis. The demonstrations in Mubarak's support, while much smaller than those against him, had an ominous air about them even before yesterday. Certainly, there are those among them who genuinely want the Egyptian President to stay, and who think that is the best way of restoring some semblance of normality, economic as well on the streets.

But the fear is that Mubarak's police are encouraging the attacks on his opponents, if not actually participating in them themselves. And even if they had been spontaneous, it is not difficult to see that of the two types of street protest, those in support of Mubarak have included groups that started the violence, are more bellicose and, yes, in any common sense definition of the word, more extreme. And there isn't much doubt that the man they are so determined to keep in power could stop them if he wanted, which intensifies the dilemma for the USA. The wider context, of course, is the failure of Washington to realise the bold, true and unfulfilled words of former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in 2005 ~ that having pursued stability at the expense of democracy in West Asia and achieved neither, it would now concentrate on fostering democracy.
But the crisis in Egypt is now deepening too fast to have the profound rethink of US policy that is certainly necessary. Maybe when Mubarak fulfiled Washington's publicly-stated demands that he should announce a departure date, they thought he would then breathe a sigh of relief and quietly await the dignified exit he predicted for himself. It's not looking like that now. No doubt the Obama administration is worried about the domino effect elsewhere in West Asia (including Jordan) of giving the direct call to the Egyptian President to go that would be seen as a victory for the nine days of anti-Mubarak protests.

The problem with not giving it is that Washington is now associated by many Egyptians, including ones instinctively well disposed towards the USA, with a man perceived to have authorised lethal police attacks on demonstrators, and who encouraged, by withdrawing police from the streets altogether, lawlessness. At the very least, he took no steps to halt the clashes.

No doubt the USA is pondering whether a figure such as the new Vice-President and long-time Intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, should replace a determinedly resistant Mubarak. But without doing something beyond what it has done so far, Washington risks the charge of not having prevented the much worse bloodshed that could still be to come.

the independent 





Chatting with contemporary old fogies in Delhi's India International Centre, the conversation turned to current events in Cairo. Someone bemoaned the fact that Indians lacked the spunk displayed by Egyptians. Others echoed this view. I sternly repudiated it. I passionately affirmed that Indians did not lack guts. It was the politicians who lacked leadership qualities.


To my utter delight, within a few hours I was totally vindicated. Students from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jamia Millia Islamia and Delhi University quickly banded together under the aegis of All India Students' Association and marched in their hundreds to the Egyptian Embassy to demand the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. Apparently, the students were incensed by the prevalent corruption. One student angrily said, "Do you know that Mubarak actually wants his son to succeed him? Can you think of anything more undemocratic and scandalous?"


 During the long years that I futilely tried to expose corruption through newspaper articles I never found Indians wanting in their condemnation of corruption. I can still recall their passionate criticism of John Profumo and the Keeler affair in the UK. I can recall their fearless opposition to Nixon and Watergate. After the fall of Soviet Communism, Russians have moved on. But thankfully Indians still remain true to Soviet norms.
 I recall a famous story during Stalin's time. An American and a Russian fiercely debated the merits of their respective political systems. The American said, "In America, we can walk into Times Square and shout that Eisenhower is an idiot!"


"So what?" the Russian sneered. "We can walk into Red Square and shout that Eisenhower is an idiot!"
In Cairo, one million people marched against Mubarak. I believe that if we put our minds to it, we Indians could mobilise two million to march against Mubarak. 


The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







I first met Dr Binayak Sen outside the office of an iron ore miners' trade union in Chhattisgarh that was then headed by Shankar Guha Niyogi. The legendary Guha Niyogi had  just led a successful anti-liquor campaign upon his release from jail and was making enthusiastic plans to start a hospital in the Dalli Rajhara mining township of Durg district where he hoped public-spirited doctors would serve the poor. The miners readily agreed to donate money as well as labour for constructing the facility which came to be known as Shaheed Hospital. But the founders were worried about finding the right staff ~ well-qualified and willing to withstand continuous harassment from police.

Eventually, it did attract the likes of Dr Binayak Sen and Dr Saibal Jana. Thanks to these dedicated and outstanding doctors, the facility began to attract patients from distant parts of Chhattisgarh. In fact, Dr Jana is still on the staff of the hospital.


When I first met Dr Binayak Sen, the building to house the hospital hadn't come up yet. So, he would examine patients near the trade union office. The long queue made it abundantly clear even then how badly the locals needed medical attention. After the clinic, Dr Sen spoke to me with restrained enthusiasm about his plans for a public health programme that will not just treat patients but also prevent the causes of diseases. He said he was training a number of men and women so that they could help the community as voluntary health workers.
Dr Sen eventually formed a non-profit organisation, Rupantar, with wife Ilina. I travelled with Dr Sen to villages near Dhantari to report on Rupantar's initiatives. One of its efforts related to setting up rural pathology laboratories so that tests for malaria and other diseases could be processed near the homes of patients and treatment could be started at the earliest. This helped save many precious lives. Another Rupantar initiative was concerned with the preservation of traditional seed varieties threatened with extinction. This helped make available to farmers badly-needed seeds as well as conserve our farming heritage.

As I had written a book about the efforts of eminent scientist Dr RH Richaria to protect the rich bio-diversity of Chhattisgarh, Dr and Mrs Sen always invited me whenever they organised a related workshop. During such visits, they invariably had me as a house guest, ostensibly, to spare me the "hotel bills". But other than enriching discussions on the diversity of rice farming in Chhattisgarh, what made a trip to the state worth its while was little Billo. The Sens' daughter was very small at that time and very affectionate too. Over such visits, I became acquainted with the wide-ranging interests of the Sens. While Dr Sen was passionate about health care, agriculture and environment, Mrs Sen wanted to do more about women's empowerment and education. At one point in time, the couple was thinking of designing an education programme for the children of migrant workers, especially brick kiln workers, which would make it possible not to interrupt their learning even if the parents continued to migrate.

Once the Sens took me to their small farm on the outskirts of Raipur where they had grown a wide variety of rice. I saw there a pair of very strong bullocks; one of them called Napolean. Ganesh Puja was just around the corner and a beautiful statue of the deity was there at the farm. I felt good that the Sens had assimilated so well with the traditional Chhattisgarhi life. We attended an adivasi wedding together and there was Dr Sen ~ dancing merrily to drum beats.

Like many other friends of the family, the imprisonment of Dr Binayak Sen and the charges of sedition, among others, levelled against him have deeply distressed me. And this is not just a friend's sentiment. Several leading legal experts, including former judges, have pointed out that Dr Sen's arrest had been based on very flimsy evidence. This is but a classic example of the state labelling someone a terrorist who desires nothing but to democratically oppose injustice and human rights violations.

Dr Sen's predicament is reminiscent of Shankar Guha Niyogi's fate. Powerful forces tried to brand Guha Niyogi and his movement as violent for 14 years till he was murdered in 1991. Yet, for nearly the decade and half that Guha Niyogi organised and inspired the mine workers of Chhattisgarh to lead a better life, not a single loss of life had been reported. It is widely believed that justice was denied to the widow of the murdered Guha Niyogi. It seems, justice will be denied to Dr Sen too.

The writer is currently a fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi









Indian politicians love sonorous pronouncements. "Let the law take its own course" is one of the most popular, but the course the law takes in India is often intriguing. Although structured on the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, it rushes into pre-emptive arrest whenever convenient. The founding principle would not have allowed the arrest of the former telecommunications minister, A. Raja, for alleged corruption at this point in the Central Bureau of Investigation's inquiry. Nothing has been proved against the former minister, yet he has been put in custody for offences that can be non-bailable. In fact, he has been remanded for the purposes of further questioning by the CBI. That in itself suggests that he should not be in custody at all. Habeas corpus should be as fundamental a right as the right to life. Questioning can be no reason to keep anyone behind bars; the only acceptable reason for detaining anyone before guilt is indisputably proved is when the arrested person is a terrorist, or is likely to tamper with evidence, or when his freedom threatens other people's lives, peace, or security.

So Mr Raja's arrest must have been considered convenient for reasons not strictly legal. It seems to have been timed to quieten the Opposition's strident criticism of the Manmohan Singh government's inability to punish corruption. The turning point was, evidently, the coming round of the Tamil Nadu chief minister, M. Karunanidhi. It is clear now that he has his own reasons not to withdraw support from the United Progressive Alliance government even if his former protégé, Mr Raja, is arrested. There seems also to be a tremendous urgency within the UPA that the Opposition stop insisting on a joint parliamentary probe, although Mr Raja's arrest may not have stemmed that demand. It is hardly a matter of pride that law should be overtaken by political expediency, but pre-emptive arrests have increasingly become a means to muffle political criticism. It is a spectacle that distracts attention from the fact that actual conviction for corruption is very rare. So when Opposition leaders thoroughly versed in law, such as Arun Jaitley, describe Mr Raja's arrest as too little, too late, it is not merely surprising, but also rather alarming. The law cannot take its own course if it is pushed off-track by politics.






If there is anything that the recent experience in Tunisia has taught the regime in Egypt, it is the futility of haste and the benefit of forbearance. The wisdom thus gained was apparent in the stolidity with which the Hosni Mubarak government braced itself for the million-strong gathering at Tahrir Square early this week, after having survived days of anti-government street protests of the kind that had felled the regime in Tunisia. There were two weapons let loose — one obvious, the other discreet — but both aimed to break the back of the popular movement. On Tuesday night, Mr Mubarak pledged that he would step down in September and that neither he nor his son would run for office in the next elections. The next day, in a time-tested strategy, pro-government supporters were allowed to run amok in Tahrir Square in the hope that the mayhem and bloodshed would create a clamour for a reinstatement of the old order. The plot is simplistic and Mr Mubarak may well have overplayed his hand in letting himself believe that the outbreak of violence would suddenly put an end to the agitation on the streets. But it cannot be doubted that both the moves have created a space for him to hang on, if only for a while longer.

The reason why Mr Mubarak thinks he can have a little more time is because he understands his backers — the army and his foreign allies — well. The army in Egypt may no longer want him around, but it is also keen to prevent a radical and violent transition that would harm its own interests. A staggered change, which does not compel it to use force against the population, would earn it the undying loyalty of the people and enable it to retain its standing in the political hierarchy besides preserving its commercial interests. The West, too, would rather have Mr Mubarak purvey the changes, keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of the reckoning and somehow iron out the future difficulties in Egypt's commitment to bringing peace to the Middle East than deal with a new, recalcitrant president on the block. The problem is that millions of Egyptians may not exactly agree with this course chart. The anger on the streets is real, so is the fear of lawlessness that will feed on the deep social divides. Without a committed leadership to steer the way, Egypt may either lose itself in an abyss or go back to where it had started.






The belief that 'rightwing' conservatives constitute the "stupid party" has become conventional wisdom in 'enlightened', liberal circles. This aggregation became embedded in the world of intellectual fashion during the administration of the former American president, Ronald Reagan, and was cast in stone during the eight-year tenure of the former president, George W. Bush. And, like most things self-evident to the controllers of the opinions industry, it soon became a global axiom.

It is a measure of the fragility of certitudes that the past fortnight has witnessed an abrupt rehabilitation of both these pillars of the "stupid party". The spectacular mass demonstrations in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak and the resulting apprehension in the Western world have contributed to a grudging respect for the "democratic agenda" that both Reagan and Bush pursued in the face of mockery and derision from both liberals and 'realists' alike.

In a speech to the National Endowment for Democracy in 2003, Bush said something that, in hindsight, appears prophetic: "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export."

In promoting democracy, Bush didn't quite live up to the exacting standards set by Reagan in his unrelenting opposition to the "evil empire" — an opposition that contributed to the demolition of the Berlin Wall. But even his discreet encouragement of pro-democracy activists and quiet pressure on Cairo to enlarge the scope of civil liberties so infuriated Mubarak that he didn't visit the White House even once during Bush's second term. By contrast, as the WikiLeaks have revealed, President Barack Obama gave Mubarak a very wide berth, listened approvingly to his paranoiac fears of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood and finally reposed faith in his canny survival instincts.

The extent to which a beleaguered United States of America is able to influence the internal politics of a country such as Egypt or, for that matter, Tunisia and Jordan has often been exaggerated. Neither Mubarak nor King Abdullah of Jordan and even the deposed Ben Ali of Tunisia were quite the puppet dictators the US routinely propped up in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s. Mubarak, through the Egyptian military, the elaborate security apparatus and the ruling National Democratic Party, had roots in Egyptian society, particularly that section which benefited from the economic reforms of the past decade. His position in Egypt wasn't very dissimilar to that of the genial Field Marshal Ayub Khan of Pakistan who replenished his army support with the political backing of rural and tribal notables attached to the Muslim League.

Nor was Mubarak impervious to the need for safety valves by which Egyptians could let off steam. Aware that the mosque and the bazaar were two focal points of opposition, he learnt a few lessons from the Shah of Iran and avoided a policy of aggressive social modernization. More important, he tried to undercut an important political plank of the Islamic opposition by appropriating two of its themes: anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism. Paradoxically for a ruler who was an important ally of the US in the region and who remained committed to the peace treaty his predecessor Anwar Sadat had signed with Israel, Mubarak allowed his State-controlled media and the State-funded clergy to carry on tirades against both the US and Israel. Some of the anti-Israel propaganda, such as Holocaust denial, was deeply offensive. According to the Pew Global Attitudes survey of 2010, Egypt, along with Pakistan and Turkey, ranked as the country that had the least favourable attitude to the US.

However, State-sponsored anti-Americanism was coupled with harsh repressive measures against members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its more extremist offshoots and a wariness of Iran's attempts to export its revolution.

Mubarak, like his two predecessors, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who ousted the obese King Farouk, and Sadat, who salvaged a measure of Egyptian pride after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, was a crafty politician. He wouldn't have survived 30 years in power otherwise. Unfortunately, unlike his predecessors, he lived in another age, an age where old certitudes had crumbled.

There is a facile view that the television images of the Egyptian uprising are the nearest thing to Facebook on the barricades. This perception has been bolstered by interviews with breathlessly committed "activists" who speak the language of freedom and democracy but who, as was irreverently noted, are better known to Western journalists than to Egyptians. While these middle-class campaigners against Mubarak have undoubtedly given the protests an acceptable face in the West and helped allay fears of another clergy-led uprising by the faithful, it is important to keep in mind the fact that the crowds who have thronged in Tahrir Square and Alexandria are made up of people from the lower middle class and working class. Their opposition to the Mubarak dispensation is not centred on the freedom agenda alone but is against the side-effects of Mubarak's economic reforms: corruption, crony capitalism and a fierce resentment of elite lifestyles. Tactically, these issues have been subordinated to the demand for democracy, but only for the moment. The Muslim Brotherhood hasn't been submerged in a larger movement; as the best organized political formation, after decades of undercover existence it has carefully delayed its moment in the sun.

Should the shadowy presence of the Muslim Brotherhood behind the grouping nominally led by the Nobel prize winner, Mohamed ElBaradei, caution the world against democracy in a region which has a reputation for being "non- argumentative"? This is, for example, the argument used, ironically, by Israel —the only truly functioning democracy in West Asia — for its refusal to deal with the Hamas.

There are no easy answers. Apart from the principle that the will of the people must be respected, warts and all, there is the argument of the Israeli politician, Natan Sharansky, in his seminal The Case for Democracy. Noting the penchant of Israel for assuming that peace in the region can only be negotiated by dictators who can manage an unpopular truce autocratically, Sharansky warned of the inherent fragility of "fear societies" prone to doublespeak.

"I knew enough about fear societies," he wrote, "to realise that such a regime would inevitably threaten Israel. I thought we should link the legitimacy, money and concessions we and the rest of the world were giving (Yasser) Arafat to his regime's willingness to build a free society in the areas… under its control. In my view, the Palestinian Authority had to be given the same choice that had once faced the Soviets: Build a free society for your people and be embraced by the world, or build a fear society and be rejected by it."

Sharansky's logic should suggest that freedom and liberal democracy are the only civilized options in the contemporary world. It is a proposition certain to be fiercely contested in places as disparate as Beijing and Riyadh, not to speak of 'democratic' Washington wary of disrupted oil supplies and 'democratic' Tel Aviv fearful of encirclement by the Arab Street. Despite all the expectations of the idealists camped in Tahrir Square, Egyptians can expect little consistency over the future of democracy. Showing Mubarak the door is the easy option. But what if a new regime in Cairo actually starts reflecting the popular will?






Skewed policies, rules and norms have come together to destroy the wealth and treasures of India that we and the world should have celebrated and shared. Our tourism policies belong to some mangled past, being managed by uninitiated and dull bureaucrats, who think they know it all but are, in fact, far removed from new ideas and strategies that the world has employed, tried and tested, in an effort to create avenues of employment and productivity by including every kind of 'stakeholders' in the larger exercise. The bureaucrats — on the list of the last few with the 'command economy' mindset — have alienated experts, professionals in allied sectors and the 'stakeholders' from everything that belongs to them and India. Governments and their servants have taken away all joy and pride from the lives of citizens.

Continuously fiddling with and intervening in areas that he does not comprehend, the babu has set us back by many decades. With the intervention of the private sector in the building and running of our airports, the visitor is greeted with a clean image when he enters India. The condition of taxis is gradually improving, but touts hang around the taxi stands with greedy paws, diluting the 'experience'. Ill-managed museums, usually the first point of call for visitors to a city, are a shame. Babus speak about all kinds of plans and initiatives, but they have nothing to show for themselves after 62 years of independence. Traffic in the cities, as on the highways, is not regulated. Road rules are never enforced by the authorities, whose representatives hang around street corners, chatting on their cell phones, smoking, and collecting bribes for looking the other way when rules are blatantly broken. Nothing but trauma for ordinary citizens, regardless of caste, creed or colour.

The king (the government) and the courtiers (the babus) have throttled India's chance of happy growth and change. They always bring in the redundant and the repressive, preventing a fresh and clean renewal. Silly paperwork, archaic rules, failed regulations, all remain because they encourage corruption, and any change would cut off the lucrative, exploitative and corrupt 'side business' of many in authority.

Scary reality

Some chief ministers, stuck in a time warp, are misdirecting their states and letting down a whole new generation that could add huge value. Others are disinterested once they make it to the gaddi and assume totalitarian power. Their stance is destructive and undemocratic. But no leader at the helm holds them accountable.

Tourism policies need a radical overhaul. Corrupt practices are rampant, warped rules dominate, common sense and conservation are not comprehended, and the processes to deliver the best have been poisoned by faulty thinking. The gross inability of those who model our rules to innovate and create, has damaged our country. There is only one way to begin the restoration. Let private experts and scholars partner the government babu, who will play an ex-officio role and nothing else. He must be a 'facilitator', and if he cannot play that role, he must be removed from office.

Reform is the cry. Egypt is demanding change. Surely, our leaders do not want to aggravate our scary reality by burying their heads deep in sand, ignoring the silent protest that is simmering under the top layer of 'Indian skin'? Why does the State not accelerate the reform that has been pending for years? Can it not see how the agitation of the Maoists can adopt a different avatar with different players, and besiege the rest of India? Why fuel the corruption and anarchy that stems from the State and filters down to us all? The leadership needs to think through and formulate a plan of action with deadlines and clean delivery systems tied to severe accountability.


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




The arrest of former Union telecom minister A Raja and his key aides by the CBI in the spectrum allocation scandal is a victory of public opinion, institutional pressure and political considerations of a different kind rather than evidence of the law taking its own course. If the public opinion aroused by media disclosures, the findings of the country's premier auditing institution, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and the questioning by the topmost judicial institution, the supreme court,  had not shaken the UPA government, Raja would still have been the telecom minister and would not have been behind bars. Shielding Raja was a political imperative for the government once and the law was made to serve that politics. But public opinion changed the shape of that politics and made Raja a liability, and therefore the law has been forced to take the right direction.

The arrest validates the charges made against Raja and falsifies the stout defence of his conduct, made by the prime minister through months and by the new telecom minister even as recently as last month. The charges against him have certainly to be proved in a court of law, but the arrest shows there is a case against him. It should not be forgotten that the initial response of the UPA to the charges was that there was no such case and that all the actions of the ministry under Raja were above board. It was only under rising public pressure that procedural errors, which pointed more at bureaucratic misdemeanor than at direct involvement of the minister and the lack of oversight of his actions by the prime minister, were conceded. Now that the existence of a prima facie case against him is accepted, those who knowingly defended him should be seen as complicit in his misconduct, if not legally, certainly morally. To claim credit for hauling him before the law is therefore wrong, misplaced and unconvincing.

The arrest is only the first step. It should lead to a fuller investigation of the case, identification of all the beneficiaries of corruption, framing of charges against them, and successful prosecution of the case. It has rarely happened in the country. If the 2G scam case also goes the Bofors way, cynicism and distrust in the system will only increase. The vigil of the people and institutional checks on the system should not flag till all the wrong-doers are finally brought to book.







The chief ministers' conference on internal security, which is an annual ritual, has again drawn attention to the persisting challenges and threats of various kinds to the state. Prime minister Manmohan Singh has once again stated that leftwing extremism is the greatest internal security threat to the country, but he mentioned cross-border terrorism, religious fundamentalism and ethnic violence also as equally serious in his address to the conference on Tuesday. Home minister P Chidambaram pointed out that new terror groups have emerged and they need to be tackled without any consideration for their religious or other affiliations. This is not always easy as the issue often gets politicised as the law enforcement agencies, both at the state and central levels, are not above pressures and coercion. That makes police reforms an important part of the efforts to improve the security situation but there has been no meaningful action on this.

The prime minister called for a three-pronged action plan for community policing, police reforms and better use of technology to deal with law and order situations. Policing systems and laws have to be changed for this. The blueprint for such reforms is already available. Courts, including the supreme court, have laid down guidelines and commissions and experts have suggested many measures but governments have been slack in implementing them. The crux of most of these proposals is a willingness to free the police forces from political interference but the governments are, for obvious reasons, loathe to take the required steps. India is also under-policed, going by international standards, and police men are insufficiently trained and inadequately equipped. The most important element in ensuring internal security is the effective functioning of the local police station with sufficient powers, but there is no will to make it so.  

Budgetary allocations for internal security have continuously increased over the years. The allocation for the current year has gone up to Rs 40,582 crore from Rs 25,923 crore in 2008. But more than funds, what is needed is a change in attitudes, procedures and strategies. Co-ordination between various police and intelligence agencies is vital. It was also mentioned at the conference that issues discussed at the conference are not  followed up later. If that is true, that defeats the very purpose of the conference.







Indian black money in Swiss banks, according to Swiss Banking Association report, 2006, was the highest — as much as $1456 billion.

I can see the Indian political complexion taking shape. The issue of corruption is assuming such a proportion that every party, affected or unaffected, is sounding horrified. They are also taking a stand against the scams which have put the ruling Congress in the dock. The party is isolated. None of the coalition members has either defended the Manmohan Singh government or the Congress.

I fear the different disclosures may create an atmosphere reminiscent of the days when prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was alleged to have received kickbacks in the purchase of Bofors guns. His government tried to cover up the scandal and even held a JPC probe, something which the Manmohan Singh government has refused to constitute to look into different scams. Rajiv Gandhi's explanation made matters still worse. The Bofors came to substitute the word corruption even in the countryside.

Consequently, after the polls, Rajiv Gandhi's tally of 421 members in the Lok Sabha tumbled down to 197. He lost the prime ministership. The Manmohan Singh government does not face such a situation. Parliamentary elections are still two and a half years away. Yet the withdrawal of support by 12-odd parties cannot be ruled out. The strength of the Congress in the Lok Sabha is 207 in the 535-member house.

Presuming that the parties which have its ministers in the cabinet — Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (9) and  Karunanidhi's DMK (18) — stay with the Congress through thick and thin, they number only 27. Nothing much can be said about another ally in the government, the mercurial Mamata Bannerjee of Trinamool Congress (19), because she has already criticised the Congress for rising prices. Even with the support of all the three parties, the Congress does not reach the magical figure of 267, the midway mark.

The 2G spectrum scam running into Rs 1.76 lakh crore has, no doubt, held the public attention so far. Parliament was stalled during the entire winter session. The corruption of the Commonwealth Games has got confirmed by the Shunglu committee which the government had appointed. Yet I feel the 2G spectrum and the Commonwealth Games are elitist in appeal. Civil society is avidly interested, but not the general public.

The popular issue that is beginning to rock the length and breadth of the country is the money stashed away in Swiss banks. What makes it more explosive than other scams is the supreme court's involvement. It has begun to hear public interest litigation (PIL) petitions. They have sought the court's intervention to force the government to bring back the money that has been kept in Swiss banks. The petitions have also prayed for the disclosure of account holders.

Caught on the wrong foot

The government has been caught on the wrong foot. It had received some time ago as many as 26 names from Germany under the double taxation treaty. Berlin had got hold of names of hundreds of beneficiaries and had offered them to all the countries for the asking.

And why is finance minister Pranab Mukherjee saying that the names of beneficiaries cannot be disclosed? The fault is that of New Delhi which preferred to go through the double taxation route because it 'wanted' the government to be put under an obligation not to disclose the names on the plea of confidence.

The supreme court has observed that the government should not presume that the money hidden in Switzerland was from the evasion of tax. It could be laundering of money earned through gun running, drugs, terrorism, or some other criminal act. The government is yet to give justification for choosing the double taxation method.

Indian black money in Swiss banks, according to Swiss Banking Association report, 2006, was the highest — as much as $1456 billion. The amount is reportedly more than that of all deposits put together. Dishonest industrialists, tainted politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, cricketers and film stars have put in foreign banks their illegal personal accounts sums which they misappropriated. No wonder everyone in India loots with impunity and without any fear.

The stashed away cash is about 13 times larger than the country's foreign debts. With this amount 45 crore poor people can get Rs 1 lakh each. From whichever angle you assess, this huge amount has been appropriated from the people of the country by exploiting and betraying them.

Fortunately, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi has said that the money stashed abroad belongs to the poor and must be brought back to India. I see the statement as a silver lining in otherwise dark clouds of secrecy and manipulation. He has said earlier that once his family takes up a matter it carries it to the logical conclusion. Let him prove this. The nation waits for the results.

The BJP and its allies in the National Democratic Alliance have said that they have no money abroad. This statement will act as a pressure on the Congress and its allies. And some of the allies may begin to keep distance from the Manmohan Singh government. It has no option except to make the 26 names public. Maybe, the supreme court will force the government to do so. Then the fat will be in the fire.

The situation can meander first to the fall of the Manmohan Singh government because of the allies deserting it and then leading to a hotchpotch government which may not last for more than a year. Ultimately, the country will be left with no option except to go for a mid-term poll.









The first task of the international community should be to get the two sides talking.

A military man, Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak used military means to try to crush the people's power revolt that has taken over the streets of the largest Arab country for the past 10 days. But he did not deploy the army to evict thousands of protesters from Tahrir (Liberation) Square in central Cairo and from the streets of Alexandria and Suez. He employed plain clothes paramilitaries of the 3,50,000-strong internal security forces.
Soldiers either left scenes of clashes or sat in their tanks and watched the action.

Mubarak's strategy for handling the protesters was to bide his time and prepare his plan of battle. On the political front, this involved appointing intelligence chief Omar Sueliman as his vice president, former airforce chief Ahmad Shafiq as prime minister, and upgrading deputy interior minister Mahmoud Wagdy to full minister. All three are, like Mubarak, military men. All three are loyal to the president.  

On the military front, a week ago Mubarak asked the internal security forces to withdraw from the streets and ordered the army to deploy but not to intervene. This gave the protesters a false sense of security because they had the wrong impression that the army was on their side or, at least, neutral.

On the external front, Mubarak devised a 'compromise' with Washington according to which he would not resign immediately, in response to the demands of the people.

Instead, he would pledge to stand down when his term ends in September. He agreed to review the results of last November's parliamentary election, widely regarded as rigged in favour of his National Democratic Party, and, pro forma, to initiate reforms. This package did not impress the protesters who renewed their call for him to 'go' immediately.

After promising late Tuesday night to leave the presidency, which he has occupied for 30 years, in eight months, Mubarak asked the army high command, all stalwart supporters, to call on the protesters to go home — 'for the love of Egypt.' When they refused, Mubarak loosened on them the armed bully boys of his internal security force.

On Thursday, Mubarak took back the initiative from the people in the square and the streets. Suleiman made this all too clear when he said there could be no negotiations until protests ceased. This means that the 10-12 public figures chosen to enter into a dialogue with the regime will have to wait until the battle for Tahrir Square, continuing at the time of writing, comes to an end. The protesters vow to maintain the popular pressure in the streets on Friday.

However, Mubarak's strategy has also created divisions in their ranks.  According to Iman, those who have taken part in the demonstrations are arguing over whether or not to continue. One camp insists that they must carry on. They hold that if Mubarak does not resign now they will never get rid of his regime. The opposing camp says that he is leaving soon so the protests can cease and people's power can declare victory.

If the 'go home' camp wins the argument, the victory will be Mubarak's on the tactical plane. But on the strategic plane, he has lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people. The protesters of Tahrir Square have, however, empowered millions of Egyptians of all classes, Muslims and Christians, men and women, old and young, who had believed nothing could be done against Mubarak's authoritarian regime.

The first task of the international community should be to get the two sides talking. Unless there is meaningful dialogue between the regime and people's power, Egypt it will be difficult to bring an end to the crisis and restore stability.

The Obama administration will have a key role to play in this dialogue. But it should not be reactive. Washington has to stop listening to neoconservative and Israeli scare mongering about the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood as well as by the destabilisation of Egypt.  The Brotherhood poses no threat at all. The people in the streets are led by educated secular youths who simply seek regime change and the right to choose president and parliament in free and fair elections every four or five years.

Frightened by people's power demonstrations in other Arab capitals and their demands for reform, the US decided, to opt for Mubarak, an old friend and reliable ally. If people's power prevails in Egypt, Washington's other friends and allies could be swept off their thrones. Facing protests, Jordan's King Abdullah has dismissed his unpopular premier while Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has also ruled for 30 years, said he will not stand for re-election in 2013.








I did not realise that one can't campaign simultan-eously for rival candidates.


A day after I joined the mechanical engineering course at KREC Surathkal (now NIT-K) I was ragged by a few seniors. As ragging goes it was comparatively mild. I was only asked to dance. My repertoire was restricted to 'The Twist' which I thought I executed reasonably well.

A week after that were the college students' union elections. I was requisitioned by the same seniors to dance in front of the hostel blocks to canvass for their candidate. A couple of days later another group asked me to do the same thing. I obliged. Only after I got a veiled warning from seniors did I realise that one cannot campaign simultaneously for rival candidates.

At Surathkal we had a unique election heritage. The candidates either represented South Kanara or North Karnataka without necessarily belonging to these regions. When I stood for joint secretary as an independent I was in a peculiar situation. I had no one to campaign for me as all the students were aligned to the main parties. Further, I had no funds for publicity material. Eventually, a couple of my classmates helped me with some hand painted posters to be pasted on the hostel walls. To every one's surprise I won by three votes.

Later I took a transfer to NIE, Mysore. In my final year, a classmate — who later became a commodore in the Navy — persuaded me to stand for president of the college students' association. But the eternal problem of funds, or the lack of it, still followed me. I couldn't tap my father who had recently retired. My campaign manager became panicky as D-day approached. There were posters and banners projecting my rival all over the place. My mother fished out some old white bed sheets still carrying stains of my young nephew's lack of bladder control. My lone supporter borrowed blue ink and brush and produced some banners out of them.

I combined Nehru's 'tryst with destiny' address with a quotation from Kennedy's famous speech and modified them. I stood at the college gate on election day and exhorted, "Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign students of NIE. Ask not what your college can do for you; ask what you can do for your college." On cue my campaign manager flashed a small banner that read 'Vote for a president whom you can trust. A president who will work for you.' I won by 32 votes.

After the results a whole horde of students wanted a victory party from me. Unfortunately, my financial position did not allow that. Eventually, the owner of Ganesh Lunch Home opposite the college was persuaded to sponsor the coffee/tea/ragi malt on the promise that the students' association would order snacks from him for its monthly meetings.






As if there weren't enough probes already into the death in police custody of NRI chef Cipriano Fernandes, Home Minister Ravi Naik told the Legislative Assembly yesterday that a special investigation team (SIT) will probe the custodial death. He told the House that all policemen who were present in the police station when Cipriano was in custody would be booked, as per the recommendations of the magisterial enquiry into the incident. The SIT is to be be headed by Superintendent of Police O P Kurtarkar. There is no doubt that Mr Kurtarkar is a good officer. He headed the SIT investigating the bomb blasts allegedly engineered by 'seekers' of the Sanatan Sanstha in Margao near Margao's Narkasur procession in 2009. His team uncovered the entire conspiracy and identified all the alleged culprits, before the investigation was officially taken over by the National Investigating Agency (NIA). The latter practically got a readymade investigation on a platter.
But that is not the point. There are already a number of probes underway into the seaman's death. Whenever there is a death in police custody, the SP of the district has to formally notify the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which investigates the incident. North Goa SP Arvind Gawas has already filed a report before the NHRC, which is looking into the incident.

The government had asked Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Sabaji Shetye to conduct a probe into the matter. The SDM has submitted his report, which apparently recommends booking relevant offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against all the police personnel on duty at the police station during the time.

The State Police Complaints Authority (SPCA), chaired by Justice (Retd) Eurico Santana Silva also took suo moto cognisance of a news report in 'Herald' and instituted an inquiry into Cipriano's death. That inquiry is presently ongoing, and all the different people involved – police personnel, medical personnel, relatives and friends, other witnesses, etc – are being summoned to testify.

The Panjim Judicial Magistrate First Class (JNFC) Shabnam Shaikh is also hearing a private complaint in this very matter, filed after a police station refused to register a First Information Report (FIR) about the custodial death. More or less the same people who have testified or are to testify before the SDM and the SPCA are being or have been summoned to do so before the JMFC.

And now this.

It is not our case that an SIT should not be set up to look into Cipriano's custodial death. But with all these probes operating simultaneously, it would seem that the police and medical personnel will have little else to do except rush from one to the other, giving testimony. Under the circumstances, before burdening them with one more probe, shouldn't the government try to rationalise the situation?

Play like you mean it
Many of India's cricketers – including captain Mahenrda Singh Dhoni – have said that it would be the best gift to Sachin Tendulkar if the Indian team wins the Cricket World Cup, starting in just two weeks. The last time India won the World Cup was in 1983, when Sachin was just 10 years old.

If that's what they really want, let our boys play like they mean it. After all, actions speak stronger than words.







Our country has been hit by an unprecedented spate of scams in recent months, each more scandalous than the other, that involves ever increasing sums of money. The media has been working overtime in its quest for "breaking news" in hot pursuit of the so-called political leaders allegedly involved in these rip-offs. On many an occasion, the journalists attempts to question them has met with a standard retort "the matter is sub-judice, so I cannot answer" thereby ducking the question. Prominent among those using this line recently, have been A Raja and S Kalmadi. One cannot help but wonder what manner of legal succour the term "sub-judice" provides to be used, so liberally and conveniently, with the sole purpose of evading embarrassing questions from the media. The term "sub-judice" literally means "under a judge" or "under consideration of a judge or court". Section 10 of the Civil Procedure Code deals with the "Doctrine of Res Sub-Judice".It provides that no court shall proceed with the trial of any suit, in which the matter in issue is also directly and substantially in issue in a previously instituting suit between the same parties where such suit is pending in the same or any other court in India. However, a pending suit in a foreign court doesn't bar the courts in India, from trying a suit founded on the same cause of action.

For the application of the doctrine of Res Sub-judice, the following conditions must be satisfied: 1. A previously instituted suit is pending in a Court. 2. The matter in issue in second suit is also directly and substantially the same as in the previous suit. 3. The previously instituted suit is still pending in same court or any other court in India. 4. The parties in two suits are same. 5. The court in which previous suit is pending has the jurisdiction to try such suit.

Section 10 is enacted to prevent courts of concurrent jurisdiction from simultaneously trying two parallel suits in respect of the same matter in issue.

Section 11 deals with a somewhat similar sounding term "Res Judicata" which states that no court shall try any suit or issue in which the matter directly and substantially in issue, has been directly and substantially in issue in a former suit, between the same parties, or between the parties under whom they or any of them claim, litigating under the same title, in a competent court to try such subsequent suit or the suit or the suit in which such issue has been subsequently raised, and has been heard and finally decided by such court. Neither of these terms even remotely resembles the context in which they are used by our so-called leaders, who invoke a gag order on any matter, which is in court. Is this rational or is it a ploy, to evade awkward questions?

In many countries, including India, it was considered inappropriate to enter into an extensive public debate on a matter that is in court. The practice has been abandoned in most countries; however, its origin is interesting. In countries where the judicial process operates by the jury system, it was believed that members of the jury selected from the lay public would be unduly influenced by public debate, rather than by evidence presented in court. Therefore, juries are often sequestered during trial. India follows the bench system; and the learned judges who are custodians of our laws, are appointed on the basis of their learning, wisdom and experience. To suggest that they can be so influenced is to cast aspersions on their capabilities. Courts in relation to petitions under the RTI, have already ruled that "In so far as the matter being sub-judice is concerned, this Commission has, time and again, held that a matter being under sub-judice, is not a ground to deny the information, unless covered under any other exempted provisions of the RTI Act." In yet another ruling, "The RTI Act provides no exemption from disclosure requirement for sub-judice matters. The only exemption in sub-judice matter is regarding what has been expressly forbidden from disclosure, by a court or a tribunal, and what may constitute contempt of court: Section 8(1) (b)."

Even in regard to the matter where the prosecution is still continuing, the Central Public Information Officer can provide the information subject to provisions of Section 10(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005 by applying the doctrine of severability. The speakers of the Lok Sabha and the Gujarat assembly are on record on different occasions, as having permitted debates in matters that are sub judice. With regards to media coverage, the Delhi High Court has ruled that writing about a sub-judice matter, does not amount to trial by media, and it should not be restrained.

The concern appears to be that in answering questions on a matter, that is sub judice, the individual may be slapped with a contempt of court order. It is rather amusing to see that someone who is accused of pilfering thousands of crores of rupees, is so concerned about contempt. However, this being the general concept, it is worth having a closer look.

1. Civil Contempt: Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as willful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a court.

2. Criminal Contempt: Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter, or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:

(i) Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
(ii) Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding,or
(iii) Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

(a) 'High Court' means the high court for a state or a union territory and includes the court of the judicial commissioner in any union territory. Because various judicial rulings appeared to go against the spirit of these definitions, the Constitution Commission (NCRWC) reviewed the situation and as a result, the Contempt of Court (Amendment) Bill 2004 was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2006 whereby the court may permit in any contempt proceedings "justification by truth as a valid defense if it is in public interest and the request for invoking it is bona fide."

Mr Justice G N Ray in a highly elucidative lecture  on August 31, 2008 summed it up as "Most public matters before judges are simply 'in court', and not necessarily sub-judice to the extent that voicing one's views about them publicly would merit contempt charges". Whilst criticising a learned judges' competence, knowledge or integrity would surely invite contempt proceedings, the mere public discussion of a matter need not.
So, the next time a politician ducks a question using the sub judice excuse, feel free to tell him that he is talking hogwash. (The author is a Member, NEC, Voluntary Health Association of India.)







Do we use the word 'mafia' very loosely? I ask because of the number of times I read it in newspapers and magazines nowadays. In my youth, the word was hardly ever used. It probably caught on first with the book and then the movie; 'The Godfather'. There you had Don Corleone making offers that no one could refuse.
Initially, I associated the mafia with Italians in the US. But Hollywood notoriously labels and stereotypes anyone and everyone. Only much later I realised that Italians were mostly victims of the mafia, which was overwhelmingly Sicilian, with their 'la Cosa Nostra' and their 'Omerta'.

One associated the mafia in America with moonshine, gambling, prostitution, protection rackets, contract killing, vote rigging and assorted strong-arm tactics. It was only after the US Internal Revenue Service started nailing the Dons that lawyers and chartered accountants moved in, and revolvers and sub-machine guns slowly gave way to profit-and-loss statements and spreadsheets.

In the Bombay of the '50s, '60s and '70s, there used to be a smuggling mafia controlled by Dons like Haji Mastan, Yusuf Patel, Karim Lala and a few minor Khans. Those were the days of foreign pant pieces, perfumes, electronic goods and, of all things, razor blades. But the top spot was always held by gold. Import of these items was banned. It helped generate huge amounts of black money, as white collar disposable income found its way into Swiss Banks via the godfathers, bureaucrats, customs officers, and all the others in the bribery chain.
Closer to home, during the 18 years I lived in Anjuna and Calangute, I saw tourism take off. The builder lobby came riding piggyback on tourism. Hotels and resorts soon gave-way to rent-backs. That's when the construction industry was taken over by the mafia. The small and medium Goan builders, commission agents and land grabbers have now been swallowed by the Bombay builder and the Delhi scamster.
On the seaward side, small-time Goan goons with panchayat patronage became mini-mafias, with rooms for prostitution and shacks for drugs, with help from taxi drivers and the men-in-uniform. Now they too are being marginalised by mega-mafias from other parts of India; even neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir… Even foreigners are moving in – Russians, Brits, Germans, Israelis, Swiss, Estonians, Ukrainians, Nigerians…

In quiet places like Arambol, Morjim, Keri and Palolem, foreigners have established their own enclaves complete with their own lingua franca on menus, signboards and posters, as if they have 'Most Favoured Nation' status.

All this was predicted almost two decades ago by Dr Nandakumar Kamat. Unfortunately, a prophet is never honoured in his own bailiwick. Or, as my mercenary mate would say, "What does it profit a man if he cannot leverage his own prophecy for financial gain?" Some even ridiculed the good 'dotor' by calling him a prophet of doom. Others labelled him as an agent of the tourism lobby in South East Asia!

In our quest for development and modernity, we Goans have come a long way. We now have an iron-ore mining mafia, a sand and quarrying mafia, a drug mafia (but no drugs in Goa), an illegal pisciculture mafia, a gambling mafia, an international sex-trade mafia, a scrap mafia, an electricity-stealing mafia and a water mafia.

But, instead of targeting these mafias, our government is going after NGOs and citizens' groups that are raising their voices against these mafias, which can overwhelm civil society as we know it. These issues have been identified by the good 'dotor', who is truly a son of the Goan soil.

At least now let us wake up to the latest mafia he has identified – the 'Hydrocarbon Mafia'. In his own words: "Goa is a central operations theatre, a secure mini-hub for interstate mafias dealing with industrial alcohol and petroleum hydrocarbons. The Goan Hydrocarbon Mafia has regional and national links, with a sizeable number of Nepalese and Bangladeshis – the international links are yet to be discovered. The regional links cover the entire area between Silvassa and New Mangalore Port…"

When Goa is the smallest state in India, we must ask ourselves why we are so big when it comes to mafias.








So the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested him. According to CBI sources, the villain of the second generation (2G) spectrum scam piece, former Telecom Minister A Raja, was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly misusing the first come-first served policy to favour telecom companies of his choice in the allocation of 2G spectrum licences. He has also been accused of disregarding the fact that some of the companies that got licences should have been disqualified. Raja had earlier rubbished both the charges. It has been learnt that Raja, along with former Telecom Secretary Siddhartha Behura and the minister's former personal secretary RK Chandolia, has been arrested after investigators gathered strong evidence, including telephone conversations, of a nexus between the companies that got 2G spectrum licences and the minister. Raja and his officials have been charged with favouring eight telecom companies, some of which did not even fulfil the criteria laid down by the government — a grave breach of rules by a minister of the Union government. They have been charged with plotting criminal conspiracies under Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 13(I), 13(2) and 13(2D) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. According to a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India report, the loss caused by Raja and his accomplices to the nation is a whopping Rs 1.76 lakh crore. The arrests have come at a time when the Supreme Court is monitoring the investigation into the scam. The apex court will hear the matter on February 10.

What next? In November last year, DMK supremo Karunanidhi was on record saying that ''Raja is a Dalit'' and ''that is why dominant forces are levelling malicious charges against him''! Surely the institution of CAG is not a ''dominant force'' of the kind Karunanidhi has in mind? DMK activists,  especially Raja's supporters, might try to foment trouble in the days to come. But that will not matter. What will matter is how the CBI now proceeds. The arrests are only a beginning. The apex court will have its own take on the matter. Of all, however, what will matter most is how chiefs of political parties learn from the Raja notoriety experience. Take the case of Karunanidhi. Right when allegations against Raja began to surface — that is, in 2008 —  his party boss should have asked him to step down. But such virtues have become the rarest of rare things in the country's political domain. Yet, for the sake of the nation's progress and responding to the aspirations of the younger generation, it ought to be the bounden duty of every party chief to ensure that leaders against whom allegations of corruption are levelled are shown the door and absorbed back only when their names are cleared by investigating agencies. This will send the message that acts of corruption will not be tolerated at any level. Such crackdown will also keep the youth interested in politics — a must for an evolving democracy like ours, in which, unfortunately, the youth seem to be least interested in political affairs, thanks to the deepening and widening rot.

This brings us to the regime of corruption so meticulously sustained by the country's politico-bureaucratic class. Since there is no indication that the corrupt is being hounded as he deserves and punished exemplarily, and since there is rather the unspoken message that corruption has already become a way of life and it should not shock anyone any more, the raaj of corruption — call it Raja raaj, in the wake of the instant case — is only incentivized; the architecture of corruption gets only more grandiose. In this scheme, elected representatives in the corridors of power, barring a minuscule exceptional lot, conspire with their bureaucratic cronies to loot the public while pretending that the people are being served at one's political best and also shouting from the housetop that all allegations of such loot are a mere conspiracy hatched by the Opposition and 'vested-interest' public activists! This raaj must come to an end if the nation wants to sustain its march.





Mourning the demise of K Subrahmanyam — the country's most respected strategic affairs expert — on Wednesday, Uday Bhaskar, director of the National Maritime Foundation, a think tank, said so very rightly that Subrahmanyam ''represented the first attempt in trying to introduce strategic thinking in India and to think about these issues in an objective and non-partisan way''. There is no denying that if it had not been for Subrahmanyam, the founder director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and the man who was instrumental in drafting the country's nuclear doctrine, we would not have had the kind of strategic culture we have today, so crucial to being a major player in the international power dynamics, and given also the hostile neighbourhood. He has left a legacy that must now be taken forward by strategic think tanks. Its imperative stems from the fact that India is a rapidly growing economy that must be backed by a pragmatic strategic road map. The wonderful way that Subrahmanyam has paved, can go a long way in that direction. It must.






An industry-starved region as this needs the right industrial direction. It is incumbent on the State governments of the region to create an industry-friendly ambience, supporting and encouraging, especially, would-be local entrepreneurs armed with a clear vision

How is the investment climate in the Northeast? Are investors from the rest of the country, as also from abroad, interested in this hinterland, known chiefly for armed insurrections that eventually veer away and turn terroristic? Are the State governments of the region concerned? Do they have a road map? Are they bothered about consulting experts in the field? And even if they are consulted, are they heeded? Or is it only the stereotypical — or anachronic — bureaucracy whose 'expert' voice is reckoned?

Given the growth being witnessed in the rest of the country, as well as its economic aspiration as it is poised to overtake China as the fastest growing major economy in the world by the end of 2015, the northeastern States cannot remain isolated from the process. For this to happen, their economies must grow rapidly. This is impossible in the vacuum of industrial activities.

Many would point to geographical disadvantages. They would harp on the rugged terrains of the region, apart from militancy. They would also point to connectivity bottlenecks. But what would be conveniently glossed over is why such regions in other parts of the world are charting out wondrous industrial trajectories. This calls for a governance informed by the requirements of an industrial phenomenon, and of course an industrial bent of people's mind.

So how can it happen? Firstly, of course, it pertains to the government. The Industry Minister should be a person who knows what it takes to industrialize an industry-starved region. He should be informed by what his counterparts in industrially happening States have done — and what precisely has worked out miracles in States like Gujarat. The bureaucrat assisting him should be one living in the 21st century, and not blissfully ensconced in a time-warp of sorts, with ideas absolutely outmoded. He should be an industrial think-tank material. He should come up with radical ideas, exhorting the minister to initiate a deliberation with experts in the field. This is what is lacking. Or if this is wrong, let the industry ministers of the region inform the people of the expert deliberations they have had so far and the results obtained.

Secondly, the government should be able to create a law-and-order situation conducive to the flourish of any industrial enterprise. This is not just about containing militancy. This is also about dealing with various groups in the mainstream, including students' outfits, who have converted the practice of collecting donation by force into a fine art. Voluntary donation is one thing; collecting money in the name of a 'cause' by coercion quite another. On most occasions, the 'cause' is nothing but the personal cause of a class of self-styled leaders — which is a kind of terrorism. The government should tackle this terrorism too, so that the needed industrial or investment ambience is generated. The investor from outside this region is not so foolhardy as to initiate a venture in this land despite the knowledge of threats posed by players both in the mainstream and in jungles.

Thirdly, the government should be able to effect a work culture of the kind that the private sector desires. The State governments of the northeastern region, notorious for a work system that militates against all work ethics of the prospering world, have long overlooked work culture imperatives. They cannot afford to do so now. Why cannot the government show the way? The impression that easy money is possible in one way or the other, and that one can go scot-free in spite of the crimes committed in that process because the government is itself in the business of promoting such 'culture', must come to an end — sooner rather than later. This will prove to be a boon for the society as it aspires to go industrial. A government system that encourages those who have institutionalized the practice of earning without having to work at all, will reinvent itself elsewhere too — that is, in the industrial sector too, run by private parties. Workers in the private sector obviously tend to emulate the public sector or government precedent. There is a psychology involved here: ''If a government employee gets paid unfailingly even if his productivity is nowhere near the mark expected or is zero, let us also devise some mechanism to go that way without being detected.'' Do the northeastern State governments realize their responsibilities?

Fourthly, it is a matter of ease with which local entrepreneurs can set up businesses in their land of birth. Allegations galore that a would-be entrepreneur does not get any encouragement from the State government, his very own elected government. It is as if the government were itself the greatest deterrent to his industrial ambition. This anti-people regime must end. Along with this, there could be a system of rewarding entrepreneurs, local or otherwise, big or small, who by virtue of their excellent industrial units have not only provided employment to local people but also contributed at their best to their State's revenue generation.

There are reports of an industrial unit (in the business of making iron rods) at Banderdewa in Arunachal Pradesh under the aegis of Satyam Group that has provided employment to many local youth and also happens to be the greatest contributor among the State's industrial units to its revenue generation. If this is so, the effort is laudable. In a region so desperately crying for industrialization, industrial units set up by private parties that are wedded to the cause of the people of the State concerned and have a sense of social responsibility, deserve a huge round of applause and encouragement. But those violating the norms set and playing havoc with the environment must face the music.

And last, but not the least, it is high time the educated youth of the northeastern region tried to tread an entrepreneurial path and thus looked for means of sustenance beyond the limited scope provided by their government. But this must entail active governmental support and encouragement for the proposed ventures to be successful. Is it so impossible?

This region has a huge potential to match the development engines of the rest of the States. Only, it needs an industrial direction — and the right direction at that. Let our elected political executives be pro-active and do the needful, and not fail the future generation. Will they? Can they?

Bikash Sarmah








The White House is calling for an "immediate" transition to democratic representation in Egypt. "Ordinary transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now," US President Barack Obama told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by phone Tuesday. And as if the president's message was not clear enough, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs added, "Now means yesterday."

Not only must transition to democracy be quick, but it must include "a whole host of non-secular actors," added Gibbs.

And though the White House spokesman did not specify, the US administration apparently does not "rule out engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood as part of an orderly process," according to sources quoted by The New York Times.

There are a number of profound flaws to this "hurry up and democratize" approach, perhaps the most obvious being historical precedent. If Hamas's victory in 2006's Palestinian elections did not illustrate the danger of a reckless rush toward hoped-for democratic representation without first carefully and systematically building the necessary democratic institutions – a free press; a legislature with a healthy opposition standing a real chance of coming to power; an honest judicial system not dictated by religious or ideological prejudices; and strict, effective and fair law enforcement – there is the much fresher example of Hizbullah in Lebanon.

In Iraq, with all the aid and military support provided by a US-led coalition, the road to democratization faces sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges with sectarian turmoil threatening to throw the country into anarchy.

Even Turkey, with its 80-year-old history of civic society with a strong focus on secular values safeguarded by its military, constitution and long history of democratic practices, seems headed in a decidedly Islamist direction under the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Radical Islam is the zeitgeist of the region. Egypt is no exception.

In the past few decades Egypt has become increasingly more prone to extremism. Mubarak, aware of the strength of the Islamists, has given them more freedom to aggressively pursue their radical agenda, while maintaining ultimate political authority and a monopoly over the security forces in the hope of directing the process of reforms and protecting the ruling secular elite.

Islamists have gradually assumed control over Egypt's major professional unions, including the lawyers' syndicate, once the country's most liberal and secular professional association. Shari'a law is increasingly being applied in the courts to prosecute secular intellectuals, writers, professors, artists and journalists for purely religious "crimes" such as blasphemy and apostasy. The Muslim Brotherhood has also taken over the Teachers' Training College, producing educators who disseminate radical Islamic ideas in the classrooms. This process has taken its toll. Just last month Islamists attacked a church in Alexandria, massacring 23 Coptic Christians.

Riding on popular support, the Muslim Brotherhood has succeeded in making inroads despite being deprived of political power. In 2005's Egyptian parliamentary elections, an "independent" party affiliated with the Brotherhood – officially banned from political activity – obtained almost 20 percent of the vote, five times higher than in 2000's elections, and would have garnered more if not for blatant government interference. More aggressive ballot-rigging in the November and December 2010 elections – ranging from removing the names of opposition candidates to blocking their representatives from monitoring polls, from shutting polling stations in the face of would-be- voters to simple stuffing of ballot boxes – kept a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party down to just one seat in the 454-member parliament, though it also stoked anger on the street.

AND WHAT does the Brotherhood think of the democratic process? "We accept the concept of pluralism for the time being," Mustafa Mashur, former supreme guide of the Brotherhood, noted a few years ago. "However, when we will have Islamic rule we might then reject this concept or accept it."

For a radical Islamic movement that openly states its intention to establish a state run in accordance with Shari'a law and which views anyone who does not adhere to such a vision as an apostate, our bet is that rejection of liberalism is much more likely than acceptance. We hope the US administration will recognize the dangers implicit in too speedy a transition to the trappings of democracy, without first laying the necessary groundwork. Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq are instructive lessons in the dangers of a faulty democratic processes.

Nobody wants Egypt's first democratic elections to be its last.









Sometimes a moment arrives when a journalist has to drop his tweezers and pick up a hammer. That's the moment at which there is no point in mincing words; you have to come straight to the point: Ehud Barak has to go. He has to get out of our face.

The Middle East is on the brink of a conflagration with what is happening in Egypt, but look at the intrigues that are preoccupying the defense minister. This is the first time in his career that he has appointed a chief of staff, and what a murky concoction emerged from his kitchen.

This writer, like many others, was impressed at the time by his intelligence, his articulateness, his glorious military past and his ability to hypnotize the political establishment and part of the public and to make them believe that he was the one and only.

There were some who said that he had the Midas touch, referring to the mythological Greek king who turned everything he touched to gold.

But Barak is now turning out to be a reverse Midas: Whatever he touches turns to muck.

Look how he was elected prime minister and aroused great hopes, but then fell, leaving behind a trail of admirers and friends who were disappointed by his shady character.

During the period when he abandoned Labor in order to "look after his own interests," he made enough money to purchase several apartments worth millions.

That arouses the suspicion that he is more suited to being a businessman than a prime minister. Had he been Russian, he would almost certainly have become a famous oligarch.

Barak's attitude toward Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the whole saga of the appointment of Ashkenazi's successor are a microcosm of his driven personality.

He cannot tolerate having anyone around him whose popularity overshadows his.

Ashkenazi, who was brought back to the army from retirement to be chief of staff, has done wonders in rehabilitating the army from the ravages of the Second Lebanon War and has gained the admiration of both the army's top brass and public opinion.

He has also been portrayed in the media as someone who is not enthusiastic about the idea of Israel attacking Iran.

It is certainly possible that Barak felt Ashkenazi was overshadowing him, or that he might become a political threat in the future.

Barak began his ugly war against the chief of staff by declaring that his term would not be extended for a fifth year, and I believe Ashkenazi when he says that he didn't ask for a fifth year, either directly or indirectly.

What was Barak so afraid of that he deserted Labor and left a vacuum? That Ashkenazi was liable to take his place, just like he himself abandoned the leadership of the Labor Party in its time of distress in order to continue serving as defense minister in the Benjamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman government?

In hindsight, it turns out that the civilian Moshe Arens, who didn't serve in the IDF, was actually a more productive defense minister than Barak.

He established the Home Front Command and the Ground Forces Command and developed the Lavi fighter jet ‏(the rights to which were later sold to China‏).

Perhaps Barak's contribution was secret − like his illegal maid, the consulting business his wife wanted to establish with the help of his connections, or the additional apartments that he recently purchased.

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor spent the last few years working on a comprehensive document about Israel's security doctrine.

What ever happened to that document? Did Barak conduct a brainstorming session about it? Almost certainly not. The man doesn't listen; dialogue for him is strictly one-way. He talks to himself and convinces himself that there is nobody like him.

His grudge against Ashkenazi, or his fears of Ashkenazi's popularity, complicated the appointment of the next chief of staff and cast a heavy shadow over the purity of Barak's considerations.

He did an injustice to Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant when he didn't investigate or even conduct a preliminary inquiry when stories about Galant's alleged seizure of lands near his home began to circulate. Barak and Netanyahu then canceled the appointment without a qualm.

He could have saved Galant had he asked Ashkenazi to continue to serve for a few more months. In spite of the bad blood between them, Ashkenazi is a responsible person and a true patriot. He would almost certainly have agreed.

Instead, Barak threw Galant to the dogs and appointed Maj. Gen. ‏Yair Naveh, the deputy chief of staff who until recently served as CEO of the Jerusalem light rail project, to serve as chief of staff for two months.

My heart broke when I saw Galant plead in a television interview for the country to defend him. Galant should have known that Israel is a country of drawers. Every time there is an appointment, a drawer is pulled out containing the sins of the past.

Michael Eitan is the only minister who opposed the appointment. Netanyahu didn't heed his warnings, but proved once again that his word is nothing but pudding. And the driven Barak, who thinks God chose him to rule, both failed and caused Netanyahu to fail. Now, he has to go.







Until two weeks ago, Egypt was an impressive economic success story. It was considered an awakening economy which had a high growth rate for an entire decade. Hosni Mubarak himself was praised for the reforms he introduced, the process of privatization and his fight against the bureaucracy. Officials of the International Monetary Fund would speak enthusiastically about the impressive growth of foreign investments in Egypt and the regime's festive slogan "Egypt is open for business."

But then the protests began and suddenly the economists became aware that they had missed the point, and by a large margin. Suddenly the good economic situation turned bad and Mubarak, the reformer, became a cruel dictator. The rating agencies hastened to lower the country's credit rating and the United States president, Barack Obama, who not so long ago had embraced Mubarak with the deepest friendship, began to hint that it would be best if he vacates his seat immediately.

That is how Egypt became the sick child of the Third World overnight, the symbol of poverty and a country which suffers from enormous gaps in income between a narrow rich elite and the masses who exist on $2 a day. It is not by chance that the uprising is being dubbed "the intifada of the hungry."

The economists immediately reached the realization that Egypt does not have a middle class, and that even someone who manages to get an academic degree ‏(one million graduates per year‏) does not find work other than in cleaning and peddling goods. This is the time to mention that the uprising in Tunisia − which set the ball rolling for the protests in the other Arab states − started when a frustrated university graduate, aged 26, immolated himself because the police had confiscated his vegetable stand.

Egypt's Gross Domestic Product stands at $220 billion, exactly the same as Israel's. But Egypt has some 80 million citizens while in Israel there are a mere 7.5 million. That is why the standard of living in Egypt is approximately 10 percent of that in Israel. And if one adds to this the enormous gaps between the rich and poor, it is possible to understand where the frustration and anger stem from.

Egypt finished 2010 with a high inflation rate of 13 percent, while the price of food went up by some 20 percent and real unemployment reached 25 percent. In a country where 40 percent of the average income goes toward food ‏(in Israel it is 17 percent‏), that is a central reason for the fury of the masses who are not able to earn a living. In addition, Egypt suffers from a corrupt regime, a lack of freedom of expression, security forces that arrest people on an arbitrary basis and rigged elections. How is it possible otherwise to get a 97 percent majority over a 30-year period?

The revolutions in Arab countries are always accompanied by a bad script. They start with prolonged poverty and a sharp rise in food prices. As a result, the masses take to the streets, the regime sends in the army to suppress the protests and if it succeeds, the revolution is postponed for a few years.

If the army does not succeed, it joins the masses and the dictator falls. Thereafter, "free elections" are held, the results of which do not correspond with the naive dreams about democracy of Obama and Angela Merkel, when well organized groups gain control of the regime. This is how extremist Islam rose to power in Iran, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah gained control in Lebanon. The danger in Egypt lies in the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood will gain control − which is the worst case scenario for the citizens of Egypt, for Israel, and for the entire world.

This frightening scenario, and the fear of the domino effect that could reach as far as the Saudi royal house, is what caused the price of oil to skyrocket. In Israel it found expression in a devaluation of the shekel since Israel's risk premium rose from both the economic and the strategic points of view.

The saddest man in this story is Benjamin Netanyahu. Mubarak was the last regional leader who was still prepared to meet with him. Mubarak was also the only one who defended the peace with Israel with his own body in the face of strong internal opposition. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, does not want any connection with Netanyahu; the Jordanian monarch, Abdullah, is not prepared to speak to him; and the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, considers the struggle with Israel a strategic asset.

Now Netanyahu understands just how critical the peace with Egypt is for Israel. But now it is too late. Mubarak is already history.







I was not planning to try to wade through the waters of Ehud Olmert's memoirs that swept across the pages of the Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, over the weekend. Stories about "almost" − how we were just about to touch, how we would have arrived there in another second − tend to bore me. But as I was paging through, I came across a picture of myself − and I was surprised. What connection do I have with the stories of Grandpa Ehud, why did I get the honor?

I worked hard and found the reason. Dozens of prosecutors have condemned him for his rashness, his hedonism and his corruption. Even personal friends who had tried to understand him from close up had washed their hands of him and spat into the hand that fed them.

Of all of these, Olmert chose none other than Haaretz and me. This newspaper "turned the war against me into its prime mission," he wrote. He got nothing but deep frustration from this. Alongside restrained compliments − "Yossi is not untalented" − he attributed jealousy to me. Where is he and where am I?

Both of us began as the youngest of Knesset members − one became prime minister and the other "is sitting at home, growing old before his time, with a heart filled with bitterness." All of this is true except for the remark about being aged, since it is natural that old age should come upon our heads, both his and mine, and wreck our beautiful hairdos.

"Sitting at home" − that is a fact. But home is man's best friend. It leaps onto me with joy every time I open the front door. In my house I feel at home − blessed are those who dwell in your house − and it is hard for me to assess how I would have felt had I bought and lived in three houses.

"His heart is filled with bitterness" − that too is a fact. How is it possible not to be a little bitter when you think about the poor country that has been held captive already for 15 years in long and misguided hands, which do not always know how to differentiate between one pocket and another, one cash register and another: Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Olmert, who raised covetousness to new heights and made it a real art. If Yoav Galant cannot be chief of staff, how can Olmert have been prime minister, merely because Sharon saw in him a son who would follow in his footsteps? Gilad, Omri, Yoav and Ehud − they were all his sons.

It was not so much that I had reservations about the policies of the author of the memoirs as that I was revolted by his greed. In other countries, people go out into the streets to protest about behavior of that type. He will not be remembered for the "almosts" of his career but rather for the envelopes that he snatched and wrapped up. In my heart of hearts, I wonder − and you too are permitted to join in: Who should be jealous of whom? Which of the two would you like to be in the place of his colleague?

Olmert wandered around for 35 years until he opened his eyes and saw the light. The supporter of the Greater Land of Israel and even more so, of a united Jerusalem, started some time ago to march along a different path and at long last divided Jerusalem on paper. "I could no longer continue to deceive myself," he wrote.

So he did not deceive himself − that's okay with me. It's not the only lie with which he has to live. But he cheated everyone and that is how he became prime minister. I tried not to deceive anyone and to have no regrets, even if I showed less support for a united Jerusalem. I forced myself to retire because my soul could no longer tolerate those who cheated and those who chose to follow them when they knew they were not being honest. Even Olmert, who has some regrets and feelings of bitterness, admits somewhat: "I cannot detract from the courage with which Yossi conducted his struggles, and a long time before he made his not negligible contribution to the discourse on the Palestinian issue."
But my ego trips me up, it discerns the modesty of an expert. Let us be judged: What is preferable, an inflated ego or an inflated pocket?
Now I am sitting at home, even though sometimes I go out. But the really interesting question is something different − not where Sarid is sitting but where Olmert will sit.







Since the 18th century, revolution has shaped the world and its consciousness as a universal experience of popular sovereignty, from east to west, from north to south. But in the face of the Egyptian revolution, a kind of mean-spiritedness has been evident here in Israel − for example, in the television commentary. Commentators and moderators never stopped giving grades for behavior. A huge comet flashed past us, and Channel 2 commentator's muttered, like the survivor of a traffic accident: Had they only suppressed the demonstrations at the start, everything would have been different.

Again and again, they searched for Islamic signs in the pictures of the masses, as though they were immigration officials checking for smallpox. Others were excited to discover signs that reminded them of "us": Facebook, young people speaking English, and of course women in jeans. There's nothing like a woman's thighs as an index of progress.

But the person who deserves the prize for folly is Dr. Oded Eran, formerly our ambassador to Jordan. He suggested organizing elections in Egypt under European supervision, to ensure that monitors would turn a blind eye to fraud by the regime during the vote count.
For years, our Orientalists saw a danger in ‏(secular‏) Arab nationalism. Both the right and the left examined Arab intellectuals with a fine-toothed comb in order to prove that they were "pan-Arabists." What lay behind this, always, was a colonialist questioning of their right to self-determination on a par with our own standards.

But today, when people no longer demonstrate in Lebanon's squares on behalf of Lebanese Arabism, and when nobody is singing paeans to the Arab nation in the streets of Cairo, our examiners are rewriting the questionnaire: Instead of "nationalists," they are looking for "religious people."

The problem with such discourse − which sees the world through the prism of the Shin Bet Security Service, with no inhibitions and no curiosity about what is unique to Egypt − is that it helps to seal off the ghetto into which we are gradually locking ourselves, a ghetto within the Middle East and within world history. We should recall Israel's attitude to the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the "rotten business" we perpetrated in Egypt in the early 1950s, the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the affinity between these events and our alliance with the shah of Iran and his murderous security services, and the affinity between all these and the coronation of Bachir Gemayel as Lebanon's ruler on the broken blades of Israel Defense Forces bayonets.

Forget about the strategic dimension. The issue is that military interests have always trained intellectual integrity and analysis to provide them with justifications and the status of "the truth." The adoption of the region's oppressive elites was carried out with the help of Shimon Peres-style language laundering and constant conciliatory gestures toward the West: We'll be a base for you in the heart of darkness − even now, when the West is turning its back on these politics. After all, that is the only historical significance these events have as far as we are concerned: The United States no longer needs this offer.

Our ideas about the Arab world are blind to the sufferings of the nations around us and their hatred of their rulers. The average annual income in Egypt is $6,200; Israelis' average annual income is almost $30,000. Will stability in the relations between two such countries be guaranteed by a huge, brutal police force, of all things? That is the discussion that we haven't yet had.

The Egyptian revolution is costing blood. A great deal of blood. No elite leaves of its own free will, even if its sponsors in Washington have decided to get rid of it. Spontaneous action is fated to decline, and in the absence of a revolutionary party, it is not at all clear what will happen. The Egyptian opposition has been repressed for years, and there, too, the left has drowned in European subsidies to dozens of different human rights NGOs, which are always interested in obedient monitoring rather than change.

Nobody knows where the revolution will end up: in an Iranian-style republic? In something along Turkish lines? Or perhaps something new, the likes of which we've never experienced? At the moment, there is no need to reply, but only to think and remember this: It doesn't all revolve around us. And in the face of the Egyptian people's heroism, we should bow our heads in humility.






The deep crisis in which the Israel Defense Forces finds itself is the fault of the government above it, and could be solved if that government − and especially the prime minister − came to its senses and backtracked on its strange plan to appoint Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Naveh as acting chief of staff for up to 30 days starting on February 14. But since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far not demonstrated any ability to extricate himself from the embrace of his defense minister, Ehud Barak, the key lies in Maj. Gen. Naveh's hands.

One can understand the temptation for Naveh. He served in the IDF for more than 30 years and reached very senior positions. As a religious man, he paid a personal and family price when he was required to command the evacuation of settlements in the northern West Bank. In his view, he was no less worthy than the other candidates to become current Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi's deputy. When he was not chosen for that post, which would have made him one of the candidates for chief of staff now, he retired to civilian life, from which he was returned to the army about two months ago when ‏(then‏) chief of staff-designate Yoav Galant needed a deputy.

But suddenly, last week, not only was Galant's appointment revoked, but a strange improvisation was invented − Naveh's appointment as temporary chief of staff. The appointment will put Naveh in a convenient position to receive the permanent post as well, but would leave the IDF in an atmosphere of uncertainty, without a commander with full powers and without a deputy chief of staff, who usually serves as chief of the army's staff and is directly responsible for building up its strength.

Now, Naveh's test lies in whether he can overcome the temptation, which also carries risks − including arguments against his suitability that the appropriate officials will have to scrutinize closely to assure that another edition of the Galant affair does not recur. He should tell Netanyahu and Barak that he thanks them for their faith in him, but for the good of the army, Ashkenazi's tenure should be extended by a few weeks. During this short time, the process of choosing the next chief of staff will continue.

Leadership is desperately needed at this time. If the politicians cannot provide it, it is the duty of people like Naveh.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES





Ann Arbor, Mich.

ASTRONOMERS announced last month that, contrary to previous assumptions, the orbiting body Eris might be smaller than Pluto after all. Since it was the discovery in 2005 of Eris, an object seemingly larger than what had been considered our smallest planet, that precipitated the downgrading of Pluto from full planet to "dwarf," some think it may be time to revisit Pluto's status.

Most of us can't help rooting for Pluto. We liked the idea of a ninth planet, hanging out there like a period at the end of the gorgeous sentence of the solar system. It gave us a sense of completeness. And besides, we were used to it. Pluto's demotion caused such an outcry because it altered something we thought we knew to be true about our world.

Of course, science doesn't, and shouldn't, care what we learned in first grade. If Pluto's odyssey teaches us anything, it's that whenever we think we've discovered a measure of certainty about the universe, it's often fleeting, and more often pure dumb luck. The 1930 discovery of Pluto — by Clyde Tombaugh, who coincidentally was born 105 years ago today — is a prime example, a testament not only to Tombaugh's remarkable perseverance, but also to how a stupendously unlikely run of circumstances can lead to scientific glory.

The search for a ninth planet was led by the Harvard-trained Percival Lowell, a Boston Brahmin who was widely known for announcing the existence of a Martian civilization. Lowell's hypotheses about a "Planet X" were based on optimistic interpretations of inconclusive data. Many had observed that the orbit of Uranus seemed to be perturbed by a gravitational influence beyond the orbit of Neptune. If the source of that pull could be determined, he speculated, a fellow could point a telescope at that source and find an undiscovered world.

So Lowell, in the Arizona observatory he had built, set out to do just that. His method was not without precedent. But in 1916, after more than a decade of exquisitely delicate mathematics and erratic searching, Lowell died, his reputation as a gifted crackpot confirmed.

Thirteen years later, Clyde Tombaugh was hired by V. M. Slipher, the director of the Lowell Observatory, to resume the search.

At 22, Tombaugh had been making his own telescopes for years in a root cellar on his father's Kansas farm (where the air was cool and still enough to allow for the correction of microscopic flaws in the mirrors he polished by hand). The resulting telescopes were of such high quality that Tombaugh could draw the bands of weather on Jupiter, 400 million miles away. Ambitious but too poor to afford college, Tombaugh had written at random to Slipher, seeking career advice. Slipher took a look at the drawings that Tombaugh had included, and invited him to Arizona.

For months, Tombaugh used a device called a blink comparator to pore over scores of photographic plates, hunting for one moving pinprick amid millions of stars. When he finally found the moving speck in February 1930, it was very nearly where Lowell's mathematics had predicted it would be. Headlines proclaimed Lowell's predictions confirmed.

But there was something strange about the object. It soon became apparent that it was much too small to have exerted any effect on Uranus's orbit. Astronomers then assumed it had to be a moon, with a larger planet nearby. But despite more searching, no larger object came to light.

They eventually had to face the fact that the discovery of a new object so near Lowell's predicted location was nothing more than a confounding coincidence. Tombaugh's object, soon christened Pluto, wasn't Planet X. Instead of an example of good old American vision and know-how, the discovery was the incredibly fluky result of a baseless dream.

Decades later, this was proved doubly true. Data from the 1989 Voyager 2 flyby showed that the mass of Neptune had been inaccurately measured by about 0.5 percent all along, and that, in fact, the orbit of Uranus had never been inexplicably disturbed to begin with. Percival Lowell had been hunting a ghost. And Clyde Tombaugh, against all odds, had found one.

All of which is to say, science is imperfect. It is a human enterprise, subject to passions and whims, accidents and luck. Astronomers have since discovered dozens of other objects in our solar system approaching Pluto's size, amounting to a whole separate class of orbiting bodies. And just this week, researchers announced that they had identified 1,235 possible planets in other star systems.

We can mourn the demotion of our favorite planet. But the best way to honor Lowell and Tombaugh is to celebrate the fact that Pluto — while never quite the world it was predicted to be — is part of a universe more complex, varied and surprising than even its discoverers could have imagined.

Of course, for those of us who grew up chanting "My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us New Pizza," nine planets will always seem more fitting than eight. New facts are unsettling. But with the right mindset, the new glories can more than make up for the loss of the old.

Michael Byers is the author of the novel "Percival's Planet."





President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt could have done many things after he announced he would not run for office again. He could have resigned and let his vice president lead an interim government, as the Obama administration reportedly is urging him to do. He could have opened serious negotiations with antigovernment protesters leading to free and fair elections.

Instead, Mr. Mubarak is making a ruthless bid to retain power. On Wednesday, mere hours after he went on national television in a futile attempt to silence demands for his ouster, men armed with clubs, rocks, knives and firebombs began a bloody assault on protesters. They were obviously encouraged, likely even orchestrated, by the Mubarak regime.

On Thursday, the brutal crackdown went even further. As fighting between protesters and the armed gangs escalated, Mr. Mubarak's supporters attacked and detained foreign journalists, punching them and smashing their equipment. News outlets were shut down. Two New York Times reporters were among those held and eventually released. Human rights workers were also threatened and detained.

These are the familiar tactics of dictators who want to brutalize their citizens without witnesses. We fear Mr. Mubarak is planning to unleash even more violence — antigovernment protesters have called another demonstration for Friday. There is speculation that the fighting is being provoked so Egyptians will rally around the government and support a crackdown to restore order.

Mr. Mubarak's attempt to blame the opposition and foreigners for the mayhem — he told ABC News that the government is not responsible — is patently absurd. He has ruled the country with an iron hand for nearly 30 years. Mr. Mubarak has lost the legitimacy to continue governing Egypt, but he has chosen survival over his people. He told ABC that he had to stay in office to avoid chaos. In fact, his continued presence ensures only more chaos and instability.

As the street battles raged, the government made conciliatory sounds. It promised that Mr. Mubarak's son would not run for president and called for dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized opposition group. It promised to prosecute those behind the violence. The protesters, long accustomed to the government prevarications, are unlikely to be placated.

An important question is what role the army — which gets nearly $1.5 billion in annual American aid — is prepared to play. Will it reinforce Mr. Mubarak's repression of a transition to a new order in which the aspirations of the protesters — fed up with poverty, lack of jobs and education, the excesses of the elite, official corruption and government repression — will be addressed?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Thursday that the army has a "clear responsibility" to protect the protesters and "to hold accountable those responsible for these attacks."

So far, it's unclear where the army stands. As the anti-Mubarak movement grew, some soldiers displayed sympathy for the protesters and manned checkpoints at Liberation Square, or Tahrir Square, to screen for weapons. On Monday, the army announced it would not use force against those demanding Mr. Mubarak's ouster.

But when the melee erupted on Wednesday, the military largely confined itself to guarding the Egyptian Museum and extinguishing firebombs. On Thursday, after shots were fired — the source was unclear — the army moved to separate the combatants, but the violence continued. These mixed messages threaten to damage the army's credibility and its status as the country's most respected institution.

The cost of the turmoil is being felt. Tourists are fleeing. The economy is paralyzed. Egypt and its people need a quick transition to an era of greater political and economic freedoms. The violence is making that transition harder.





Ireland's government becomes the first, but likely not the last, to be brought down by the shocks battering the euro. Parliament was dissolved this week, and elections are scheduled for later this month. Fianna Fail, the party that has ruled Ireland for most of its independent history, may be headed for an epochal defeat.

Voters rightly blame Fianna Fail for the reckless policies of recent years, when the "Celtic Tiger" investment boom gave way to a speculative housing bubble fed by lax regulation and cozy ties between bankers and politicians. When that bubble burst in 2008, Fianna Fail pledged more than the government could afford to rescue its banker friends. The bankers emerged nearly whole. Ireland emerged nearly broken.

The European Union provided bailout money last fall, but with austerity conditions so strict and interest rates so high that Ireland has been left with no realistic prospects for resuming growth and paying off its debts.

There are lessons that go well beyond Ireland, and Europe's leaders need to understand them before the next economy founders. They also need to look hard at the costs of the growth-choking conditions they imposed on Greece last year, at German insistence. New challenges are already on the horizon with Portugal and Spain the most vulnerable to speculative attack.

Too much austerity too soon can trap an economy in a vicious downward spiral of decline. (Congressional Republicans please take note.) Shrinking economies cannot shrink their ratios of debt to output. Only recovery programs premised on renewed growth can do that.

Ireland's debts are so large, and its interest rates so high, that it now needs 5 percent annual growth just to stay afloat. Because of the harsh austerity budgets Europe has demanded, it is generating no growth at all.

Irish opposition parties want to revisit the bailout terms. The Fine Gael party, on the center-right, wants to negotiate down the 6 percent interest rate. The Labour Party, its usual center-left ally, wants time to phase in spending cuts and tax increases. Those positions make economic sense. Creditor nations like Germany insist there can be no renegotiation. They need to think again.

At Friday's summit meeting in Brussels, European leaders must resolve to manage these crises, rather than limping along from bailout to bailout and destructive austerity program to destructive austerity program.

To restore Europe's economic health, they need to agree on a comprehensive solution to the euro-zone crisis. That will require much stronger coordination of national fiscal policies, a much larger market intervention fund, negotiated debt rescheduling and an explicit link between deficit reduction timetables and the return of economic growth. There is no more time to delay.






The gulf states are still living with the destruction wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which swept away more than 70,000 units of affordable rental housing.

Fewer than a third of those units, which are crucial to housing the poor, the elderly and the disabled, have been rebuilt. The 5,000 or so that are still on the drawing board might never be constructed unless Congress extends a program that encourages businesses to invest in housing by providing them offsets for tax liabilities.

Congress tried to remedy the problem late last year by passing a one-year extension of the program. But investors insist that they need another 18 months to get the deals done, the units built and the tenants in place. If the projects come in late, the tax credits become invalid.

Congress allotted more than $300 million in credits to the gulf states after Katrina and Rita, requiring that the projects be ready for tenants by the end of 2010. The credits sold well while the economy was thriving. But demand fell off during the recession when corporate investors had small tax liabilities.

The appetite for tax credits has picked up, but investors are still shying away from the gulf out of fear that any credits they purchase might expire before they can be used. Unable to raise capital, some developers have walked away from projects that seemed certain to get built before the onset of the recession.

A Senate bill introduced by Mary Landrieu, a Democrat of Louisiana, with the support of several Republicans, would extend the program for an additional year. The bill, which still needs a sponsor in the House, deserves to pass as swiftly as possible. Without it, the gulf states are unlikely to get the housing they need.





On Sunday, California held its first Fred Korematsu Day. You may never have heard of him. But his unwavering personal courage is matched only by the importance of his role in constitutional law.

During World War II, in Korematsu v. the United States, the Supreme Court held that the American government could convict Mr. Korematsu — without a finding that he had done anything wrong — for refusing to be interned along with 120,000 others of Japanese ancestry considered threats to national security.

Korematsu is the sole case in which the court has upheld a law discriminating by race with the court applying so-called strict scrutiny. Mainstream constitutional law is now defined in part by its repudiation of this holding, although the Supreme Court has never overturned the deeply flawed ruling.

Mr. Korematsu's conviction was invalidated by a federal judge in 1984 on factual grounds. Historical research uncovered Justice Department documents stating that the government's evidence contained "intentional falsehoods" about the security threat. There were none. In 1998, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and this year's holiday was celebrated as if this deplorable chapter were closed.

Mr. Korematsu knew better. In 2004, he submitted a brief to the Supreme Court in support of the right of enemy combatants to challenge their detention in court. The brief used his old case to stress the "extreme nature" of the government's position. He and his lawyers argued that in the name of national security the government was limiting civil liberties "much more than necessary" and fending off "any judicial scrutiny."

The court ruled that enemy combatants could challenge their detention in federal court. Still, the president retains power to identify people as enemy combatants and treat them like enemies without much due process. Mr. Korematsu hoped no one would be locked away again for looking like an enemy. But after Sept. 11, 2001, he was not certain that would never happen. He stayed vigilant. All of us should.







Blood streams from a man's face as he is carried from Tahrir Square. Stones are hurled between antigovernment protesters and President Hosni Mubarak's big-bellied provocateurs. Plainclothes security goons with knives pull over foreign journalists at checkpoints. The toll of dead and injured mounts. The army's Egyptian-assembled M1A1 Abrams tanks are no antiriot tool, menacing beasts marooned.

"Cairo finito" is the verdict of one Mubarak supporter as I head down the Corniche beside the Nile, all-seeing river.

This great city's not finished, but the peaceful phase of Egypt's pro-democracy uprising is. An orchestrated riposte from Mubarak has begun, couched in father-of-the nation concern, invoking the specter of "chaos," deploying busloads of thugs (and a couple on camels), promising change from the very fountainhead of immobility — himself, no less, unyielding generalissimo of 30 years.

Nice try, Hosni. His regime is scrambling to stem the tide. Omar Suleiman, now vice president and long Mubarak's security guru, chose a good-cop role Thursday after 24 hours of bad-cop thuggery. He spoke of outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood. He said Mubarak's son Gamal would not run in September presidential elections. Many Egyptians aren't buying it. Why would they? Look at the language in which Mubarak couched his promised exit in September: "I say in all honesty, and regardless of the current situation, that I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term."

So, this stubborn man — who has ruled with the sweeping powers of an Emergency Law since Anwar el-Sadat's 1981 assassination; who has broken countless promises to revoke that law; who has just overseen a farce of a parliamentary election that stuffed the legislature with his National Democratic Party; who has refused to offer any succession plan; who has allowed a coterie around his son Gamal to amass Farouk-like wealth through sweetheart deals — had planned to step down before his people rose up!

Of course, had Mubarak made the offer 10 days ago, things might have been different. But it is not the way of 82-year-old despots to see beyond the web they've spun. So they reap the whirlwind.

An "orderly transition" is the Obama administration's objective. The priority must be transition. "A new beginning" is what President Obama sought when he came to Cairo in June 2009. That is impossible with the old extremist-breeding, modernity-denying Arab order. You cannot carve in rotten wood.

When Obama spoke in Cairo, the audience offered polite applause until he said this: "You must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these elements, elections alone do not make true democracy."

Whereupon somebody shouted: "Barack Obama, we love you!"

Remember that cry, Mr. President. This is Obama's first major foreign policy crisis where the United States has real leverage (not the case in Iran). If Egypt, the Arab hub, manages a transition to some more representative order, that victory will resonate in 2012. If the Egyptian mockery of democracy persists, Obama's failure will be stark.

Already we hear the predictable warnings from Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu: This could be Iran 1979, a revolution for freedom that installs the Islamists. But this is not 1979, and Egypt's Facebook-adept youth are not lining up behind the Muslim Brotherhood, itself scarcely a band of fanatics.

Hope for the Middle East — and ultimately Israel — lies in Egyptian reform that would create the first peace between a Jewish and an Arab democracy.

The U.S. can no longer advance its interests through double standards apparent to every thinking Arab. Ambivalent U.S. prodding for political opening has produced "nothing, nothing, nothing," in the words of one frustrated observer. It's time to be clear: Mubarak's time is up.

In the swirling crowd, I spoke to two Egyptian lawyers, in their robes, from the northern town of Tanta. Ahmed el-Biery, 34, and Ahmed Romeh, 24, had traveled to Cairo to end "the only regime we have known." Why their anger? "First, corruption, a bunch of them control the whole economy" said Biery. "Second, no laws, there are thousands imprisoned without trial. Everyone has the right to a trial."

Biery looked at me with his intense green eyes. "I'm here for my children, so they live better." That's a very American idea. Another is this: a nation of laws is fundamental. Mubarak has been a firm ally, kept a cold peace with Israel, and maintained a skewed order at home. I don't want to see him humiliated. But Obama must stand with Biery against a corrupted, dying regime.

This is not a recipe for chaos. The Egyptian army has shown superb professionalism. It can be the guarantor of an orderly transition. But a Mubarak-orchestrated free September election is unimaginable. The vote must be organized by a transitional civilian authority — and Mubarak can retire now to Sharm el-Sheikh. He's earned the right, just, to die on Egyptian soil.






Cambridge, Mass.

HOSNI MUBARAK'S promise this week to initiate constitutional reform in Egypt and then step down at the end of his presidential term in September did little to mollify the anger of the demonstrators protesting his rule. Many protesters seemed to agree with the assessment of the opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei that it was "a trick" intended to buy time. With the regime-sponsored ugliness now engulfing Tahrir Square, demands for Mr. Mubarak's immediate resignation have grown only more urgent, and the risk of a violent conclusion appears to have grown.

But there may still be a chance to effect the "orderly transition" that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called for. Paradoxically, it requires that Mr. Mubarak stay on, but only for a short time, to initiate the election of an entirely new Parliament that could then amend all the power out of the presidency or even abolish it.

This would no doubt disappoint those who want to put Mr. Mubarak on the next plane to Saudi Arabia, but there are two risks associated with his leaving so abruptly. The first is that the demonstrations might diminish or dissipate, leaving Mr. ElBaradei and his coalition trying to negotiate with the military or Vice President Omar Suleiman without the force of the crowds behind them.

The second risk stems from the Egyptian Constitution, which gives the power to dissolve Parliament and call new elections only to an elected president. Mr. Mubarak's successor, as an acting president, would be specifically prohibited from getting the parliamentary elections under way. A new Parliament is crucial to democratic reform, because only Parliament has the power to defang the Egyptian presidency, stripping it of its dictatorial powers through constitutional amendment. The current Parliament — bought and paid for by Mr. Mubarak's National Democratic Party — is not fit for that task.

Egypt's next scheduled presidential election is only months away. If the Constitution isn't amended before it is held, the notorious Article 76, which makes it difficult for independents like Mr. ElBaradei to get on the ballot, will still be in place. More important, the new president would have the same imperial powers Mr. Mubarak has had — the very powers that the Egyptian public wants taken away.

The constitutionally sanctioned timeline would be this: Mr. Mubarak dissolves Parliament, forcing a new election within 60 days (international observers would be required to make sure the election is fair). Once the new Parliament is seated, Mr. Mubarak resigns, and an acting president, probably the new Parliament's speaker, takes charge until a new president is elected. The new Parliament would work around the clock to amend the Constitution in ways that would put Mr. Suleiman or any would-be strongman out of a job. The final step is a national referendum on the amendments.

For American policymakers, the most frightening possibility is that the Muslim Brotherhood would sweep the parliamentary elections and institute a constitution based on Islamic holy law. This is unlikely. The political momentum in Egypt is not with the Islamists. Moreover, the Brotherhood's members have never sought to compete for a majority of seats in Parliament, and during the current protests have impressed people across the Egyptian political spectrum with their self-effacement. Brotherhood adherents know that a victory for them could be used by the military as an excuse to short-circuit the birth of democracy in Egypt.

A likelier outcome is that the Islamists would join a coalition slate of candidates, becoming part of an ideologically diverse Parliament. The greater danger now is that Mr. Mubarak would corrupt the electoral process by unleashing the same thugs who are now attacking the peaceful protesters of Tahrir Square.

One might wonder why, at this moment of change and tumult, anyone would talk about amending a constitution that everyone recognizes as a deformed confection of a corrupt regime. But by working with even a flawed constitution, the opposition would be helping to entrench and deepen a constitutionalist principle that has been steadily eroded. And with its built-in deadlines, the constitutional route also makes it harder for the military to draw out the transition and consolidate its hold.

For any of this to happen, Mr. Mubarak must remain briefly in office, and he must agree to the changes as an answer to his people's legitimate cry for democracy. The demand that can make him comply must come from President Obama.

It has often been said in recent days that the United States can do nothing to affect the progress of democracy in Egypt, but the military's dependence on American money and matériel suggests that this is untrue. The more the United States can make clear that continued military support depends on how the Egyptian Army conducts itself during this transition, the more likely the military is to play midwife to democracy.

Much could go wrong, but finding an orderly way to get not just Mr. Mubarak but also the armed forces out of political life should be a more important priority than ensuring that Islamists don't hijack the revolution. All that is required of us is to remind ourselves that democracy in Egypt, or any other part of the world, is not something we should fear.

Tarek Masoud is an assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.







Think back to your days in school. You probably remember the teachers from whom you learned the most about history or math or music or some other subject, and you are no doubt grateful to them.


Well, today, many Hamilton County teachers go the extra mile to create good academic opportunities for local schoolchildren. Some teachers even pay for materials out of their own pockets. That's devotion. We wish there were plenty of money to give our best teachers the generous compensation they deserve.


But money is limited, particularly in the middle of an economic crisis. Many people are jobless. Some have lost their homes to foreclosure. Some are not sure how they will provide even the basics for their families.


So unfortunately, this is not a good time for the school board to be considering across-the-board bonuses of $400 or $500 for school system workers. The more than $2 million in bonuses would be paid from local and federal funds. A vote on the bonuses may take place next Thursday.


What makes the issue troubling is that it is acknowledged that paying for the bonuses could cause the elimination of some school system positions at the end of this school year. That can be delayed at least another year if money is not spent on bonuses now. Isn't it better to save jobs than to fund one-time bonuses?


We wish extra money could be provided responsibly to reward good employees, but this isn't the time. Board member Rhonda Thurman summed up the situation: "I know they [school workers] haven't had a raise in several years, but there are many people in Hamilton County who haven't had a job in several years," she said in a Times Free Press report.


The board would be wiser to protect school system positions than to pay across-the-board bonuses.







Many Americans remember that in 1950 through 1953, the United States went to the rescue of South Korea when it was invaded by Communist North Korea, which was supported by Communist China. Fortunately, the U.S. rescue succeeded, and South Korea has become an important democratic nation, and a big trade partner with the United States.


Today, about 139,000 Tennessee jobs reportedly are supported by worldwide exports of goods produced in the state, including $469 million in Tennessee goods sent to South Korea in 2008 alone. U.S.-Korea trade amounts to more than $80 billion a year, and South Korea is the seventh-biggest trade partner of the United States. The Department of Commerce estimates that for every $1 billion in U.S. exports, 6,250 manufacturing jobs are created or supported in the United States.


South Korea has a big role in that job creation. It buys aircraft, semiconductors, heavy machinery, chemicals, agricultural products and other goods from us. And we buy lots of things — including cars — from South Korea.


A U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement was negotiated and signed in 2007 to facilitate mutual economic benefit between the countries. Such a deal is needed because currently, U.S exports to Korea are charged an average tariff of 11.2 percent, while tariffs on Korean exports to the United States are 3.7 percent.


The free trade pact is up for congressional consideration, and it has understandably strong support from many sectors of the U.S. economy. Under the pact, duties would be lifted on nearly 95 percent of trade in consumer and industrial products within three years. Most other tariffs would disappear within 10 years, according to Lawrence R. Meyer of Strategic Communications in Washington, D.C. He visited the Times Free Press a few days ago to promote the trade deal's advantages for South Korea and the United States.


Further opening South Korea's markets to U.S. goods is obviously desirable.

Congress should promote beneficial growth in trade between the United States and South Korea.







Among the fine gatherings in our great nation are the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and similar public events in cities throughout the country.


We value the fact that America does not impose religion on anyone. But we do not deny any official or ordinary citizen the right to engage in voluntary public or private expressions of personal faith.


In addressing the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington yesterday, President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, aren't troubled to "hear our faith questioned from time to time."


He said, "Christian tradition teaches that the world one day will be turned right side up." And he added that it is not only on the biggest issues but on smaller matters that he seeks God's intervention through prayer.


Commendably, so do millions of us, personally, on matters large and small.







 "Educational Leadership," the conference begun yesterday drawing some 2,000 academics to Istanbul for the World Conference on Educational Sciences, could not be better timed. We doubt the gathering at Istanbul's Bahçeşehir University was planned with revolt and turmoil across the Middle East in mind. But we think there's an important connection.

The revolt in Tunisia that has now spread to Egypt and beyond has been analyzed in terms of authoritarian politics. It has been analyzed in terms of superpower politics. It has been thoroughly analyzed as a dynamic of high unemployment, particularly among the university educated young. Fair enough.

It has not, however, been carefully scrutinized through the lens of education. As an institution that pays attention to education issues, as well as one employing dozens of recent university graduates, this matter of the nexus between schooling and political/social stability is a topic on which we presume a bit of practical expertise.

For as much as the problem may be an Egyptian or Tunisian – or yes, a Turkish economy – incapable of absorbing the hundreds of thousands of university graduates each year, there is also the problem of university graduates incapable of contributing much to the economy.

While Turkey has a number of world-class universities, the majority are anything but. Doctors graduate to practice medicine without ever seeing a cadaver. Computer engineers are trained on a motley collection of outdated technologies. Agricultural engineers get a diploma without a single course in genetics.

We would argue for attention to the gap between "schooling" and "learning." Virtually the entire team that produces the Hürriyet Daily News each day learned its basic journalism and production skills outside of the formal education system. We think we are fairly typical.

An industrial age education model, enter one end and exit the other with marketable skills, is a relic in the 21st century. The speed with which critical skills become obsolete in almost any field is woefully un-addressed. The region in which we live does not need more diplomas – although they may be nice to have. What we need, through innovative models of lifelong learning, are skills that equip us to cope with the realities of today's world, in all disciplines.

Here's one chilling statistic: The rate of unemployment among female university graduates in Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco stands at about 30 percent, give or take three points in different countries. In Saudi Arabia it looms to 65 percent.

This failure cannot be laid entirely at the feet of conservatism, authoritarianism or anemic job growth or failed government policy. It also reflects a failure of educational leadership. As that is the theme of the Istanbul gathering, we would appreciate some new thinking.






French officials are looking forward to their president's visit to Turkey on Feb. 25. He will come within his capacity as president of the G-20. This will be his second visit with this hat after Washington. "This visit shows the importance France attaches to hearing Turkey's views on issues that the G-20 will be tackling," say French officials.

I cannot help but have a cynical attitude about the visit, which is expected to take place in Ankara probably without a stop in Istanbul, the financial center of Turkey. It is a known fact that Nicolas Sarkozy prefers to stay away from Turkey in order to avoid giving contradictory messages to his own public, which has always heard how Turkey needs to stay outside the European Union. This is also the view of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, yet this has not stopped her from coming to Turkey. It is not possible to understand Sarkozy's anxiety of not being photographed on Turkish (or should I say Anatolian) soil. The G-20 presidency obviously provided an excellent pretext to come to Turkey.

Although I do not have the intention of overestimating the importance of the visit, I should not underestimate the perspective of the French officials, which is possibly shared by Turkish officials as well. Instead of looking at the visit from a cynical, negative point of view, they prefer to see the cup half-full. Although Sarkozy met Turkish leadership on the sidelines of international conferences, nothing takes the place of a visit. And at least, one can hope, he will have an extra five minutes in the plane before landing at Esenboğa Airport to be briefed on Turkish-French economic relations, and might be surprised with the volume it has reached. There might even be an extra five minutes in the car from the airport to the Prime Ministry for him to be briefed on Turkish views toward regional issues, which again he might find the overlap much to his surprise. And perhaps he might have an extra three minutes on his fight back to Paris to reflect on Turkey.  

Obviously he cannot leave Ankara without touching on bilateral ties as well as the regional turmoil. Yet he will also have to lend an ear to what Turkey thinks of the global economic issues.

Most of the emerging economies that became interested in an enlarged G-8 were at the beginning solely interested in being part of it, Turkey included. At the beginning their contribution remained a little limited, as some of the essential international financial and monetary issues were rather managed directly by developed countries, although the rest of the world suffered consequences. Take the subprime mortgage crisis. As the system did not exist in Turkey, you would not expect Turkey or other countries to brainstorm for a remedy. In fact, leaders within Turkey's state mechanism, as well as the opinion makers, did not ponder too much about what to do for a better international economic system, as they had enough to ponder about the problems of Turkey's economy.

Actually in 2009, when Great Britain held the G-20 presidency, the British consulate, in cooperation with a Turkish university, initiated a series of conferences in Istanbul to brainstorm on the G-20 agenda. It struck me at the time that it was the British consulate that took the mission upon itself to stimulate discussion on international financial issues.

The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has ambitiously aimed to have a say in international organizations. In fact Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is on the record saying that Turkey will and should have a say in shaping the new world order. The government takes pride when some countries in the southern flank tell Turkey it should be their voice in organizations like the G-20. In fact Davutoğlu has been saying Turkey will be the voice of the poor and the victim. It is no coincidence that the foreign ministers' meeting of the Council of Europe in Istanbul will take place at the same time as the summit of less developed countries. In order to take on such a mission, Turkey needs to be well prepared. It seems that Turkey's civil servants have been more active in the preparatory meetings, voicing detailed demands. In doing so, they should not neglect being in touch with those countries that expect their views to be voiced by Turkey.







Hosni Mubarak has been the West's closest ally among Arab countries for three decades, and has therefore enjoyed the benefit of saving his anti-democratic, oppressive and corrupt regime based on cronyism from too much scrutiny by Europe and the United States during this period.

Despite some noises coming out of Washington and various European capitals in the past about "the need for reforms and more democracy in Egypt," the West has generally been lenient toward his regime, turning a blind eye as it violated the basic rights of the majority of Egyptian people.

The almost Pavlovian fear in the West – which reared its head again after recent events in the region – has of course been that Islamic fundamentalism will take hold of this key country of the Middle East, turning it into a second Iran. This prospect is also the nightmare of the right-wing government that is running Israel.

The Mubarak regime has also used this fear to the hilt in an attempt – not unsuccessful at that – to legitimize itself in the eyes of the Western world. But the same West is caught unawares yet again as momentous historic events unfold in the region that will have significance far beyond.

Simply put, the West does not know how to react to what is happening on the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. This also makes one wonder – yet again – what use the supposedly massive intelligence capabilities of countries such as the U.S. or the U.K. are if they do not know what is brewing on the streets of the Middle East.

One would have assumed that at the very least they would have realized that their "user-friendly dictator allies" are losing their grip over their own people for very objective and understandable social and political reasons. The only explanation one can come up with for this massive failure is that the West was again blinded by its own fears about the Islamic world and could not therefore see what was coming.

These fears have been driving Westerners, especially in recent years, to see what they want to see in countries like Egypt, rather than trying to understand what the real situation is. Turkey is of course getting its share of this attitude in terms of its EU membership.

It will be interesting to see, as an aside here, if the events in Egypt will make people in Europe look on Turkey – the only secular and democratic country with a predominantly Islamic population – in a different and more realistic light now.

No one should hold their breath and put a bet on this though, since it is more likely that Europeans will continue to be more fear-driven than ever after the developments in the Middle East. This is especially likely in a Europe where a sense of insecurity has taken grip of many due to the economic crisis.

To return to Egypt though, watching the violence in that country unfold on Wednesday one cannot help but wonder how much Mubarak must hate his own people, whatever love he may have for members of select classes who have clearly benefited under his regime.

There is no other conclusion one could arrive at as one watched him send knife-wielding, petrol bomb-throwing thugs to beat and maim the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, among whom were thousands of women and children, and who until the thugs turned up were noted for largely acting peacefully and in a civilized manner.

The arrogance of a man who has not been elected in any fair election but is trying to hold on to power by all the means that a tin-pot dictator would use is indeed beyond comprehension. It is apparent, however, that his readiness to allow his country to be pushed to the brink of civil war, simply so he and his cronies can retain their privileged positions, has finished him off for much of the international community.

There is no way under these circumstances, that any Western government, no matter how cynical it is, can continue to support Mubarak after this, whatever the fear about a takeover by the Egyptian Islamic Brotherhood may be in Europe and the United States.

Mubarak was clearly ready to use violence in order to stay on until September – until which time he will naturally try and place a stooge in his place by using the same violence we saw Wednesday. One does not need a Ph.D. in political science to see that this will only increase and enhance support for groups like the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt.

The simple fact is that showing his ugly side, which Egyptians have been familiar with for decades, has cost Mubarak his international credibility, let alone his legitimacy. It is therefore hard to understand, after all that has happened, how he can believe that he can stay in power in order to try and place his own man in his place.

He also has to consider the fact now that he is in a difficult situation in terms of his closest allies in Washington. His regime has been dependent on billions of dollars of U.S. aid, but it is not clear if he can continue to rely on this.

The instability Mubarak has created with his arrogant and uncompromising hold on power will make many right-wing pro-Israeli U.S. Congressmen wonder who will get their hands on this aid if he were to go – as events appear to suggest he will sooner or later.

Liberal congressmen, on the other hand, will question why their country is giving so much of their taxpayers' money to a brutal and violent dictator who has become an international pariah, regardless of whether he serves U.S. and Israel's interests in the region.

The bottom line is that the writing is on the wall for Mubarak and he should read it, as Prime Minister Erdoğan suggested this week, and simply go without further ado. He will of course go inevitably, after all that has happened, but he should go without allowing his cronies to instigate any more violence.

Mubarak should understand that Egyptians by and large have neither love nor respect left for him and are now prepared to risk all in order to say "enough is enough" because they have little left to lose.

Certain classes of select Egyptians who did very well for themselves under the present regime are in a state of panic, of course, and are therefore trying hard to present Mubarak and his administration in the best light possible.

It is noteworthy, however, that members of these classes who have the possibility to do so are reportedly running away from the country with "swag bags" on their shoulders.

This alone should signal to Mubarak that it is time for him to go. But this is wishful thinking since he appears more than determined to make his departure as messy for his country, the region and the world as he can.






Plenty of Turkish warriors heroically fought big Byzantine armies, in most scenes in a one-man-against-a-hundred set-up, always killing the entire enemy bunch. All the same, in these Byzantine-era fighting scenes there were technical snags, such as a forgotten watch on the hero's wrist or a tanker ship quietly passing by in the background while ancient figures were fighting sword-against-sword on the tower of a Bosphorus castle. But my favorite has always been the Turk who kept on fighting the enemy after having been beheaded by the Greeks. Of course that was all movie fiction and the innocent 1970s…

But in 2006, a James Bond-plus-Rambo-inspired Turk, Polat Alemdar, hit the fiction scene. The invincible character Alemdar got revenge for a non-fiction incident which had badly hurt the Turks' national pride in July 2003, when U.S. officers detained Turkish soldiers and covered their heads with hoods. While punishing the arrogant Americans, Alemdar did not forget to expose the evil Jews as baby killers and human organ traffickers. Millions of Turks left theaters feeling deeply relieved that the scores with the gringos – and evil Jews – had now been settled. 

Alemdar, the hero of the popular soap "Valley of the Wolves" and the film "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq," is now back with "Valley of the Wolves: Palestine" which made its debut – coincidentally – on the day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In "Palestine," Alemdar removes another glitch from Turkey's diplomatic scene as he avenges Israel's deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla last May.

In the film, Alemdar emerges from a series of bloody clashes to track down and kill the sinister Israeli commander who had ordered the storming of the Mavi Marmara "aid" ship heading for Gaza. In one particularly heart-breaking scene (heart-breaking because it reminds viewers of the 13th-century Turkish warrior who wore a wrist-watch), an Israeli soldier asks Alemdar why he came to Israel.

"I didn't come to Israel, I came to Palestine [thundering applause!]," he says.

And with that remark, Alemdar miraculously manages to set foot in Israeli (ooops, sorry, Palestinian) territory. Good thing the Turks do not realize that a more real Alemdar would now probably be spending time in an Israeli jail, eventually to be extradited to Turkey. Just the other day, I had to advise an inspired waiter against the idea.

Ironically, in ensuing scenes, Alemdar succeeds in nailing down the Israeli commander, but only after having caused more Palestinian deaths than the Israeli operation caused on Mavi Marmara. But who cares? Five years after applauding Alemdar for avenging the arrest of Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq, the Turks will now go home with stronger relief as their hero has now avenged the Israeli raid.

For a solution to the ongoing diplomatic crisis with Israel I suggest the Israeli Embassy in Ankara send a free ticket for "Valley of the Wolves: Palestine" to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Perhaps the minister may take a more compromising line if he himself views how Alemdar settles scores with blood-thirsty Israelis in a language they understand. And please note, Mr. Davutoğlu, that Alemdar can always be lent to Hamas for similar operations which may pave the way for landmark Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement.

It is a famous story that the Turks tend to believe fictional characters are, in fact, real. The legendary story of an audience attacking the bad guy character on a theater stage in the 1930s – because he was ill-treating the entire cast – is still an entertaining memory. But the Turks hardly seem to have progressed in distinguishing fiction from reality in the 80 or so years since then.

Hürriyet columnist Yılmaz Özdil cataloged a few equally entertaining stories from "today's Turkey" in his Jan. 14 piece. And they are all real! In one recent case, a street crowd almost lynched an actor who was playing a drug dealer in a TV soap. An actress who in real life is a bachelorette and does not have children but played a golden-hearted mother in another soap was elected the "Mother of the Year."

Newspapers published obituaries, and religious ceremonies were held after a character in the Valley of the Wolves died in one of the episodes. Local people in a neighborhood tipped off the police after they learned that a scene in another soap would be featuring a robbery. Mr. Özdil remembers that the police almost fired at the masked "thieves."

And locals in Kayseri almost lynched a documentary crew after the TV men hoisted the Byzantine flag on a castle. After "re-conquering" the castle, the same locals hoisted a Turkish flag – borrowed from a nearby taxi company — chanted "Allah-u Akbar (God is great) and sang the Turkish national anthem. Not the end of the story: The police detained the crew, who had a hard time explaining to prosecutors that they were just a TV crew. 

In reality, many Turks exhibit a collective desire for the power and glory today's Turkey does not possess – they are programmed to boast a longing for what present-day Turkey would like to be, but is not. Remember that feeling from somewhere, someone? You are right, some call it "Strategic Depth."

But self-deception by means of fiction is not always bad. The "hoods-over-the-heads-of-our-soldiers" trauma visibly subsided after Alemdar blew up the Americans in Iraq – and he did that so skillfully that Washington did not even notice! Fortunately, the Israelis are too busy these days pondering over the big game-changer to their southwest; they won't notice Alemdar blowing up an entire military unit in their country and killing one of their commanders.






We are witnessing something terrific. We have not seen this before; never, ever.

The unrest in Egypt is being live broadcast and we are watching it as we watch an adventure film.

I was appalled by what I saw on TV yesterday and the day before.

On one part of the screen, U.S. President Barack Obama was delivering a speech, suggesting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down and answering questions of reporters. After Obama, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared and made a similar speech.

Concurrently, on the other part of the screen, we were watching images of how Mubarak was about to die politically. We were witnessing clashes in the streets of capital Cairo as pro-Mubarak groups at Tahrir (Liberation) Square on horses and camels were chasing protestors. We watched bloody encounters.

The images were reminiscent of Federico Fellini's films.

We've watched disasters, fires, murders, and wars on TV so far. But we have never witnessed a live broadcast of insurrection.

But more interestingly, Al Jazeera television reflected all to the world. Founded by a Qatar sheikh, the channel, in a way, is distributing democracy in the region. However, there is no democracy in Qatar. The sheikh is not interested in a democratic regime, but spends billions of dollars on this channel that changes the entire Arab world in a different way. Al Jazeera shook the world media during the Iraq invasion. With the unrest in Egypt, the channel is experiencing its brightest days. Perhaps Al Jazeera is speeding up the end of Mubarak.

The president of Egypt is slowly disappearing in a quagmire. Every move takes him down further. And we are watching every single minute of this tragedy.

The miracle of communication has turned the world into a village indeed. Everyone sees what others do, hears what they say and expresses views on that of the other.

It is better for us to learn a lesson or two.

Israel loses an ally

Israel is the most concerned in the region because of the situation in Egypt. If Mubarak is overthrown and the Muslim Brothers or Mohamed ElBaradei accedes, everything will change forever.

There will be no Egypt closing the borders, therefore making Israeli invasion in Gaza easier. There will be no Egypt shutting down underground tunnels to Gaza so as to eradicate Hamas.

For Israel, it will not be easy at all to absorb Mubarak's end.

If Israel has survived difficulties so far and acted relentlessly, this is because of the $3 billion annual U.S. aid or "charity" to Mubarak. An Egypt without Mubarak will certainly change balances in the Middle East.

From now on, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will take a new turn. A bloodier, more dangerous episode begins. This creates instability not only for Israel but also for the entire region.

I wonder if Israel will have a policy change after seeing these facts. Or will it continue to lean on the U.S. and maintain its sauciness?

  Turkey cannot replace Egypt

Some observers interpreting the latest developments in Egypt say that Turkey will fill the gap and gain more strength in the Middle East. The observers create such an atmosphere that it seems as though Egypt will be removed from the scene of politics totally and Turkey will easily take over the leadership in the region.

The biggest danger for us is to believe in this dream.

Let's not deceive ourselves.

Turkey can in no way assume Egypt's functions and leadership.

No matter how chaotic the situation gets in Egypt, the country is the Arab world's leader and will remain so.

The reasons are simple:

Egypt is Arab.

Neither Turkey nor Iran, in the eye of Arabs, is one of them, and they cannot replace Egypt. As Murat Bardakçı put it, "Egypt is Egypt…"

Besides, Egypt is a key country geographically. Look at the map, you will see it. Egypt is the one that has started all the wars in the region so far. Egypt is the one that lost them. Egypt is the one that signed the Camp David agreement.

No other country takes the place of Egypt.

However, Turkey should be prepared.

Turkey cannot replace Egypt, but it will be central to new regional politics due to a new foreign policy designed by Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. The capital, Ankara is in the game now.

From now on, it will be impossible for Turkey to watch developments on the sidelines or issue a few vague statements to save face.

Let's play a good game and not over-egg the pudding.

Let's not go farther and fare worse.






The people of Tunisia have, after decades of oppression, taken to the streets in defiance of the iron-fisted rule of Ben Ali, as the revolt triggered by a single match has at last ended a chapter in the country's history.

From the perspective of Western news agencies, newspapers and TVs, what the Tunisians have engaged in is a "Jasmine Revolution." I am afraid this type of labeling, typical for Western news organizations, is not only incorrect, but also insulting for the people of Tunisia.

It is insulting, because the term "Jasmine revolution" historically refers to indicate the coup d'etat led by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali himself in 1987, when he declared former President Habib Bourguiba "impeached on medical grounds."

Although it is a tradition to give the names of flowers to revolutions (Carnation Revolution in Portugal or Rose Revolution in Georgia), the Tunisian people do not recognize this inappropriate designation, which does not reflect their reality.

Tunisian people, without using any kind of weapons other than words and Facebook, brought down one of the greatest dictators in the world. There have been hundreds of dead and wounded and the people lived in terror sowed by the militia of the ousted president. Tunisians had to organize neighborhood committees to help the army to neutralize the militia.

This revolution has raised a political and social tsunami that has shaken not only Tunisia but also all the Arab countries from the (Atlantic) Ocean to the Gulf.

The term "Jasmine Revolution" does not come from Tunisian people, who have the right to write their own history and to choose the name they want to assign to their own revolution. And these people have already chosen: "The Revolution of Freedom and Dignity."

Caravan of Freedom

This revolution is still continuing even after the downfall of ousted President Ben Ali. Indeed, Tunisian people have continued to show up and claim their rights. Thus, on Jan. 23, hundreds of rural towns formed "The Caravan of Freedom" and marched to Tunis to sit-in outside the Government Place in Kasbah. They came to protect the revolution they have initiated and demand the resignation of the former regime's ministers. The Kasbah has therefore become a place of pilgrimage where the citizens of the capital came to sustain the protestors and discuss with them.

The Caravan of Freedom has been successful, since the Cabinet reshuffle on Jan. 27 brought 12 new ministers. Prime Minister Mr. Moahamed Ghannouchi was the only survivor of the former regime's ministers.

The majority of Kasbah's protesters was satisfied and returned to their respective towns. Others stayed to demand the resignation of the prime minister. On Friday, Jan. 28, police officers took the initiative to intervene violently against the protestors using batons and tear gas. This intervention has infuriated the Tunisian people, who rebelled again against the police's excesses. On Monday, organized groups attached to the old regime tried to create panic in schools and colleges. A group of 2,000 people even tried to attack the Interior Ministry.

The new interior minister, Rajhi Farhat, took things in hand and initiated cleanup operations, performing a movement that involved 42 senior officials in his department.

His speech on Tuesday on a national TV show reassured the population. Using the Tunisian dialect instead of Arabic and talking without waffling, the interior minister has won the population's respect and managed to reconcile Tunisians with their police. Tunisian people are progressively regaining confidence in their institutions and finally beginning to enjoy their freedom.

* Wyssal Abbassi, who holds a Ph. D. in management from IAE Aix-en-Provence Graduate School of Management in France, is associate professor in marketing and management at the National Engineering School of Tunis.






Not only Article 34 of the Turkish Constitution – which the current government wants to change with an "advanced democratic one" – but all international conventions regulating human rights and liberties underline that demonstration and protest is a fundamental right – of course as long as it remained non-violent – and people cannot be required to obtain prior permission to stage a demonstration in support or protest of something.

The worse-than-lame-duck government in Cairo, a government which might not be fully sworn in by the time it is out of government, has deplored countries, including Turkey, that urged President Hosni Mubarak to heed the calls of the protestors and step down for meddling in Egypt's internal affairs. I do not have the slightest doubt that had any country made such a comment about the Turkish president or prime minister, Turkey would have done at least the same but I am afraid it is far worse than that.

The dividing line between the Westphalian principles of non-interference in internal affairs, respect for each other's sovereignty and the modern concept of universal human rights has become razor-thin with the development of the perception that freedoms cannot be restricted by national borders and sovereignty arguments can no longer empower states or governments to undertake acts that might be considered violations of such fundamental liberties.

That is, irrespective of whether we like it or not, if this great country and its most benevolent government engages somehow in some trivial criminal undertakings against a minority group of people or just some people in this society, it no longer can say, "No, you cannot talk about my Kurds," or whatever and try to evade criticism. Anyhow, this country, though it was not at all easy, learned this reality over the past decade or so. Though even today some ultranationalist or racist elements continue making a hell of a lot of noise when, let's say, a European delegation visits Turkish prisons to see conditions and examine the physical and psychological situation, the vast majority of Turks have woken up to the reality that there are indeed no borders as regards human rights and liberties.

What has been happening in Egypt, with Mubarak facing an unprecedented campaign demanding his ouster and the Egyptian president using every possible Machiavellian trick, including resorting to brute force on protestors, to cling on to power, are of course totally unacceptable and the Turkish prime minister was perfectly right in repeating once again that he wanted Mubarak realize the need to listen and undertake what the protestors have been demanding: To step down without further delay and increased violence.

Already dozens have been killed in the Egyptian uprising against Mubarak and his regime and if not only Mubarak but his puppet government and the entire echelon of power are not gone or replaced with a democratic government brought to office by the free will of the nation, the toll of the Egyptian crisis might increase dramatically in the days to come. Particularly if a civil war – for which there was a rehearsal on Wednesday and Thursday – is not prevented with some political calculations, the loser will of course be everyone living in Egypt. And of course the entire Middle East and the world will suffer because of the impact of the crisis on oil prices.

Indeed, while Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq was apologizing to protestors on state TV for the Wednesday killings and pledging an inquiry, the Egyptian government, in full display of its democratic understanding, launched a campaign to round up foreign journalists, defying the protests of the West.

Naturally, those events were happening in Egypt, where there is a dictatorship that – now – not only Turkey but most of the members of the global community of "democratic nations," including the United States, want to be demolished and replaced with a relatively democratic governance. That is, violence, the state using brute force on demonstrators, police rounding up journalists and such nasty things may happen in a police state or dictatorship.

Then, what was happening in Ankara on Thursday? I was in Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa yesterday and could not see with my bare eyes what indeed was happening on Ankara streets. Perhaps news agencies and TV networks were all biased and just concocting reports of violence by Turkish police on some demonstrators.

I do not think… Or, I just would not want to think that Turkey might still be in the league of those countries that violently beat up peaceful demonstrators.

Am I wrong?








The Supreme Court's decision to frame charges against nine judges, who took oath under the Provisional Constitutional Order of November 3, 2007, for defying a restraining order issued by the apex court, marks the first occasion when contempt of court notices have been served against judges. While two of the judges who controversially took oath as former president Pervez Musharraf moved against the judiciary are retired, seven are 'dysfunctional'. The hearings in the case are almost certain to bring forth some highly interesting facts linked to one of the less savoury episodes of our recent history. There have, of course, been many such chapters. Any steps that can prevent more from arising can only be welcome. Perhaps, the tough line taken by the court can prevent others from acting as the PCO judges did and persuade those in similar positions to give greater consideration to ethics and principles while making decisions. If, even a few, small steps were to be taken in this direction, they would benefit the country and the system. Both can only function smoothly if institutions and those who make them up act as they should, instead of vying for personal gain.

The SC decision has its critics. In an unusually strong statement, the Supreme Court Bar Association president has said the judiciary could be weakened by serving contempt notices on sitting judges. It may have been wiser to send them home or act against them through the Supreme Judicial Council. This is a matter for the legal fraternity to debate. The SC move certainly breaks from the norm. But when the action taken in the first place violates rules, then perhaps it is necessary to act in an unusual manner. By doing so, the SC has acted with courage. At this point in time it is difficult to say what will come of the matter. But we can only hope it will contribute toward building a stronger judiciary and reminding people that wrong acts will not go unpunished, regardless of who commits them. This is a lesson that needs to be driven home in the hope that it can correct the many flaws that prevent our system from working as it should.







The Raymond Davis affair is lifting the lid on more cans of worms than can be comfortably fitted into a single Wikileak. With Davis moving around alone in contravention of Standard Operating Procedures, armed with a loaded gun which he was clearly proficient in the use of, driving a vehicle with false licence plates and in possession of six SIM cards from different mobile phone companies – he does not fit the image of the stereotypical diplomat. Whether he is 'Raymond Davis' is itself open to question, and if past experience of nom-de-guerres being taken by Americans working under diplomatic guise in Pakistan is anything to go by, we may assume he is not who he purports to be. Whoever he is, which company he really works for and in what role he has in it is not the issue – the issue is that sadly we may be the architects of our own misfortune in the Davis Affair, and not for the first time. Since July last year, we have had a policy of visa issuance to American nationals that had as many holes as a fishing net – which the Americans, unsurprisingly, have swum through with ease.

Davis has now been remanded to custody for a further eight days, his passport is said by Interior Minister Rehman Malik to be 'diplomatic' and the vehicle that ran over an innocent bystander has mysteriously disappeared, with the Americans denying all knowledge of it. Clearly this tale has far to run, but we have to face the fact that our own visa-issuing policies for Americans have backfired on us. We have allowed America to deploy covert operatives within our country doing who knows what. They are here at our invitation, and we should not be surprised if there are incidents such as the one Davis is now detained in connection with – because we allowed him here in the first place. Yet when we do try and vet incoming Americans and delay issuing visas until the relevant checks are made the Americans scream blue murder, threaten to cut off aid money and generally throw their toys around the playpen. We are accused of game-playing and underhandedness; but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well, and Mr Davis needs to go through due process, the Americans need to quit whining and we have some urgent housekeeping to do in the visa-issuance department.







It is sometimes difficult to come to terms with the surreal nature of events that unfold in our country. Even as people struggle to place food on their tables and unemployment soars, our parliamentarians appear to have decided they need a still more cushy life. Representatives from both government and opposition benches joined forces to suggest that they should receive benefits at the same level as those extended to bureaucrats and generals. Subsidised club membership was sought and politicians maintained that, as representatives of the people, they had a right to such benefits. This attitude explains a great deal about our condition as a country. Had public representatives demonstrated greater concern and commitment to the well-being of people, perhaps we would not be facing the acute crises we confront now. Given the desperate need to allocate greater resources to public welfare, our politicians would have done well to sacrifice personal perks for the sake of others, instead of clamouring for a bigger piece of the pie for themselves.

Those who sit in our assemblies have been placed there by the general public to serve its interests. This, then, is what they should be focusing on. Most – in fact virtually all – of our politicians come from wealthy backgrounds. They do not need more privileges. Certainly, they are in less need than our labourers and peasants and other ordinary citizens. Desire on their part for more benefits can only further reduce respect for politicians in the eyes of citizens and weaken a system that depends on mutual trust and willingness to work together. Using a place in parliament to achieve monetary gain runs directly contrary to these principles.









The Muslim world has produced some of the world's most ossified dictators. The patriarch of Tunisia, Ben Ali, now in terrified refuge in that last refuge of departing dictators, Saudi Arabia, in power for 23 years. Makes you think, doesn't it? And supported throughout his rule by the supreme protector of Muslim despotisms, the godfather of Arab and Muslim stagnation, the United States.

And if Ben Ali sounded like a tribute to longevity, there is the latter-day Pharaoh of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in power – can you believe it? – for 30 years. Don't they get tired of their own images? And until Tunisia set an example and Cairo's Tahrir Square became the focus of resistance, he wanted to pass on the mantle to his son, Gamal, now wisely having decamped to Britain.

It's the same all over the Middle East and much of the world of Islam. We are not very happy with democracy and the idea of representative rule is only a fig-leaf to cover a whole line of monarchies and emirates sustained by police rule as in the case of Morocco, Algeria and Jordan, and by oil and US protection as in the case of the Gulf Emirates and the mightiest monarchy of all, Saudi Arabia. Oil and US protection, the common theme running through them all.

So America is right to be worried about the popular uprising in Egypt – although we still don't know how it will end. Its Middle East world is falling apart. Egypt was the centrepiece of the design the US had woven for this region since the Camp David Accords...which led to Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and cemented Egypt's status as leading US client in the region. Israel does things in its national interest. Arab and Muslim brothers have made a cult of dancing to American wishes.

Colonialism died its formal death long ago. But the servitude of mind it engendered lives on in the world of Islam. Formally free but informally tied to habits of mind which make a most amusing mockery of independence. The American arms industry, the so-called military-industrial complex, would have a hard time surviving without the Arab arms bazaar. The fanciest and most expensive weapons our Arab brothers buy. But what are they afraid of?

Perhaps their own shadows and the fear within their hearts. As the Emir of Qatar, who has a sharp sense of humour, put it most aptly, if he threw the Americans off their vast airbase in Doha, "his Arab brothers would invade Qatar".

And the Arab brothers are afraid of Iran, the Wikileak cables revealing this fear in all its naked glory: the Saudi monarch urging the US to attack Iran and crush the head of the snake and a prince of the UAE urging much the same. When people in the Arab street, or the larger Muslim community, read this, when Palestinians are told – again by Wikileaks – what a shameful path of compromise with Israel their leadership has pursued, should we be surprised at the frustration and anger seething in the world of Islam?

Some of this anger has exploded in Tunisia. In most spectacular fashion it has broken out in Egypt. Its tremors are being felt in Jordan and distant Yemen. This is not about prices or economic hardships although such factors are always catalysts when great movements take place.

This is a revolt against the humiliation and despair brought on by the never-ending rule of such satraps as the Pharaoh of Egypt. The world has moved on, the world of Islam, much of it, remains trapped in the past. The Arab revolt we are witnessing is an attempt to resolve this contradiction.

We should not be taken in by all the talk out of Washington about change and transition. For the Americans, Mubarak once their convenient tool is now a dangerous embarrassment. They want him out not for love of the Egyptian people or the sake of democracy but to contain the unrest and see that it doesn't get out of hand.

A participant in a Fox News talk-show I heard put it best: Israeli security depends upon Arab tyranny. In other words, Israel's best guarantee of security are the Mubaraks of the Arab world. So one would have to be mad to think that real democracy leading to free elections – who could predict their outcome? – is what the US is interested in. No, the US is not as naïve as all that.

Already the Muslim Brotherhood threat is being played up by western news channels. Do you want them with their Sharia law – the whipping of women, etc – to come in? The fear bogey is being fanned and behind the scenes, we should have no doubt, the army is being encouraged to step in and restore order. Mubarak may become the sacrificial goat but in the end it's all about preserving the status quo and containing the winds of change.

We saw the same happening in Pakistan. When Musharraf became an embarrassment the Americans wanted him out, to be replaced by a 'democratic' face to mollify public opinion but ensure that Pakistan's vital role in America's continuing war in Afghanistan remained unchanged. The Americans got what they wanted, their Pakistani transition turning out to be a slick operation. From their point of view nothing could be safer than Zardari and Gilani.

Or indeed, Gen Kayani for that matter. Despite differences on some matters of detail – not, heaven forbid, anything of far-reaching substance – he has done little to alarm the Americans.

The unrest against Musharraf in the shape of the lawyers' movement was peanuts compared to the upheaval in Egypt. But America's aim would be the same: to choreograph, as rapidly as possible, a safe transition, with a suitably conservative figure replacing Mubarak and promising free elections. Mubarak's departure thus – and it is hard to figure out how, short of bloodshed, he could remain in power any longer – would lead not to a Jacobin solution but to something well short of a true revolution. Iran is where the Americans faltered but otherwise they are very good at managing this sort of a thing.

Divisions in the army, a split in the military, are necessary preconditions for the success of a revolutionary movement. The Egyptian military, regardless of some of the bonhomie between protesters and soldiers in Tahrir Square, is very much united. The clashes between pro and anti-Mubarak protesters throughout Wednesday and much of the subsequent night were ominous because they showed that there was still fight left in the Mubarak camp, which brings the army that much closer to stepping in on the plea of restoring order.

But the larger question remains. Why must most of the world of Islam still be swathed in the clothes of autocracy and despotism. Why aren't we all that good with democracy? Why are we still so confused about the nature and requirements of a modern state?

Turkey is the only complete democracy across the Islamic firmament but then Turkey with its Kemalist revolution and overt secularism is a thing apart, not really fitting into the Islamic module as we understand it. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia, for various reasons and it would take too long to go into them here, are imperfect democracies. Iranian democracy with its monitoring ayatollahs is an example mercifully incapable of emulation anywhere else. Other Muslim countries, most of them, are variations on the theme of repression and the absence of democracy.

This is the real challenge before the world of Islam...trying to catch up with the times. But scan the skies for any sign of rising to this challenge and we are likely to be disappointed. So why blame anyone if we remain a doormat of history?








The public revolts against autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia have given impetus to a new debate in Pakistan. US vice president Joe Biden's statement that this wave may extend to countries like Pakistan has further fuelled the debate about possible popular disobedience in our land. But the question is; is the situation in those two countries comparable with Pakistan's?

In many ways, Pakistan is different from Egypt and Tunisia. Egypt has been under various autocrats since independence. Hosni Mubarak has been ruling Egypt since 1981 as his personal fiefdom, and his regime, by and large, is an extension of the earlier autocratic stints in power by Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Tunisia has similarly been an autocracy since independence in 1956. Tunisians had to bear with despot Bourguiba, followed by another autocrat, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. In fact, Tunisians, like Egyptians, had not enjoyed the freedoms that should naturally have been associated with independence from colonial masters. They led a life of political suffocation.

Pakistanis, on the contrary, have seen governments of various hues. Besides martial laws, we have tasted governments by Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto. The PML-N and PPP are still in power while dictator Musharraf and PML-Q "democrats" were thrown out not long ago. The religious right ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan during Musharraf's dictatorship. The MQM has been in governing coalitions with every party in power. After a brief stint in power with Nawaz Sharif, the ANP is now a partner with Zardari in the centre and two provinces. Other political forces are also in power one way or the other. Thus, Pakistanis have seen all political parties and so Pakistan is unlike Egypt and Tunisia. We do not have political suffocation or an untested revolutionary leader who could inspire people for a change even at the ultimate cost.

The media freedom in Pakistan cannot even be imagined in the Arab world. It is an important medium of catharsis which reduces frustration and the pent up desire for revolutionary change among the people. The Arabs did not have such freedom of expression or right to protest. Like the Soviet Union of the past, public anger had no outlets. The liberals and pro-democracy elements, finding the first opportunity, thanks to their newfound freedom, have now poured out on the streets in the thousands to demand the unqualified ouster of the autocratic regimes they have suffered for decades.

On the other hand, we Pakistanis have channelled our frustrations and anger through various means, including suicide bombings, TV discussions and debates and political protests. Unlike Arabs, we have protests and shutter-down strikes. In this regard we are free to the extent that our religious parties would first give a call for protest and later on search for the cause of such actions. This freedom has sapped our stamina for protests. In this situation, Pakistanis would hardly be convinced to take part in revolt-like protests.

In Pakistan the politics of protests is the domain of religious parties, whose politics is based on other issues, not the economy. But the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts have proved that the economy has replaced beliefs as the biggest political cause. Undoubtedly a minority among Muslims is becoming more extreme by the day, but the vast majority is not amenable to listen to them. In Egypt Ikhwanul Muslimoon was considered the only opposition till recently, but the current anti-Mubarak protests led by liberal forces echo with demands for human freedom and a better economy. The same elements are spearheading the revolt in Tunisia. In Jordon the religious parties have dissociated themselves from protests. If ever a revolt comes about in Pakistan, it would be based on the economy, which is not an issue with the religious right. And the political forces that value this issue are unable to mobilise people.

Pakistan is a very diverse country while Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries are same in race or religion. Egyptians are 99 per cent Arab and Sunni. Similarly 98 per cent of Tunisians are Arabic speakers, while social values are largely the same throughout the country. So a change in one part is readily spread and accepted in other parts of the country. On the contrary racial, sectarian and religious diversities in Pakistan would prevent a consensus agenda for an uprising.

However, poverty, inequities and injustices are the same in Pakistan, Egypt and Tunisia. Rather, these realities are starker in Pakistan. The economic growth rate of 2.7 per cent in Pakistan is much lower than 5.31 per cent in Egypt and 4 per cent in Tunisia. The fiscal deficit, unemployment and inflation are much higher in Pakistan. So these economic problems may cause revolt, anarchy or disasters, which can only be avoided if our rulers, religious and political leaders concentrate energies on this issue. The armed forces may also do well to work for the betterment of the common man. History is once again witnessing the fact that popular revolts can neither be suppressed through constitutional powers, nor US support, tanks and fighter jets.

The writer works for Geo TV.









It is too late for euphoric jubilation; the time is ripe for a down-to-earth, realistic and clear understanding of what has suddenly appeared in certain parts of the Arab world. This must be done even at the expense of losing the elation one naturally feels at the shaking of tyrants who have held a very large segment of the Muslim world in their fists for over five decades now. To be sure, what erupted in Tunisia is proving contagious, but even in Tunisia, the ultimate goal of change of a repressive system is still far from visible. There has been change, for sure, but it is a change of faces, not of system. This is more apparent in Egypt, where the euphoric declarations of victory before victory are still hanging in the air.

First there was the surprise, then the shock and blood, with over 130 people dead. During the surprise phase, Hillary Clinton declared the unequivocal support of her country for the regime which has acted as US surrogate in the region for over thirty years. When blood was spilled and people were able to overcome the fear which has oppressed them for a generation, the United States of America started to shift gears.

The vice president wrote an article in The New York Times, asking for change. A vague, almost meaningless article in which he hinted at withdrawal of the large amount of "aid" that has been going to Egypt. Then came the lull and euphoria: for four days, the crowds were not attacked. They were given the impression that the army is on their side. Young men stood on tanks and danced and gave flowers, water and food to the soldiers. The victory was almost at hand, or so they thought.

In their light hearted jubilance, the blow struck by the old and experienced hand that Mubarak is, was also taken lightly: the man who was appointed as vice president was none other than the chief spy and Israeli negotiator, Omar Suleiman. A cunning man who attempted to change the mood by calling for dialogue with all factions. But everyone knows who he is, and how deeply entrenched Mubarak is with his repressive generals and police – all enjoying the benefits of a $1.3bn roll out from Washington. Egyptians misread the silence of the military. Mubarak had used this time to get over the shock and fortify his position. However, this does not mean that he will be able to put the genie back in the bottle.

Although the soldiers did not attack the crowds, no one should have any illusion about the role of the Egyptian military – the main beneficiary of American money. For all practical purposes, Egyptian military is a useless force which has not fought a war for almost 38 years. It is an under-trained, over-armed army, with largely obsolete equipment. It is good for business, but not for fighting. Its top brass is deeply embedded in the corporate segment, running big business, hotels, and housing complexes. Mubarak knows well that loyalty comes with a price and he has been paying that price regularly, though not from his own pocket. He merely rolls down the line what comes from above.

The worst American response, however, came from the US president himself who claimed the high moral ground on February 1, when he declared that "my administration has been in close contact with our Egyptian counterparts and a broad range of the Egyptian people, as well as others across the region and across the globe. And throughout this period, we've stood for a set of core principles." A core set of principles! One wonders if there is any limit for hypocrisy.

The set of four core principles that Obama mentioned in his speech betray, once more, that American leadership is either morally bankrupt or utterly blind. Everyone knows that the core principles of American foreign policy are duplicity, deceit, and deception. This is especially true with regard to the Muslim world where the Americans have supported, and continue to support repressive regimes.

The three principles of American foreign policy that Obama mentioned are: (i) opposition to violence; (ii) universal values, including the rights to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information; and (iii) the need for change.

None of these principles can be shown to exist; in fact, it is the opposite of these principles which has governed the American foreign policy. Violence has been the means through which Americans installed dictators throughout Latin America and the Muslim world in the late 1950s and 1960s. These dictators and their American supporters have suppressed freedom and the legitimate rights of people in these countries. And the need for change that Obama recognised is a recognition that has come too late. Was he not aware of the need for change when he gave his speech in Cairo almost two years ago?

What has Obama done since then to bring change? Did he act on any of the high-sounding moralising phrases he uttered in his speech? Did he tell the Hosni Mubaraks of the Middle East that their time is up and they should pack up and go? No, there is no indication of any of these principles in the American foreign policy. What we have, instead, is continuous support of oppressive dictators and continuous floundering of human rights even in America. All of this in the name of an open-ended war on terror, which is, in fact, a war of terror.

Egypt, sadly, is not a place one can hope to see transformed in the coming days. A populace which been literally fed on American largess for a whole generation cannot be expected to bite the hand that has been feeding it. The Egyptian state is beholden to the Americans down to the last man and hence no matter how loud the shouts are from the Tahrir Square, the best result one can hope for is a peaceful change of faces, not of the system. The worst, of course, is a pointless tragedy in which no one will be a winner.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








President Obama in his State of the Union address this Tuesday delivered a narrative of American innovation and creativity as he alluded to the Apollo project and the transcontinental railroad. "We are the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices, the nation of Edison and the Wright Brothers, of Google and Facebook," he said. "We do big things," he asserted more than once as he spoke of the American achievements.

Besides technological achievements the outpouring of anger and indignation in Tunisia and Egypt provide irrefutable evidence of some of the 'big things' the Americans have done in world power politics. The American support of the third world autocratic regimes, including the ones in Pakistan, was the corner stone of the US foreign policy during the Cold War. The paternalistic racism at the root of this approach remains unchanged to date. It sees non-western populations as vulnerable to radicalisation and inferior; hence a strong man and not democracy is the answer to maintain order and secure US interests.

The noises against the 30 years of oppression under Mubarak and 23 years under Ben Ali and the more than six decades of silence of the common people of Pakistan are testament to the 'big things' that the US has done in world politics. The Egyptian and Tunisian masses just like the teeming millions in Pakistan continue to suffer at the hands of rising food prices, illiteracy and unemployment combined with the daily oppression of the common man by the state institutions, the so-called democracy notwithstanding. The underlying root cause of all the ills is a single common denominator: rampant corruption of the ruling elite. By empowering the non democratic forces in the developing countries the US has indeed done the greatest disservice to humanity.

Speaking of the 'big' American technological advances, the American military is the most fearsome in the world since the middle of the twentieth century. This awesome power has been employed by the US to do some of the 'big things' that are missing from President Obama's address.

The one factor that stands out in the ongoing war on terror is the sheer volume of deaths most of which are civilians. The US has already killed and maimed thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. Besides Pakistan, drone attacks are also carried out in Somalia and Yemen – in flagrant violation of both international law and the US constitution since America is not at (declared) war with any of these countries. But while the bloodletting and mayhem that the US related actions have unleashed, since 2001, are very much the focus of public attention , the list of some other 'big things' the Americans have done is worth a reminder.

In the last five months of the Second World War American bombings killed more than 900,000 Japanese civilians, not counting the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The nuclear attacks on Japan resulted in an estimated 127,150 additional casualties – this equals to 29 per cent of the total US casualties in 225 years of foreign wars and more than the American deaths in any foreign conflict except World War II. The US incendiary bombs over Tokyo in March 1945 killed 83,793 Japanese, a number greater than the combined US fatalities in Korean and Vietnam wars. During the Korean War in the 1950s American forces killed an estimated one million North Koreans, while the US casualties were almost 34,000 – this means that for every American soldier approximately 30 North Korean civilians were killed. The explosive tonnage dropped by the US in the Vietnam conflict was thrice as much as used in World War II, killing at least 365,000 civilians - a ratio of roughly eight Vietnamese civilians for each US soldier killed.

There is no doubt in my mind that as and when the war on terror grinds to a halt and is documented by future historians in totality, the ratio of one US body bag to combined civilian deaths in Muslim lands would go down in world history as yet another 'big thing' the Americans did.

Historically the use of full force in combat has been endorsed by not only the US military and the political elite but also American public opinion; it usually turns against armed conflict only if clear victory is not in sight. In the words of an American academic: "Until late in the Vietnam war the American public opinion was generally more exercised over Washington's failure to apply all available force in Vietnam than it was over the necessity of the war altogether."

The most difficult and politically costly decision for Bush senior was not to send ground forces into Iraq in the 1990s but to stop short of occupying Baghdad. Today the killing of innocent civilians in the war on terror has failed to elicit mass protests from the 'compassionate' and democratic people of the United States. Instead, the American people continue to sustain, without complaint, the highest military budgets in the world and the largest peacetime military budgets in world history, according to an American foreign policy analyst. Yes, Mr Obama, there is no doubt Americans do big things.


The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email:








It was obvious that, unlike in Tunisia, the ruling elite in Egypt would not give up so easily. Its reaction is self-defeating because a people's uprising of this magnitude cannot be stopped for long. The least painful outcome would have been for Mubarak to leave and ensure an orderly transition. He and his cohorts, as of this moment of writing, have chosen to fight.

There has already been a great deal of bloodshed, and there will be more. A smooth transition would not only have avoided this but also allowed the social order to remain intact, with all its inadequacies. Now events are moving towards a bloody conflict in which the losers would not only be the ruling oligarchy but the entire elite structure.

Many would say: so be it. If a bloody revolution ends up empowering the poor and changing the structure of the state, that can only be a good thing. The problem is that disorganised chaotic change can lead to a long period of anarchy. A collapse of the state has the potential to unleash uncontrolled violence destroying the economy and leading to huge suffering.

There is also no guarantee that, at the end of it, a more inclusive social order will be created. It is entirely possible that one form of dictatorship replacing another is even more brutal and equally unresponsive to the poor. Therefore, while orderly transition is slow, it is less disruptive and may end up with greater gains than a bloody revolution with unforeseen consequences.

All of this is relevant to Pakistan, to its democracy and its social order. At one level Egypt, Tunisia and other dictatorial Middle Eastern states have little in common with us. For whatever it is worth, we have a democracy and many of its freedoms. This is particularly true of our media, which is aggressively unfettered.

Institutions like the judiciary are also beginning to emerge as independent centres of power creating a check and balance at the apex levels of the state. Parliament, while yet to realise its true potential, has started to assert itself. The rejection of four judicial extensions by the parliamentary oversight committee being a case in point.

While some of our elections have been manipulated, they are nothing like the state decreed results that we see in Middle Eastern dictatorial regimes. What this means is that our rulers, for all their faults, and there are many, are legitimate representatives of the people and have every right to hold the offices they are occupying. While tenure of five years is too long, the people can always hope to change bad rulers in the next elections.

All this is fundamentally different from Egypt, Tunisia, etc. This means that, at least in theory, the kind of broad challenge to autocracies that we see in these countries is unlikely to happen here. People will scream and shout, or so it is said, but would not fundamentally challenge the organisation of the state.

Believing this kind of reasoning is more than slightly delusional. Some elements among our people are already challenging the state. The militancy in our country has many causes, but one of them is unhappiness with a state and social order that gives very little to the underprivileged. The gravitation to radical ideologies by the poor is always a consequence of social and political hopelessness.

But let us argue that these uprisings, while lethal in impact, are still confined to a few, and to particular areas. They do not by themselves represent the kind of mass uprisings we are seeing in some Middle Eastern states. However, is there a possibility that we could reach that stage?

Let us first understand that, despite democracy, our social and political order is fundamentally elite-oriented. The poor are allowed to vote but have little chance of upward mobility. Even our spending priorities are elite-oriented with, for example, huge amount of development funds being spent on improving the driving experience of a minority.

Most importantly, the elite refuse to contribute towards maintaining the state. In a nation of 180 million, there are only 1.9 million taxpayers, and many of them civil servants whose tax is deducted at source. As a percentage of the GDP our tax ratio is only 9 per cent and on the way down.

Tax returns of our political elite are a shocking indictment of their commitment to the nation. People with large amounts of income from agriculture have consistently avoided getting into the income tax net and have been helped by people from their class sitting in the legislatures. Even those in the tax net, like trading and professional classes pay virtually a pittance of what they should be actually paying.

The result of all this is that we have a bankrupt state but a well-off elite. Whenever the issue of bankruptcy is raised, there is a cry for reducing state expenditure. Actually, if defence and public-sector enterprises – which should have been privatised a long time ago – are excluded, our structure of governance costs are among the lowest in the world.

Our state's bankruptcy is thus not an expenditure issue but a revenue issue. We have survived so far on dole from the global community either by making ourselves strategically relevant or scaring the world into helping us. If this comes to an end and we are really confronted with the consequences of bankruptcy, social upheaval is bound to occur.

The sad part is that we may well be reaching that point. IMF representatives are going around the country making it plain that if we do nothing to raise revenues, they are not going to bail us out anymore. And they are not talking of sometimes in the future, but right now. An economic collapse is staring us in the face.

What would this collapse look like? It would begin by us defaulting on our international debt that would have massive consequences for our foreign trade. The currency would go into free fall, with galloping inflation. Food shortages would become a real possibility for a section of the people. Oil imports would be affected, disrupting our transportation system.

This is the worst-case scenario, and I hope it never comes to that; but if does, Egypt and Tunisia would seem like a cakewalk. We have never experienced real hardship and people are not used to it. An economic collapse would herald a change that none of us can imagine.

It is time that our elite and its friendly social and political structures wake up to the reality that confronts us. There seems to be a feeling in higher echelons of the government that the US will in the end rescue us because a destabilised Pakistan threatens the international community. Possible, but it would be foolish to put all our eggs in Uncle Sam's basket.










Winter has been unusually warm in Tunisia and Egypt this year. People took to the streets to announce their thorough discontent with the dictatorships spanning over decades. Tunisians found it easier to deal with Zine El Abedin Bin Ali, their president for 23 long years, who was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia – one of the havens for despots and discredited rulers of the Muslim world like Mohamed Siad Barre of Somalia and Idi Amin of Uganda. Egyptians, living under dictatorships for more than half-a-century, took the clue and the Tahrir Square in Cairo is filled by protesters clamouring for change. But they still find it a little difficult because of the nature of geopolitics in their region, with Israel guarding the eastern borders of their country, which is eight times the size of Tunisia, and rich Saudis backing Mubarak, as well as the existence of a powerful military.

Some analysts and commentators are drawing parallels with what is unravelling in the Arab world to the growing anxiety here in Pakistan. They see that the mismanagement of state affairs for long, rising poverty and inequality, endemic corruption and the unpopular presence of Americans and their allies in the region constitute enough reasons for Islamabad to become another Tunis or Cairo. But there are fundamental differences that at times some people tend to overlook.

Pakistan is not a homogeneous country. It is a federation with diverse people and their divergent interests which need to be negotiated within. It has vibrant political parties (whether they are good or bad is a separate issue) which represent the concerns and interests of their respective constituents. The country has experienced and resisted three long dictatorships besides witnessing short martial rule as a tailpiece of the first dictatorship.

People in this country, led by that part of the intelligentsia that is progressive and enlightened, and of course the political workers who have offered most sacrifices, have already struggled many times to reclaim their democratic rights. What Pakistan needs now is to consolidate its democracy and find itself a new economic paradigm that ensures social justice through democratic means. Nothing comes along in short haul.

What do we do to consolidate democratic order in Pakistan? One, we stop telling each other that if the civilian government fails, the army will intervene. If one civilian government fails to deliver, either a constitutional change is brought from within parliament or the citizens vote the government out. If that fails, we get another. And so on and so forth. Dictatorship is no option, even if it presents a civilian/technocrat face.

Now, how to prevent democracy from becoming a permanent plutocracy, the democracy of the rich, which for most part it seems to be now? For that, substantial electoral reforms are needed which would allow virtually anyone to participate in the process and, on the other hand, make it impossible for the people's mandate to be manipulated. Secondly, deweaponisation of society is an imperative. Use of force, violence and threats to physical existence must come to an end. From Khyber to Karachi, the political and religious militias are armed to the teeth. They have to be neutralised.

Lastly, the progressive forces in Pakistan have to get their act together by providing leadership, not just in organising themselves and reaching out to the masses but also by coming up with a fresh social theory and a new economic order. If those sitting in parliament today and the ones outside with political interests do not shape up, there will not be a revolution in Pakistan but bloodletting, chaos and complete anarchy.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email: harris.